Liz Craft and Sarah Fain have been working and writing together since they were fifteen. In television, they have partnered as writers and producers on several major network shows like The Fix, Lie To Me, and Dollhouse.
They are the dynamic duo behind the FOX hit revival of Fantasy Island, which has just finished its second season with an emotional and satisfying finale.
Speaking with TV Fanatic over Zoom (DAYS before the unfortunate news of the show’s cancellation), the pair are as in sync discussing their show as they are in producing the whimsical yet thought-provoking series.
While the Fantasy Island IP has undergone a couple of revivals/reboots since the original series concluded in 1984, this is the first that truly builds on the legacy of Ricardo Montalban and his wish-granting domain.
Fain and Craft are honest about how they were fortunate to have several key pieces fall into place first, facilitating the show’s development.
Fain considers what brought them to Fantasy Island to begin with. “For us, the show is successful because we really respect the original. We were fans of the original when we were kids, and I think we took the parts of that show that we loved and then really tried to bring it into today and make it super relevant.
“And it’s just been such a fun process. We have the greatest team at Sony and at FOX. Everybody’s really on board and so fun to work with.”
Craft outlines the operational elements that lead to Fantasy Island’s incredible visuals and cast.
“When we settled on shooting in Puerto Rico, where we have these incredible locations – you just can’t believe the stuff, we think ‘this looks fake!’ it looks so good, and it’s real.
“Then Roselyn Sanchez coming in… I mean, because, of course, the question is who can fill Mr. Roarke’s shoes, right? He was such an icon. I think Roselyn just effortlessly has the charm and the authority and the humor to bring the show into today.
“We can’t say enough about her. She’s just fantastic. And then, of course, our other cast members, Kiara and John, also oozing with charm and abilities. So we just got lucky.”
A core feature of Fantasy Island is how Sanchez’s Elena Roarke is supported by Barnes’s Ruby and Rodriquez’s Javier.
That cohesiveness translates to a genuine sense of family on screen, and Fain admits it was there from the beginning but has also grown over the years.
“It came in fully formed in one way, but they’ve also worked to build it. They’re a really great team. They hang out together.
“Ros will have them over. They’ll go to the beach on the weekend. They have created a special relationship, and I think you do see that on the screen.”
While no one can imagine anyone but Sanchez in the role now, were there other candidates for the role of Roarke at the beginning?
“So many names were floated and discussed, and then I have to give FOX credit,” admits Craft. “They said, ‘Hey, what about Roselyn Sanchez?’ and then that was it. It’s not as if we had her audition.
“It was a matter of us meeting with her, talking to her about the role, wooing her a bit. And she was really enthusiastic because she knew the original and the Ricardo Montalban of it all. It just fell together.
“[The] beautiful thing about it is Roselyn is from Puerto Rico, and we’re shooting there. She knew so many of our crew members! She’d be like, ‘Oh, yes, this person, I went to high school [with them]… oh yeah, we went to elementary school together….”
“So she was such an incredible Number One on the call sheet. She could just rally the crew. I’ve never seen anything like it. And that was a huge help for the production as well.”
With twenty-three episodes under their belt, do Fain and Craft have a favorite child (as it were) in the bunch?
Fain looks to the one that tapped into great emotional depth and holds some somber significance.
“The one that comes to mind for me is the Day of the Dead episode. [Fantasy Island Season 1 Episode 8].
“It was just such a special way to both get to know our characters and to meet new people. Of course, Leslie Jordan was in it, and he was so wonderful. So that one, I think, is very special.”
Craft remembers how a different Season 1 offering provided a signpost for the show’s direction.
“Another one that was special for us because it really cracked a code for the show, how we were going to do the show, was [Fantasy Island Season 1 Episode 6], which is where the women came to celebrate their fiftieth birthdays. ‘The Big Five Oh’!
“We realized [fantasies don’t] have to be a huge thing. One of the women just wanted to sleep. And that was very much based on Sarah, who’s an only parent and just longed for sleep.
“It’s a small thing, wanting to sleep, but it was so emotional, and it went so deep into that guest character, and it resonated so much with our audience.
“So I think that really cracked the code on the rest of the show where we said, ‘Okay, we can do this show for ten seasons,’ because these small things resonate so large.”
‘The Big Five Oh’ was a real hit with TV Fanatic readers and Fantasy Island viewers in general as it reunited original Melrose Place cast members Daphne Zuniga, Josie Bissett, and Laura Leighton.
This season, we’ve had other reunion casts like The Wonder Years’ Dan Lauria and Ally Mills on Fantasy Island Season 2 Episode 10 and Desperate Housewives’ Teri Hatcher and James Denton on Fantasy Island Season 2 Episode 3. These have been delightful and calculated casting choices.
Craft adds, “We also had Cheryl Hines and Rachael Harris, which wasn’t a reunion, but they are real-life best friends which is how we got them both to do it.
“We realized seeing these people we all love so much through the years come to Fantasy Island brings out this extra layer of emotion. Something the original did so well was to cast these amazing guest stars, right? So that became very important to us. And every time we do it, everybody’s just all a-flutter and has the best time.”
A major story arc in Season 2 is Ruby’s relationship with the mysterious Isla.
As Isla first appeared on Fantasy Island Season 1 Episode 1 when she gave Ruby the tattoo that marked her as an Island-approved denizen, was this a relationship planned way back then?
Fain considers how the relationship evolved. “At that point, it wasn’t solid. But what we loved there was the obvious chemistry that the two actors had. They immediately lit up the screen.
“So, as time went on, we thought, ‘They have this connection from the tattoo; how can we develop that?'”
Craft connects Isla to Nyah, the mermaid on the original series.
“There was a recurring mermaid character in the original, played by Michelle Phillips, and that was very much our inspiration for the mermaid storyline in our new Fantasy Island.
“We loved the idea that Roarke would say, ‘No, there aren’t mermaids,’ which is what the original Mr. Roarke would tell people. Then, he would go talk to the mermaid. And this idea that the mermaids are always trying to lure guests into the ocean.
“We thought Isla was a great character for that because she is so appealing, and Ruby was so drawn to her.
But the idea wasn’t 100% full-steam ahead from inception. “We really debated can we pull off doing a mermaid? Are people going to think it’s silly to do a mermaid? Can we do this in a way that feels grounded and ‘real’?
“I think we did it because it came so organically out of the story and out of Isla having been the one who gave Ruby that tattoo.
“And we love this sort of mythology that the mermaids protect the Island because people always say, ‘Don’t people know where Fantasy Island is? How are journalists not showing up?’ and all of this.
“We love the idea that the mermaids protect the Island, but then the Island protects the mermaids. So they need each other even if they don’t like each other.”
(#SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen the Season 2 finale yet)
On Fantasy Island Season 2 Episode 13, Ruby’s daughter MJ (Gabrielle Byndloss) must contend directly with Isla’s allure to save her mother from joining the mermaids and losing her memories forever.
It’s a tense and critical climactic scene where a mother’s love proves stronger than the desire for happy oblivion. With Ruby’s life at stake, the scene captures all the perils represented by Isla and the ocean.
It’s a triumph of production that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, cheering for MJ.
Fain is immensely proud of the finale and how that scene came together.
“I’m so happy it felt like that because that was so hard! That scene! When we have actors in water, you’re pulling all of these elements together.
“And then in editing, it’s really hard because you’re pulling together action on land and sea. Nothing about that was one-take.
“I have to say the actor who plays MJ really brought it. That’s a really hard role, and there’s a lot of build-up of what she has to do to connect with Ruby, and Gabrielle did such a beautiful job.”
Craft adds, “They really brought that emotion, and it just popped off the screen.”
Fantasy Island’s narrative’s episodic yet contiguous nature allows Craft and Fain the freedom to venture into various genres with their guests’ fantasies.
Case in point: Fantasy Island Season 2 Episode 7 (“#Happy”) takes a dark path into a guest’s hidden past when she wishes her family to be as “perfect” in reality as she portrays them on social media.
Recalls Craft, “[Regarding #Happy,] we [said], ‘We have to do a horror episode,’ and on the resort where we were shooting, they were redoing it.
“So they had the mirror resort, this empty building which was all torn apart, so we thought, ‘Okay, this is going to be the setting for our horror episode,’ and it just worked out.
“And the director was one of the writer-directors of The Blair Witch,” Fain adds, “It just all came together.”
When TV Fanatic spoke with guest stars Lauria and Mills from “War of the Roses (and the Hutchinsons),” Ally Mills commented on how impressed with how female-led the Fantasy Island production is.
Fain acknowledges that this is a mindful choice. “Yes, for sure. We have — not exclusively certainly — a female audience, but a large part of our audience is women, and we want our audience to be able to connect as much as possible to our characters. And obviously, we’re women, so we like writing about women, and we love working with women.”
Craft chimes in, “It was great because, at no point did anyone ever give us the note, ‘Well, love the story, but can it be a guy?'”
“In fact,” remarks Fain, “We pitched one story, and someone was like, ‘Oh, love the story, but can it be a woman?'”
“FOX was really supportive of all of our female-led fantasy stories,” asserts Craft, “That was just great for us because, of course, that’s so much fun for us, and the crew did love it too.
“A lot of these high-level production people are used to working on shows led by men, so I think everyone enjoyed the female-ness of it all.”
We’ve learned much about Elena and Ruby over the two seasons. We’ve met their past and current lovers, enjoyed their personal quirks, and discovered how they’ve grown emotionally.
What about Javier and Segundo?
Fain has thoughts about Segundo’s true nature. “We love Segundo so much. Daniel Lugo is such a brilliant actor. We think that he has been there kind of forever. We see him as a timeless being who is almost part of the Island, so that’s how he got there.
It may seem reflexive to ask the creators of Fantasy Island what the Island can do for them, but both Craft and Fain know exactly what they’d ask for.
Craft articulates, “What Fantasy Island could do for me right now? I just want a fair deal. The WGA is on strike, and we don’t want to be on strike.
“We really want to get back to work. I would love to have the strike end and do Season 3. We want being a TV writer to be something we can do the rest of our career, and that’s in jeopardy right now.”
Both seasons of Fantasy Island are now available to stream on-demand at FOX.com, on Hulu, and right here on TV Fanatic.
As always, check out our reviews where you can discuss and share your thoughts.
And now, here’s your chance to show your love to the wonderful showrunners who have made this fantastic show, Fanatics!
Hit our comments below with your favorite moments from Fantasy Island! Who were the best guests? Which fantasy blew your mind? Tell us EVERYTHING!
And, of course, the question we always ask: What can the Island do for YOU?
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond ’til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on Twitter.