There's a new Dorothy in town and she doesn't need ruby slippers to do kick some Oz.
Adria Arjona -- most recently seen in episodes of "True Detective" and "Person of Interest" and soon to appear in the kaiju-powered sequel "Pacific Rim: Uprising" -- is the latest in a long line of actresses, from Judy Garland and Diana Ross to Lea Michele and Teri Reeves -- to inhabit author L. Frank Baum's literary heroine on screen, this time for NBC's ambitious, action-packed adaptation "Emerald City," which amps up the darker fantasy elements in a "Game of Thrones"-ian vein.
The series reimagines its Dorothy as a tough, capable Latina nurse who's emotionally hamstrung by some family issues. What she does have in common with the more familiar take on the character is how she's swept away by a violent storm and finds herself in a very strange land where she encounters its even odder -- and often more dangerous -- inhabitants. And, as Arjona explains to Moviefone, it's a role she almost never considered herself playing -- but a childhood memory suggests it may have been her destiny.
Moviefone: What did you think of the concept when it was brought to you, figuring out exactly what you'd be doing and how you'd prepare to go in and build a brand-new Dorothy?
Adria Arjona: I completely went the opposite way. I read it, and I thought to myself, "This is such wonderful material. It's so cool. But now, let's be realistic. I'm never going to be Dorothy." It was just so far away from me. I couldn't really figure it out. I was just like, there's no way. Then I decided, "You know what? No. That's not the way I should be thinking. Anyone can be anything, especially today, and I want to be a firm believer that you can."
So I went in there and prepared as much as I could. I just went in there and I had fun. And then I flew to Miami. NBC flew me back to LA and tested me. Then I got it. Honestly, I could not believe it. I remember it perfectly: I was at a sushi restaurant having chocolate soufflé, while crying, speaking to my manager like, "I'm Dorothy."
Obviously, you had this script to start with, but how much extra homework did you do? Did you look at the L. Frank Baum books?
I looked at the books, yeah. I didn't look at the movie. I love the movie so much, and I love Judy Garland so much, I just didn't want to fall into any sort of imitation or anything. These scripts are so different from the movie. I think the books do it more justice. So I went into the books.
It was wonderful, because I got to see so many of the characters that I was seeing in the script in the books itself. So that was a really good correlation. The books are a lot darker as well, and I think informed me a little bit more.
I just did a lot of physical work for the role. I worked with Tarsem, worked with these two wonderful people, David and Shaun, to create this character and make it dimensional, and make her real, and grounded, and human, and relatable. I take the audience on this journey, and I just want to be their friend.
Tell me what you like about your Dorothy that's different from any other Dorothy that we've seen before. And the things that are consistent with the meta-Dorothy?
I think Dorothy's always going to be this girl who has a huge heart, and who always thinks of others, and always wants to help us. She's almost like a fixer. In the books, in the movie, in anything.
This Dorothy, I think goes from being an insecure young girl who is unsure of what her future might bring her, to thanks to this world, becoming a powerful woman who is very secure of herself in her own skin.
I just hope that people go on this journey with it. I don't think I've seen that before. It's not being tough. It's not being feisty. It's not being a hero. It's owning your own skill and knowing what you're capable of, and not being afraid to show it.
It's a very physical role for you.Tell me what was cool, skill-wise, to learn and master for the part.
Oh, my God -- I did so many things! I remember, we did stunt training: I kid you not, I'm a pro at roly-polies. They made us do so much, because, apparently, it would stretch your spine. I'm a pro.
We did a lot of wire work, which I'd never done. They put you up on these wires and they kind of hook you here, and you're suspended probably, like, 10 feet up from the ground, and it's for when the witches torture me. So you have to do all this choreography that takes a while. It's not very comfortable, but I love all that kind of stuff. I also did horseback riding. We did a lot of physical training just to keep me in shape throughout the entire show and not just crumble in the middle.
The only thing we didn't do is a lot of driving, because the second I had my first driving lesson, the teacher actually got afraid and told me he didn't want anymore. I was like, "Wait, I don't understand ..." I was like, "I'm Mexican. I can drive. I grew up in Mexico City. I can drive." He's like, "No no no, you can drive, you can drive, you can drive, you can drive -- just get me out! Get me out!" So he got out of the car.
How did you bond with your Toto? Did you have an instant rapport with the German Shepherd?
Yes. I had a really good bond, which is a problem, with one of the dogs. And Oliver [Jackson-Cohen] had a bond with the other dog. The problem was that, his dog, Rocky, only spoke Hungarian. We use him so much. I kid you not. I didn't know how I made the dog do what he did. I would just make up words. I was like, [spews unintelligible commands] "Just freaking do what I'm telling you to do!"
Sometimes it worked. We'd have to feed him and give him food while we were filming. He only spoke Hungarian. The horses also only spoke Hungarian. So I did so great with Toto, because I loved him off set -- but while we were working, it was just so hard. You have to memorize lines, the choreography of the scene itself, where the cameras are, and plus a dog that doesn't want to listen to you. All he did was hump!
Dorothy's traditionally a hugely popular Halloween costume. Did you ever dress up as Dorothy before in your life?
I did. When I was little I did. I had the wig and the two little pigtails. I dressed up as a poppy as well. I used to dance ballet, and I was a poppy in the "Wizard of Oz" show. So I had that costume, so I was that for another Halloween.
So you were being prepared for your destiny?
Yes. It's so weird. My mom keeps reminding me of that. I had completely forgotten about that. "Oh sh*t, I was in the 'Wizard of Oz' musical." Just as a dancer, obviously -- not as a singer.
Those photos will be on the internet soon enough.
Yeah, and my mom will be the one posting them, by the way. She'll be the first one.
Where were you as far as your fandom of this particular fantasy genre? Were you into "Game of Thrones," "Lord of the Rings," and all the great genre material we've had, especially over the past 15 years? Or was it a new thing for you?
I think it was a new thing for me. I'm a big documentary fan. I love indie films and dramas. But, obviously, I'm a huge "Lord of the Rings" fan, "Harry Potter," all of those are just so magical. What you're asking is if I like them? I love them. But I never imagined myself in one of them. And now that I am in one of them, I still can't believe it. Until January 6th, I'm going to think all of this is fake!
What was your favorite day on set?
That's so hard. That is so hard. There were so many, honestly. So many! I think about it and I have like a huge smile on my face. The mud pit, the Prison of the Abject, was a blast, which is where they throw mud at us -- and it's real mud! You have about five pounds of mud on top of you, and you have to contort and stuff. That was a lot of fun. There were a bunch of extras, and all we would do is mud fights between takes.
Was there an element to the role, or something you had to do, where you were like, "I didn't know I was signing up for this?"
No. I was pretty much on the contrary. I was like, "No -- sign me up for that!"
"I'll do this, instead of the stuntwoman?"
Oh yeah. That was my biggest fight. I would constantly make, like, little baby tantrums at [director/executive producer] Tarsem for him to make me do the stunt. Because, a lot of the time, you obviously want to be protected. He needed me to be useful for eight months. And sometimes he's like, "You can't do it. You can't do it." And I would get so upset, because I just wanted to be in everything. I pretty much was. My stunt double didn't work much.