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.
Back in early December, Collider was invited to the Universal Studios backlot to participate in a press day for the new series and while there, we spoke 1-on-1 with actress Adria Arjona. During the interview, she talked about thinking no one would hire a Hispanic actress to play Dorothy, not wanting to imitate Judy Garland, how this Emerald City is much more like our world today, working with Tarsem Singh, the challenges of shooting all 10 episodes at once, wanting to do all of her own stunts, and not being disappointed that she didn’t get to wear ruby slippers. She also talked about signing on for Pacific Rim: Uprising and all of the training she’s doing, as well as just how insane and crazy The Belko Experiment is and that it’s scary because it’s not far off from what could really happen.
Collider: When you found out about Emerald City, were you hesitant, at all?
ARJONA: Yeah, I thought no one would hire a Hispanic Dorothy.
Were you nervous about taking on such an iconic role?
ARJONA: That never came into my head, to be honest. That thought came to my head once I had gotten my role, but not before. I prepared as much as I could and I said, “I really hope the world is ready, and if they are, that’s amazing!” When I got it, it was a big eye-opener that the world really is changing and accepting. That’s what I really love about this show. This show has so many different accents and ethnicities. It’s like our world. If you walk outside right now, you’ll hear five accents and see different colors and ethnicities. That’s beautiful. That’s how we live, so I think it’s more realistic. I never thought about the pressure, or anything like that. I was given one script, and it was a wonderful script, so that was the Dorothy I had to create. I spiced it up with my own stuff, and never wanted to think about Judy Garland because she did such an amazing job. I didn’t go back and watch [the original] because it’s very different and I didn’t want to try to imitate it. Once you love it so much and you know people love it, you’ll try to please the audience members that love it, and that’s not fair to the girl that I was given.
What was it like to work with Tarsem Singh, who directed every episode?
ARJONA: He’s a visual genius. He’s amazing! He’s one of my favorite people in the world. He’s such an interesting guy. He’s so kind and humble and open-minded to everything you say. He’s a great listener, but also has one vision that he’s very clear on. When you do a 10-hour movie with him, you trust him because he’s kind and because he has a vision that you know will come out good, in the end. Trust is a major part of the making of something. It was like, “That’s the vision you’re going with? Got it. Copy that!” And then, you just become a family.
What were the biggest challenges of shooting 10 episodes, all at once and out of order?
ARJONA: We shot everything out of sequence, so I filmed the last scene of Episode 10 and the first scene of Episode 1 in the same day, during the first week. It was very weird. It worked out, but it was very challenging. That was one of the most challenging aspects of filming this. You’re like, “Wait, where did I come from? Have I been tortured already? Have I not been tortured? Have I been here before? Have I not been here?” The first month was a little tough, but it becomes almost like second nature.
How was it to explore the dynamic between Dorothy and Lucas?
ARJONA: It was strange because how do you fall in love with someone that has no memories? What do you talk about? He doesn’t know who he is. Also, the beautiful thing is that he’s not pretending. He’s just himself. For some reason, all he does is protect Dorothy, and the only thing I can think of is that he has a really good heart. I think that’s what Dorothy falls in love with. There’s no pretense. It’s just a soul that’s right there, and that’s what she falls in love with.
What was it like to work with someone like Vincent D’Onofrio, who seems to have had a great time playing The Wizard?
ARJONA: It was truly, truly amazing! We had so much fun. He’s an actor’s actor. When people say that about him, it’s the truth. He truly is an actor’s actor. He helped me, whenever I had any kind of question, and he helped me in scenes. We would improv and create different things. It’s so much fun to have someone to bounce ideas off of.
Were you ever disappointed that you didn’t get to wear ruby slippers, or was it cool this Dorothy had her own kind of thing going on?
ARJONA: I like the fact that she has her own kind of thing. And I have my own ruby slippers. I bought boots and bad-ass sneakers in red, myself, and everyone keeps buying me red shoes. So, I have them, I just don’t wear them on the show. I have four or five pairs now, but they’re not pretty or dainty.
Do you have a favorite scene or moment from Emerald City?
ARJONA: That’s so hard. I would have to say the wires. I don’t know. Kissing Oliver Jackson-Cohen, all the time, was a tough day at work. I was like, “I have to make out with that? Oh, god!”
Was it fun to play a character that is so tough, and get to do so much physical work?
ARJONA: Oh, yes, and I wanted to do everything. That was always my biggest fight with Tarsem. Tarsem always wanted to protect me and would say, “No, we have a stunt double.” And I would say, “No, I am an actress. You hired me to do this. Don’t start putting other people in.” I was good friends with my stunt double, and I was like, “I’m so sorry you’re not working. They’re still paying you, but I’m so sorry. I want to do this.” And I did all my own stunts.
You’re going even bigger and more bad-ass with the action, by signing on to do Pacific Rim 2. Was that part of what interested you in that project?
ARJONA: Yeah, it is pretty full-on. We’re in prep right now. I just came back from Australia, and it’s so much fun. I think Emerald City really prepared me for this. We haven’t started filming yet, but it’s just a lot of fun. Everyone is so wonderful. There’s just a lot of training and physical activity. I’ve literally been going to the gym, non-stop, and eating like a beast. I’m trying to muscle up and it’s not working. I guess pizza doesn’t help that.
Did you have a dream of being this kick-ass type of girl, or are these just coincidentally the type of roles that have come your way?
ARJONA: I think I’m taking advantage of it. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a bad-ass, whatsoever. I’m the first one to say, “I’m so sorry!” But, it’s fun to get out of your comfort zone and go there. Since I don’t do it in regular life, I can do it on screen, and that’s amazing!
The Belko Experiment looks crazy, wild and insane. Is that a fair description?
ARJONA: It’s insane! It’s crazy! It’s a beautiful dynamic between what’s going on, the music, the comedy of it, and the human realism that is in the film, itself. It is really shocking! My mom watched it and she loved it, and my mom loves rom-coms. I think the only reason she liked it is because I’m in in, but I love it. To be completely honest, it surprised me. I watched it and I was so surprised by it. (Director) Greg [McLean] and (screenwriter) James Gunn did such an amazing job, along with all of the other cast members. It’s a crazy story, but it’s scary. Things like that could happen, and that’s what makes it scary. It’s not monsters. It could actually happen. I hope it doesn’t!
Emerald City airs on Friday nights on NBC, starting on January 6th.