On January 6th 2017, NBC premieres their new adult fantasy drama Emerald City, which takes a brand new, and darker, look at the Land of Oz.
The series written by David Schulner (Once and Again, Do No Harm) and directed by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (The Fall, Immortals). It spotlights Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona, True Detective), a 20-year-old nurse living in Kansas, who is swept up in a tornado which lands her in Oz. This mystical realm is governed by The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio, The Magnificent Seven), who has banned magic in his kingdom, which has summoned the wrath of the witches who ruled before him.
NBC invited a group of journalists to meet and talk with the series’ stars, Vincent D’Onofrio and Adria Arjona at The Grill restaurant on the Universal Studio lot.
Emerald City, 101 - Vincent D'Onofrio
Emerald City, 101 “The Beast Forever” – The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) ©2016 NBCUniversal, photo by Rico Torres

This is the first time I’ve seen the Wizard from the very beginning of the story. Usually he is revealed at the end. Is the fact that his character is so prominent throughout the story what attracted you to it?

Vincent: I don’t actually look at it that way.

When I was on the set of The Magnificent Seven, Tarsem’s agent showed up and I said, ‘What’s Tarsem up to?’ He said, ‘He’s doing the Wizard of Oz story called Emerald City.’ I said immediately, ‘Have you cast the Wizard yet? Tell Tarsem I want to play the Wizard.’

I did a film with Tarsem (The Cell) before. I know what he’s like, and I knew if he got involved in something it has to be high-end stuff, otherwise he wouldn’t do it.

When I heard he was directing all ten (episodes), I thought that’s full commitment. So for NBC Universal to get behind Tarsem, considering the kind of films that he makes, it has to be a pretty decent project.

I didn’t even know the size of the part, and I wanted to do to it. I just wanted to play the Wizard with Tarsem directing it.

Emerald City, 101 - Vincent D'Onofrio, Roxy Sternberg and Susan-Li Ong
Emerald City, 101 “The Beast Forever” – The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio), Elizabeth (Roxy Sternberg) and Isabel (Susan-Li Ong) ©2016 NBCUniversal, photo by Rico Torres

What happened next?

Vincent: If I remember correctly, David and I started talking immediately, and we made a deal that we would feel each other out with e mails and if we felt comfortable then we would continue.

David started sending me scenes and started understanding everything that I wanted to do. That’s how all the changes started. So by the time I arrived some was written, some wasn’t, but we kept moving in that direction.

Emerald City, 101 - Oliver Jackson and Adria Arjona
Emerald City, Episode 101 “The Beast Forever” – Lucas (Oliver Jackson) and Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) ©2016 NBCUniversal, photo by Rico Torres

This is the first Dorothy that has sexuality to her, can you talk about that?

Adria: I never thought about the sexual aspect, it’s very true. I think it’s the same story for me, but it just goes into a more relatable aspect of it.

Dorothy starts off the show being very insecure and uncertain of what the future might have for her. She’s a nurse who probably wants to become a doctor one day, maybe wants to become a surgeon. These thoughts for her are so big she can’t wrap her head around them, so she’s complacent.

Once she lands in Oz, she keeps coming across circumstances that make her tougher, and thanks to this journey it makes her into the woman that she will later become, which in my opinion is a hero. All of this is thanks to Oz. Dorothy, if she (had stayed) in Kansas, would still be a nurse.

Emerald City, 101 - Oliver Jackson, Florence Kasumba and Adria Arjona
Emerald City, Episode 101 “The Beast Forever” – Lucas (Oliver Jackson), Wicked Witch of the East (Florence Kasumba) and Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) ©2016 NBCUniversal, photo by Rico Torres

This is also one of the most complex Dorothy’s we’ve seen…

Vincent: You always say (this story) has a lot to do with your own life.

Adria: Dorothy’s journey and my journey are very similar. I was in Miami and I had no idea what I wanted to do; all I knew was I wanted to act. I didn’t know where, I didn’t know how, but I just packed my bags and I ran away to New York, to this big city full of different people right next to you.

You’re not stuck in a car, you’re meeting people from the higher class, the lower class, every sort of educational background, from every country and it’s exactly the same thing in Oz for (Dorothy). (She) keeps bumping into different people that keep challenging (her) in this world.

Dorothy learns to become stronger by defending others. She’s never defending herself, it’s always saving another person. I think that has to do a lot with her being adopted and always wanting to take care of everyone else, as she never really had someone to take care of her.

Emerald City, 101 - Vincent D'Onofrio
Emerald City, 101 “The Beast Forever” – The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) ©2016 NBCUniversal, photo by Rico Torres

How do you perceive the character of The Wizard?

Vincent: He’s a dreamer; I think that’s the best thing about him. He’s a little bit of a chicken-shit, but he’s a dreamer and he has his good and bad qualities. It’s hard to talk about something that you place so close to your heart, because I have more respect for him than that.

He knows that he’s not a hero; the Wizard knows the truth more than anybody about who he really is.

He wears an appalling wig.

Vincent: I kept thinking about these British actors in the seventies, and watching tapes of them on YouTube doing Shakespeare. They all had these ridiculous wigs that looked like helmets.

I just thought this guy really needs to be somebody that he’s not. It’s not like they’re going to have a wig-guy in Oz. So I figured it had to be a bad wig that looked like it fell out of a window. I thought that would be the way to go.

Emerald City, 101 - Vincent D'Onofrio and Vernon Dobtcheff
Emerald City, 101 “The Beast Forever” – The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) and High Born Man (Vernon Dobtcheff) ©2016 NBCUniversal, photo by Rico Torres

The series has been compared to Game of Thrones, can you comment about that?

Adria: I don’t like that. Tarsem (created) such a beautiful, magical world of its own. It has all been from his imagination, so to compare it to something else (is wrong). I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones, but that’s why I don’t want to compare it.

Vincent: What happens is that there’s this world that we created, and it is otherworldly like in Game of Thrones. But you are taken through our story through the point-of- view of Dorothy. She comes into this world that is full of sociology, these factions that are trying to rule; the far left, the far right, magic and science.

When I started reading the episodes, one of the things that immersed me immediately into this new world was the fact that (I thought), ‘I bet that guy is going to turn into the lion; I bet that guy is going to be the Tin Man’. Suddenly you’re completely immersed in Oz in Emerald City, it’s no longer another story.

Emerald City, 101 - Adria Arjona and Olafur Darri Olafsson
Emerald City, Episode 101 “The Beast Forever” – Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona), Toto and Ojo (Olafur Darri Olafsson) ©2016 NBCUniversal, photo by David Lukacs

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.