For fans of the original series Roswell,which premiered on October 6, 1999, it’s been a long wait for the sci fi saga to return. But on January 15, 2019, the story gets a new lease on life in Roswell, New Mexico.
In this updated version, Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) reluctantly returns to Roswell. She has been away for 10 years following the murder of her beloved sister Rosa. Liz reacquaints herself with former school friend Max Evans (Nathan Dean Parsons). He is now a police officer. She also sees his sibling, Isobel (Lily Cowles) and their friend Michael (Michael Vlamis). Liz is still unaware they are all aliens who landed in Roswell many years before.
I spoke with Jeanine Mason, who portrays Liz Ortecho, about the new concept for the series in this age of social awareness.
You’re way too young to have seen the original series.
I didn’t, my older sister did and I’ve since seen it.
Your version is very different because it takes place about ten years later.
Yeah, I loved the original show and I’m getting to see the performances and the relationships that everybody loved back then, and still loves to this day.
But we’re doing something different that I think will build upon those ideas, which is really exciting. We’ll pay homage to it in its little cheeky ways, but I knew we weren’t trying to compete with it, which was exciting. It’s its own thing.
Can you talk a little about this updated version of Liz?
I think that was the reason for us to revisit this property, because now there is more space for us to honor the character, her Mexican-American-ness. The location (New Mexico) is a border state, and it is 2018 in our show, and there is a political climate that we are choosing not to ignore and gloss over.
I think this is the spin that this property deserves right now. To be a Latin woman right now, more than ever, it’s our responsibility to attach ourselves to projects that are committed to representing us well. This is definitely that show.
You and Nathan seem to have a great rapport on screen. Was that there from the beginning or did it grow as you worked together?
I will say it was there from the beginning, which was really surprising because there was so much nervousness that we would find that connection between two people that could lead a series. We did a lot of tests. I got the job first and I was chemistry reading with guys and it was that unspoken 20 year history that needed to physically feel like it was in the air between us.
He’s extraordinary in this. I think people are going to fall head-over-heels in love with him. The way he looks at Liz makes me love this show.
I don’t think in the original Liz had a sister that was murdered?
No, that murder mystery is the spine of our show.
Do you know who did it?
Yes, (I do now). A lot was kept from us. Had you asked me at Comic-Con I would have said I have no idea. It was interesting, we had our own theories.
The way it (turns out), I don’t think people will be anticipating it. It’s pretty unreal, heartbreaking and tense. Liz is someone who knows all the answers, is a strong woman, she is proud as hell and she is in a position where she feels powerless. That is what I think and hope people will love to see as her conflict in this.
Shiri Appleby, who portrayed Liz in the original series, directed one of your episodes. Can you tell us about that experience?
Shiri has been directing and she directed for us. It was so nice to have her on set, working with Nathan and I. She directed episode nine. It’s a big episode. It was wonderful.
The nice thing was she was an advocate for me in understanding and portraying the love between Liz and Max for sure. It was such a treat, it really was a special moment. I didn’t anticipate how special it would feel for both of us. Everyone on set was like, this is so cool. How often does that get to happen?
What kind of hints can you give about the first season?
The first few episodes get us back in town; there are a lot of questions. By the time we get to episode five suddenly it’s a thriller. It’s an action film and physical, running and explosions, the scale of it gets fast quick.
I love that about it because as soon as that first thread is pulled it unravels at such a rapid pace, the stratosphere of conspiracy, of who can you trust, all of that gets very intense. I think the hair on the back of your neck will be raised.
Is that surrounding your sister’s death?
My sister’s death, aliens in this small town, the government’s involvement.
Have you done any green screen work?
We did a good amount of it towards the end of the season, which is really cool.
Did you make up a background story for what Liz did for the 10 years she was away from Roswell?
For sure, yeah. That was a big thing. And even having finished season one, there’s quite a lot about what we learn about Liz. What happened in those ten years that is heavy stuff that will be explored in season two.
I talked to a lot actors in Lost and they would make up a backstory for themselves. Then the show would do a flashback sequence. They’d then go, ‘Wait a minute, if I’d known that I would have played it differently.’ Did that ever happen to you?
I think that’s the nature of television and you have to just be the kind of artist who has signed up for that and is ready to do that and take those swings and leaps and make it work. Off the top, I just said, ‘Okay, I’m not going to get to do this like I would approach a play where I have all the information.’
There are areas where I’ve chosen to make her a little grey so that I can justify things once they come up. Especially when it comes to the few areas that the writers have graciously clued me into the potential of other stuff unraveling.