‘Fantasy Island’: Roselyn Sanchez on the ‘Honor’ of Becoming a Roarke

Fantasy Island Roselyn Sanchez
Laura Magruder/FOX

Get ready for warm breezes, wild tales of wish-fulfillment and gentle waves of nostalgia, folks. Thirty-seven years after the late, great Ricardo Montalbán greeted his final guests as Mr. Roarke on ABC’s tropical anthology Fantasy Island, Fox is taking us back to the beach for a continuation of the 1978–84 hit. And now, the mythical hot spot’s host is Roarke’s fiercely fabulous grand-niece, Elena (Grand Hotel’s Roselyn Sanchez). “Sequel is a good way to put it,” says Elizabeth Craft, who executive produces with Sarah Fain. “It’s definitely a contemporary version of Fantasy Island with a distinct female point of view.”

And de plain truth is, it’s about time. “That part is so right and so needed nowadays,” agrees the perfectly cast Sanchez, who says she hopes to make Ms. Roarke “as relatable as possible” by bringing humor and heart to the gig that Montalbán infused with regal mystery. “My idea is for [viewers], at the end of the day, to want to hug her.” Still, she’s fully aware of the power of the white suit she’s stepping into and immensely grateful to be playing a blood relative to one of TV’s most iconic Latinx characters. “It’s a big legacy and a big responsibility. But I’m doing it with respect and so much love,” she says. “I’m working my ass off! I want to make everybody proud, especially Ricardo Montalbán.”

Each episode will continue to see new guests arriving at the impossible-to-locate resort, where their deepest desires are set to be sated. Guests booked for Season 1 include real-life marrieds Dave Annable (from the exec producers’ 666 Park Avenue) and Odette Annable (Walker) as a troubled couple that wind up switching bodies, and reunited Melrose Place alums Laura Leighton, Josie Bissett, and Daphne Zuniga as gal pals celebrating the joint-birthday bash of their dreams. Sanchez’s husband, Eric Winter (The Rookie), may even drop by. (“Oh, he is coming on the show,” the actress insists with a laugh.)

In the premiere, Prodigal Son’s Bellamy Young visits as a morning-show host with body issues who craves a chance to feast for a few days without gaining weight. Kiara Barnes (The Bold and the Beautiful) also checks in as a woman with terminal cancer who wants to do the activities she and her husband (Adain Bradley) have always enjoyed. But nothing is as simple as it seems, and what we want isn’t always what we need. “The island knows the difference,” Craft says. “Every guest has a reckoning. They have to examine themselves, and often their past, to figure out why they have this need. And then there are all these beautiful, emotional reveals.”

Fantasy Island

(Credit: Courtesy of CBS/Getty Images)

Just don’t expect to learn how these enchanted experiences come to be. As in the classic series, it’s simply accepted that the island is as rich in magic as it is in gorgeous vistas. “In our minds,” says Craft, “the island has the power and Elena is the conduit.”

In a lovely bit of serendipity, Fantasy films on location in Puerto Rico, where Sanchez grew up watching the original dubbed in Spanish (“El avión! El avión!” she shouts). “When I got the offer and they said it’s shooting here…I was like, ‘That is unbelievable! It’s home!’”

Speaking of home, this version ventures into more new territory by offering a peek at guests’ lives before they arrive on the island — and at how Elena came to take up residence there. “In this iteration, the family passes this role [of steward] on from generation to generation,” Fain explains. “It’s a tremendous honor to be chosen, but there’s also a lot of sacrifice involved.” For Elena, that meant leaving the love of her life in New York, where she was a grad student. “I don’t think it’s something that she really wanted at that moment,” Sanchez says. Over time, however, “it’s almost like she’s fallen in love with what she’s doing for people and what she has become.”

Fantasy Island

(Credit: Laura Magruder/Fox)

“She’s someone who really cares about others and understands them,” Fain adds. “She is totally nonjudgmental because she’s seen it all.” Elena is also more visibly hands-on than Mr. Roarke. “She’s very much guiding them,” Sanchez says, “sometimes subtly, sometimes with strong, tough love, sometimes with nothing but love — it’s a little bit of everything.”

In addition to exploring Elena’s backstory and downtime on the island (she has a white swimsuit!), we’ll also meet the staff. There’s flirty pilot Javier (John Gabriel Rodriguez), head of transportation; longtime caretaker Segundo (Daniel Lugo); and maybe someone akin to the original’s arrival-announcing Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize). Viewers “are going to be so surprised,” Sanchez says of that first-episode twist. “I hope people are going to embrace it. It’s super interesting, it’s current.”

One might even say it’s fantastic.

Fantasy Island, Series Premiere, Tuesday, August 10, 9/8c, Fox