Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the Syfy series Dominion, which has its first-season finale on Thursday.
If anyone thought Syfy’s Dominion was going to be a Romeo & Juliet story with a battle among the angels solely as backdrop, the last few episodes have proven the series to be far more complex and hard-core, especially with the news that the angel occupying the body of Claire’s mother was doing so while she was still alive. This went against everything we had learned about the lower angels, the so-called eight-balls, up until that point. And given the recent revelations about the higher angels — that more of them can pass as human than previously known — it seems time to rethink these not-so-angelically-behaving creatures. Could any of them have a soul, via their human host? Does it matter? Vulture caught up with Roxanne McKee, the British actress who plays Claire, and chatted with her about Game of Thrones (she played Doreah, a handmaiden of Khaleesi in season one), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and what motivated Claire to kill her “mother.”
Do you find yourself using language differently, because phrases such as “Oh, God!” or “He’s no angel” have new meanings for you now?
Yeah! I certainly think about it now when I say something like, “Oh, God!” because on the show, sometimes I would ad-lib, and I would say that instead of “Oh, gosh” or a phrase you might use instead, and obviously, on the show, we’re not supposed to do that. And certainly for Claire, who is religious — well, not religious, but spiritual. I mean, she’s spunky and tough and open to swearing, but I don’t know if that would be the sort of swear she would use. I’m not religious. I would say I’m more spiritual than religious. But I remember a teacher saying, “Don’t say that.” And I don’t that much. It’s not so much for my own benefit, but you don’t want to offend other people’s beliefs. No point in offending someone if you don’t have to. But what swear words would you use if you believed God was gone? I can think of a whole load, but I’m British. [Laughs.] I’m not going to list them, but we add a bit of spiky venom to them as well.
David J. Peterson, who came up with the angelic language on your show, is also the man responsible for coming up with Dothraki …
Exactly! I think they were all excited about that on the show, like, “Guess what!” I had to be like, “Guys, I didn’t speak Dothraki, and I won’t be speaking it. So go tell someone else!” [Laughs.] When I was doing Game of Thrones, though, there was so much care and consideration to the project, and I feel like that’s the same attitude they have about this, to come out with a really fantastic show that everyone’s really proud to be a part of.
Your character from Game of Thrones is presumed to be dead because she’s locked in a vault.
[Laughs.] Yes. Presumed to be. There was talk of going back at some stage, but I think that will be knocked on the head now.
But I think people root for her to somehow have escaped, to come back, because they didn’t see what she did to Irri. That murder was a deleted scene.
I think they thought because it didn’t happen in the book, that they weren’t sure if it was a good idea to show that. You have a certain responsibility to the fan base who have read the books, and if they put that scene in … I mean, already, Doreah was supposed to have been killed off, so to have me killing the other handmaiden as well might have really gone against what the massive fan base wanted. But it was fun to film!
Because it was both a murder scene and her last erotic lesson?
Yeah, absolutely! That’s all she’s ever known. She’s bright, quick-witted, and she’s got an instinct to survive. And she knows that that’s a way to control people, with sexuality. People do it all the time. She uses her femininity and her sexuality because she doesn’t have anything else. She did what she did because at the end of the day, she only has herself and Daenerys, but how long is Daenerys going to look after her? She doesn’t trust easily. Why would you, if you had been sold to a pleasure house by your mother when you were 12? I wouldn’t! And so I think she just had a survivor instinct in her. And part of the reason she was so fascinated by dragons, I don’t know if you remember the bath scene, but it was because of their independence. And they can kill. And they can get rid of anyone who hurts them. Everything about Daenerys and her brother was so strong and independent, and she wanted that. She wanted that ability to survive anything. And there’s something about the ability to move yourself, to fly, to feel free, to be independent, that’s quite overwhelming. So if I lived in an age or a realm where there were angels and dragons, I would be fascinated with them as well! If I could have any power, I think flying would definitely be up there! Along with speaking every language.
Since we’re starting to see Claire’s darker side as she takes more power, perhaps we’ll see shades of Doreah in her relationship with William? Since he’s into pain, too?
I think Claire, sexually, is far more innocent than Doreah. I don’t think she’s aware of her sexuality the way Doreah is. I think Claire hasn’t had to survive in the same way Doreah has, because she’s been born into this luxurious lifestyle. I know they’re in a battle with the angels, but she’s had everything she needs and she’s been protected by this really strong father. And she has a brain — not that Doreah doesn’t. But she’s well read. She understands the world in a different way. So I think she could have some of that manipulation within her, but not in a sexual way. I think she’d even use her innocence, her sweetness, to cover what she’s actually thinking. She is her father’s daughter. She does want to protect people. But as with most people who go into politics, there is a little bit of a warm feeling toward holding the power. Anyone who has that in their hands will understand that. I don’t want to offend politicians everywhere …
I’m sure they’re well acquainted with what you’re talking about.
[Laughs.] I think there has to be something about your character when you say, “Yes, I’m going to rule, and yes, I’m going to change something for the masses, for a mass amount of people, because I believe I can do the best thing.” There’s an ego there, even if you’re looking into it, thinking, I believe this is right, even if they believe what they’re doing is right. But it doesn’t make them right. Every leader believes what they’re doing is good, for the greater good.
Just as Claire’s father believed he was doing right when he decided that he’d keep the angel who had possessed his wife’s body as a mistress, even though it could was dangerous and went against the rules. And Claire believes that blackmailing him about it, to make him step down from his position and give her power, is right.
For one thing, he hadn’t told her anything! She feels that she should have been given the knowledge of what he was doing. And she sees this creature that is inhabiting her mother’s body as something that has stolen her mother’s body and killed her mother, so, as far as she’s concerned, what he’s done is despicable. There’s no going back from this. None. It’s inhabiting her body, but part of her soul still remains, so this creature was able to attach herself to her soul. And because she was looked after, she was humanized, so she’s identifying with these human thoughts as if they were her own. Which raises some big questions! What can you do with this creature, if it feels like it’s real? We’ve seen this before in robot movies, what was that one, with Jude Law?
Yeah! Exactly. Big questions in that. What do you do with that? Do you kill something that in theory isn’t doing any harm to anyone, but has made a mistake that is part of its nature? Do you think of [it] like a wild animal? Do you kill it? I think that’s really tough. But when you’re Claire, and you’re attached to the person that it kills, human instinct takes over, and that feeling of, I don’t know if it’s revenge or justice, an eye for an eye. And then we have to look at Claire’s morality again. Is she right, because she thinks this creature should be killed? She feels that these creatures will ultimately wreak havoc on the human race, so they should be put down. And this particular one had taken over her mother, so it’s really, really tough.
Did you ever talk to one of your co-stars, Anthony Stewart Head, about the parallels with Angel/Angelus?
Oh! I’ve got something really interesting to tell you, but we’re going to have to save it for another time. It’s a pretty big shocker of a possible story for season two, so we’ll have to save it. But I remember watching Buffy and going, “Go on, Buffy, go on! Get with Angel! He’s good! He’s done his time and he’s a better person now!” Obviously, you’re always rooting for love. You do! You hope for goodness. But then if you’re the person with the power, you have to make the decision to save people in the long run, because that’s a very heavy weight on her shoulders if you let that person or creature live, because what if they kill innocent people? Then that’s your fault. So it’s absolutely like that. And I did ask Tony about Buffy, you’re right. Tony Head is one of the nicest people that I think I’ve ever met in my entire life. He is so gentle, so genuine, and he’s so great to learn from. It’s so shocking to see him onscreen, because he seems like an evil man in this show! He’s wonderful. And I asked lots of fan girl questions. [Laughs.] And Sarah Michelle Gellar has been really supportive of the show. She sent a couple tweets out, so we love her. Which we did anyway. I always really liked Alyson Hannigan as Willow as well.
You should get one of them to do a cameo. Dark Willow kind of looks like the eight-balls on Dominion anyway, with her black eyes and veiny skin.
I would explode with excitement if either of them would do a cameo! Absolutely, Dark Willow. She’s absolutely perfect. Quick! Write that down! And Claire has to have scenes with her. [Laughs.]