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Rosemary’s Baby Premiere Preview [PHOTOS + Jason Isaacs INTERVIEW] 

Rosemary's Baby

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Everything old is new again and we’re totally onboard for this phenomenon. It’s not recent, but lately we’re really enjoying “modern” takes on classic movies. We’re big fans of Hannibal, the modern take on Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Bates Motel, the contemporary re-imagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. So when we heard about this “remake” (we use the term loosely) of Rosemary’s Baby we knew we’d have to check it out.

From NBC: 

Based on the 1967 best-selling suspense novel by Ira Levin, this new adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby centers on a young married couple who escape New York and move to Paris with hopes of leaving their sad past behind. After a series of unfortunate events, Zoe Saldana Rosemary and Patrick J. Adams‘ Guy Woodhouse are presented with an offer they can’t refuse — an apartment with the most prestigious address in the city. Problem is, it comes with a haunted past and an immeasurable price.

Rosemary’s Baby premieres Sunday, May 11th at 9/8c on NBC.

TV Goodness participated in a press call with Jason Isaacs. He talks about his character, where and how he finds the motivation to play bad guys, why he wanted to work with director Agnieszka Holland and his favorite horror films.

Photo Credit: Roger Do Minh/NBC
Photo Credit: Roger Do Minh/NBC

We see that Rosemary is a modern woman, not easily dominated or intimidated by her husband but this wealthy, chic couple seems to have great power over her. Was class something you discussed? Did you see that as part of your character?

Jason Isaacs:Yes, I think one of the things that attracted me to this is that it is so different from the original story. It seems to bear only the title and the bed – those are the (clothes) in common. Carole [Bouquet] and I tap into the worst elements and neurosis and egomania of all of us. There are other people who are cooler, sexier, chicer, richer and in every way better than us. That’s one of the great things about this. Since Roman and Margaux have been around so very long, we’ve accumulated such wealth and power and clout in French high society that you can’t help be near us and be intimidated. It’s one of the things we recognize and we guide that weakness, that desire to be someone else. Certainly living in Hollywood, there’s very few people here that put their address book in pencil waiting for the day that they can write more important people in in pen. That’s something that I recognize we could use and made it so different from the original that I didn’t feel like it was any part of us that was recreating anything. It’s a human instinct that I think is in all of us. My writer friends are so neglected and third class citizens of the artistic world, but that need and narcissism ran deep in him. And it felt like a great story point.”

This is a miniseries, but there is a trend to do shorter seasons of TV shows. Was that something that attracted you to this role?

Jason: “Well, I was in the commissary at Universal on a Friday afternoon and I got a phone call saying, ‘We’re making Rosemary’s Baby. Will you meet on Sunday?’ What’s great now about television, the changing landscape, is you can go off and do a job – like I’ve always done in Britain frankly and most of the world does. Where someone says we’re making this it will be over soon. Do you like the story? Not, ‘Do you want to live in this world for the next ten years or 7 years or we hope you go on forever?’ But this is a story with a beginning, a middle and end. Great director. And it should be a fun adventure. So that appealed, but really the same reason why most actors do most jobs- is it any good, will I have fun doing it and do I think if I’m lucky enough have a choice so I think the audience will have fun watching it? I heard the words ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ and I thought they’ve all lost their mind. Then I heard it was a four-hour mini-series, [made by] people I admire enormously, [who] made Awake and I thought who else is doing things like this? Who else has got the guts to be a two-night horror event? And the fact that it was in Paris. I mean it was Zoe [Saldana] at the head of it. I thought it doesn’t really bear any resemblance other than the great bits of the hook of the plot to the [Roman] Polanski original. So it’s not like anyone’s going to sit in a side-by-side and do a Ph.D. on it. Why not? I mean that’s one of the great fun things as an actor  – when you’re not signing up for long-term series – is that you can go and walk in some extraordinary shoes for a very short while and then stand back. It’s certain Roman’s shoes are very odd.”

You’re such a great bad guy. Is there something specifically you tap into for these roles?

Jason: “Well, it’s the same thing whether you’re a wizard or just a so-called Stockholm [Syndrome]- a young girl who’d been locked in the basement for twenty years of her life and now loves the guy who locked her up. You just try and find what’s real. Who are the people who would do these things? It’s a tougher gig. Your imagination though – what would it be like if I’d been alive forever and I was the devil’s child? For some odd reason I knew how to (act my purpose) though that doesn’t seem like a big stretch to me. Most of the time you try to create nuanced characters that are like most of us – driven by a bubbling cauldron of fear and confidence and love and need and all the rest of it. Every now and again it’s nice to throw that all out of the window and just lick your lips and be deliciously, confidently evil. The nice thing about Roman is that everything is going his way. He has all the power in the world. Even if this doesn’t work out with Rosemary and Guy they’re entirely expendable. There’s an infinite amount of time to do the devil’s work so it’s nice just for once to take out that it’s not driven by fear and neurosis.”

What’s different about this version of Roman?

Jason: “Well if I stop at the outside I know that in the original Rosemary leans over and says to Guy it’s weird he’s got a hole where he had an earring. I think in the ‘60’s that might have been strange that someone might have an earring, but it’s not such a weird thing. So Agnieszka [Holland] and I said let’s just wear an earring; which I regretted five minutes after I said it because [it] gave me a deadly rash. So that’s from the outside and then on the inside I think he’s enjoying himself. I’m not sure whether it was necessarily imagined but he enjoyed the game. It’s like someone enjoys going fishing or hunting, the journey is as much fun as anything else. There was something of a deliciousness of the bait and switch and reeling going in quite sated in the middle of it all, but I’m not sure – I might be wrong – was in the original scripts. Then there was a big question about how I should talk. This is a man who’s probably lived in many countries and speaks every language. At first I thought I might have fun and speak with a French accent because it’s set in Paris. Then we realized that he probably speaks twenty languages perfectly. He’s had enough time after all for sitting in a million Pimsleur courses. So [for] the first time for a very long time I used my own accent.”

What do you think it is about this project that will really capture the viewers?

Jason: “There’s not that many great plots around us. This is one of those fabulously scary, creepy things. Pregnancy is a kind of enormous vulnerability. The ground feels shaky under your feet and you really need to feel safe and trust people. Zoe does an unbelievable job of being in a state of emotional distress for the entire four hours. She doesn’t know eventually who’s going to stay alive, who she can trust, whether she can trust her own husband, whether she can trust this lovely, glamorous chic couple that have basically adopted them and given them a lifestyle beyond their wildest imagination. At some point she thinks, ‘I can’t trust anybody.’ But it’s a modern story told in a rather brilliant, young, sentimental way by Agnieszka Holland, who doesn’t put up with bullshit. The idea that you would think, ‘Wait a second maybe they really are all after me, maybe there are witches around.’ It’s so ludicrous to Rosemary, so ridiculous and farfetched that whilst we’re at home screaming at the television going, ‘Look behind you and check and lock the cupboard,’ she resists it because who wouldn’t? I think because it’s a primal fear, that babies are so vulnerable and people who are pregnant are so vulnerable and not knowing who to trust and that thing about being put in an environment where you know no one. It brilliant to move the thing to Paris because they don’t speak the language around them. They don’t quite understand the culture around them. They don’t even understand the medicine. There’s Margaux making these incredible herbal drinks for her. In France on the public health system you get homeopathy, you get naturopathy. You get a bunch of stuff. So they’re not quite sure- the ground is shaky beneath their feet from the start. They’re in a tiny apartment; suddenly they’re in a big glamorous apartment. I was living there while we were shooting in a place above a bakery. The bakery opened in 1366. So there’s a sense of history there that we would start talking about devil cults that stretch anything – any kind of belief system – any kind of cultural history. The roots are so deep and spread back so far that it feels somehow more believable. Why does it resonate? Because it’s creepy. It’s like asking why a song works. You know, some songs work and some don’t. This is a story that works. It worked once in a great film in the ‘60’s, it worked once [as] a phenomenal book in the ‘60’s. The writers cherry-picked the best elements of both and reinvented it for today and hopefully it will work again.”

We didn’t see much of the baby in the film. Will we see the baby in the miniseries?

Jason: “Well two things. One is, of course, the great strength of any story – but particularly a creepy suspense horror thriller – [is] you don’t know what’s coming next. So I shouldn’t really tell you exactly what’s going on, but I can tell you we have four hours of television. The Polanski movie was in many ways an exercise in paranoia. You could finish the entire film and go,”Did any of this really happen?’ from Mia Farrow’s point of view. Well, that isn’t our story. Stuff happens.Stuff is really happening on-screen and it’s more a case of, ‘Get out, the (calls) are coming from within the house.’ So it’s a lot gorier and nastier and creepier and more horrific. It’s more flat out-and-out horror, certainly in the second night. So I’m not going to tell you how much you do or don’t see any baby but I will tell you that it’s not an exercise in paranoia stretched to four hours. It’s more about that painful enjoyment you have when you’re screaming at the heroine on-screen going, ‘When is she going to realize what we’ve realized and get out of that house?'”

This is horror, but there is no blood. Is that correct?

Jason: “We have blood. Let me just say there will be blood and lots of it. Yes, I mean it’s interesting how much blood and how little sex you’re not allowed to show graphically on American television generally unless you’re on pay cable. Except blood is allowed and we absolutely push it to the limit. It’s gory. Certainly once the blood stops flowing, it’s extremely gory. I’ve often been on sets where they go, ‘Oh that’s a bit too much. Let’s just have a little.’ The real cops or medical (folks) standing around go, ‘No, no when you’ve blown someone’s check out or when you cut someone’s head off there’s a ton of blood.’ Well Agnieszka did not stint on the buckets of what we called Kensington gore in England. There’s plenty of it. A substantial portion of the budget went on croissant and the rest went on blood.”

I don’t know how much of a fan you are of horror films-

Jason: “I grew up watching horror films. Oddly, because they scared the living shit out of me, or scared the pants off me, pardon my language. And they still do. For some odd bizarre reason I still submit myself to it.”

Are they any you like to watch over and over?

Jason: “No, no. I- even the really bad ones, the awful sequels that go into Roman numerals when I was younger – I watched. I was a counselor on summer camp in New Jersey and we sneaked off and out of the camp to go and watch Friday the 13th in 3D; myself and a guy called Larry. It was called New Jersey White Camps but I think it was in Milford, Pennsylvania. But we sneaked out, walked through the forest to where he had hidden his car. We drove into town. We saw Friday the 13th in 3D. I was 19. He was much more macho than me and we sneaked back through the forest holding hands. We didn’t even part until we got to our bunks. So I’ve always been scared of them. My best friend (Katie) growing up who lives in Paris, oddly, and I relived a lot of it when I was shooting Rosemary’s Baby because we used to watch horror films either at my house or her house. The other person would be too scared to walk home socwe’d agreed to walk to the middle of both of our houses, then part and run home. Yes they worked on me as a kid, they work on me now. I think everybody loves to be scared. Why do people ride roller coasters? It is a deeply unpleasant experience. You scream. You’re not screaming out of pleasure. You scream and then you laugh with the release. There’s something about being taken to a place where your stomach is in knots and you’re on the edge of your seat, your heart races you’re so glad to have lived through the experience that the relief is worth it. It’s like wearing a tight pair of shoes all day, just at the moment they come off. I think Rosemary’s Baby, it’s such a creepy tale. It’s so deeply nasty and it turned its vise slowly on you. You have a creeping sense of dread and horror. In this four-hour mini-series there’s an exciting paranoia. There’s no way out of it. You know what’s coming and you kind of get on this conveyor belt and you gradually tighten your knuckles until you look down and your nails are digging into your palms. That’s the idea anyway. I wouldn’t presume to tell people what will happen to them, but that’s the intention.”

You chose this project because of the director. Could you talk about what it was like to work with her?

Jason: “Yes. She’s a force of nature. She doesn’t take prisoners. There are five languages in which she can swear like Richard Nixon. I think she’s phenomenal. I would walk off a cliff behind her. She’s made some of the most brilliant European films and mini-series and the best of American television. She just is not interested in derivative acting or any kind of emotional bullshit or sentimentality. She has seen and is continually curious about the worst aspects of human behavior and the corruption of the soul. She’s Eastern European and while we were shooting was glued to the news coming out of the Ukraine; and went immediately there to Crimea to speak when she wrapped. This is a powerful, talented artist who is plugged into the real world and brings that to everything that she touches. I was a fan before and I’m a bigger fan now.”

Have you read the book?

Jason: “I have read the book. I think what the writers and all the best producers look at the films and they looked at the books and they cherry-picked the best of the narrative. Then they set it somewhere completely different. It’s over a much longer period of time. They’ve changed the characters of Roman and Margaux entirely and then having Zoe at the center of this immediately makes it a piece of a different tone because she’s such a modern woman. There’s nothing weak about Zoe. Then when you put Patrick [J. Adams] as her husband- John Cassavetes has something about him I wouldn’t dare to presume what he was like in real life, but something on-screen came through – untrustworthy – about him from the beginning. But Patrick has such an open face and feels like such a charming, lovely, fine young man – the kind of person that parents would happily have taking their daughter out to prom. So the fact that he sold his wife out, it takes longer to come to terms with the terrible thing that he’s done and the terrible price that he’s paying. I think it took Patrick by surprise how he struggled with – not struggled – the part was enjoyable to watch, it’s how much Guy is struggling with it. Whereas in Cassavetes season he enjoys the fruits of this deal he’s done with the devil so much that you can condemn him as the dealer. But with Patrick you look at him and your heart goes out to him even though he’s, in some ways, the most despicable character on the screen. So they’re all so different I think that hopefully Ira Levin would enjoy it, hopefully Polanski enjoys it and they will all recognize the spirit of their story, but not the details.”

Photo Credit: Nino Munoz/NBC
Photo Credit: Nino Munoz/NBC

Do you prefer playing a hero or a villain? 

Jason: “Well I just like stuff that’s well written. I mean, the worse thing as an actor is to go somewhere because it’s well-paid or the food’s good or something and that all the stuff is great except when they say action. I try and pick things to do that are fun and different and will be fun to watch; but mostly that when they say action I will have some idea of what I’m going to do that is truthful. Because all the rest of it – the deals and the costumes and the settings, even how big the thing is going to be and who’s going to watch it – all those things feel like they matter. Roman was a giant and I could see that within the confines of this story, there was a way to play him believably. The camera loves an inner life. It loves secrets. If you can’t have something going on behind your eyes, there isn’t really a thought process that the character will be going through. They’re only saying or doing things because the writers put them there so that the audience knows something. It doesn’t matter if you’re Marlon Brando, you’ll look like an idiot. So mostly my career choice is about trying to look as little like an idiot as possible. I respond to the best material that is in front of me. I never think of them as villains or heroes because those out-and-out heroes are not only very boring, but almost impossible to play, as are out-and-out mustache twirling villains. Unless you can believe them yourself the audience will never believe you. You might as well be standing up at a renaissance fair – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I just would want to find something that I believe so even Lucius Malfoy, a guy who was a racist and who was felt left behind by the times and whose boss he worships utterly, rejects and emasculates him at every turn. His wife rejects him and who feels the march of time has left him behind. So I believed all that stuff. I just try to find stuff that makes emotional sense to me and might be interesting to watch.”

How does Roman draw Guy in? What would make someone make the decision to turn his wife over to the devil?

Jason: “I saw this documentary a few years ago about American and Russian athletes and steroids. There were people who knew that they would probably shorten their life in a terrible way and their lives had ended terribly or they were ridden with cancer and disease and they were asked, ‘If you could do it again would you?’ These are people that had won gold medals and they said absolutely they would. So there’s this man who is told the rest of your life – your dreams, your wildest dreams will come true for both you and your wife. You’ll have untold wealth, you’ll have fame, you’ll have success. You could have more babies. All we’re asking is that you give us a baby. And remember she’s already lost a baby. Maybe she’s lost more than one. So it’s just a baby. It’s an easy thing to say but from his point of view if you grit your teeth and get over it- they’ve got over grief, she’s already in grief having lost the baby, so she’ll lose another one. I don’t think there’s many people that haven’t got friends who’ve lot a baby. Miscarriages are extremely common. I think two in three pregnancies end in miscarriages. So if you’ve already had a miscarriage and they’re all around you, who’s to say that one more to guarantee you the rest of your life in absolute luxury and with all of your dreams come true isn’t worth it? Now obviously as the story plays out I think Guy might well regret it, certainly as the corpses pile up around him. Then it becomes clear that he might have destroyed his marriage in the process and whatever else happens. But at the moment he makes the decision- if somebody asked me to give up a limb or to give up an eye. This is a reward that seems worth it to Guy. That’s why we pick him. There’s a current of narcissism that runs deep in him, deep enough that I can tap into it. But it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me. I’m not sure what I’d give up if I knew that the rest of my life I could provide for not only my family but my extended family, my parents, my wife’s parents, my siblings. I’m not sure. Luckily no one’s ever going to come to me. The worst of it is would you sign a seven-year contract for the television series and the answer is often yes.”

How do you see Roman’s relationship with Guy?

Jason: “I’ve done it before. Roman’s done it before. Roman’s been around an awfully long time. He’s been around 100 guys. He recognizes the weakness, essential weakness in Guy’s soul. He sees where his ego is large enough to tap into it and to persuade him to make this awful sacrifice. I certainly think that Guy would think a long time that Roman is his mentor and then, of course, he becomes his captor. He’s like a mouse and I’m the cat. Or he’s a big game fish that I’m reeling in slowly. But once I have him I have him and it doesn’t really matter what he thinks and how much he rattles the bars, I have him. Forever.”

Did you study any coven related shows or movies while doing this? 

Jason: “No I didn’t. I never look at any other picture when I’m trying to create fiction. You know, that way madness lies. It’s why cop shows look like other cop shows and why I’ve been in things where plot lines come up or the police behave in a certain way and I always have a technical advisor for instance. A cop called (Jesse) who was on The Shield, was on our show. And I’d ask (Jesse) what cops really do because once you start looking at other TV shows, or other films, or other fiction you’re looking at other people’s imagined ideas of what goes on. Why not look for what really goes on? So I’ve read about covens. I’ve read about witches and then a bit about the devil. And I try always to go to sources. In fact, even more so when I’m playing real-life people or recreating a real-life situation which is not here. I try and find diaries because history is written by the victors, so it’s retrospective pieces about history – the civil war, for instance, or the holocaust or various other things I’ve been involved in. They have the wisdom of time and so I try and find contemporaneous things. I’ll always rather read a diary from someone than a piece written by someone analyzing the situation.”

Did you have a favorite scene?

Jason: “Oh the second night Roman’s mark slips. Once Guy is in and he can’t get out I don’t have to be so charming anymore. There’s something about Roman’s smile that is so fake and so transparently wafer thin that I like it when he drops the smile. So the second night there’s a few scenes I enjoy enormously.”

Why are people so fascinated with witches and the devil?

Jason: “I don’t know. Why are people fascinated by evil? I think because we spend most of our life trying to do what we think of as the right thing and trying to be liked by people or leave an impression that is either good or better than we found them. We are continually fascinated by other people or even creatures that don’t care and quite the opposite – are trying to do harm or trying to do bad. Because it’s the antithesis of the human experience and yet it’s somewhere inside all of us I think. So [it] beguiles [us] to let all that go and be the very worst versions of ourselves. So when we come across people who are the very worst version you have of everything – it’s intriguing…and terrifying.”

Are you excited about the way network and cable TV has broadened itself and become inviting to all sorts of actors?

Jason: “I think it’s amazing. These are amazing times of making scripted drama. I don’t know if there’s enough eyeballs, unfortunately, for all the fabulous new outlets opening up. It’s making broadcast networks obviously take much bigger risks and do short forms. [The network] decided to make a two-night horror event, but it’s also making writers use their imaginations and dare to dream and not be commissioned by executives. In many instances they’re finding outlets for them. I think it’s a golden time for commissioning and making things. Everybody’s getting into the drama business, which is fabulous for actors. People just love telling stories. How it will all shake out in the long run, I don’t know. There are so many new players. But you can’t really expect viewers at home to subscribe to Amazon and Hulu and Netflix and HBO and Showtime and the many other people and channels who will have to start charging. So I don’t know where it will go but I do know that as a creative person, I’m also trying to sell and produce things and come up with ideas and take them around. There are so many rooms full of interesting creative people who would like to help me make stuff that it doesn’t bear any resemblance to what it was like ten years ago. And it’s great for the viewer. So, you need to get a big DVR. There’s just so many good things coming on and coming out. The shame of it is that many of them will be canceled because there aren’t enough viewers for as many good products as are coming onto our screens.”

Keep making great shows.

Jason: “I’ll try. I mean there’s great stuff going on in my life. I did some Wigs, which is a fantastic online channel. There’s a phenomenal job going on on the Web as well. Or in streamed media that doesn’t even touch television screens, It’s just – it’s everywhere. There’s talented people everywhere and they’re getting to tell stories which they just couldn’t tell some time ago.”

You’ve had a lot of great roles. What challenged you on this project?

Jason: “I think you always have to adjust what you’re doing to the style of the piece. You don’t do slapstick comedy the same way you do Ibsen. It’s just finding the tone of the thing and finding out how much to wink to the memory of the audience. My friend will come to it and go, ‘What? You’re remaking the Polanski film? It’s a work of genius. It’s sacrilege. How dare you.’ That was, in some ways, the most fun thing about it at all. Because I knew that it’s not a remake at all. I mean there were all these clumsy words like ‘reimagining.’ But it’s not just telling a great story. It’s got the same title. It’s got roughly the same plot line but it’s all so different that I quite like the sleight of hand. Maybe we’ll draw people to it hoping to sound smart when they go, ‘Well I prefer this and that,’ as if they were watching another production of Hamlet. But these are different words and different characters in different situations. So that was a challenge in a way, to invent something new that worked in and of itself. All actors are outside, all actors feel like they don’t quite belong at the party. We’re always looking in through the window at the world we want to belong to. But for Margaux and Roman they are the ‘it’ crowd. So for me to imagine myself being the ‘it’ guy was a huge stretch of the imagination because I experience myself as the very opposite, unlike Carole Bouquet, my screen wife who is the queen of Paris. She’s a massively iconic not just actress but presence in France. I mean you walk down the street and the Red Sea parts for her. Any call she made, people would open any institution any time of day or night. She had such a natural elegance and grace and beauty, it came easily to her. But I very rarely play the winner as it were. And he’s such a winner, Roman, that that was a challenge for me.”

Edited for space and content.


All photos credited to Nino Munoz/NBC and Roger Do Minh/NBC.

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