BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — As remakes go, there is none more saddled (or burdened) with expectations than Fox’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” arriving Oct. 8. Everything in the original — every word, glance, song, “callback” or fishnet stocking on one Dr. Frank-N-Furter — originally played by one Tim Curry — isn’t just burned in the memories of fans, but has taken up happy and permanent residence in those memories.
How — or why — remake something like this?
The majority of the new cast arrived onstage here at the ongoing TV critics tour Monday to get to an answer, alongside some figures associated with the original, most notably Curry, 70, who suffered a stroke four years ago and was in a wheelchair onstage.
Curry — who will play the narrator in the upcoming version — said he offered to play Dr. Everett Scott “because I was in a wheelchair already.” He was asked whether he had given his “blessing” to the project.
He said, “I do, indeed.”
Scott, meanwhile, will be played by Ben Vereen, who said, “I don’t believe we’re remaking anything, but paying tribute to the artists who did it before. . . . This is not a remake. You cannot remake ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ But you can pay tribute to it and honor it. That’s what we wanted to accomplish.”
Nevertheless, a remake this is, with the same dialogue, music and even those famed “callbacks” or “throwbacks” — the funny, odd, rude and just plain lewd comments that fans have yelled out at the screen in countless movie theaters during countless midnight screenings since 1975. There are plans in place to incorporate some of those, including having screen crawls and even using other actors as proxies for the audience, and having them speak the “callbacks” off screen. Presumably, you’ll have to find your own toilet paper and rice to throw at your TV screen.
Lou Adler, executive producer of this version as well as the original film, which was directed by Jim Sharman, told TV writers here that “it’s really an audience [participation] film, and has a mind of its own.”
Adler added, “We started to develop this television idea quite a while ago but I guess it just wasn’t the right idea. Then, when Tim [Curry] came along and validated it, and then when Kenny [Ortega, the veteran stage and TV director] came along and said he could direct it, then [I decided] we could take it to another place, while keeping the fans in mind. What Kenny and I have said from the beginning is that it has to be true to the original, but also make it contemporary.”
This “Rocky” did apparently have a long (long) gestation. Gail Berman, another executive producer of the new film, said Adler first broached the idea to her when she was chief of Fox Entertainment a decade ago. She put the project in the pipeline, but — after leaving Fox — there it remained, or rather languished. The pitch then followed her to Paramount, where she was studio president, and while there she began laying groundwork for a new version, she said. Then finally, it came full circle back to Fox (her production company, the Jackal Group, is a co-venture with the company).
“It was a crazy 10-year journey,” Berman said, “but sometimes projects have a way of finding the timing they’re supposed to have. But I do think Laverne made this the right time for this.”
“Laverne” is of course Laverne Cox, the transgender star who will play Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the new version.
Ortega said of Cox, who was not in attendance here, that “she’s a trans woman who has wanted to do this since she was a child. She’s a force and [has] a five-octave range. There was no Plan B [besides] Laverne. She has an incredible depth of talent, enthusiasm and respect for the [original] film . . . We knew from the beginning that she was the person. She gave us a raison d’être to do this.”