Following the release of their series The Witcher, Netflix has dived once again into the world of fantasy bringing to life Thomas Wheeler‘s illustrated novel Cursed. Surrounding the legend of King Arthur, Cursed flips the legend on its side, giving us not the perspective of a chosen King, but a chosen Queen. Interweaving animated illustrations inspired by the book’s illustrator, Frank Miller, Cursed comes to life in an exciting showcase of coming-of-age in a world of magic, action, and female power.
I had the opportunity to speak with the Zetna Fuentes, director, and executive producer of Cursed‘s first two episodes to discuss the retelling of a classic legend through the female perspective, the visual decisions that elevated the series and even her favorite scenes to film.
Stephanie Archer for Film Inquiry: Congratulations on Cursed! I was able to catch the first two episodes this morning. It looks so good!
Zetna Fuentes: Thank you!
It’s actually really nice to see a classic retelling of King Arthur but from a female perspective. It definitely was the biggest draw in. You have worked on a lot of female-driven shows before, like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, what was it like for you bringing to life this classic tale that’s usually told from a male perspective, bring it to life with a female lead. ?
Zetna Fuentes: It was really important to me. When I read the script, I responded to, I think what you responded to watching it, I thought, “Oh, here’s this legend that we all know the Arthur and legend”, which is always dominated by the male part. And it was meeting the Lady of the Lake and this young woman and doing her coming of age story. And she was the hero. She was the protagonist, she was the lead and it felt organic. And the story felt so riveting that I thought this is the exact kind of story that I would want to tell.
It really was. The last time I’ve seen something with this classic where there was kind of a strong female was with Julianna Margulies [The Mists of Avalon]. So it was nice that it was young and it was fresh. Was there anything else about it that drew you in to want to do this to both to direct and executive produce?
Zetna Fuentes: Yeah. You know, I think it always for me is about the script first, and then what’s the story, and does it resonate with me, and can I find a hook, and do I want to do it? And we just said, this had all of that. And then I always go next to like, well, who’s involved, who are the collaborators. And when I found out that it was Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller, I was so excited. You know, Frank is an icon and his work is so incredibly tremendous – it’s everything. And Tom, I love his work and I just thought, these are people I want to work with. And when I found out that Katherine Langford was already cast to play Nimue, and I had seen 13 Reasons Why, and I thought she was such a brilliant actor and did such a lovely job, and I loved her sensibility – that all of those elements together made me really want to do the project.
That’s awesome. And what was it like? What were the roles that Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller brought as executive producers themselves?
Zetna Fuentes: So they were very involved, you know, they’re so creative. There were so open to ideas and interpretation of their material that they’d written and illustrated, and they just were amazing collaborators. They wanted what was best for the story. They were big cheerleaders. You know, visually we were on the same page and they were very involved in all the decision making. So it was really a great think tank with them and then with all the production heads that we hired to work on the project.
I did notice, in what I’m hoping is every episode, but at the two that I watched, the introduction and then for transitional parts, these very similar illustrations to Frank Miller’s. Was that something that was decided early on or was that like his suggestion? How did that come to be?
Zetna Fuentes: So it actually wasn’t that early on. We were already in the process of filming and because Frank Miller’s work is the inspiration for the series and we all draw so much inspiration from his work. Then when we were working on it, it was always what’s the Frank Miller aesthetic, what’s our homage to him. How do we keep bringing him into this? So when we had our title company designed the titles, the opening titles, we loved what they were doing because we had talked about the fusion of the illustrated work that Frank does with motion. And so it kind of came organically from that. We wanted more of it thinking about how we use it more, and then the transition idea came about, and then we started to work on that and everyone fell in love with it.
I never actually read the book, but I’ve seen a lot of the illustrations and then obviously the Dark Knight series. It was really great to see that tribute to bringing that adaptation and linking the two. You’ve worked on a lot of dramas outside of this genre. I was wondering, what was it like directing a fantasy – like a medieval?
Zetna Fuentes: Yeah. You know, I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve never worked in this time period. I’ve never worked on this massive epic fantasy show and it was really exciting, you know? I wanted to flex different muscles, a lot of times you don’t get the opportunity to do something different. You can get pigeonholed, you can do the same thing over and over again. And I think, as a creative person, I want to tell different kinds of stories. I want to tell stories that in some way resonate with me, but I don’t want to tell the same story over and over again. So I was ecstatic to get the script. And then when I read it, I just thought I really want to do this. I really want to work in this genre.
It really resonates in all the nuances of the set and especially the composition from Jeff Russo.
Zetna Fuentes: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
It all culminated so well. And especially seeing all the dramas that you’ve been able to do before and be able to bring that skill and execute. Did you have a favorite scene that you got to film?
Zetna Fuentes: I have so many. It’s funny, like casts, scenes start to feel like my children, my babies, and then it’s like playing favorites and like, “Which one’s my favorite, they’re all my children”. But there are so many that I think for different reasons, that bring back kind of beautiful memories of what it was. In episode two, there’s a scene with Nimue and her mom by water,. It’s really quiet. It’s a very intimate scene. And I just love that scene – love it, love it, love it. I love Katherine battling the wolves. It was a sequence that we talked about early on that was really important. And I love, love that one. So those are probably two favorites that stick out.
It’s interesting, you pick the Wolf one. There’s a lot of action and choreography in a lot of these scenes – what were some of the challenges that you got from that?
Zetna Fuentes: You know, it can be really challenging to do those big sequences when you have a lot of moving parts. You have whether its the weather if it’s rain or stunts, swords, animals, and you just want to plan. For me, for anyone, you want to be safe for your crew, and for your cast, you want to plan, plan, plan – and those kinds of sequences need that. And so what’s a lot of effort on the front end to make sure that everyone’s on the same page and then bringing all the collaborators in with all the brilliant ideas and strong points of view. So stunt coordinator, a TV production designer, visual effects, because you want to make sure that you’re telling this story and in the best way possible. And so a lot of planning and then a lot of fun with the creative conversations.
You had mentioned earlier when we were talking about scenes about visuals and The Weeping Monk really struck me early on. There’s a scene at the very beginning of episode one, where he’s walking through the forest, the flames are all around him and the hood is over his head. He reminded me very much of a Sith Lord from Star Wars – specifically Anakin Skywalker. I was wondering what other influences you might have drawn from the two episodes that you did.
Zetna Fuentes: Yeah. I mean you’ve just mentioned one [static] to be obsessed with Star Wars. So we would have these really fun conversations. All of us, all the crew, all the people involved in the project, that were coming up with, all the ideas and figuring out the world, about what our influences were. Watching films and reading books and looking at artwork and photography and Frank’s work. And so I think we drew on all of it. We do our Frank’s work course because we wanted it to feel like Frank Miller. We drew on the epicness of the Lord of the Rings. We wanted it to feel like this massive, beautiful epic journey. And so we took inspiration from, I think a lot of around us and a lot from the natural world, we were really inspired by the woodlands and what nature provides to us, it’s all organic magic.
When you talk about the forest, it’s definitely there – the flowers are so bright and the, the, the foliage is so green. It really stands out. Was that an early decision too, that you wanted to start to shape the look of it?
Zetna Fuentes: Yeah. You know, it was actually in script form, that Nimue’s world was beautiful and magical and special. And so we talked about that early on and I would have these conversations and say, “you know, we really want to have beautiful green on the trees when we’re in her habitat, we want it really magical. We want it to feel grounded in nature, but really have like subtle magic that is infused in a world because ultimately there’s going to be so much darkness that comes to destroy. I think if you set it out in the beginning and it’s beautiful and natural that you’re going to get even more heartbroken when the baddies come to destroy it.
You see that color leach out too as each scene progresses through episodes one and two, which is brilliant. You’ve worked on shows for the networks: FX, and HBO. Was there any difference filming with Netflix? I’ve heard that there’s a little bit more of creative freedom.
Zetna Fuentes: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting, I’ve worked with so many different studios and networks, and I think depending on the show, you can have a different vibe or depend on the showrunner. And I think the creative freedom at Netflix, I think it’s one of the reasons why people want to work there. They want to do great work and they want a great collaborator. And I think Netflix allows them. It makes sense that they’re attracting so much of the talent.
Do you have anything else lined up next to keep our eyes out for it?
Oh, you know what? I’m reading a ton of stuff. I’m excited to – I really want to make a movie. I come from directing theater, so I’ve never made a film. Excited to do that. And hopefully, work more great television.
Film Inquiry would like to thank Zetna Fuentes for taking the time to speak with us!
Cursed is now streaming on Netflix!
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