Roselyn Sanchez on Rebooting 'Fantasy Island' as Mr. Roarke's Grandniece: 'It's Been Incredible'

The actress plays the island's facilitator Elena Roarke in Fox's reimagining of the popular series

fantasy island (2021)
Photo: Laura Macgrude/Fox

For Roselyn Sanchez, filming the new reboot of Fantasy Island was a fantasy in and of itself.

The Devious Maids alum, 48, "vividly" remembers moments from the original series, which aired from 1977 to 1984, as a child growing up in Puerto Rico. Now, she's the star of the show's reimagining, which filmed in Puerto Rico.

In the new Fox drama, which premiered Tuesday, she steps into a white suit — similar to the one worn by Ricardo Montalbán decades ago — as the mysterious Elena Roarke, the grandniece of Montalbán's mysterious Mr. Roarke. Elena welcomes new guests to the island each week and helps their fantasies come to life — though they often take a different shape than the guests expected.

"I think it's really smart," Sanchez told PEOPLE from the oceanside set. "They're taking a huge leap of faith making the character female, but the fact that they were able to tie in that he's my great uncle, that I'm related, that he's part of my blood, that it was my responsibility, my legacy to take over the island. The way that they did it was so clever and so smart."

fantasy island(1978)

Here, the mom of two — she shares daughter Sebella, 9, and son Dylan, 3, with her husband, The Rookie actor Eric Winter — reflects on returning home to work in Puerto Rico, the lessons the show has already taught her, and the perils of an all-white costume.

Did you watch the original series?
A little bit. I was very young. I remember so vividly, Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) saying, "El avión! El avión!" which is "the plane! the plane!" It was such a beloved intellectual property. In Puerto Rico, it was huge! So when they offered me to do Roarke, of course, I went to YouTube and I started looking at episodes and fell in love with it one more time.

There are so many nods to that in this new reimagining.
The premise is very similar. It's about wish-fulfillment and making dreams come true, learning lessons throughout the journey. I'm the facilitator, providing these guests with the most incredible experience, sometimes lovely, sometimes full of laughs, but sometimes full of tears. The whole deal is for them to learn something valuable so when they leave the island they become better people. This time around, Roarke gets very involved with the fantasies. I go into them sometimes. So I'm facilitating, but it's personal to me. I think that that's a great new addition.

You imbue so much empathy in Roarke. Is this shifting any of your perspectives personally?
A lot. We're dealing with issues that have a lot of substance but the way that we want to bring it to the public is in a light, fulfilling way, so at the end of the day people have a good time. To me, I've learned a lot about patience. I've learned a lot about how we make plans and God laughs. It's really challenging for me to make it funny and serious and deep and light all at once. I want to be in that pocket where I'm very relatable but I'm magical at the same time. It's been a learning experience for me acting-wise, personally, as a performer, as a woman.

There was a lot of mystery in the original series about how old Roarke was. So how old do you think your Roarke is?
[Laughs] 28! Maybe 21. She's very young. She's very young at heart, at least. Let's say she's ageless!

fantasy island
Laura magruder/Fox

Have any of the wishes really hit home for you?
There's one coming about three best friends and how one of them doesn't really take time to take care of herself. She is always trying to do everything for everybody and so consumed with family and kids and just making sure that everything is okay and doesn't realize you need to take care of yourself first. Because what about your health? And I thought that was really interesting. The journey that they go through is when she realizes if I continue this path, I'm going to die. And that was so interesting to me as a working woman, as a mom of two, I'm always traveling, I'm so career-oriented, I want to make sure that everybody's doing great and you forget that you have to take care of yourself. It was deep.

How has it been being from Puerto Rico and getting to work here?
It's a dream. Can you imagine? I was born and raised here in Puerto Rico. I moved to the United States when I was almost 22. Most of my family — 99 percent — lives in Puerto Rico. It's interesting because the crew that we're using — I've known most of them for so long. I started working on TV when I was 19 years old here in Puerto Rico, and almost 30 years later, I'm working with some of the same crew. So it's been incredible.

What does it mean to you that a woman of color like yourself — and such a diverse cast in general — is leading this big network primetime show?
It's incredible. I feel blessed and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity. When they told me, "Listen, the character of Roarke, played by the beloved Ricardo Montalbán, now is going to be female and they're going to keep the Latino thing going" — although I don't believe, the original Roarke, nobody knew exactly where he was from — it was beautiful. And I think it's important, the inclusivity, the diversity that they're bringing into the show.

fantasy island
Laura magruder/Fox

This show has so many guest stars. How do you welcome them to the set?
Because I'm from here, I feel like I need to explain everything and I let them know where to eat and where not to. I feel responsible for them to have an amazing time and to leave the island thinking this was the most beautiful experience of their life.

Does it make you nervous wearing all white, all day?
I'm used to it by now. I have like an entourage of costume people making sure that everything is intact, that my pants stay clean. It's a whole thing!

The new Fantasy Island airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on Fox.

Related Articles