An Update That's All Heart

By Judith S. Gillies
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 2, 2007

Forget that shiny yellow brick road and think more along the lines of a road less traveled -- darker, edgier, modern, but somewhat familiar.

Taking on the iconic "Wizard of Oz" was done with a great deal of awe and respect, said Craig Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell, who created "Tin Man," a six-hour miniseries airing over three nights on Sci Fi Channel.

"We are huge fans of the original movie," said Van Sickle of the 1939 classic, based on the writings of L. Frank Baum. "We came to the conclusion that it was better to take our chances and reinvent rather than redo. . . . So we cut loose and let our imaginations run wild."

The miniseries pays homage to the film, Mitchell said, "turning the icon slightly on its head. We tell the original story within a new frame."

Viewers will see familiar details -- such as a blue and white gingham dress, a hot-air balloon and even Toto, the dog -- but in different contexts. The story is centered on DG (for Dorothy Gale, played by Zooey Deschanel), who is propelled by a tornado into the Outer Zone, or O.Z., a world ruled by an evil sorceress (Kathleen Robertson).

It was daunting to play one of the most famous villains in literature, Robertson said, "and the deepest challenge was to find a way to craft the villain to be believable. . . . She probably has every deep psychological problem, but it's ultimately what makes the character so fascinating."

Along the way, D.G. meets other familiar characters: the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss), a once-powerful leader; Glitch (Alan Cumming), who is missing part of his brain; Raw (Raoul Trujillo), a wolverine-like creature seeking courage; and Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough), a former police officer who is scarred emotionally.

"It's an amazing journey for Wyatt to find his heart," McDonough said.

It's also a journey that has come full circle for McDonough, whose first acting experience was in a high school production of "The Wizard of Oz," as the Cowardly Lion. He really wanted to play the Tin Man, he said, but his teacher-director told him the Cowardly Lion had the best lines.

So about 20 years later, when he was approached to play the equivalent of the Tin Man, he said, "Great, but I think the Cowardly Lion has all the best lines."

When McDonough read the script, though, he immediately saw the opportunity to play Wyatt Cain as "that iconic Western Gary Cooper, 'High Noon'-ish character."

Initially, "Tin Man" was based on the idea of doing a show about a cop in Oz, Mitchell said, and the project was called "Tin Man" because a police officer in Oz would wear a badge made of tin. But as the miniseries developed, he said, it became apparent that heart what was what the story was all about, and "Tin Man" was a fitting title.

The miniseries, filmed in the Vancouver area in April, uses about 3,000 computer shots, Van Sickle said. "There probably aren't too many scenes that don't have some sort of computer enhancement or special effects."

Because so many scenes were performed against green screens, Robertson said, director Nick Willing would act out various parts to help the actors envision the storyline.

"Tin Man" has some dark and scary parts, Mitchell said, but so did the 1939 movie -- it was lighter because it was a musical. The miniseries is an updated version of the same theme, he said: There's no place like home.


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