Jessica Sutton: South African actress says playing the role of a witch in Fantasy series is her ‘dream job’

By Sam Spiller  | iol

Imagine a world where witches took up arms in service of their country. That is the premise of the new fantasy TV series Motherland: Fort Salem. South African-born actress Jessica Sutton plays witch cadet Tally Craven. She stars alongside Taylor Hickson and Ashley Nicole Williams.

The series was created by Eliot Laurence, who also produced the show with actor Will Ferrell. It was directed by Adam McKay.

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The actress said: “It was a dream job to work with incredible talent and people of such substance and skill – from actors to directors to crew to support teams. The feeling that everyone had each others’ backs and we are all just bringing our bit to the table, collectively contributing to something that is greater than any of us. When collaboration is at its best, it honestly feels like real magic.”

Motherland: Fort Salem is set in a world where the US ceased persecuting witches after the Salem witch trials in the 1690s. In a woman-dominated present, young witches are enlisted in the US army to fight against the Spree, a terrorist organisation fighting the military witches.

“She can be impulsive and naïve, but I think these characteristics make her more relatable to audiences,” Sutton explained of her character.

“Through her character development you see her journey into maturation and wisdom.

“In many ways, Tally often felt like my 10-year-old kid self, who believes wholeheartedly that she can save the world. I think somewhere deep down we all have that kid who wants to be a superhero and we know that growing up can bring a world of hurt and some pretty tough lessons.

“Walking onto set every day felt like stepping into a different world – from set design to costumes, the attention to detail was unbelievable. I remember, during episode 4, thinking, ‘I get to be a military warrior witch and there’s a dance number, can this get any cooler?’ ”

Sutton is most well known for her role as Mia in Netflix’s 2018 romantic comedy film The Kissing Booth. A sequel film is due for release next month. Sutton also starred in the 2019 horror film Escape Room, and appeared in the TV drama series ICE and the mini-series Saints & Strangers.

Despite taking place in a parallel universe, Sutton said that struggle and hardships on screen in Motherland: Fort Salem are universal ideas to both American and South African audiences.

“Human beings are hard wired to tell stories,” she said. “I believe it is to do with how we come to understand ourselves and the world around us. Through story we reflect and construct meaning.

“So while we can say we are watching American characters, witches no less, we find ourselves relating and caring for these characters – as if they were us. This is empathy – perhaps the superpower of humans. It links us all.”

Sutton studied at Act Cape Town, from where she graduated in 2013. She now works in the US.

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