The NBC series Emerald City, directed by filmmaker Tarsem Singh, tells the story of 20-year-old Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona), who gets swept up into the eye of a tornado and transported to a mystical land where an all-powerful ruler, known as The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio), has outlawed magic. While in Oz, Dorothy finds herself on a path that is empowering, epic, romantic and fantastical, as she tries to figure out this unfamiliar world with witches, a lion, a tin man and a scarecrow.
Collider was recently invited to participate in a press day for the new series and while there, we spoke both 1-on-1 and at a luncheon with actor Vincent D’Onofrio. During the interview, he talked about wanting to work with Tarsem Singh again, wanting to be heavily involved in the collaboration for the character, what makes this telling of The Wizard of Oz different, how much time he had to find this character, and determining The Wizard’s look. He also talked about how much he enjoys being a part of the Marvel world at Netflix and that Wilson Fisk will be back, as well as being a part of Rings and Death Wish.
Question: You found out that Tarsem Singh was going to direct all of the episodes of Emerald City, and then put out the word that you wanted to play The Wizard. So, how did you ultimately end up signing on?
VINCENT D’ONOFRIO: When Tarsem [Singh] said that he was going to do it, (executive producer) David [Schulner] got ahold of me. I knew that they had somebody else in mind, but I just wanted it so bad. So, they started sending me scripts and David and I agreed that we would feel each other out. We sent emails back and forth with notes and wanted to see if we’d get along, and we did just that. By the fifth or sixth email, they wanted to go in the direction that I thought was necessary. He immediately started sending me scenes that he had just written, and I was like, “This is going to be awesome!” We went through all 10 hours of content like that, and I was so immersed by then, after reading all 10 hours, that I couldn’t say no. It was a challenge in front of me that I had to accept. And then, I’d call or we’d email back and forth about particular scenes. The collaboration was awesome.
Since you didn’t have a script to go on, when you first expressed your interest, what was it that made you want to play The Wizard, specifically?
D’ONOFRIO: I know Tarsem, and I know that he is not going to do a project called Emerald City, unless there is something that’s going to be amazing. And the minute I talked to him on the phone, he said, “They’re going to let me do all 10 hours.” He started talking to me about what he was going to do. With a guy like him, of course, you have to read a script, but you also let him know that, if everything works out, you’re there for him, 100%. When you go into a project, you want that enthusiasm behind you. They want to know that you’re coming in, full blast, and you’re not going to walk through it for the money or because it’s high-end shit. You’re doing it because you’re an actor and you want to be there to help tell the story properly. What more do you need than Tarsem and Emerald City, said in the same sentence? It’s a no-brainer. After that, we just have to get it right.
What makes this telling of The Wizard of Oz different from what we’re used to?
D’ONOFRIO: There is this world that we’ve created, and it is an otherworldly thing. As far as a standard definition, it is otherworldly. You are taken through our story through the point of view of Dorothy. When she comes in, she comes into this world that’s full of sociology with these factions that are trying to rule – the far left and the far right, magic and science. She happens to meet people that are evolving, and she takes you through this journey with The Wizard, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. When I started reading the first script, one of the things that immersed me immediately in this new world was that I went, “I bet that guy turns into the Lion. I bet that guy is going to turn into the Tin Man.” You wonder, “Why is The Wizard such a jerk right now?,” but then you started to realize why he’s a jerk. Suddenly, you’re completely immersed in Oz and Emerald City, and it’s no longer another story or another show. If you follow Dorothy, it’s going to immerse you into something completely different, for sure.
Do you see any similarities between this Wizard and the Wizard in the original film?
D’ONOFRIO: My Wizard is so complicated with his psychology. He’s a guy that suffers from worthlessness. He’s got major human issues. It’s nothing like the iconic thing I watched, every year with my family. At Christmas time, every year, we sat down in front of the color TV [to watch The Wizard of Oz]. That movement from black and white to color was like our CGI. We couldn’t believe it.
Did it feel like you had a lot of room to explore and get creative with The Wizard, since we really only know him as the man behind the curtain?
D’ONOFRIO: Right, and now we get to take that and use that as a metaphor to see what makes this guy tick. Why is he the man behind the curtain? What is it that he’s dealing with? What are his human issues? There’s some really heavy stuff. So, we figured out his psyche and what makes him who he is, and then we let that influence other things that happen, like the affect that he has and his whole fakeness.
How long did it take you to find this character?
D’ONOFRIO: It had to happen fairly quickly. We had to make decisions fast. And then, because of the way Tarsem works, because we had the same director, because we had 10 hours of content to deliver, and because we were shooting out of order, it took a lot of thinking. Even when I was there shooting The Wizard, we were still developing what was happening to The Wizard. As we went, things changed, all the time. We even changed the end of the movie because of what we decided.
How did you decide on the wig that you wore?
D’ONOFRIO: It was terrible! It was like some seagulls found my head and while I was asleep, they made a nest. Some dirty seagulls from Venice Beach. I kept thinking about these British actors in the ‘70s. I watched tapes of them on YouTube doing Shakespeare and they all had these ridiculous wigs that looked like helmets. I thought this guy really just needs to be someone he’s not, and it’s not like they have a wig guy in Oz. He wouldn’t be able to bring the best wig guy to Emerald City to fit The Wizard, so it had to look like a bad wig that fell out of a window and hit him in the head. There were a couple of days where I actually wore a bald cap, a wig on top of the bald cap that was supposed to be The Wizard’s real hair, and then a wig on top of that.
There are some really interesting character dynamics in this. How much fun was it to get to explore that?