‘Fantasy Island’ Returns, Now With a Ms. Roarke
Over 37 years after Ricardo Montalbán ended his career as Mr. Roarke, the debonair concierge of an enigmatic seaside resort and wish-granting of the Pacific Ocean, “Fantasy Island” returns to television once again networked.
But this time around, the latest iteration, which comes a year after a horror film adaptation received widespread critical criticism, arrives on Fox with women on both sides of the camera.
Created by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, the new “Fantasy Island” premieres on Tuesday. It centers on Elena Roarke (played by Roselyn Sánchez), a great-niece of Mr. Roarke de Montalbán who left her life in New York to become the sophisticated steward of the island, where she satisfies the greatest desires of his guests but teaches them that what they want is not necessarily what they need.
“Elena was an ordinary woman studying neurobiology, madly in love, engaged to get married. She didn’t want responsibility; she just wanted to have a normal life, ”Sánchez said in a recent interview. “But the last name and the heritage are bigger than her.”
The original “Fantasy Island” ran for seven seasons from 1978 to 1984 on ABC, making, as Sánchez put it, “wish fulfillment a cultural phenomenon.” A 1998 revival, starring Malcolm McDowell as the new Mr. Roarke, only lasted one season. Another reboot attempt, in 2018, never made it past the development stage.
Then last summer, executives at Sony Pictures Television approached Fox with the intention of finding a new approach. They eventually bought a pitch from Craft and Fain, longtime writing and production partners best known for their work on “Angel”, “The Shield” and “Lie to Me”.
“It was really a daunting notion, as we watched ‘Fantasy Island’ like kids and we have such strong memories of sitting in our respective homes and watching Mr. Roarke and his sidekick, Tattoo [played by Hervé Villechaize]”said Fain, who serves as showrunner with Craft.” But we loved the show so much it felt like a really amazing opportunity very quickly. “
In Sánchez, Craft said, the creators found someone who perfectly combined “humor, warmth, compassion and natural authority.” For the Puerto Rican actress, the show, which was filmed on the island, offered a chance to reunite with loved ones and many of the crew she had worked with early in her career.
Production has also given Puerto Rico a financial boost as the island continues to recover from a series of natural disasters and the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing more than $ 54 million to its economy in over the past three months. “It’s really important for the island, for them and for me,” said Sánchez, who chose to postpone her directorial debut in favor of filming the 10-episode first season of “Fantasy Island” in his native country.
In a phone interview from Puerto Rico, Sánchez, who is best known for her work on “No Trace” and “Devious Maids,” spoke of the pressure that comes with putting on the shoes – and the iconic white suit – by Montalbán, and Latin representation in Hollywood. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
In promotional videos you mentioned that you were a fan of the original. What are your fondest memories of watching the show as a girl in Puerto Rico?
We got it in Spanish here. I was born in 1973, and the show was in the 70s, so I was very young. But that moment when the character of Tattoo rings the bell and says: “El avión, el avión” [“The plane, the plane”] is very vivid.
You have to understand that Ricardo Montalbán, for Latinos, was a king. Just the fact that he was a prominent man wearing his own show, and he did it so well, and it was so successful. To have the opportunity to pretty much portray that character and continue Roarke’s legacy is a dream, and I recognize that it’s a responsibility. But this is the one I embrace with all my heart, and I hope people like me as much as they appreciate him.
How does this new iteration pay homage to the original while forging its own identity?
The principle is much the same. It is about the fulfillment of wishes; it is about growing as a human being; it’s about making dreams come true. Guests come to the island – they have a desire, they have a dream, whatever it is – then the island helps them navigate a magical journey and can make it come true.
But the fact that the lead role is a female, it is a testament to how the showrunners wanted to do something a little more current. Directors, many heads of departments, showrunners, they are all women, behind and in front of the camera. They’ve taken some creative liberties that are going to uplift the content, especially the fact that you have minorities in charge as leads. It is in tune with the times.
Why is now a good time for another adaptation of “Fantasy Island”? What sets this one apart from its predecessors?
Because of everything that’s going on in the world right now. The world – especially in the United States – is in a middle and gray zone right now, and I think people are looking for escape, positive things. You still want to see blue skies and you want to see hope for the future. I think people want to see minorities. Inclusiveness is a big topic these days, and we all of these different ethnicities that are so underrepresented are fighting hard.
You made your professional acting debut in the movie “Captain Ron” in 1992, and this is your first main role on network television. What has been the most difficult aspect of your career so far?
I was blessed because it was pretty consistent. But people like to put me in a box because of how I look. I am Latina – I sound very Latina – and I speak as I speak. He opens a lot of doors and closes a door. It’s been a constant back and forth, but it’s the one thing that’s been a bit of a battle with me.
Look, I was # 2, 3, 4, 5 on the call sheets. This is the first time that I can say: ‘It’s me on the poster, and I’m all alone. I’m # 1 on the call sheet! ‘ And it happened at 48, so I just have to count my blessings. Thirty years later, people still want to work with me and they recognize my worth.
There are very few Latino-led shows on television. How do you think this should be approached?
We need more Latino executives in power. If we are not represented, we cannot expect to see our faces there. Latinos have to show up too. We need Latino eyeballs when we actually bring our products to market. There must be an overwhelming amount of eyeballs supporting it. If Latinos don’t support it, then that’s the perfect excuse for leaders to say, “You know, we tried, it didn’t work.” So there is a combination of so many things that have to line up.
As for Latino ethnicity, it’s a series of ethnicities, and we’re falling behind. I don’t know exactly why this is happening. There is a lot of African American representation. Asians are getting really powerful in the industry because they stand behind their products and their content is phenomenal. Latinos, we have the talent, we have the desire, we have the purchasing power. We can do it. We just need a break, we need the right content, and hopefully that will change.
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