For the millions familiar with Ira Levin's best-selling 1967 novel and Roman Polanski's iconic blockbuster film released the following year, Rosemary's Baby may seem like rehashing old territory. But for director Agnieszka Holland, helming NBC's four-part miniseries (beginning Sunday, 9/8c) was a chance to conquer new territory.
"I never did a horror film so when this script landed on my desk, I thought this would be the occasion to try to do something which I really admired," she tells TVGuide.com, "but at the same time, it was also a challenge, and I like challenges."
Best known for her work behind the camera on historical and political fare such as the Oscar-nominated Europa Europa and directing episodes of gritty TV shows like The Wire and Treme, Holland brings a fresh take to Rosemary's Baby in many ways. For one, this take on the story of young wife and mom-to-be Rosemary Woodhouse (Zoe Saldana), who starts to believe that her child is not of this world, moved 3,500 miles from Manhattan to Paris. "It's what I liked because it would have been very difficult for me to redo Manhattan ... because it's so strongly shown in Polanski's film," Holland says. "It will have another color." Subsequently, Roman and Margaux Castevet (Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet), the neighbors who befriend Rosemary and help catapult the career of her husband, Guy (Patrick J. Adams), are no longer a "prickly old couple, but they are beautiful, glamorous, charming, cynical people," Holland says. "I found it so much more contemporary that they are glamorous and sophisticated and rich."
Another notable difference is the amped up amount of blood and gore in comparison to Polanski's version — a change Holland says was necessitated more by the times than by her own preferences. "I liked in Polanski's movie that you don't see it, that everything happens off-screen," she says. "I think that the audience is very different today. The audience was much more patient and subtle in the '60s than today."
Thanks in no small part to TV's current blood-soaked landscape (see: Hannibal, American Horror Story, The Walking Dead), Holland didn't get any pushback on upping the violence quota. Instead, she was surprised about the focus on the miniseries' sex scenes. "We had to hide the nipple," she says. "I would think that a nipple is harmless and violence is not, but it works this way here."
The biggest change of all, however, happens to Rosemary herself, in part to differentiate the new miniseries from the film and in part because this two-part, four-hour project devotes more screen time to the character's evolution. "We had the idea to make Rosemary really different from Mia Farrow, who is also an iconic figure," Holland says. "She changes, and she grows from the quiet, innocent little naïve American girl."
Casting the role played a huge role in molding the new Rosemary. Holland says it was her daughter who suggested Saldana, best known for her strong turns in action films like Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and the Star Trek reboot. "When we had the idea of Zoe and she accepted to do it, I was very happy because I knew she would bring a completely different energy and a very contemporary energy," Holland says. "She's not a victim, as Mia was. She's somebody who wants to be active and who is not on the border of hysteria, but tries to break the influence."
Saldana also served as a producer on Rosemary's Baby, which marks her first TV project in seven years. "It was a great collaboration and I'm very happy that she did this with us," Holland says. "I think she gives something quite special to the film."
However, for all of these alterations to make Rosemary's Baby "more edgy and more modern," as Holland puts it, the director still stresses that the story still stays true to the original, thanks in large part to its timeless themes. "Think of the temptation to be successful and to be rich," Holland says in reference to Guy's ruthless ambition, which plays a vital role in the story. "Those themes are very universal things."
Rosemary's Baby airs on Sunday and Thursday at 9/8c on NBC. Watch a sneak peek of the miniseries below: