A mist falls over Paris as Zoe Saldana settles into the hair and makeup trailer on a narrow, cobblestone street. Two women fuss over her for very little reason.
Saldana, star of NBC’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” considers the obvious question: Why?
Why remake a movie haunting enough that people remain disturbed 45 years later? Saldana so believed in this concept, she also signed on as a producer of the four-hour miniseries that premieres Sunday, May 11, and concludes Thursday, May 15.
“The Rosemary of Roman Polanski’s film was a woman of a different time,” Saldana tells Zap2it. “She was very respectful and obedient of her husband. It does not exist in my nature to try to want to do that.”
The actors, director and producers all insist it’s true to Ira Levin’s 1967 best-seller.
“I would forget the other film was ever made,” says Jason Isaacs, who plays Roman Casavet. “There’s a book. There’s no reason someone couldn’t tell it every year.”
In this, Rosemary left her career as a dancer because she was pregnant. She was plunged into despair when the fetus died at four months. Rosemary and husband Guy Woodhouse (Patrick J. Adams), a struggling writer, have the chance to start over.
When someone offers a fresh take on life in Paris, it doesn’t take long to say yes.
“Paris is such a Gothic city and very ancient,” Adams says. “That fish out of water takes on a whole new element here.”
“In the original and the novel, it is about the walls closing in, in the apartment,” says David A. Stern, an executive producer. “We needed to put her as a stranger in a strange land. Paris can be so beautiful and welcoming, but it can also be Gothic, and those dark alleys, and suck you in.”
Rosemary does not speak French, so she is alienated. Guy teaches English literature at the Sorbonne, and they live in a garret for faculty housing.
On her first day exploring Paris, Rosemary’s purse is snatched. She takes off after the thief, who’s hit by a car. Another wallet is recovered, which Rosemary returns to its owner, Margaux Castevet (Carole Bouquet), Roman’s elegant wife.
In the first of many coincidences, Roman is on the board of the Sorbonne.
“She feels the people are very generous, too generous, and my husband thinks I am getting a little paranoid,” Saldana says. “As the story keeps going, things happen that are too important for her to ignore.”
Rosemary has every reason to be suspicious of this urbane couple. A rough cut of the film shows Roman and Margaux giving Guy and Rosemary a black cat, which soon saves their lives from a mysterious fire. The Castevets just happen to have a vacant luxury apartment and insist the Woodhouses move in.
Isaacs, who perfected playing icy Brits with very dark ties as Harry Potter’s Lucius Malfoy, describes Roman as “a rich person. That’s what he does. No one is quite sure when he first got here.”
What makes this work, Isaacs says, is “it’s a crackingly good plot, a really good yarn.”
This version is gory.
“The onus is on us to tell the story in a way that grips your imagination but doesn’t force you to reach for the sick bag,” Isaacs says.
Dream sequences haunt Rosemary. She envisions the pregnant woman who lived there before jumping out of the window to her death. But Guy thrives in Paris, teaching by day, writing by night and finally finishing the novel that had eluded him.
“There is the very basic concept of, I want a book that sells a lot and is turned into a movie,” Adams says. “What he’s offered is inspiration, which he’s lost. He gets to write the book himself. The Castevets give him his muse back.”
Guy’s deal with the devil, offering his wife’s body as an incubator for the devil’s spawn in return for success, is to the bloody detriment of his competitors. He winds up chairing the Sorbonne’s English literature department. During a pro forma job interview, Guy’s more qualified competition stabs her boss, then kills herself.
On the day this scene is shot, the Palais de Justice stands in for the Sorbonne. Gendarmes patrol under gilt-framed archways leading to expanses of marble. Statues and engravings about justice are dappled with light streaming from windows under soaring ceilings. This is the sort of magnificent structure where matters of life and death should be made.
A body is wheeled on a gurney through the marble concourse, and director Agnieszka Holland calls out, “No! No! No!”
It’s unclear how a corpse messed up, but she sees something wrong. Enough has gone wrong during the shoot that the acclaimed director was a little spooked, she says over lunch.
“It’s not like I was real worried, but at the same time you feel something,” Holland says. “There are a lot of strange things happening. It is too dangerous to talk about.”
A no-nonsense woman, Holland declines to delve into specifics but instead focuses on how Roman and Margaux seduce Guy.
“They are powerful and glamorous,” she says. “They are very modern and narcissistic, and in this powerful world connected to politics and money, the seduction is much easier. And Paris as a setting gives it another layer.”
Essentially if Paris can’t seduce you, you are chronically incapable of seduction.
Rosemary, though, can’t shake her suspicions.
“For me this has always been a feminist story,” Holland says, “How a woman is deprived of her body, her choice, her security, and how she can deal with that.”
Saldana’s Rosemary is fierce, but she’s also fertile and unconscious when she conceives the devil’s spawn.
“I do believe, deep down, this is a love story,” Saldana says. “It is between a mother and a child, even if he is the prince of darkness.”