Beautiful, well-spoken, and gracious: words to describe the lovely Janet Montgomery, who ironically plays one of the most sinister characters on television. If cackling green witches on broomsticks scare you, they have nothing on Salem's cunning and conniving top witch Mary Sibley.
We traveled to Shreveport, LA to catch up with Janet on the set of her hit WGN America series. Check out the full interview below and be sure to tune in to the season two premiere on Sunday, April 5 at 10/9c.
Zimbio: We love your unique dance background and how it has influenced some of your work (like in Black Swan). How has it played a role in Salem?
Janet Montgomery: It’s a big reason why I got into acting. I think it helps me with Mary a lot...and just being on camera. I’m good at hitting my mark, making fluid movements, and remembering what I did. I kind of like to use my dance in order to feel beats of a scene and its rhythm.
Z: There is definitely a fluidity with your character as she moves from room to room. It's as if she commands everyone's attention, no matter where she is.
JM: I think the dance comes into it, but also [embodying] an attitude which I’ve seen in other women who I’ve admired.
Z: Let's face it, Mary is scary and has done really terrible things. Do you ever feel bad for her?
JM: I do a lot. I feel bad and then I think "God, what’s she doing right now?.” It’s tough because she does things, but she has no choice. There’s a battle between the witch side of Mary and the Mary who loves John. She’s always caught between the two. Maybe at the beginning of the first season, it was only five percent of Mary left, and 95 percent witch Mary. John found that tiny little spark of her and he made that bigger. By the end of the season, she was pretty much 50/50, but then she chose to go with John. You come back this season and she’s just as confused as ever. In order to accept that John is dead, she feels that she has to get rid of the humanity side of her and bolster herself a lot this season.
Z: Is it difficult for you to adhere to this time period, or do you feel like you have creative liberty? Do you get to really put your own spin on the character?
JM: Yes, I do. But what I love about this show and this character is giving a voice to so many women who weren't given a voice then. It’s so fictional because there’s just no way that Mary would have been able to speak in the meeting house. No one would have listened to her and she would have just been hanged as a witch. It’s almost like re-writing history and reminds me of Inglourious Basterds. I got such a good feeling when I watched that. It really empowered women in it. It’s not the truth, it’s not how the story really happened, but somehow you feel like it kind of gives a voice to all those people who died.
Z: We're huge fans of Inglourious Basterds at Zimbio.
JM: It’s such a great movie. I love it when people re-write history how you wish it was. Some of the best stories do that. How great would it have been if there really was a threat of witches in the Salem witch trials? And it was actually the people in charge who were the witches? Then you think it makes more sense, rather than so many innocent people dying because people were just paranoid and fearful. Nobody really knows. There’s so little documentation of the time that none of us know.
Z: Do you have any favorite witches in pop culture?
JM: I love Hocus Pocus. I love Bette Midler in that movie. I also love Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It's also got to be the witches in The Wizard of Oz. Glinda is hilarious.
Z: Throughout the show, there are dozens of different themes, from religion to women's rights. Is there a certain theme that resonates most with you? Perhaps one that is constantly in the back of your mind as you're acting?
JM: I grew up in a country where there was a female prime minister and so, regardless of whether you like Margaret Thatcher or not, that was just the norm. I feel, as a woman now, I'm equal to any man. But there is a lot where that doesn’t ring true. In most jobs, men are paid more than women. It’s not the same as the Salem witch trials where women were just being hanged, but I get very irritated by situations that the media present where you have someone like Hillary Clinton who, every time I watch her in an interview -- and I’m reading her biography now -- I’m thinking "she’s a smart lady and she cares about people and she would be a really good leader for America." But then you read that they're like "oh, what was she wearing?" and you think "you would never do that with a guy."
Z: There is certainly a double standard.
JM: I get there's a stigma around women being more emotional and maybe that's true, but then there's a generalization and I think Hillary Clinton would be a great leader for America.
Z: Is that your official endorsement?
JM: It is, actually. I think there’s something about her. I was a fan of what Bill Clinton did for America and the economy and I think there's [now] a gap between the rich and the poor, especially in America and England. It’s like what happens in Salem. You have Knocker’s Hole, which is poor, and you also have the extreme opposite. And now there is like one percent of society that is rich and and 99 percent that are poor and there’s no middle class. I think it needs a shake up, and I think in order to empower women so they feel like they can ask for equal pay, you need to say there's a woman who’s done it. How many girls say they want to be president when they’re five, six years old? And as soon as they start reading magazines and papers, they think "why would you want to put yourself in a position where you’re going to be targeted?."
Z: That makes a lot of sense and is also very unfortunate. Are there women in this particular industry who inspire you?