This week, Angelo got to interview Paulie Rojas and Barry Ratcliffe, who both star in The Witches of Oz.
First up, Paulie Rojas!
What was your reaction when you were cast?
Paulie: There have been a few times in my life where I have been stunned for what seems an eternity. I couldn’t quite believe it, nor did I know just how to process it. All I heard was Eliza Swenson say on the other side of the phone, “So, do you think you can tackle the Wicked Witch of the West?” Then I sort of floated about world with an irrevocable smile. It’s funny how life works sometimes. Within a few days I had received the most painful news of my life and the happiest. The latter being I would get to play Dorothy, the former, my dad (my hero) was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Words cannot describe how meaningful this film was and is to me. It was as if the universe gave me a gift-what was the hardest time of my life was complemented by my dreams becoming true and my dad bearing witnessing to that. I drove to my parent’s house to give them the good news. I’ll never forget telling them in the kitchen, my mom was ecstatic and my dad burst into song and dance, grabbed me and twirled me around. He didn’t know that with that celebration, he gave me all I needed. Faith and trust in myself. My dad never got to see the film in its entirety, but I’m positive he’s still singing and dancing for me wherever he is. I did what he taught me to do: always give my best. I gave my whole heart and being to “Witches of Oz.” How could I not? They blindly put their faith in me and gave me a chance.
Did you feel like you had to step into anyone's shoes, or did you sort of recreate your role?
Paulie: Judy Garland has been called the “greatest entertainer that ever lived” over and over again. I have high standards, but if I had to uphold that title I think I would have gone mad! There has never been another like Ms. Garland so it was never my intention to even try to be like her. With such an iconic part, I could’ve either shriveled with fright or saddle up and held on tight. I had two great guides: always be genuine and always be enthusiastic. Whatever “recreation” was made, I did it with ardent conviction to the author, to the story, and to my own humanity. And it was one hell of a fun ride!
When the cameras weren't rolling, did you and the rest of the cast get along?
Paulie: When the cameras were rolling and when they were off we were a family. Blackthorn not only gave me the role of a lifetime but they gave me the greatest gift a human could ever ask for: love. There was so much love on set, from Leigh to Eliza to Ari to Billy Boyd to Rajah, who plays Toto, to makeup, DP and AC (everyone!). As for Christopher Lloyd, he is brilliant! I remember contemplating him from afar. He was quiet, observant and very, very giving. In many ways he reminded me of my own father. Both, men of great stature that evoke wisdom and experience and exude immense depth and humor. I felt honored to co-star with such a master of our times. The set ran on kinship and selflessness. Not once was there a note of hostility. Almost every night after filming, whoever was at the hotel would powwow in the lobby, laugh until it hurt, then bid each other a good night. How fortunate that we have sequels in the horizon! I would relive “Witches” over and over. It was a dream to be there.
What was your first reaction from reading the script?
Paulie: Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh god, yes!! (Is that too much? I really couldn’t help myself). I also thought, wow, this is ambitious!
Would you consider The Wizard of Oz a childhood favorite?
Paulie: I don’t know which was my first movie, Bambi or The Wizard of Oz. I can recall the sepia beginning of the film with such affinity. So, yes, it was a huge part of my childhood and therefore a childhood favorite. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is synonymous with care-free, unabashed childhood happiness if you ask me. I can remember being so crazy about “The Wizard of Oz” that I forced my little kindergarten friends to do the “We’re off to see the wizard” skip. I should be so lucky to have a bit of my own history connected to something as lovable and inspiring as the original entity. I can also remember my dad bringing out the newly-bought film that had a brochure of the “making of” on the cassette cover. I was obsessed with it and I didn’t understand the concept that it was a movie. To me it was real life and oh, how I wished I could be Dorothy. Interesting how things work out. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Did you read any of the original L. Frank Baum books prior to your role in The Witches of Oz?
Paulie: Absolutely! It was less than a week between the time I got hired and getting on the plane to New York to begin shooting. I devoured all I could regarding the background on L. Frank Baum and his time. There are 14 books and I couldn’t possibly have read them all by the time we started shooting. However, I did read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz many times. I found it the closest parallel to the journey I would go through as Dorothy in this story. In both stories she discovers herself and her friends. Furthermore, in our story her discovery happens as if it was the first time because so much has been forgotten. The only difference between the classic Dorothy and our Dorothy is that time has passed by and the present is now our modern time. Otherwise, her curiosity, good heart, and youth have all remained.
When the cameras weren't rolling, did you and the rest of the cast get along?
Paulie: I fell in love with everyone. Really! I became the closest to the actors that played my loyal friends in the movie. Life truly imitates art. I got on beautifully with Barry Ratcliffe, Ari Zagaris, Noel Thurman, Billy Boyd the way Dorothy gets on with them. I found true friends so what’s on the screen is genuine. I also got to spend a lot of time with Eliza Swenson and Leigh Scott. I’d love to share with you how great all of these brilliant human beings are. As well as some other amazing cast mates!
Eliza Swenson is the ideal woman: strong, fierce, opinionated, intelligent, funny, sensitive, creative, mesmerizing, talented (or rather gifted), tireless, and inspiring. I got to spend a lot of time with her. I believe I get the most screen time with her, lucky me! Words cannot express how much Eliza means to me. From the beginning she was my go-to person. She would always call me to give me her thoughts, ideas, to check in. There is something intangible about Eliza, almost god-like. She’s perfect, everything about her is immaculate! She co-wrote, co-produced, co-starred, co-edited, wrote the soundtrack, and did a million other things on this movie. On top of that, she is a loyal, unbelievably wonderful person. Her ambition, her creativity and her willingness are astounding. There is something about Eliza that I’m sure will be felt for a long time. Eliza is the type of person that you are so grateful to have on your side. She’s a fighter and a poet and a gift to have in my life. Eliza, if you read this, I love you so much!
Leigh Scott is an eminence in his own right. He is a walking encyclopedia of ideas, creativity, and movies. I believe his mastery comes from a deep-rooted passion for storytelling. He is a committed man, a hard-working, thought-provoking, giant of a man. Leigh was very direct and transparent with what he wanted. It was easy to work with him. I wanted to give Leigh exactly what he wanted and he knew how to get it out from us. He’s a very respectful director. Anything is possible with Leigh and everyone had huge admiration for him on set. Leigh also has no ego which was the key to having a most delightful set. He was easy to talk to, so human and grounded. This movie has been in the works for 10 years! In spite of the many set backs that could’ve done the movie in, he stayed with it and now has his most ambitious and anticipated work in the can. To be around Leigh is an adventure. What Leigh puts it out is exactly what he gets, respect, faithfulness, hard-work, good work, great imagination, ingenuity, artistry. He is a great one to behold. I’m sure his movies will resonate and live on forever. With Leigh, anything is possible. I’ll stand by him until the very end.
Barry Ratcliffe is a dynamic power house. He’s as well rounded a human being as can be. At first glance, Barry is this hysterical, hyper-active, mile-a-minute, southern man who has you belly laughing all day! Then you get to know him and see he is a professional to the bone, early on set, enthusiastic, always giving, knows his lines inside out, has great instincts, a sensational listener, and always humorous. Then you get to know him a little bit more and his intelligence is undeniable. The root of his humor is the wealth of knowledge he knows about everything!! He knows everything and has done everything! Sometimes I think Barry really works for the CIA and this “acting” career is his decoy. He’s been all around the world, he is savvy not only in this industry, but the NASA and science industry, racing, WWF, UFC, business, anthropology, everything! I have to say, he’s one of those Facebookers that I get a huge kick out of. He’s either in Sweden talking to Simon Cowell, or on Lifetime because they’re running one of his many movies on repeat, or in Kentucky hosting a show. Barry also has this thing where he makes you feel like you are the most important person on earth. He takes care of people that way. I was also blown away by his close friendship to Al Snow. They are like two kids at Disneyland when they’re together, it’s beautiful. Al Snow and Barry are amazing to be around. Two grown men playing pranks on each other. It’s like nothing else! I’m humbled by Barry and I consider him a treasure amongst my friends. He’s taught me a lot and he really has inspired me. I hope I’m a shadow of what he is as I grow more and more in this place. Everyday on set was glorious! If we were on set for 14 hours, he was still cracking jokes and telling insane stories as if we had just gotten there. He’s a rarity, to be so genuine and so good. He’s got a special place in my heart. Oh! And he’s actually related to General Ratcliffe, as in Pocahontas and John Smith, Virginia Gold Ratcliffe. Barry never ceases to amaze me.
Noel Thurman is a wickedly funny angel. Noel and I bonded on so many things. She innately understood me and I felt enormous love for her. I think Noel will forever have the spirit of a 21 year old. She is youthful beyond belief, so much fun, outgoing and has the biggest heart. Noel had gone through a similar experience as I did with her dad. Noel was the only one I told about my dad being sick during our time filming because her dad had recently beat cancer. She gave me hope. I owe her so much for being a reminder that miracles do happen. Did I mention how mischievous she is? One time on set, she volunteered to be an extra, but not just any extra, she was her alter-ed ego, Starla, I think it was. She put on this Captain Hook meets Jenna Jameson wig and there she was, being the most fabulous extra in the world! There’s a little easter egg for you, try to find raven- haired Starla! Noel brought so much life to the set! She’s perfect as Glinda the Good Witch. She’s pure raucous, delicious fun, my kindred spirit and a friend ‘til the end.
Ari Zagaris is a tornado of energy! He’s 6’4” and every inch of him is covered by tomfoolery and amazing mental agility. He was a professional baseball player so he’s stronger than batman, he went to George Washington University so he’s a smart cookie, and on days off, he introduced me to amazing films. Ari was the greatest company on and off set. Our hotel rooms were a few rooms apart so we would hang out A LOT! He’s also an amazing husband and a wonderful father. He would talk about his family all the time. It was awesome! Ari can talk about anything with anyone. It’s one of the things I admired about him the most. He’s a huge reader and so am I so we talked about books a lot. I love classics and he loves the more contemporary stuff so we had a lot to discuss. I looked forward to ending our long days of shooting with a glass of wine or beer with Ari in the hotel lobby. We would talk about the day on set, the next day, what we thought, and it was always good. Ari and I still have great camaraderie. We bonded about being two unknown actors in two larger-than-life leading roles in this movie with an unbelievable cast.
Jessica Sonneborn and I have been friends for years! I kinda owe her and Billy McAdams everything. Truly! Jessica and Billy I think are going to be the next power couple, they’re certainly on their way. Jessica is a brilliantly witty writer, an ingenous actress and a top comidienne. Destiny brought me to her and I’m beyond fortunate that we got matched up. She’s smart, loves history (my inner nerd screams with delight!), looks SO good in this movie, and she had a pet goat! I’ve got so much love for her and Billy. For years they’ve been nothing but supportive, giving and all sorts of inspiring. It was Billy who introduced me to Leigh and made history happen. I have no doubts in my mind that we will have this beautiful friendship for the rest of my life.
Lance Henriksen: master artist. I felt very close to him. He came up with a scene to shoot for Uncle Henry and Dorothy. He wrote it up, shared it with me and Leigh said yes. I learned spontaneity and what it’s like to be a true creative soul. He brought the life around him into the character of Uncle Henry. There’s a clip where he gets attacked by the moody cat on the farm. It was amazing to see how he worked with it! He’s an actor’s actor and a tremendous presence. Not to mention, my whole family is a fan of the “Alien” saga so I went gaga over getting to work with him!
Billy Boyd is one charming Scot. My very first scene on my very first day was with Billy. Praise the lord! It was at the zoo when Nick and Dorothy go out on their first date and get to know each other. There really was no acting there. We had just met a few minutes ago. It went smoothly and he was really great to work with. I love Scots! My best friend in the whole world is from Scotland so I felt an immediate affinity with him. As time went by we got to know each other better. I was reminded of what a newcomer I was one time after Billy and I went to go see “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen while we were off. We were on our way back to the hotel and we were both devastated by the film. Billy gets on the phone and calls Viggo to tell him how great he did. Of course he knows Viggo Mortenson from Lord of the Rings! I was tickled by this, first because I was walking with a respected veteran with a world-class trilogy under his belt, and secondly because I felt like such a giggly fan. As we were crossing the street we hear a car coming and inside they were screaming, “AHH, Billy Boyd, I love you! AHHH!” Then the car stopped, a grown man got out of the car and gave Billy a hug. I was in terror! But then I realized it was Barry being Barry! So many good times! Billy is a divine actor and so much fun on set. Once, Billy, Barry, Ari and I (all of Dorothy’s friends together) were on set it was brilliant mayhem. I had never laughed so hard with these three illustrious guys! I had to take a minute to realize, wow, I am living my dream. I’m having the time of my life doing what I love.
Mia Sara is a beauty. That’s all I could think of. She’s a splendid beauty who looks beautiful even when she is playing kookie. Rumor has is she came out of retirement because she really loved this project! I get bullied by her, but I was enjoying every second. She’s so humble and shared so many great stories with us.
Sasha Jackson was a treat. I got to work with her for a day and she was awesome! She exudes sex appeal, fun, confidence! I’m excited to see her in everything that she does. I really hope I get to work with her again!
Brionne Davis, Monti Dominguez, Elizabeth Masucci, Marissa Smoker, Reza Garakani, Rebecca Lovett, Liz Douglas…all extraordinary delights! As for Sean Astin, Ethan Embry, Jeffery Combs, Al Snow, and Sarah Lieving, there couldn’t be a better cast! Could a girl be more lucky? I’m eternally grateful for this experience.
And as far as the crew…best crew in the world! We were family. Sarah Hindsgaul doing makeup and hair, Regina Amato did wardrobe, Chris Campbell, Laura Hill and Nick Everhart on the producing end, Joe Pfeil on sound, Ian Woolston-Smith and Evan Wilhelm on camera, Robert Francis, Shannon Murphy, Kyrstal Phillips, Krysta Gall, Ross Edgar, Jay Garrison, Luis Reyno, Michael Nikitin, Trenton McRae, Ryan Beasecker, Bali Bock, Kyra Doumlele, Nick Doumlele, Scott Self, and everyone at Imaginarium. It’s been the ride of a lifetime! See you on the next one!
Thanks, Paulie! Next up, Barry Ratcliffe!
How was your overall experience working on The Witches of Oz?
Barry: Simply a once in a lifetime exerience, the people, the project, the outcome, rarely do you find a perfect combination of cast, crew, energy, and passion for a project. For me , it wasn't just the character, of course , it was an honor beyond words to get a part made famous by the incredible Bert Lahr, and certainly you can never replace that indelible performance, but for me, to work with old friends and make new lifetime friends, is the end of the "yellow brick road" . I have been best friends with Eliza Swenson for a long time, and have worked with her in the past. She is the true definition of "UBER" talented. She produces, writes, directs, composes, sings, and I don't mean at an amateur level. I have had the good fortune to work with some of the best directors and actors from Don Johnson to Kevin connor, in Hollywood, and she is the BEST! To top it off, she is truly one of the most giving actors and human beings on the planet. And as for the director Leigh Scott, holy mackerel, he can direct. Commercially successful for years, now he will show the world what I have known since the first time I worked with him. He is an "actor's" director and a passion and phenomenally talented film maker.
What was your reaction to reading the script for the first time?
Barry: I laughed and had a tear. I get so many scripts every week, I tend not to read them until I have been booked on a job. I COULD NOT PUT THIS ONE DOWN! Of course I laughed because the inside joke is , Eliza asked me to guess who they wanted me to play. As soon as I saw "cherubed cheeked southerner", it was a no brainer! But the characters, the archs, the relationships, it is easy to simply say something is good, and to be technically impressed by the writing, but to actually feel emotion from the page, I was overwhelmed with pride, happiness, and energy for the project!
When cameras weren't rolling, did you and the rest of the cast get along well?
Barry: I am very shy and don't like to socialize between takes, I of course, am laughing as I write this. Let me say a few things about a few people. I LOVE PAULIE ROJAS! She is truly an angel put on earth to make the world a better place, and has certainly made my life better. She is a warm, wonderful, passionate, beautiful, incredible person, and for the record, DAMN FUNNY! We have built a friendship for life, that I am more thankful for than anything. And Billy Boyd, he is beyond wonderful. His humor, style, and pure talent, was awe inspiring to work with, laugh with and share, on and off set. And I know I mention my best female friend Eliza, obviously I have way too many stories about the behind the scenes with her (none that can be repeated, ok, maybe in a future interview), but I also got to be there with my best male friend, former WWE superstar Al Snow. And behind the scenes, he is one of the funniest, most intelligent people you will ever meet, so needless to say, there was plenty of laughter, hi jinx, and mischief. The list never ends, Ari Zagaris is a wit and a talent to be reckoned with, never thought I would meet anyone with more energy than me. Noel Thurman is sexy, hot, funny, and did I mention, crazy! And I don't want to start rumors, but I think she wanted to date me, or I wanted to date her, I get confused easily. Don't let that good witch fool you! Lance Henricksen, unbelievable, Sasha Jackson, just funny, the always incredible sexy, gorgeous, funny, kind, and talented Jessica Sonneborn, Monti Dominique, Brionne Davis, Ethan Embry, Sean Astin, Mia Sara, Ashley Ellington, Ashe Parker, Chanel Ryan, EVERYONE WAS INCREDIBLE. I have never been on a film set or enjoyed one as much!
How did it feel to be on the same set as Back to the Future legend Christopher Lloyd?
Barry: Is this a trick question? The first night I got there, I was grabbing a cup of coffee from craft services in 23 degree temperatures, and up walked Chris in his tennis shoes and said hi. He introduced himself and I think I babbled like an idiot. I actually introduced my self as the character Bryan. Christopher Lloyd is a true actor. He knew his lines, and everyone elses. He did not take a moment or a single actor for granted. He is about performance, passion, and the journey. He has achieved more than most can only dream, yet he is humble and true to his craft and his talent. Let this be a public thank you to him, for sharing his time, his gift, and his legacy.
Barry was busy filming a separate project in New York at the time Angelo contacted him for an interview. Thank you so much for taking the time to do the interview, Barry!