Jason Isaacs loved to watch horror movies — even the cheesy B-grade variety — when he was growing up, even though they scared him. They still scare him today.
The British actor gets his chance to frighten others in the new two-night NBC mini-series "Rosemary's Baby" starting Sunday. The film is based on the book by Ira Levin and the 1968 feature film directed by Roman Polanski. He plays Roman Castevet, the devilish neighbor to Rosemary (Zoe Saldana) and Guy (Patrick J. Adams) Woodhouse.
Isaac's proud to be part of the genre.
"Everybody loves to be scared. It's such a creepy tale. Its so deeply nasty and it turns its vice slowly on you. You have a creeping sense of dread and horror," Isaacs says. "You gradually tighten your knuckles until you look down and your nails are digging into your palms. That's the idea, anyway."
The mini-series looks at what happens when a young married couple move to Paris with hopes of leaving a tragedy in their life behind. The couple become pet projects for a rich, affluent couple — Roman (Isaacs) and Margaux Castevet (Carole Bouquet) — who are hiding a Satanic secret.
Casting Isaacs to play Roman is one of the big differences between the original works and this updated version. Previously, the Castevets were a kindly older couple who lived next door. The new version makes the pair one of the top power couples in Paris.
"Margaux and Roman have been around a very long time and accumulated such wealth and power and clout in French society — and high society generally — that you can't help be near us and be intimidated," Isaacs says. "It made it so different from the original that it didn't feel like it was any part of us recreating anything. I think one of the things that attracted me to this is that it is so different. This is a great story that works. It worked once in a great film in the '60s.
"It worked as a phenomenal book in the '60s, and the writers of this have cherry-picked the best elements of both and reinvented it for today. Hopefully it will work again. We'll see."
Isaacs has worked in TV and films since 1988, with roles ranging from Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in "Peter Pan" to Lucius Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" movies. He particularly enjoyed this mini-series role because of the "deliciousness of the bait and switch" as Roman tried to lure the Woodhouses into his evil plan.
He worked on every detail of his character, from having Roman wear an earring to the accent he would use. The original idea was to have Roman speak with a French accent. But Isaacs decided Roman would have lived in many countries over the many years he's walked the Earth and that he would be prolific in numerous languages. In the end, Isaacs got to do something he hasn't been able to do very often in films — he got to use his own accent.
Moving the setting from New York to Paris was another big change Isaac liked. Being set in Paris put the story in a city with centuries more history as a backdrop to the dark magic.
The real terror remains with Rosemary's unusual pregnancy. Isaacs praises Saldana for showing the terror that comes when a pregnancy gets complicated by neighboring witches.
"It's a lot gorier and nastier and creepier and more horrific, I think," Isaacs says. "We have blood. Let me say there will be blood and lots of it."