Mädchen Amick had already filmed two death scenes on Lifetime’s Witches of East End before she was asked to join the series as a regular.
“As we were filming, my manager and agent said, ‘We’re hearing a little talk that they may not want to kill you off, just FYI,’” she told BuzzFeed. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, OK, I’ve heard it before.’”
Her reaction was reasonable. While Amick has kept busy since playing abused waitress Shelly Johnson on the 1990s cult classic series Twin Peaks, her TV work has largely been guest spots, including memorable turns on Gossip Girl, Mad Men, and Damages. Witches of East End is Amick’s first series regular role since 2008’s short-lived My Own Worst Enemy.
It’s surprising when you consider the fact that Amick is a welcome presence in any project she chooses, and that she still retains diehard David Lynch fans who will never forget her iconic Twin Peaks role. But it was Twin Peaks, in fact, that set Amick on a less conventional trajectory.
“From that, I ended up choosing more of a career path that wasn’t mainstream, box office, boring female roles that were the decoration on the leading man’s arm,” Amick said. “It made me want to go, OK, I’d rather go and do this weird funky little independent movie where there’s a really cool female character.”
As it turns out, Witches of East End — particularly the character of Wendy, the fun-loving black sheep of the central witch family — was exactly the kind of role Amick was looking for. Unfortunately, she was never supposed to make it out of the first episode alive.
But after seeing Amick’s performance as the sassier witch sister to Julia Ormond’s more grounded Joanna, the network reconsidered. So while Wendy is hit by a car and stabbed in the pilot, she lives to quip another day. That’s one of the perks of being able to shapeshift into a cat: nine lives.
“When they did offer it, they just were really great in the way that they approached me and said, ‘We just feel that Wendy’s a really important part to the story, and we hope that you’ll join us,’” Amick recalled. “It was very, very flattering to sneak in the backdoor and just know that you’re being appreciated and that’s why you’re being asked to do it.”
The cast of Witches of East End is strong: Aside from Ormond, Rachel Boston and Jenna Dewan-Tatum co-star as sisters Ingrid and Freya. But at this point, it’s hard to imagine what the show would look like without Amick. Wendy is the fun sister and the cool aunt, a breath of fresh air on a show that’s as much about family drama as it is about magic.
“Even though [Wendy] is loyal to her family, she definitely walks on the dark side a little bit, and it’s mostly because she’s so emotional,” Amick said. “She just acts, kind of without thinking. She’s sort of the firecracker sister.”
On top of that, Wendy gets the best lines, something that also drew Amick to the role. Oh, sure, she’s a dangerously powerful witch — but she’s also really funny.
“I’ve been really thankful for Wendy as a character, because sometimes I get to be the mean, badass witch, and then sometimes I get to have that comedic edge,” Amick reflected. “If it ends up being — knock on wood — a long-term project, I think there’s so much, and so much range that they’ve already laid the foundation for with Wendy, that it’ll just be a lot of fun stuff to do.”
As far as Amick’s concerned, strong, complicated roles for women are still too few and far between. She’s been a long-time supporter of Lifetime, appearing in some of the network’s trademark made-for-TV movies, like 2005’s Lies and Deception and 2010’s Unanswered Prayers.
“Years and years ago, there was a bit of stigma of the women’s network,” she noted. “It was a romance novel kind of idea. But I always wanted to be a part of it, because even if it’s like, OK, that’s the way we’re gonna get up and running and get attention and start having things made, fine. I wanted to support it.”
Now with series like Witches of East End and Devious Maids, Lifetime is broadening the definition of what it means to be a “women’s network” by developing a more diverse slate of original programming. It’s a transition that Amick is excited to be a part of — especially when that means nabbing a juicy role on a drama starring four women.
“Just the way that they’re exploring all four of our characters has been really great,” she said. “It’s really showing that they have a respect for depicting women and depicting them fully and giving them lots of layers and not being so super stereotypical with each character.”
And while some might question the need for a female-centric network in 2013, Amick reiterates the important work that Lifetime does.
“For the most part, it’s a very male-dominated business,” she continued. “Most executives are male, so it’s always sort of their vision of stuff. I’m constantly fighting against that even when I play the wife or the girlfriend or the best friend. I always try my hardest to bring as much layering in and not make things stereotypical, but it’s hard.”
For those outside of the industry, it might be difficult to understand why the kind of diversity Amick celebrates remains a rarity. Ratings-wise, expanding horizons works: Just ask Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, who has found tremendous success with largely female-driven dramas populated with characters of color.
But doing something different can be frightening for network executives. Amick relates it all back to Twin Peaks, a series that delighted fans but confounded ABC, who sought to bury the show because it didn’t fit into a conventional mold. Time and again, Amick has seen networks held back by limitations she can’t comprehend.
“My first introduction to television, and really just the business in general, was working with David Lynch, with his incredibly open, creative mind that was not following any rules,” she said. “I didn’t know it, because I hadn’t been in the business. Once I had left Twin Peaks and started doing other shows and other movies, I kept running into, ‘No, no, we can’t do it this way. This is the way it has to happen.’ I’m like, ‘No. I’ve already done it, and it worked, so I don’t understand what you’re saying.’”
In sticking with Lifetime, Amick can play a character with enough dimensions to satisfy her, while also supporting a network that offers the same opportunities for countless other female actors.
And at the same time, Witches of East End challenges viewers to see a different side of a network that was once simply “television for women.”
“Pushing that envelope and going into that world and exploring those storylines is a very different thing for Lifetime, and I think it’s a way for them to safely start pushing the boundaries of their network, not going completely and totally crazily away from their viewers,” Amick offered. “It’s sort of like a good bridge.”