Welcome to W's Witch Week, a celebration of
all things witchy. In the days leading up to Halloween, we'll be
boiling up a wicked brew of all things occult, from pop culture's favorite new
witches to the real women practicing Wicca today.
Those expecting the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to be a light-hearted remake of the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch are in for a bit of a shock. Gone are the weekly witchcraft hijinks with the laugh track and talking cat, and in its place heavy, plot-driven storylines, genuine scares, and a literal Satan. For the 2018 Sabrina, the stakes are higher, the spells are darker, and even the mean girls are meaner.
Enter Tati Gabrielle, the 22-year-old actress who plays Prudence, Sabrina Spellman’s fellow teenage witch and main antagonist (besides, you know, Satan himself). On the show, Prudence is probably the most devout of witches (as anyone who has gotten to the Thanksgiving episode can attest), the leader of the Weird Sisters, the trio of mean girls who rule the Academy of the Unseen Arts (the show’s maybe fascist version of Hogwarts), and one of the most nefarious characters in a show packed with them. Of course, let's not conflate the actress with her character.
“I am not a horror fan,” she said recently, her voice a girlish lilt far from Prudence’s vaguely British and cat-like intonation. “I am the biggest baby when it comes to horror. I couldn’t watch Jurassic Park until I was 16. That’s how bad it is.”
Gabrielle was born and raised in Northern California, where she attended the Oakland School for the Arts (Kehlani and Zendaya are both alums) before moving to Atlanta to study theatre. It was there, however, that she discovered her passion for television and film, and decided to make the move back to California, where she began putting herself up for roles. Like many before her, Nickelodeon was her first job, landing a guest role on The Thundermans. “I played a character named Hacksaw who was this punk rock chick, and she and her dad rob the Thundermans of all of the furniture in their coffee shop,” she recalled.
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From there, she scored her first major role, on the hit post-apocalyptic CW series The 100. “That was the trippiest thing that had ever happened to me in my life thus far,” Gabrielle said. “I watched The 100 when I was in school and it was like one of my favorite shows. When I got the audition, I was like, ‘Yo, that’s crazy.’ And then when I booked it, it was so surreal. Still to this day, I can’t fully wrap my head around it. “
The actress had just wrapped the show’s fifth season when word of a Sabrina remake came her way. “I started hearing buzz about it, hearing people talk about it on set, and I’d had a few friends who’d auditioned for it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wait, they’re redoing Sabrina the Teenage Witch? That’s so dope.’ It was more of a fantasy of mine than something I thought would happen. About two months after I heard about it, I got my first audition.”
Gabrielle initially auditioned for Rosalind, Sabrina’s mortal best friend, before being brought back in to test for Prudence—a personal dream come true. “It was my first time at trying a more antagonistic or villainous role, and I had always said that it was my dream to play a villain,” she said. “She’s extremely devout to being a witch. At first you think that she’s just a mean girl, but she’s not that—it comes from a much deeper place. Sabrina is a mortal, I’m a witch, and mortals have put such a strain on witches for centuries. That’s something that Prudence really holds dear to herself and takes very seriously. I love the idea that she’s not your typical teenage mean girl.”
To transform herself into the character, Gabrielle looked to one of her acting heroes. “The accent just kind of came to me,” she said. “But as far as her mannerisms, I’m a really big fan of Eartha Kitt; that was a big inspiration for me. Eartha was such a powerful woman, just as herself, and the way that she’d sway and move. She was the original Catwoman, but she was literally like a cat. She was a panther in the form of a human being.”
Like Kitt’s Catwoman, Prudence and her fellow Weird Sisters have a distinctive look, defined by matching black ensembles. “Being in those costumes makes me feel witchy,” she said. “It really affects the way I move, because I’m always in a fitted dress and I feel like I need to be elegant. I’m a tomboy by nature, so I’m always wearing baggy things and tennis shoes, so the hair and makeup and everything really gave me this intensity that took me there.”
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As for Prudence’s signature hairstyle, a close-cropped and stylized bleach blonde pixie cut, that’s all Gabrielle. “I did my hair myself,” she said. “On a good day, it could take me 30 to 40 minutes; on a bad day, over an hour.”
Of course, a show like the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is more than good hair and makeup; the first season involves plenty of heavy moments and downright spooky scenes that would challenge any actress. “There are spooky nights,” she said. “Some of the spells that we use are actual Wiccan spells. I’m like, ‘Guys, we are calling on some really dark forces right now.’ Prudence was fine, but Tati was terrified.”
Luckily, she’s got a cast of fellow talented young actors to surround her, led by Sabrina herself, played by Kiernan Shipka. “She’s so sweet, so welcoming,” she said. “It made me really excited, because she was so giving. She probably had how many other girls testing at the time and coming in the room, but the fact that she could be so open and present was so helpful for me. You could tell that she wants everybody to succeed.
“The whole cast is very close,” she continued. “From the first week that we were all together, we moved like an amoeba. We’ve really built a little family, we’ll have game night. In between takes, everybody has an instrument, so we’ll make music and sing songs.”
While Shipka may be used to the spotlight, Gabrielle is gearing up for what’s to come now that after months of anticipation. “I’m excited, I’m nervous, I don’t really know what to expect. It feels so surreal. It’s been in our own world for so long that it doesn’t feel real that the rest of the world is going to see it now. I’m a little overwhelmed.”
This, however, is when being a so-called “sister show” to the immensely popular Riverdale (the two series share a creator, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, both stem from Archie Comics, and there is in fact a shared universe) comes in handy. “Our first week here, Roberto invited us to the Riverdale wrap party. Still to do this day, they hang out with us. They geared us up.”
Before the show even premiered on Friday, it had already been renewed by Netflix for season 2. Production is already well underway. “You can expect a lot more witchiness and seeing Sabrina really delve into the witch world and find herself in that. There’s a big theme of trust in the second season,” Gabrielle said. “We are all so happy that we get to keep this story going.”
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