From show creator Carina Adly MacKenzie, the new CW series Roswell, New Mexico tells the story of what happens when Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) returns to the town she grew up in, 10 years after the death of her beloved older sister, only to find that her teenage crush, Max Evans (Nathan Parsons), is now a police officer with secrets of his own. When Liz finds herself in a situation where Max reveals to her that he, his sister Isobel (Lily Cowles) and their friend Michael (Michael Vlamis) are actually aliens with otherworldly abilities that they’ve had to keep hidden, the ever-present threat of a government conspiracy could endanger all of their lives.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer/writer Carina Adly MacKenzie talked about the evolution of this reimagining of the source material (which includes a book series and original TV series, that launched in 1999 and ran for three seasons), having the support of so many of the original Roswell cast members, how she came to be a showrunner after being on the writing staff for The Originals, learning on the job, the Max and Liz relationship, how Shiri Appleby (the original series’ Liz) came to direct an episode, why she wanted to include a Tess Easter egg, the five-year plan, and how close the season finale is to what she expected.
CARINA MacKENZIE: Thanks! We definitely didn’t want to step on anything that existed already. I was a big fan, too. I also know a lot of people that were involved, and I didn’t want them mad at me.
Their support is always better than the alternative.
MacKENZIE: They’ve been incredibly supportive. I feel so lucky because I’ve seen people deal with less support from the ones who came before. I’m just feeling extremely grateful.
When you left entertainment journalism and started as a writer’s assistant on The Originals, was it always with the eventual goal of becoming a showrunner, or were you just looking to see where it might lead?
MacKENZIE: I’m a little less ambitious than people think I’d be. There’s a whole lot of people that are always like, “You’re gonna run a network one day,” and I’m like, “That sounds terrible.” No, it wasn’t with the eventual goal of showrunner. I wanted to write. I loved writing. I loved being staffed on a show. I loved being a staff writer because your job is to write in someone else’s voice. I’m really good at that. I love writing in Julie Plec’s voice. I did an episode of The Flash, and when The Originals felt like it was coming to an end, I had a little bit of a panic attack because I was like, “Oh, my god, I forget what my voice sounds like.” And so, I took a couple of writing classes and that helped me remember how I liked to write differently from how Julie might like to write. Then, this just kind of happened. I definitely had no intention of being a showrunner, five years after leaving journalism. It was fast, honestly, and it’s been a whirlwind, in good ways and bad ways. I’m not that experienced at this, but the show is looking good.
You’ve said that when they originally came to you about doing this, you said no. So, what ultimately convinced you to change your mind?
MacKENZIE: I didn’t say no. I was like, “This is just not the right thing for me.” But I owed Warner Bros. a pilot, so I had to pitch them something. It didn’t have to be this, but it had to be something. I had written another pilot that they’d optioned, but put on a shelf. And then, this came up. The reasoning was that I felt like it was another supernatural teen drama, which I had come off of. Not only did I spend five years on The Originals, but when I was a journalist, I was deep into The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl worlds, so I definitely wanted to write about grown-ups. Since I was 13 years old, I’ve been a political junkie. That was a lot more fun, at a different time in my life, but it was feeling more like a responsibility. And I was tired of writing about werewolf sex. Alien sex didn’t feel that different, but I decided to go in with a pitch that was the version of the show that I would wanna do. I didn’t think the network would want it. I thought they wanted a teen romance. I thought they wanted The Vampire Diaries. But they were really excited about my take, and they’ve been very supportive. I want to write about people. I’m the same age as my cast. I fall smack in the middle of them. A couple of them are younger and a couple of them are older, but I wanted to write about people that I recognize and write about things that I’m going through. This show is my diary. I can’t even begin to tell you how many lines I’ve stolen from ex-boyfriends and plugged into the show, or fights I’ve had with my family that I’ve plugged into the show. I think that people talk about teenagers being on the cusp of adulthood, but I didn’t feel like I was on the cusp of adulthood when I was 18. I felt on the cusp of adulthood when I was 28. I felt like it was then that my life was becoming my life. I had to look around and be like, “Well, this is it. This is me. I’m not half-baked. I’m out of the oven.” I wanted to write about that feeling. That feeling of, “This is who I am. Do I like who I am? Would the person that I used to be like who I am?” That’s a question that we explore a lot.
As the showrunner of a TV series, people give you credit for all the success, they blame you for all the failures, and they think you have the answers to all of their questions. What do you remember about your first day as a showrunner? Did you have any moments of panic?
MacKENZIE: I have a really great support system. Julie Plec is not gonna let me fuck this up. At the beginning, she was very involved. The other day, she told me that she was five scripts behind and I had a panic attack because I was like, “I thought you were reading this stuff, and that you would call me if it was bad. This whole time, I was walking on a tight rope without a safety net, and I didn’t even know it?” But she’s got her own job to do. At the very beginning, I felt incredibly supported. I had a team of people that I consider family. Chris Hollier, who is running the show with me, was on The Originals with me, and I can’t even tell you what a source of comfort he was for me, on The Originals, through some pretty dark shit that I was going through, personally. He was a good person to have in my corner. I had Nathan Parsons, who I was incredibly close to when we started. I had Michael Trevino, who I’ve known for 10 years and who I really feel like I’ve grown up with. We’ve seen each other through some real mistakes and real triumphs. So, I didn’t feel terrified. I felt really supported. I should have felt terrified because it’s a hard job. It’s scary. I have a lot of anxiety issues that I talk a lot about on social media. It’s a little bit challenging when you’re handling your own mental health while also being responsible for the health and safety of 250 people, in an environment that could be unsafe, were there any neglect involved, so you can’t neglect anything of what you’re doing. There’s a lot of pressure and responsibility, but I’m 31. I think I could have probably used a couple more years of experience before this, but it really has all worked out because of the support of those people. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I feel so blessed that I work with Chris Hollier because he’s the kindest, smartest man in the whole entire universe. It’s fucking hard, but I really, really love it. I’ve never, in my life, backed down from a challenge, and I really love it. This is what I wanna do, forever. I don’t necessarily aspire to the Greg Berlanti world, where you have a hundred shows and you just check in on them. I like being involved. I plan to be doing this until I’m old and gray, or until I make enough money to go live on the side of a mountain and marry a lumberjack.
I’m definitely excited to see where all of the changes you’ve made to the show lead, over the course of the season.
MacKENZIE: My hope is that fans of the original take those changes to mean that I just didn’t wanna do the same thing. The original show is available on Hulu right now, and it’s great. I love it. So, I wanted to make sure that we weren’t stepping on something that already existed. I definitely wanted to create something new. To be honest, I wanted to change the characters’ names because I do feel like they’re very different characters, and I was told no. I hope people come into this expecting a new story with some familiar themes, as opposed to expecting a sequel or a redo of what they saw before, but with different clothes.
Obviously, the relationship between Liz and Max is at the heart of this show, but it is very different from the relationship that fans of the original series fell in love with. What would you say to tease their relationship, and how do you hope people will respond and react to it?
MacKENZIE: Their relationship is profoundly complicated. Max loves Liz with a simplicity and a purity that you cannot love somebody with when you haven’t known them for the last 10 years. His love is real, but it is for a version of her that he doesn’t really know. Liz is a person who carries around her damage outside of her body. She wears it like armor, and she is not an easy person to love. He wants to love her easily, so it becomes complicated. He has this previous relationship. Because she was gone for 10 years, he has somebody that he was dating casually, who is still very important to him and who’s still around. Liz has history that still needs to be addressed, and Max is carrying a very, very dark secret that is very, very close to Liz. They’ve got a lot of hurdles to get over before they land at happily ever after, if they land at happily ever after. Maybe it’s like the end of that One Tree Hill season, where Chad Michael Murray just drove off into the sunset because he was finally happy, and never returned again.
How did you end up getting Shiri Appleby (who played Liz in the original series) to direct an episode? Did she reach out to you, or did you reach out to her?