Jason Isaacs, who starred in the excellent but short-lived NBC series Awake, returns to the network with the two part miniseries Rosemary’s Baby. Zoe Saldana plays Rosemary, the pregnant mother of a somewhat devilish child, and Suits actor Patrick J. Adams stars as Rosemary’s hubby Guy.
A huge part of Rosemary’s Baby deals with the young’s couple’s seduction into the world of Roman Castevet (Isaacs) and Margaux Castevet (Carole Bouqet), and during our brief interview Isaacs explained what specifically seduced him in taking this plum role.
The first part of the miniseries airs on NBC tonight (9 pm et/pt), with the concluding installment airing on May 15 (9 pm et/pt). Below is our interview with Isaacs, a forthright who talked about why it’s actually a great time to be working on (and watching) television:
Whether it’s the Harry Potter films or even your work on the series Brotherhood, you bring a level of believability to each of your roles. Is there a certain approach you take to your craft?
I try not to suck, that’s the main thing. I look at the script and often there are jobs I’d like to take because they’re well written or it pays well. Or maybe it’s (located) somewhere interesting or it fits into my life plan.
Or I’ll look at the thing and say “I’m going to suck if I do this.” It’s either bad casting, it’s badly written, or I just don’t understand the character. If I don’t believe I’m the person walking in those shoes then the audience is never going to believe me. So maybe it’s just that I choose wisely.
For Rosemary’s Baby, was the Ira Levin novel important as a source? Did you take a look at Roman Polanski’s film version?
I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the film multiple times and the script was so different from that. It’s set in a different place and my character is so vastly different from the character in the Polanski film and the book that the source material was only useful in that I remembered how creepy it is and how brilliant the original premise is.
It was a combination of the script and (working with) Agnieszka Holland who I’m a huge fan of. She’s a brilliant filmmaker and a fantastic TV director. I knew she wouldn’t put up with any bulls**t. She doesn’t like sentimentality.
I liked the idea of the characters – Roman and Margaux Castevet are the ultimate in chic high society. They’re wealthy and glamorous and sexy and as someone who spends a lot of time around Hollywood I know how seductive and how tempting it is. How easy it is to dream of walking in other people’s shoes. So that always made sense to me, that Rosemary and her husband Guy would be seduced by all that.
What are the advantages of working within the mini-series format?
I think it’s a golden time for audiences, really. The old certainties have gone out the window and with such original and great material appearing both online and on pay cable, the networks are also swinging for the trees and becoming much more creative and are prepared to entertain things that they wouldn’t five years ago.
When you think of Bob Greenblatt and Jen Salke who run NBC – they’re right in the forefront of that with commissioning The Sound of Music and this two part miniseries. They’re taking big risks with the kind of TV shows that they make.
So it’s a great time to be a TV fan and it’s a great time to be a TV writer and actor. For so many years, what could happen in TV (is that) people would go “Here’s the new idea, here’s the pilot episode, now go off for 7 years and we’ll see how it goes.” You literally had no idea at all how long you’d be doing something or how good it would be.
With a miniseries, it’s written. I got to read this and go “this is a story with a beginning, middle and end.” I can enjoy the telling of it without wondering what the writers are going to come up with next week.
“Awake” lasted just one season but to me it was a creative success thanks to its ambitious scope and execution. How did you feel about the series as a whole?
That was another example of people who were running NBC being prepared to take a big time risk. With the new generation of people who are running broadcast networks now, they see the benefit in that and Bob Greenblatt running Showtime before brought that sensibility to that. I thought Awake was an insanely brilliant, reckless thing to make and all the more power to them for making it. The writing was so unusual and it engaged audiences on a level that most shows just don’t even begin to dream of. The fact that they played out the whole season was because they recognized it too. It’s maybe not the most common denominator television that gets gigantic ratings, but I loved every frame of it.
What is the key to successful collaboration?
You never know. Some people are incredibly collaborative some people are utterly dictatorial. Some people like nothing more than organically evolving a story and some people like actors to shut up and turn up. Obviously I’m not huge fan of those because I like getting involved. There is no way to predict how well the work will turn out.
There’s some weird showbiz axioms like if you’re really having a good time on set, it’ll turn out terrible. That’s such nonsense because the Harry Potter sets were the happiest places I’ve ever worked. Similarly, I’ve been in atmospheres where it feels awful, people are rude to each other, and there’s a nasty egomania on the set. But the work turns out brilliant too.
I haven’t learned anything. I’ve learned to get there. Maybe I’ve learned to hold back what I want to say for five seconds longer, but probably not.
Can you tell us about the six episode series “Dig,” which is set to shoot in Jerusalem?
It’s exciting because it’s written by Gideon Raff, the co-creator of Homeland and Tim Kring, who created Heroes. They’re two very different storytellers. (My character is) an FBI guy in Jerusalem who is trying to uncover this conspiracy to end the world. I thought it was all fantasy and then I talked to them and learned, in slow dawning horror, that most of what they are documenting is real. It makes me sleep less soundly in my bed. It’s like being a politician who’s being briefed on the real level of a terrorist threat.
Hopefully we’ll produce something worth watching and starting a conversation about. If the show what the script did to me, which is send people off to the internet to see which way the water is flowing, it’ll be great. The ideal project for me is one that is incredibly enjoyable to watch but starts conversations that last a lot longer than the credits.