AT the center of the new suspense thriller Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, the white-suited steward of an island where fantasies come to life. He has welcomed the island’s guests, all with distinct fantasies, to come to the island where they will live out their dreams, but also with the promise and the warning: the results may not be what was intended.
Michael Peña, last seen in the live-action film Dora and the Lost City of Gold, plays Mr. Roarke. He was also recently in Clint Eastwood’s The Mule and the critically acclaimed anthology series Narcos: Mexico on Netflix.
“What I love about what Michael Peña did with the role is that he feels both contemporary and timeless. I can’t think of another actor who could have pulled that off,” says director Jeff Wadlow. “We wanted to keep him in the shadows at first, to make him feel mysterious and elusive, then over the course of the film, pull back the layers and play with the audience’s understanding of Roarke – sometimes he’s funny, sometimes he’s sinister, sometimes he’s curt, sometimes he’s overly formal. There’s a large section of the film where the audience might wonder if Roarke is malevolent, that he somehow wants bad things to happen to these people. They’ll be asking, hopefully, ‘Why would he want that, is he trying to teach them a hard lesson?’ We always want to keep the audience on their toes and keep them wondering, what is this guy’s deal?”
Wadlow also notes that for much of the film, Roarke’s relationship with the island is opaque. “Is the island his, or is he part of the island? I think that relationship starts to become significant as the film progresses. We begin to question the power dynamic as the island starts to manifest as a character itself.”
“Roarke is on his own journey with Fantasy Island,” says Peña. “He has one particular rule, which is to see each fantasy through to its natural conclusion. And he warns that fantasies often do not play out the way they are envisioned. Throughout, it’s not clear – what is Roarke’s relationship to the island. Who is the true orchestrator of the fantasies, Roarke or the island itself? Is Roarke the island’s steward, like he claims – or does he control the island? Or is he actually part of the island, a manifestation of it?”
Peña says that he couldn’t help but take some inspiration from Ricardo Montalbán’s legendary portrayal of Mr. Roarke in the original TV series from which the movie was based. “That performance is so cemented in my imagination, in my recollection, my memories,” he says.
Part of the reason for that cementation, Peña notes, is perhaps that he is an American of Mexican descent and looked to Montalbán, a Mexican actor, in solidarity. “I did it just a little bit like he did – it’s not an imitation, it’s a personalization of things that he did. Number one was the accent, with Montalbán being Mexican. I had just finished doing ‘Narcos,’ where I spent eight months in Mexico City; it’s a very distinct accent that they have – a Spanish accent when they speak English – that I found fascinating.”
Now showing in Philippine cinemas, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Use the hashtag #FantasyIslandMovie