Premiering last Halloween on Netflix, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina follows the bewitching escapades of Sabrina Spellman, the teenage witch of Archie Comics fame. As half-witch and half-mortal, Sabrina must deal with the competing forces of the occult world and the mortal world. Though deceased in the comics, leading to Sabrina being under the guardianship of her aunts Hilda and Zelda Spellman, her mortal mother Diana Spellman, played by Canadian actress, Annette Reilly, is present as a spirit and is prominent in Sabrina’s journey.
In an exclusive interview with The Hudsucker, the multi-talented actor, director, and producer talks to us about her bewitching experience on the Netflix original series and her upcoming film projects.
Born and bred in Alberta, and now residing in Vancouver where she is currently filming Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Reilly originally studied performing arts at the University of Victoria, where she graduated from the theatre department. From there, she worked extensively with Shakespeare’s works, got involved in directing and acting for theatre companies, and built up a stage production resume that includes Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and The Sound of Music. Reilly was eventually led to the film and television sector, acting on Fox’s The X-Files and Disney’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas., as well as co-founding a production company called EVE Entertainment, which focused on bringing pressing social justice issues into cinematic storytelling.
A fan of Archie comics growing up, Reilly was thrilled to delve into the dark reimagining of the Sabrina she knew and loved. In her research for her role on this production, she ordered a copy of the horror version and was immediately drawn into the world to discover who Diana Spellman was.
Having watched the ’90s cult classic television series, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Reilly admittedly experienced “a feeling of awe and slight intimidation” when she learned she was cast as Diana Spellman.
“I knew there would be a lot of fan expectation,” Reilly said. “Not to mention, there were a few fan groups calling for Melissa Joan Hart to play Sabrina’s mom! Those were some pretty huge expectations to live up to.”
What Reilly brings to the role is an acute understanding of the character. The actress has a spiritual connection to the moon goddess, Diana, and finds that like the Roman mythological icon, Diana Spellman is a strong, independent, and nurturing female figure.
“She is fierce, yet incredibly nurturing,” she said. “If you look at the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic book, Diana risks everything to save her daughter. As a mother, I understand that feeling and love exploring it through this character.”
In the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic books, Diana faces tragic circumstances and risks everything to save her daughter. As a mother herself, Reilly uncovered a deep connection to the role of the sacrificing mother with her unconditional love for her child and is able to strongly explore it through her character. As a colon cancer survivor, Reilly has made every choice in her life with her daughter’s well-being in mind.
“I have a beautiful daughter whom I have fought for and made sacrificial choices for since she was born. I chose to do six months of chemotherapy after I was diagnosed with colon cancer because, statistically speaking, it gave me a higher chance of not having a recurrence. I don’t think I would have done the treatment if I didn’t have a daughter that I wanted to see grow up. I don’t think there is anyway for those feelings and that nature not to show itself when I play a mother of any sort on stage or on screen.”
She continues to share the similarities between herself and Diana Spellman, “I think Diana and I are quite similar in nature and we respond to our daughters in similar ways. If anything, it’s made playing Sabrina’s mom easier because those emotions are very real and easily accessible on a daily basis.”
At the end of Season 1, Diana is discovered to be in limbo, with viewers left wondering whether or not she will cross over to the afterlife or return back to the living world. In the Christmas special, fans got to learn even more about Diana.
Regarding the future of her character, Reilly is just as interested as fans to find out what’s next for Diana, “I think there is so much to explore with Diana. It seems to me the fans are interested in finding out more about Sabrina’s mother and what made/makes her tick. I think that would offer some clues into what makes Sabrina tick as well.”
Reilly has tremendous appreciation for her castmates and enjoys every moment working alongside them, saying “everyone on the series has been a dream to work with.”
Of Kiernan Shipka, the young actress who plays her on-screen daughter Sabrina, she says, “Kiernan is such a professional. She is extremely kind and easy to work with.” She gushed over co-stars Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, Richard Coyle, Chance Perdomo, Tati Gabrielle, Abigail Cowan, Adeline Rudolph, Ross Lynch, Jaz Sinclair, Lachlan Watson, and Michelle Gomez, saying, “I adore them all and I consider myself extremely lucky to get to work with this amazing ensemble.”
In response to the success of the show, Reilly is filled with gratitude, saying “It’s really been quite a ride! I don’t think any of us knew how much this would take off. We obviously hoped it would, but the response has been incredible!”
In her career, Reilly is infinitely interested in understanding the world and its people. She saw acting, directing, and producing in film and in theatre as necessary steps and additions to her mission in achieving that understanding. In founding her own production company, Reilly is taking the lead in getting those stories that need to be told made.
Like with her acting roles, in which she plays mother figures, she also sees a natural correlation between her love of acting and her love of producing.
“It was really like being a god in the microcosm of filmmaking. Or, even more accurately, a mother figure. I see projects from their conception through to their delivery out into the world,” Reilly said. “It’s a fascinating process to take part in, especially when you’re at the reigns and your own artistic integrity is at stake.”
Next up for Reilly is an exciting new project from her production company, Exeunt Productions, entitled A Typical Fairytale, which she directs and acts in.
Partially funded by Telus Storyhive, A Typical Fairytale, which will begin its run on the film festival circuit in January 2019, is a whimsical short film about a mother coming to terms with her child’s gender identity. The unique narrative takes the familiar form of a fairy tale, expressing its ideas through rhyme and verse.
After reading the script written by Jessica McLeod, Reilly knew she had to make this film, especially since it moved on a personal level.
“The story touched me in a deep way and I knew that the message from this film needed to be in the world. Being such a fan of Shakespeare, I loved the idea of playing with verse in film rather than onstage. I wanted the acting to remain grounded in contrast to the fairytale world in which these characters lived,” she said. Of the character, Sherry that Reilly plays, she reveals her to be a woman who falls in love with a prince, with the two then becoming King and Queen of their own kingdom, adding, “They have a little Princess who starts to diverge from the classic fairytale format.”
Of her passion project, Reilly says, “I’m very proud of what we made, given the budget we had to work with and the resources available to us, and the message is extremely relevant at the moment.”
Soon, Reilly will be starring in the feature horror film, Broil, which she describes as “a Greek tragedy, but with vampires,” and of which she is excited to be a part of to fulfill her personal career dream of playing a vampire.
With the other acting, directing, and producing projects she has on the go for the next few years, Reilly feels she has hit a certain place in her career where opportunities are now coming that has opened her up to another level of learnings.
“I am excited to take on and surpass these challenges! I have not yet hit my limit of capability and it excites me to no end to see what more will come.”