Behind the Scenes of the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Miniseries with Jason Isaacs

Jason Isaacs Rosemary's Baby Interview
Carole Bouquet as Margaux, Jason Isaacs as Roman, Zoe Saldana as Rosemary, and Patrick J. Adams as Guy in 'Rosemary's Baby' (Photo by: Nino Munoz/NBC)

-By Rebecca Murray

Because nothing says Happy Mother’s Day better than witches and devil babies, NBC’s celebrating Mother’s Day 2014 with the premiere of the miniseries Rosemary’s Baby starring Zoe Saldana, Patrick J. Adams, and Jason Isaacs. And for fans of the 1968 movie and/or Ira Levin’s bestselling novel who are expecting that maybe this miniseries will be taking a similar approach to the classic material in the way that Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho replicated Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror/thriller, that’s not the case with this Rosemary’s Baby. Instead, the basics of the story remain the same but changes were made in modernizing the tale.

Speaking to the media about the upcoming premiere of Rosemary’s Baby, Jason Isaacs provided insights into the changes to the source material and what viewers can expect from this 2014 approach to Levin’s novel. Asked why he believes it will resonate and why the story still hooks us in, Isaacs replied, “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 ‘60s, it worked once in a phenomenal book in the ’60s, and the writers of this cherry-picked the best elements of both and reinvented it for today. And hopefully it will work again.”

So, what do we really need to know about NBC’s Rosemary’s Baby miniseries premiering on May 11th at 9pm ET/PT and concluding on May 15th at 9pm? Here are the key points we learned from Isaacs’ conference call.

This is not a remake of the Roman Polanski movie:

Jason Isaacs: “My friend [said], ‘What?! You’re remaking the Polanski film? It’s a work of genius. It’s sacrilege. How dare you!’ And that was in some ways the most fun thing about it at all, because I knew that we were was so different. It’s not a remake at all. I mean there were all these clumsy words like re-imagining, 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. You know, 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, you know, 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.”

The key differences between the book, the Roman Polanski film, and this mini-series:

Jason Isaacs: “I mean it’s an odd thing because people talk about the iconic Polanski movie but you know he made the movie from a phenomenally successful and popular book, as all his books were and they all made great films. I think what the writers did [was] they looked at the film and they looked at the book 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. And then when you put Patrick [J. Adams] as her husband… John Cassavetes, there was 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 and kind of the kind of person that parents would happily have taking their daughter out to prom. And 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, I mean the part was enjoyable to watch – it’s how much Guy is struggling with it. Whereas in Cassavetes 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.”

The new version plays up the difference in social standing and wealth between the Castevets and Woodhouses:

Jason Isaacs: “I think one of the things that attracted me to this is that it is so different from the original story. […] Whereas Roman and Minnie in the Polanski film are this rather harmless and sweet old couple, Carole [Bouquet] and I represent or tap into the worst elements and neurosis and egomania of all of us which is there are other people who are cooler, sexier, chicer, richer and in every way better than us. So I think that’s one of the great things about this is that we…obviously since Roman and Margaux have been around a very long time, we’ve accumulated such wealth and power and clout in French society and high society generally 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 that, certainly, living in Hollywood there’s a 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 so it 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 and is in Guy as a writer. My writer friends are so neglected and so much third class citizens of the artistic world. But that need and narcissism ran deep in [Guy], and it felt like a great story point.”

It’s all about what motivates Guy:

Jason Isaacs: “Well, you know, 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? And 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. You know, it’s an easy thing to say but from his point of view, you know, if you grit your teeth and get over it – they’ve got over grief that she’s already in grief having lost the baby, so she’ll lose another one.

I don’t think there’s many people on this call that haven’t got friends who’ve lost a baby. There are many people we know […] but 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 twitching around him. Then it becomes clear that he might have destroyed his marriage in the process. And, you know, whatever else happens. But at the moment he makes the decision I put to him – if somebody said to me not necessarily if I would compromise my wife or my children that exist or future children, if somebody asked me to give up a limb or to give up an eye or you know there are people who sell organs that’s for whatever at the moment seemed to them to be a reward that’s worth it. 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. You know, I’m not sure. Luckily no one’s ever going to come to me.”

Jason Isaacs 'Rosemary's Baby' Interview
Jason Isaacs as Roman in 'Rosemary's Baby' (Photo by: Nino Munoz/NBC)

The mini-series explores more how Guy is drawn in by Roman:

Jason Isaacs: “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. And so 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.”

Pregnant, vulnerable, and paranoid provides the perfect set-up for a horror story:

Jason Isaacs: “There’s not that many great plots around us [and] this is one of those fabulously scary creepy things. Pregnancy is a time of enormous vulnerability and when the ground feels shaky under your feet and you really need to feel safe and you can trust people, and 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. And at some point she thinks, ‘I can’t trust anybody.’

But because it’s a modern story told in a rather brilliant, young, unsentimental way by Agnieszka Holland, who doesn’t put up with bullshit. You know, 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!,’ she resists it because who wouldn’t, you know?”

The shift from America to Paris amps up the uneasiness:

Jason Isaacs: “I think it was a brilliant move 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 around. There’s Margaux making these incredible herbal drinks for her. You know, in France on the public health system you get homeopathy, you get naturopathy. You get a bunch of stuff, and 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 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.”

About that devil baby…the reveal this time is different:

Jason Isaacs: […]”The great strength of any story, but particularly a creepy suspense horror thriller – 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 this which is that we have four hours of television. The Polanski movie was in many ways an exercise in paranoia. And you could finish the entire film and go, ‘Is she imagining this? Did any of this really happen?’ certainly from Mia Farrow’s point of view. Well, that isn’t our story. Stuff happens. And stuff is really happening on screen and it’s more a case of, ‘Get out! The calls are coming from within the house!’

And so it’s a lot gorier and nastier and creepier and a more horrific, I think. 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 when is she going to realize…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?”

There will be blood:

Jason Isaacs: “We have blood. Let me just say there will be blood and lots of it. 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 subscription cable, except blood is allowed and we absolutely push it to the limit. It’s gory.

You know, certainly once the blood starts 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,’ and the real cops or medical folks standing around go, ‘No, no. When you’ve blown someone’s chest out or when you cut someone’s head off, there’s a ton of blood.’ Well Agnieszka did not scrimp on the buckets of what we called Kensington gore in England. There’s plenty of it. A substantial portion of the budget went on croissants and the rest went on blood.”

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