Circa 1977 is when “Fantasy Island” first aired. In the original fantasy drama, Ricardo Montalbán played the mysterious Mr Roarke with Hervé Villechaize as his assistant, Tattoo.
The series centred on guests having their ultimate fantasies come true - for a price, of course - at a luxury resort.
Since then, it has been reimagined twice as a TV series, in 1998 and 2021 (the show’s release was delayed until now). And it was adapted for the big screen as a fantasy horror in 2020 with Michael Peña cast as Mr Roarke.
In the latest iteration, Roselyn Sánchez plays Elena Roarke, who is the grandniece of Mr Roarke from the original series.
During a recent Zoom interview, the seasoned actress - celebrated for her roles in “Without a Trace”, “Devious Maids”, “Rush Hour 2” and “The Game Plan” - explained that she was pleasantly surprised to have bagged the role.
Untouched by time and looking every bit as ravishing as she does on the big and small screen, Sánchez admitted: “It was unexpected, to be honest. I was in Miami, doing another show in Spanish for HBO Max next month, and that’s a different story… then I get a phone call and several emails from my team saying, ‘they are offering you ‘Fantasy Island’.”
At first, she was curious about the role as the two leads, historically, were men. She was blown away when she learned that they were doing the original Montalbán work - but with a female.
“I was like ‘Oh my God… You know ‘Fantasy Island’ is a big intellectual property. I was very young when it came out. When you see ‘Fantasy Island’, everybody recognises the title. And then they said they were shooting in Puerto Rico, which is where I am from. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico.”
It was clearly a no-brainer and, in her excited state, she wasted little time in agreeing to do it.
The 10-part series takes place at a grand resort, accessible by plane. Elena runs the place as a Roarke descendant and has her pilot Javier (John Gabriel Rodriquez) transporting the guests and doubling as a jack of all trades.
In the first episode, one of the guests, Ruby Akuda (Kiara Barnes), arrives with her husband Mel. With Ruby having terminal cancer, their wish was to relive their youth and it is so as they emerge as 23-year-old versions of themselves.
The interesting thing about the island is that it is all-knowing. As such, it offers Ruby a second chance at life, which her husband convinces her to take. As such, she becomes Elena’s assistant.
On returning home, so to speak, to shoot the series, Sánchez admitted: “Going back to Puerto Rico is incredible. That is home for me and I’ve been out of Puerto Rico for almost 30 years. My life is here (in the US), my kids are here, my husband is here.
“But when I think about home or where I want to be buried, it would be there. I grew up over there. I went to college in Puerto Rico. My whole family is in Puerto Rico.
“The fact that I can go back there as a lead in a show and be able to employ 400 plus local crew and talent is incredible for me, incredible for the island, and it is much-needed. So it has been a beautiful, beautiful journey.”
In a way, agreeing to the show also shows Sánchez coming full circle in her journey as an actress.
She recalled: “I was telling people I started on TV in Puerto Rico when I was 19 and some crew members on that show are crew members of ‘Fantasy Island’.
“So they’ve seen my journey from when I left with a bagful of dreams and they said goodbye to me on the TV show because Roselyn is moving to the states to accomplish the American dream, and she wants to do Hollywood and she wants to sing - and they remember all of this.
“Now to see me back as a grown-up woman, carrying a show and accomplished; they love it and it means so much to me.”
Interestingly, her husband Erik Winter - also in showbiz - appeared on the show.
She laughed: “My husband does a show here for a different network. But when we were shooting the first season, it was during the summer so he was on hiatus, and they came to visit me and I told the showrunners - more as a laugh, to be honest - ‘you know what Erik is here guys and he is perfect for the show, so if there is an episode with any role that makes sense’. It was more like a joke.”
Of course, they snapped up the opportunity.
The show has a wonderful guest cast with actors such as Bellamy Young (“The Fixer”), Dave Annable (“Brothers & Sisters”) and his real-life wife Odette Annable playing a married couple, and Leslie Jordan (“American Horror Story”) on the bill.
“Fantasy Island” is a feel-good drama worth checking out.
Sánchez added: “It is a family show. Nowadays, there is a lot of content out there but if you want to spend an hour not thinking too much, you are going to get goosebumps, you are going to cry, you are going to laugh and you are going to finish the episode thinking, ‘what a beautiful journey that guests just had’. It is about wish fulfilment”
How serendipitous for the actress, then, because she realised her dream over 30 years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
“Fantasy Island” airs on Universal TV (DStv channel 117) on Mondays at 8pm.