Nearly four decades after viewers took their last voyage to the original Fantasy Island, a descendant of Mr. Roarke is back to carry on his legacy — but she’s doing things a little differently.
“I think it’s our time,” Roselyn Sanchez, who stars as Elena Roarke, says of the women running both the island and the show itself. “Eight out of our 10 directors were female, our showrunners [Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain] are female, and even several of the department heads are female. I think it’s needed.”
There’s an inherent degree of “compassion and sensitivity” in Elena’s dealings with the island’s guests that viewers didn’t necessarily get from the original series’ more mysterious Mr. Roarke, famously played by the late Ricardo Montalban. Establishing Elena as a fully realized character was important to Sanchez, who “wanted to make sure she had a story” in every sense. “We’ll learn who she really is, how she got there and we’ll see how she helps people navigate their journeys with love.”
Diversity also plays an important role in Fox’s reboot. “Ricardo Montalban was Latino, but I don’t think it was ever mentioned where Roarke was from,” Sanchez says. “His character was very secretive. This time around, I open the show speaking Spanish, so clearly this woman is a proud Latina.”
Further proof of Elena’s humanity can be found in her connection with Javier (John Gabriel Rodriquez), the island’s head of transport. The two have a “push and pull” dynamic that Sanchez admits she didn’t expect when she first signed on. “I was surprised that the showrunners decided to give Elena a relationship. I don’t know if the original Roarke ever had one. It’s evident that Elena is very human, especially when it comes to love. And that dynamic between them is always growing. It’s a lot of fun.”
The overall vibe of the show is also “a little lighter” this time around. “The original was scary sometimes,” Sanchez says, clarifying that “this one is definitely a summer show. The original was also shot mainly on a sound stage in Burbank, [whereas] 90 percent of this one is outside [in Puerto Rico]. We’re dealing with the real beach, real nature, real wind, real everything. The premise is similar, but you’re going to see a lot of visual changes.”
Filming the show’s first season in Puerto Rico was a dream come true for Sanchez, who will always consider the island her home. “I got to work with people I’ve known for more than 30 years, people who have seen me grow as a performer, who remember when I left Puerto Rico at 21 years old with a suitcase full of dreams,” she says. “To be able to go back now and to have them see me at this level — the lead on an American show filming in Puerto Rico — has been a wonderful, gratifying experience.”
And did we forget to mention that Sanchez’s husband, The Rookie‘s Eric Winter, pops up later this season as a guest on the island? “I think people are going to get a kick out of it,” she says of the “beautiful” story. “We have a couple of scenes together. We’ve been together for 15 years, and this only the second time we’ve acted together.”
Fox’s Fantasy Island reboot premieres tonight at 9/8c. Hit PLAY on the trailer below, then drop a comment with your thoughts. Will you be paying Elena Roarke a visit?