When it launched last year, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ was meant to give CBS All Access a piece of must watch programming. Based on the record number of All Access subscriptions the show racked up, it’s succeeded at giving the nascent streaming platform a rock on which to build its church. Of course, now it actually has to build that church. Since they can’t do that entirely with ‘Star Trek’ spinoffs, they are now building a lineup of original programming that includes the likes of ‘One Dollar’ and the upcoming reboot of ‘The Twilight Zone‘. Their latest offering, though, is ‘Tell Me a Story’. The latest effort from Kevin Williamson (of ‘Scream’, ‘Dawson’s Creek’, and ‘The Vampire Diaries’ fame), ‘Tell Me a Story’ presents dark, modernized re-imaginings of classic fairy tales in the form of a serialized drama. While at New York Comic Con, we were able to speak with Williamson and series star Dania Ramirez about her character, the show’s approach to storytelling, and more.
Dania, can you tell us a bit about your character?
Dania Ramirez (DR): I play Hannah Porter, the Gretel of ‘Hansel and Gretel’. And Hannah, she’s a veteran and she’s trying to come to New York City to restart her life. She’s dealing with PTSD, and she’s got a lot of scars, from the Army and also mental scars and emotional scars from her past. She gets a call from her brother, who would be Hansel, and he’s dealing with some issues because he’s somehow… I don’t know how much to say here.
Kevin Williamson (KW): He got into a lot of trouble.
DR: He got into a lot of trouble and she goes to save him and they start running for their lives. And once they hit the ground, they never stop. Like in the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ who end up having to leave breadcrumbs to get back home, they end up having to do sort of their own version of what the breadcrumbs are to get back. In a nutshell. She’s a badass, though. And she saves her brother time and time again.
KW: And we stay within the story confines of ‘Hansel and Gretel’. You’ll see. If you know the fairy tales, you’ll have more fun watching the show, but you don’t necessarily need to because they’re all brand new stories. And we kind of subvert the endings, it’s not always what you think, and we’ll change things around a bit.
DR: We stay pretty true to the morals of these fairy tales and how dark the original fairy tales were and try to modernize that. Like what does that look like today? What does Hansel and Gretel’s story of being sent out there by their mother because they couldn’t afford to eat to fend for themselves and leaving the trail of breadcrumbs and ending up at the witch’s house; what does that look like in today’s world? Kevin’s done a brilliant job at somehow making that cool and modern.
Do you think of New York as a metaphor for the forest?
KW: Absolutely. I think New York is the greatest city on the planet. Greatest city in the world. ‘Hamilton’ says so. So I love it, and I also like the texture and all the different layers of New York City. And there’s so many different communities. If you go to Los Angeles, you’ve got one big industry and a bunch of subsets. And here you have everything, the entire world, the entire country, it all comes to New York City. And there’s history, it just makes it the right jumble for the story and for the fairy tale. Particularly for the first season. We may change cities for the second and third seasons but for the time being, I just thought New York City was the perfect metaphor for the woods.
DR: Every time you turn a corner in New York City also, you just sometimes… I’ve lived here, and I sometimes don’t know where I am. And I feel like that’s the woods. I’ve also spent time in the woods, and I think I’m going down the same path and all of a sudden it just looks completely different. Different people, different… you know?
KW: And anyone who’s lived here in New York, you kind of know that it’s a really big city filled with a lot of different people, but yet it can be the smallest city in the world when you turn the corner and run into somebody. And so that’s what happens with these various fairy tales. They start intersecting in ways that seem a little obvious at first and then not so obvious, and then they’re interwoven and their stories start to connect. It’s a little bit of a puzzle.
The others have been talking a bit about how dark the show is. Has there been anything that you’re surprised you were able to get away with?
KW: Well it’s not that much… I don’t want to undersell the show in terms of gnarliness, but it’s more of a thriller. It’s a very emotional rollercoaster. It’s full of a bunch of flawed characters who makes some really bad choices and then try to climb out of them. Which is also known as… probably everyone at this table. It’s life. It’s kind of what we do when we wake up, you know? I don’t make all the best decisions in the world, and then I spend the rest of the day trying to reverse them.
DR: I guess when you think of fairy tales we are pushing the boundaries in that sense.
KW: True, true.
DR: If you think of it like that, then absolutely, we’re definitely pushing boundaries that haven’t really been broken when it comes to telling a story like this.
KW: It has its shocking moments. It’s not like the other fairy tale shows. It’s an adult drama. It’s very much R-rated. But we’re on streaming so we can do that. It just has shocking moments, but not shock for shock’s sake. We try to earn our moments, so that… If you have shock all the time, it’s not shocking. So we try to earn our moments and sort of build to them.
DR: It’s very human, too, in the things that end up happening. You’re dealing with flawed people that end up making bad choices sometimes, and they’re not necessarily bad people themselves, but they’re in certain situations and they have to make certain choices. For the story of Hansel and Gretel, we definitely make a lot of choices that people are gonna be like, “Oh my God, how are they gonna get away with this?”
KW: But hopefully when they make the right one you’ll cheer.
Growing up, what was your favorite fairy tale?
DR: My favorite fairy tale growing up was ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. That one and ‘Cinderella’, I have to say. Not because I played Cinderella! At all! That’s not the reason! [laughs] I just, you know, I really like… I think every fairy tale has morals that you can take away from them, but I really can relate to the essence of trying to find your way and having that connection, the family connection. And that’s something that both those fairy tales have.
‘Tell Me a Story’ is set to debut on CBS All Access just in time for Halloween, on October 31, 2018.