Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which premiered Friday on Netflix, is the perfect dark confection for the Halloween season. The show boasts a plethora of pleasures from its audacious visual choices to its distinctive performances. One of its most entrancing creations is Prudence Night, the HBIC witch of the Academy of the Unseen Arts and rival to Kiernan Shipka’s plucky Sabrina. As played by Tati Gabrielle, Prudence may seem at first to be a stylish mean girl, but as the show continues her character deepens, dealing with family drama and defending her own faith as a witch. Ahead of the Chilling Adventures premiere, Vulture spoke with Gabrielle about the sartorial decadence of her character, filming the Feast of Feasts episode, and what to expect for season two.
What animal would be your familiar? Not Prudence, but yourself.
I would choose a panther or a jaguar.
Yeah. They’re sleek, they’re protective when it comes to their young, and in a second they could get to you. I don’t know, I always think that my spirit animal is a black panther. And I love the regality of them. Yeah, that’s what I would pick.
You have to be a real badass to have a panther as a familiar.
Deep down inside, I think I am.
So, I immediately loved Prudence’s style. The platinum-blonde finger waves, the oxblood lipstick, the rich fabrics she wears. In my review, I described her as a mix between Josephine Baker and Nancy from The Craft.
Thank you for that! I saw that, I was like, Oh, that’s awesome.
You’re welcome. How did Prudence’s style affect your performance?
It affected a lot. When I have the makeup on and the hair’s done, it makes me feel prim and proper and it definitely informs the way that I move, the way that I walk. It makes me feel like I am in this 1920s to 1950s period, because witches don’t age. We look like we’re teenagers, but Prudence is really like 75 years old, and so it definitely gives me that vibe. It makes me feel like an old soul.
Let’s talk about the finger waves specifically. Where did that come in the process of developing the character?
I actually wore the finger waves to my original audition. I did them myself. I felt like Prudence would have something that’s sleek and very well put together, so I came to my original audition with the finger waves. They liked it and they decided to keep it.
There’s a lot of gorgeous costuming this season. Did you have a favorite? Personally I really loved her Feasts of Feasts gown in episode seven.
That was also my favorite costume. It was beautiful. When I saw it for the first time I was like, Oh my God, this is amazing. That is by far was my favorite costume. I felt like a witchy princess, so, yeah.
You obviously have a strong sense of the character. Prudence has a distinctive voice — which is very different than your natural voice, now that I’m hearing you talk — so where did you draw inspiration from? Did you look at any other witch characters in pop culture?
I didn’t really pull inspiration from any previous witch characters, but Eartha Kitt was a really big inspiration. The way that Eartha Kitt carried herself was very elegant, but so powerful. She was like a conjure woman. The way that she moved and the way that she spoke was so pointed.
Eartha Kitt had very precise flourishes as an actress.
And slightly exaggerated. Without having to gather the attention of a room, it was just, Boom, Eartha’s here. So she definitely was a big reference for me.
We’ve already talked a little bit about the Feasts of Feasts, but what’s most fascinating about that episode is Prudence’s devotion to being a witch. What do you think of her faith and her desire?
Prudence is very devout because being a witch is all she’s known. She was an orphan — prior to what she learns — so it was her way of having a bigger purpose. That’s why, despite the fact that she was getting eaten, she didn’t care that she was going to die. It was the honor of it and the fact that she would be celebrated. I don’t think that that’s something that she’s ever had before. And because it is one of the highest honors that you can have in the coven, in Prudence’s mind, it brings her existence to another level. This is the first time she felt wanted. And felt, in whatever form, love.
In that episode, Prudence and Sabrina also have an interesting conversation about their different perspectives. What was it like shooting that scene with Kiernan Shipka? And what do you think about the tangled relationship these two girls share?
That was actually one of my favorite scenes of the episode. Our writer, Oanh Ly, liked the idea these two young girls were having a conversation about belief — you don’t necessarily see it much, in today’s day and age, young people having these discussions. It was so interesting, the idea of Prudence explaining why this goes beyond just being eaten. This challenge Prudence brings to her — You’re chastising me, but do you have any grounding in any faith? Like, At least I believe in something, at least I am fighting for something, at least I have identity in that. You’re trying to get me not to do this, but you can’t explain why and you can’t debunk what it is that I’m telling you.
Prudence has this grudge against Sabrina because of the fact that she’s half-mortal. That goes against everything that Prudence grew up believing, and the discrimination that mortals put against witches throughout centuries of time resonates very deeply with Prudence. It’s something that I think she holds very dear to her heart, in the same way that I, as an African-American, have a very close relationship with slavery and the way that African-Americans have been treated throughout history.
We also learn more about Prudence’s relationship with Father Blackwood. He is, as his wife puts it, “a voracious slut.” Which, actually, is one of my favorite quotes from the season.
Right? It was all of ours. [Laughs.] Oh God, when we were in the table read, we were like, Jeez, oh man. That’s a cut.
Did you know ahead of time that Father Blackwood was Prudence’s biological dad?
I was originally told that all three [Weird] sisters were Blackwood’s children by different mothers. It wasn’t until we got the episodes that I find out that had all changed — that Prudence was the only one of the sisters that was Blackwood’s daughter. I did not know beforehand. Prudence always tries to do everything by the book and excel at everything, and so I think it really crushed her to know that no matter what she did, he just never saw her as enough.
I also want to ask about an earlier scene, where Sabrina enlists the Weird Sisters to scare the Baxter High jocks. It seems like one of the show’s low-key themes is that straight men are really stupid, because they consistently make dumb decisions in every episode. They were going into some mines!
With these creepy girls that they’ve never seen or met before.
Like, what are you doing? I especially love the exchange that Prudence and Sabrina have about the Dark Lord. When Sabrina asks why wouldn’t the Dark Lord want her to have freedom and power, Prudence replies, “He’s a man, isn’t he?” It says a lot about the show’s perspective.
Everything in that scene represents the female empowerment and the feminism that really drives the show. Women are powerful and that, to a certain extent, scares men. I think that has been the case for all of time. If the world didn’t have women, where would we be? Women create men, they create women — women are the backbone of everything. You know that Erykah Badu song “On & On”?
Yeah, I do.
My favorite line in that song is, “The man that knows something knows that he knows nothing at all.” I think that line is so powerful and it’s so true.
Are you still filming Chilling Adventures now?
Yeah, I’ve been filming Sabrina as well as The 100. It’s been busy, but good.
How is the vibe on set?
Despite the dark things that we have to do, we joke between takes. Everybody brought instruments, so we’ll play instruments and sing and whatnot. We keep things very light so that we can keep that balance — nobody feels like, “Oh, God. This is just brooding.”
What can fans expect in season two for Prudence? Is there a theme you guys are playing with?
Well, it’s a lot about trust. Sabrina, you’ll see her go down the path now of being a witch. Prudence, you get to see how far she’ll go to get what she needs.