The Tempest

A Conversation With Bonnie Raskin

How have you created the bayou scenes for "The Tempest?"

We're in Cypress Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina, in a real bayou. This is the island where our characters have lived for 12 years. We have the alligators, the butterflies, the bayou and the mist. Basically we build out sets from two plots of ground and everything is here for us.

The Tempest - Promotional Shoot The Tempest - Promotional Shoot

How are you creating the tempest?

Peter Fonda, who plays Prosper, is creating a tempest to bring his brother, who betrayed him 12 years ago, closer to his clutches. The scene is very much the way the lead character, Prospero, brought his arch rival to meet him in the Shakespearean drama. For this scene we are using wind machines, rain machines, lighting and every effect that we could bring to this island.

Why was Peter Fonda your choice for Prosper?

I don't think there has ever been an Academy Award nominee who, in the next season, appeared as the star of a television, so we are thrilled. Peter has everything that lends itself to the range of this role. He brings a quiet intensity that can suddenly turn into range. And I think anyone watching this in 1998 will be able to relate to him as a father and as someone wronged. He's emotional when he needs to be. He's very contained. There is a real sense of the loner in him, the vulnerability. Peter connected with the material from the script stage and was immediately comfortable with our treatment of "The Tempest" and able to get under the skin of themes in "The Tempest" accessible and entertaining to an audience who may not be familiar with the original Shakespearean version.

Is the audience ready for Shakespeare on television?

I think the audience is absolutely ready for it. Made-for-television movies and miniseries have had to go so far above the standard of television material that audiences have proven, by watching "Merlin" and "Gulliver’s Travels" and other very different renderings of great literature, that they’re absolutely up for it. I hope that we'll carry on with that tradition. All of the people involved in this movie have such great passion for it. You felt it on the set. We all believed in it. It was a huge challenge, but we’re very excited to get the chance to make it.

What made you decide to set this adaptation during the Civil War?

What’s so wonderful about Shakespeare is that his themes are as relevant today as they were when they were created. The lure for us was not just to make "The Tempest," but to remake it creatively and tie it in so that a television audience can hopefully watch this movie and at the end say, "Wow! We can read this. There’s source material on this." We chose to stick with the Civil War for many reasons. It really lent itself to actual story of "The Tempest." The parallels were right there. Brother against brother. North against South. We love that it was an American story for an American audience. And the themes of Shakespeare’s "Tempest" are father and daughter, letting your daughter go, jealousy, rivalry and revenge – all of which still translates in 1998. Quite honestly, we felt it would be much more effective to our story to keep it within the period of the piece. I felt that it would be too jarring for us, in terms of the television audience, to go back to the Elizabethan. So we made a compromise that works for the material.

What are the main elements of the story?

The elements of the story are young love, first love, father/daughter love, revenge against two men, war raging and slaves vs. free men. It covers a vast expanse in 90 minutes. I’ve never seen a two-hour movie like this. The challenge is to take the elements that we’re familiar with in terms of miniseries and make it into a two-hour movie.