As an actor, Vincent D'Onofrio has long been great and powerful -- and now he's the great and powerful Oz.
NBC's ambitious, expectation-bending new series, "Emerald City," which bows Jan. 6, challenges the pop cultural perception of author L. Frank Baum's long beloved series of novels set in the land of Oz as largely defined by the classic 1939 musical "The Wizard of Oz" -- the series takes Baum's fantastical realm and hints of political allegory and replaces its fairy tale qualities with a harder-edged, "Game of Thrones" --flavored sensibility.
And that includes the show's interpretation of the Wizard: he's still a man from the earthly realm who found his way to Oz and achieved a position of tremendous power, but he's also a haunted, lonely, isolated figure with an enigmatic agenda and precarious hold on his position.
And as D'Onofrio -- who still expects to revive his acclaimed portrayal of "Daredevil's" Kingpin, Wilson Fisk, very soon -- reveals to Moviefone it's another opportunity to subtly shade a role that's existed in the pop conscious in a less complex incarnation.
Moviefone: When you get offered a role like this, I'm sure it comes with a lot of thoughts like, "Well, OK. We know the movie. We know that there's a bunch of books by L. Frank Baum. What are we bringing to the table?" How did you wrap your head around what you were all doing, since this was such a fresh take -- and what you wanted to bring to it?
Vincent D'Onofrio: I was fortunate to come in late. I heard that [filmmaker/producer] Tarsem [Singh] was doing it, so I asked Tarsem if I could play the Wizard. I hadn't even read the script ... [then] I read a few of them, so my entry into the whole story and how I realized it was through the character of the Wizard: how we could take it further than he was in the original script?
And they reacted so positively to it and started writing immediately. We were talking about all different aspects and how far we could go with it, his psychology and why he is the way he is, what makes him the fraud that he is in the original, but what really makes him that, whether it's issues with self-worth and things like this. So we got pretty far deep into that, and I was reading, reading, reading.
I just loved that the take that I had on the Wizard as I was reading, I realized that that was the movie. You get to learn page by page who the Lion is, who the Tin Man is, who Dorothy is. And you're like, "Oh sh*t. That's the Lion! He's going to be the Lion on that." "That guy's going to turn into the Tin Man!" But you knew this through their emotional makeup as human beings, or as beings, and I thought that was fascinating.
So the more we dove into the character of the Wizard with Tarsem, and the more I read, and finally I read the whole 10 hours of it, I was so immersed in the world. I couldn't wait to start. I'd come up with the voice. We'd do a couple of different things. He has different voices at different times, and he has a different look in public than he does in private. It was very interesting stuff.
Once you got to work, and you also had the costumes and his environment to play with and help inform you, tell me a little bit about how they affected you and what you wanted to do.
I really try hard not to stick my nose in everybody's business. I really try hard. But when you have such an amazing project like this, you can't help but never stop thinking about it. So even the way we approached the wardrobe, it's kind of in a way Falstaffian, in a way at times. I wanted that kind of Shakespeare [feel], like maybe an actor from, like, the '70s, a British actor in the '70s, doing Shakespeare. Like with the weird hair, and with the wigs and everything. I really wanted to do that kind of a thing.
They just loved the idea. At one point in the show, I'm wearing a bald cap, a wig on top of the bald cap, and then a wig on top of that. So there's the bald cap which is supposed to be me, really, and there's a wig on top of that, which is supposed to be really the Wizard's hair, and bald cap, and then a wig that everybody knows is not the Wizard's hair on top of that. So you get to go deeper and deeper into his psyche and what makes him up.
We took the idea of -- in the original "Wizard of Oz," in the movie, anyway, the musical -- how they project that image that he has, that image projector. Instead of projecting image, in this he brings the image forward.
Obviously, the Baum work has proven to be timeless over 100 years. Did you see something sort of allegorical in this interpretation that was really relevant to us today?
All of my life -- and everybody else's life as well, obviously -- there are always different factions in society. As you get older and you start to become more and more aware and realize what these factions stand for, these ideologies and these beliefs, you start to understand the scope of society better, and how things change the world, and how lands like Oz or a city like Emerald City, or a country like ours, the countries in Europe and all over the world, how they move into being far right and far left, and being military and non-military, and forming alliances with other countries that sometimes people end up backing out of.
All that goes on in Oz, just like it does here. All of it. Everything that I just said goes on. And you just hope for the best, like we do in real life. You just hope that, in the end, people are good, and that people really prefer to be calm inside themselves, and that's their favorite thing. So you just have to hope that in Oz that that's going on as well. That in the end, people are going to prefer for there not to be war, and there not to be overt manipulation, and a lot of lying going on and a lot of behind the scenes deals being made. So it's pretty relevant.
This is another seemingly larger than life but very rooted in reality character you've gotten to play for TV, "Daredevil's" Wilson Fisk being the most recent before the Wizard. Tell me what you liked about that character, and how you see these men, like the Wizard and like Wilson Fisk. It would be easy to be caricature-ish with them, but you find a way to make them feel real.
It's always interesting. I'm sure you can relate to this, you're a writer: we all have things that we create. Some of them are on bigger scales than others, but so what? It's still just about ourselves creating a certain thing. So to hear people talk about him in the way that you are, it's very interesting to me because the only answer I can really give you to that is that it's my job, and I approach it in a very kind of academic kind of way.
I'm not a very romantic actor in the sense that I don't live the characters. I used to when I was young. Now that I have kids and a family, and I hope to be a good father, I have to leave it behind me when I go home, the characters. So, for instance, who Wilson Fisk is comes from a single emotion in my life. One very specific emotion. I won't tell you what that is, but it's a very particular emotion that happened during an event in my life at one point, and that's where his voice comes from. It comes through that all the time, like it never doesn't. And that's what makes him who you see him as.
Then you take a guy like the Wizard, it's the hiding behind the character. It's the cloak that we put over ourselves when we don't want to be seen. It's a very interesting subject, especially for an actor to deal with. I'm not a kid anymore. I've played, I wouldn't be able to tell you how many roles I've played. This is something that's become part of my life, cloaking, disappearing, and there's a price to be paid for that. So the Wizard character comes from that. So that's the only way I can answer your question.
What's got you excited about returning to the Marvel Universe?
I always want to be there. Honestly, I'm the biggest kid in the world when it comes to that. James Gunn and I have been tweeting back and forth to each other -- I really want to work with him. A good friend of mine is Chris Pratt. We've done two films together. He's just an awesome guy. We want to work together again.
Then there's this Netflix Marvel thing that I'm doing. I'm always talking to [Marvel's Head of Television] Jeph Loeb over there about what we're going to do next, and when. I just love it. I, of course, am not allowed to talk about anything in particular. But I know for sure that they love Fisk over there, and that Fisk will be back. When is that going to happen? I have no idea.
I'm as bad as my kids when it comes to movies. Like I'm dying to see a few movies, like "Nocturnal Animals," right? But I also want to see "Wonder Woman." That's what I'm saying: I'm dying to see "Wonder Woman." I'm dying to see these other films as well. But I'm as big a kid as my kids are when it comes to these movies.
And, of course, the comic book Wilson Fisk began as a "Spider-Man" villain. How great would it be to play the Kingpin against Tom Holland?
If it's part of that story, yeah. It'd be awesome.
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