You may recognize Jason Isaacs as the star of the late great double-universe series Awake, or maybe as the elegantly evil Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. Starting on Sunday evening you’ll be recognizing him as Roman Castavet, one of the stars of the NBC miniseries Rosemary’s Baby.
He took some time earlier this week for a conference call with media outlets about the four-hour event and how it differs from the book and the Polanski movie (almost completely),about the nature of horror (he’s a fan),about playing heroes and villains (including Lucius Malfoy),and much more. He was wonderfully articulate, terrifically charming, and totally entertaining, so I’m giving you the whole transcript to enjoy.
For your reference, in this version of Rosemary’s Baby, the very chic, very rich Roman and Margaux Castavet (played by Isaacs and Carole Bouquet) take young couple Guy and Rosemary (Patrick J. Adams and Zoe Saldana) under their wings and into an apartment in their exquisite building in Paris, and soon …
Q. I saw, I noticed something I didn’t see in previous version was a class thing going on. We see Rosemary as a modern woman. She’s not easily dominated or intimidated by her husband. But this wealthy chic couple seems to have a great deal of power over her. Was class something that was discussed or – did you see that as part of the character? Being intimidating?
Jason Isaacs: Yes I think I – well first of all, good morning, everyone. I find this whole strange creepy Big Brother punch-a-number thing odd, I wish I was looking in your eyes, I apologize for that.
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 bare bones of the plot in common. And whereas Roman and Minnie in the Polanski film are these rather harmless and sweet old couple, Carole [Bouquet] and I represent, or tap into the worst elements and neuroses and egomania of all of us which is, you know, 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 for 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.
And it’s one of the things that we recognize in Guy, that weakness, that desire to be someone else; certainly living in Hollywood there’s a few people here that put their address book in pencil and are waiting for the day that they can write more important people in in pen. And 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 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 him. And it felt like a great story point.
Q: So there’s this kind of new popularity with doing shorter seasons and I know this is more of a mini-series but was that format something that attracted you to the role initially? I mean I know obviously Awakewas kind of that longer format, which I really miss, by the way.
Jason Isaacs: Thank you very much.
Q: But was this something that, you know, because of the shortness that attracted you?
Jason Isaacs: 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? And you’ll be back in six weeks.” 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 10 years or seven 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, you know, it should be a fun adventure.”
And so that appealed, but really the main thing is, you know, the same reason why most actors do most jobs, which is: is it any good? will I have fun doing it? and do I think, if I’m lucky enough to have a choice, do I think the audience will have fun watching it?
And so, you know, first I heard the words “Rosemary’s Baby” and I thought “they’ve all lost their minds.” And then I heard it was a four hour mini-series with Agnieska Holland as director. And it was for Bob Greenblatt [Chairman, NBC Entertainment] and Jennifer Salke [President, NBC Entertainment], people I admire enormously, who made Awake, and I thought “who else is doing things like this? Who else has got the guts to put a two-night horror event on?”
And when I had Margaux and Roman described to me and the fact that it was in Paris, and I knew Zoe [Saldana] was 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 Polanski original. So it’s not like anyone’s going to sit in a side-by-side and do a Ph.D. on it.
So 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. And it’s certain Roman’s shoes are very odd.
Q: Yes! And just as a follow up, is there something specifically you tap into? Because obviously, I know you’ve played evil guys before, but is there anything specific that you do to get into that type of character?
Jason Isaacs: Well it’s just, you know, it’s the same thing whether you’re a wizard or, I just did a film called Stockholm Pennsylvania which is about a young girl who’d been locked in the basement for 20 years of her life and I was the guy who locked her up.
You just try and find what’s real, you know. Who are the people who would do these things? It’s a tough gig for your imagination though – what would it be like if I’d been alive forever and I was the devil’s child? But for some odd reason I knew how, and you’ll have to ask my therapist, but that doesn’t seem like a big stretch to me.
And there’s this other thing, I’m about to shoot Digin Israel for USA (Network) and, you know, most of the time you try to create nuanced characters that are like most of us driven by, you know, kind of a bubbling cauldron of fear and confidence and love and need and all the rest of it.
And 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. And the nice thing about Roman is that everything is going his way. He has all the power in the world. And even if this doesn’t work out with Rosemary and Guy, you know, they’re entirely expendable. He has an infinite amount of time to do the devil’s work, so it’s nice just for once to play a character that’s not driven by fear and neurosis.
Q: I was wondering if there was anything about this character that you added that wasn’t originally scripted for you.
Jason Isaacs: 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.” And 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 now so Agnieszka and I said let’s just wear an earring; which I regretted five minutes after I said it because the strange little dragon – kind of serpent earring gave me a nasty 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 likes going fishing or hunting, you know, the journey is as much fun as anything else. And there was something of a deliciousness of the kind of bait and switch and reeling Guy in.
And then there was a big question about how I should talk. This is a man who’s probably lived in many countries and speak every language and at first I thought I might have fun and I think it might have been written originally in a second language. So it was as if he was speaking with a French accent because it’s set in Paris. And then we realized that he probably speaks 20 languages perfectly. He’s had enough time after all for sitting in a million courses. So for the first time for a very long time I used my own accent.
Q: What do you think it is about the film that will really capture the viewers?
Jason Isaacs: There’s not that many great plots around us, you know, this is one of those fabulously scary creepy things. Pregnancy is a kind of enormous vulnerability and when you really – 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, sentimental 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” is so ludicrous to Rosemary, so ridiculous and farfetched that whilst we’re at home screaming at the television going, you know, “look behind you and lock the cupboard!” she resists it because who wouldn’t, you know. I can’t even remember what the question was. I went off on one of my trains or monologue rants, I apologize.
Q: I was asking what do you think it is about the film that will really capture a viewer.
Jason Isaacs: Oh yes, I think – I think because it’s a primal fear, you know, that babies are so vulnerable and people who are pregnant are so vulnerable that – and not knowing who to trust.
And that thing about being put in an environment where you know no one. 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 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.
And so what will work about it, 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 in a phenomenal book in the ‘60’s and the writers of this cherry-picked the best elements of both and reinvented it for today. And hopefully it will work again – we’ll see.
Q: So back in with the movie, with original movie they didn’t show the baby or too much of the baby. Is there going to be more of seeing the baby this time out?
Jason Isaacs: Well two things. One is of course 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.
And the Polanski movie was in many ways an exercise in paranoia. And you could finish the entire film and go “is she imagining – did any of this really happen?” You know 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 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?!”
Q. I work for an LGBT newspaper and I wondered, could you talk about Angels in America? And your experience with that real quick?
Jason Isaacs: Sure. Yes I mean I don’t know how it relates to this, but it was the greatest writing I’ve ever been anywhere near in my life. And we all stood – me and Stephen Dillane and Daniel Craig and David Schofield and all the actors, we stood in the wings every night for all seven hours of it, you know, two or three times a week. And we policed each other. We just policed the play.
I’ve never felt anything like it. It was like we were there – we wanted to make sure the actors never got in the way of what was a work of genius, you know. And there was a time near the end of the run when I was sitting in the wings and the two older actors in it walked by me and they said, “You all right?” And I said, “No, I was just thinking that whatever I do for the rest of my life nothing will ever touch even the foothills of this.”
And you would think the older actors would say to the young actor, “Don’t be silly. You’ve got your whole career ahead of you.” And they said, “We were just saying in the dressing room how glad we are this is coming at the end of our career.” I think it’s a truly genius piece of work.
Because on the primary level, which is the most important thing, just like with Rosemary’s Baby, very entertaining and the audience fell out of seats laughing. They also choked with tears but most importantly they were forced to think and change and confirms all the things they ever thought were true about the way people treat each other and how to face problems.
And it had a message about how to deal with difficulty that transcended any other characters. And I still to this day get letters from people who were in situations that are not analogies to the play but go, “I take great inspiration from,” and then pick any of the characters.
And, yes, it was easily the highlight and will always be the highlight of my working life. I think it’s – I think one of the great, great works of theater.
Q: One thing when I show younger people the original, when I tell them I went to horror movies, one of the things I saw is there’s no blood in this movie. And we’ve corrected that apparently.
Jason Isaacs: 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 allowed to show graphically on American television generally unless you’re on pay prescription cable. Except blood is allowed and we absolutely push it to the limit. It’s gory. You know, we’re all – certainly once the blood starts flowing it’s extremely gory.
And you know 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, you know, 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 stint on the buckets of what we called “Kensington gore” in England.
A substantial portion of the budget went on croissants and the rest went on blood.
Q: Well just on that note, I mean is there a particular, I mean I don’t know how much of a fan you may be of horror films in general but…
Jason Isaacs: Huge. Mostly because I’m terrified. I mean 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. And for some odd bizarre reason I still submit myself to it.
Q: Are there any in particular that you particularly like to watch over and over?
Jason Isaacs: No, no I – actually even the really bad ones. I mean even the, you know, awful sequels that go into Roman numerals when I was younger I watched. I remember watching – 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 Thirteen in 3D; myself and a guy called Larry. Actually it was in – it was called New Jersey White Camps but I think it was in Milford, Pennsylvania really. But we sneaked out, walked through the forest to where he had hidden his car. We drove into town. We saw Friday the Thirteenth in 3D. And I was 19 and it was, you know, we were both – certainly he was much more macho than me. And we sneaked back through the forest holding hands I remember. 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 Babybecause we used to watch horror films at each of our, you know, about she lived very close to me and either at my house or her house. And the other person would be too scared to walk home so, you know, there’s be some strange way we’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 they – everybody loves to be scared.
It’s why people – 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. And there’s something about being taken to a place that where your stomach is in knots and you’re on the edge of your seat, your heart races but that you’re just – 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.
And I think Rosemary’s Baby, you know, it’s such a creepy tale. It’s so deeply nasty and it turned its vice slowly on you. And you just, you have a creeping sense of dread and horror. And in this four hour mini-series there’s a difference from an hour and three quarters – exciting paranoia. You just, you know, 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 can’t – I wouldn’t presume to tell people what will happen to them, but that’s the intention.
Q: Hi, thanks so much for doing this.
Jason Isaacs: Hi, it’s my pleasure. My wife used to make documentaries for BBC and sometimes she talks to people that are talking like you seem to find that guy very fascinating. Then she says people have an infinite capacity to talk about themselves.
Q: I guess that kind of ties into what I was wondering. Because I – you’ve said that you chose this project for the director almost. I was wondering if you could talk about what it was like to work with her?
Jason Isaacs: Yes. She’s a force of nature. She doesn’t take prisoners. She – there are five languages in which she can swear like Richard Nixon. She, you know, she – I think she’s phenomenal. I would follow, you know, 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, you know, 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.
You know, she’s Eastern European and was glued while we were shooting to the news coming out of the Ukraine; and went immediately there to Crimea to speak when she wrapped. And this is a powerful, talented artist who is plugged into the real world and brings that to everything that she touches. And I was a fan before and I’m a bigger fan now.
Q: And we keep talking about the movie, but this was also a book first. Have you read the book?
Jason Isaacs: It was. I have read the book. I was an Ira Levin fan. I mean it’s an odd thing because people talk about the iconic 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.
And I think what the writers did and all the various producers and they look at the films and they looked at the books and they cherry-picked the best of the narrative. And 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 with a different tone because she’s such a modern woman.
And so, you know, there’s nothing weak about Zoe. And then when you put Patrick 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 (in the first movie) came through as untrustworthy about him from the beginning. But Patrick has such an open face and such a – feels like a guy, such a charming, lovely, young, you know, fine young man and kind of the kind of person that parents would happily have taken 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. And I think it took Patrick, you know, it took him by surprise how he struggled with – not struggled – I mean the part was enjoyable to watch is how much Guy is struggling with it. Whereas in Cassavetes‘s (portrayal) 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 would all recognize the spirit of their story, but not the details.
SciFi Mafia: Hi thanks so much for talking with us today. I’m such a fan. I loved Awake; I loved The State Within especially.
Jason Isaacs: Oh thank you very much.
SciFi Mafia: And you were brilliant in Rosemary’s Baby. Your career’s been so varied. I’m wondering do you have a preference between playing a villain and a hero? I know you said that this was great because it was just so deliciously evil but…
Jason Isaacs: Well I just like stuff that’s well written. I mean, you know, the worst 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 and then you just step in the (wazoo). You know I try and pick things to do that I think 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, you know, even how big the thing is going to be and who’s going to watch it, all those things feel like they matter.
But if you can’t do the job that’s relevant, and I felt like Roman was a giant I got and I could see that there, you know, within the confines of this story there was a way to play him believably. And, you know, the camera loves an inner life. It loves secrets. And if you can’t have something going on behind your eyes – that 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.
SciFi Mafia: (laughing) That has never been a problem from what I’ve seen.
Jason Isaacs: Well, thank you very much. That’s kind of you. You know, I try to – I respond to the best material that is in front of me and it doesn’t really matter, 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. And you might as well be playing, you know, standing up at a renaissance fair – not that there’s anything wrong with that, working a renaissance fair.
But I just would want to find something that I believe. Even with Lucius Malfoy. There’s a guy who was a racist and who was felt left behind by the times. And whose boss, whom 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. And so I believed all that stuff. And I just try to find stuff that makes emotional sense to me and might be interesting to watch.
Q: My question for you is I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the movie and I always felt Guy is such a terrible person, but from your perspective how does Roman sort of draw Guy in. What would make someone make that sort of decision to turn their wife over basically to the devil?
Jason Isaacs: Well you know I saw this documentary a few years ago about American and Russian athletes and steroids. And 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, you know, 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 – she’s already in grief having lost a baby, so she’ll lose another one.
And I don’t think there’s many people on this call that haven’t got friends who’ve lost a baby. And there are many people we know, and I’m certainly not going into personal details about my family but, you know, 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. And 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 it put him – I don’t know – if somebody said to me not necessarily if I would compromise my wife or my children that exist or, you know, 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 something that’s – a reward that’s worth it. And this is a reward that seems worth it to Guy. That’s why we pick him. There’s a level of – 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. The worst of it is would you sign a seven year contract for the television series and the answer is often yes, you know.
Q: All right. And how do you see Roman’s relationship with Guy? How does he sort of draw him in?
Jason Isaacs: Well you know it’s – 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.
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. And for me it’s like – 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.
Q: I just curious did you study any coven-related type shows or movies while doing this? I know that American Horror Story centered around a coven last season. Did you look in any of this?
Jason Isaacs: It did. No I didn’t. And I’ll tell you what I never do, and I think is a real trap for actors, and I’m not pointing a finger because I have done it in the past. I never look at any other fiction 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, you know, I’ve been in things where plot lines come up or the police behave in a certain way. I always have a technical advisor for assistance. A cop called Jesse who was on The Shield, was on our show (Awake). 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. And 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 primary sources. In fact even more so when I’m playing real-life people or recreating a real-life situations, which is not here, I try and find diaries because, you know, history is written by the victors and so and 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. And in this instance there was plenty of stuff around, you know.
Q: I know you can’t give too much away or anything but did you have a particularly favorite scene?
Jason Isaacs: Oh… the second night, Roman’s mask 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 – when he drops the smile. So the second night, when I start turning the screw a lot more, there’s a few scenes I enjoy enormously.
Q: Well you know you kind of touched on a little bit about – it seems that everyone seems to universally kind of understand the devil and witches. What do you think it is across the board that people are so fascinated by those subjects. They’re not really supernatural in a way.
Jason Isaacs: 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, you know, leave an impression that is either good or better than we found them.
And 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 it’s 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, or the notion that there is creature that is the very worst version you have of everything – it’s intriguing…and terrifying.
Q: Very much so. Well then you also talked about televised arts. Are you excited about the way television – both network and cable – especially in America has broadened itself and it has become really inviting to actors of all sorts?
Jason Isaacs: I think it’s amazing. I think these are amazing times of making scripted drama. And I don’t know if there’s enough eyeballs unfortunately for all the fabulous new outlets are opening up. It’s making broadcast networks obviously take much bigger risks and do short forms like this, you know, Jen and Barbara 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, you know, executives but instead go “I’ve got an insane idea, what do you think of this?”
And in many instances they’re finding outlets for them. I think it’s a golden time for commissioning and making things. I’ve – there just aren’t enough viewers in the English-speaking world to sustain the – I heard the other day there were 47 fires – that’s scripted dramas in town. And everybody’s getting into the drama business, which is fabulous for actors, though the salary might come down but I’m sure , you know, nobody I know into it to try to get rich. People – we just love telling stories.
But what that will mean – 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 and, you know 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 10 years ago.
And it’s great for the viewer. It’s just great for the viewer. So, you know, you need to get a big DVR. There’s just so many good things coming on and coming out. And the shame of it is that, you know, many of them will be canceled because you just – if every single person in America sat down to watch TV every night there aren’t enough viewers for as many good products as are coming onto our screens.
Q: Well keep making – keep acting and making great ones and we’ll make sure we watch.
Jason Isaacs: Well, I’ll let you know. I’ll try. I mean there’s great stuff going on in my life. But even, you know, I did some WIGS, which is a fantastic online channel that is now on Hulu Plus and was on YouTube. And, you know, 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.
Q: Well thank you so much for your work. I appreciate it.
Jason Isaacs: Well I love to work so thank you.
Q: So you’ve obviously been in a lot of different roles. But was there something about this that still challenged you?
Jason Isaacs: Yes. I think you always have to adjust what you’re doing to the style of the piece and work out what is the piece that you’re in. You know, you don’t do slapstick comedy the same way you do, you know, Ibsen. And so it’s just finding the tone of the thing and finding out how much to kind of wink (at) the audience.
And the challenge was the fact that a number of people – not the audience actually funnily enough – but journalists generally, and my friends, 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!” 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 “reimagining.” But it’s not, it’s 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 be – 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.
And the other thing is, you know, all actors are outsiders. As all actors feel like they don’t quite belong at the party. And, you know, 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.
So, you know, unlike Carole Bouquet, my screen wife, who is the queen of Paris. You know, she’s a massively iconic not just actress but presence in France. I mean you walk down the street and, you know, the Red Sea parts for her, and any call she made people would open any institution any time of day or night. And I think it came – 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.
Q: Is there maybe something that you would like to see either reimagined or remade or just a completely different take on it?
Jason Isaacs: No; I mean I think a good stories are good stories. And the best things I’ve ever been in and the things that I hope to be in are generated by a writer going “here’s something I’d really like to do.” That’s where all the great works, you know, all great television works, Sopranos and Mad Men and The Wire, these all spring from someone with a burning need to tell a great story. And a story that’s in their head.
And the times that we worked backwards and the executives are going, “You know what really worked last year is detective stories with women in it but also an animal. So if we had a woman with a dog, but we need a disability…” It’s those things that are the most Frankensteinian creatures that are built backwards. You know that old saying a camel is a horse built by committee. You know, they very, very rarely work out to be as brilliant as great stories.
With great stories come great writers. So I’m trying to develop some things of my own that I have and I’m, you know, horsing around and doing that Hollywood dance of meeting and getting commissions and all that stuff. And if I come up with something I’ll tell you about it then. But the idea that there’s something waiting to be remade, it will only work if there’s a writer who obsesses about it and dreams about it. It all starts with the writer.
Thanks so much to the talented and charming Jason Isaacs for taking the time to speak with us. He’s brilliantly cast as this version of Roman Castavet, and he and the production are absolutely worth your time to watch.
Rosemary’s Baby, starring Zoe Saldana, Patrick J. Adams, Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet, airs Part One on Sunday, May 11 at 9/8c, and Part Two on Thursday, May 15 at 9/8c, on NBC.