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Exclusive interview with director Zetna Fuentes for Cursed on Netflix

Zetna Fuentes
(L-R) Devon Terrell (Arthur), director and EP Zetna Fuentes, and Katherine Langford (Nimue) of Cursed. Pic credit: Netflix

Groundbreaking and fresh in concept, Cursed is the latest creative and televised effort about the tales of Arthur and the Lady of the Lake, Nimue. More than just an adapted epic story, it is also making waves for having the first non-white Arthur to be cast in the role: Devon Terrell.

This is largely part of the influence of director and executive producer Zetna Fuentes — a Bronx-raised force of nature who almost became a lawyer — who was drawn to the entertainment world and got a leg in and up. She excelled and thrived, and her work paid off as she eventually scooped up three Emmy awards for her daytime television work.

As Zetna progressed in her career, she morphed her work into grittier dramas that helped elevate her directorial notice even more with standout episodes of Ray Donovan, The Deuce, Jessica Jones, and Bosch.  She also did amazing turns on network fare like Pretty Little Liars, This Is Us, and Grey’s Anatomy.

In Miller and Wheeler’s adapted Cursed, Zetna has the first two episodes under her belt.  She has an eye-popping long shot in the premiere that is guaranteed to earn some major buzz come award time.

Her esthetic sensibility and agile work ethic make this particular new series one that grabs you immediately. The chemistry of the cast is superb and the execution of the action crackling good.

Monsters & Critics spoke to Zetna today and got the amazing behind the scenes scoop.

Monsters & Critics: For Cursed, the story has an earthy look for this fantastical yarn. There’s a lot of special effects, visual effects. You’re an executive producer as well as a director, and you’re working with these stylistic 800-pound gorillas like Frank Miller. How did you guys come to an accord on how this series would visually come across?

Zetna Fuentes: Yes, you know, it was from the very beginning. The very first meeting I had with Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller, and after I read the script I just started talking to them about how I saw the world and ideas that I had.

And we were all on the same page. It was, I think, what helped me to get the job because Frank and I and Tom were just throwing out ideas of how we wanted it to feel organic, how we wanted nature to be so prominent and present.

Yet we wanted this magic to feel like it was grounded in nature and not CGI madness and always try to do things practically. I just wanted to feel like there was literal magic in the world and that it came from nature and it was great that it was that we were all excited about that and wanted it to feel and look the same way.

M&C: In Cursed, you have this beautiful fluid long shot. And like everyone else, It reminded me of the film 1917 and Deakins’ shot, it wasn’t THAT long, but it was a long shot of Nimue. In the middle of this chaotic dangerous battle. Who did you rely upon the most to get that continuity and keep that scene energy unbroken?

Zetna Fuentes: Yes, it is a lot, it was a massive undertaking and yes, it was not [the scale of] 1917 that, that long length in terms of the screen time, but it was a long one to try and execute.

We had so many conversations about it early on because when I read the script, that’s how I saw it unfolding in my head. I was so invested with her and I didn’t want to get away from her to see random bits of action.

I wasn’t concerned for me personally; I wasn’t concerned with that. I wanted it to feel like here’s this young woman who is experiencing the world around her being destroyed, everything that she knows.

So I just thought it was the right tool for the story and we fought for it, and there were many times where we were like, okay, let’s not do this.  This is just going to be too crazy, but everyone came on board and wow, thank goodness for all the collaborators.

Because the people I relied on was everyone. Our cinematographer is amazing, the actual Steadicam operator who has to do it over and over again in the sand. He is one of the most brilliant operators I’ve ever worked with. And all of the crew that helped him to maneuver that and make that happen.

The production designer, the stunt coordinator, the swordsman, the horse master, and then it was a huge thing.  And then thank goodness for Katherine, who, when I explained to her what we wanted to do, not only did she not blink and say ‘no,’ or ‘I don’t think I can do it.’

She was beyond excited, understood the storytelling, and she wanted to do it. And did it, and achieved it a way that I couldn’t have only dreamt up. So a lot of people, a lot of planning and I’m grateful to all of them.

M&C: One of the aspects of Cursed that I took in was this incredible chemistry that both of your lead actors have, Katherine Langford (Nimue), Devon Terrell (Arthur), you can’t fake that. It’s alchemy. How involved were you in the decisions about their casting?

Zetna Fuentes: Yes. I agree with you 100%, Katherine was cast before I came on board and I’m just grateful that I get to reap the rewards of that amazing decision making because she’s such a huge talent.

And then Devon, I’m happy to say that I was involved in the casting. he blew me away. He blew all of us away. He was Arthur and we have seen many talented people, but he had all these qualities that just felt right and putting the two of them together.

And when they did some rehearsing and to see if this was going to be as magical as we hoped it was going to be. I remember being in the room with them and I just was thrilled. I thought they had such a great way about them. And yet you’re right. I think it is alchemy, it just really worked.

M&C: There’s a lot of chatter online about the casting of Devon. He’s classically handsome and quite regal, how important was it to you to cast him?

Zetna Fuentes: Yes. I have to say I’m ecstatic and I’m thrilled. And, it was really a conversation about the world and what we wanted, and this is a fantasy series, and this is based on a legend. We have seen this legend so many times that it wasn’t in an effort to just do something new, to shoehorn it in.

That wasn’t the impetus…the impetus was to create a world that was just had people that looked like me. I’m a woman of color… That looked like many of us, and we don’t get to see ourselves in fantasy series.

So we wanted to organically populate this world with different colors and different shades and do our fresh take on it. And so he won the job, We saw everybody all kinds of Arthur’s. He was an amazing actor and the best actor. So we cast him!

M&C: And he had that chemistry with Katherine…

Zetna Fuentes:  And so I love it. I love that this is the world we built, and I love that he’s our Arthur.

M&C: So you grew up in the South Bronx. How the heck did you decide you want to be a director and not a lawyer?

Zetna Fuentes: Correct. So yes, I’m from the Bronx, born and raised. I lived in Puerto Rico for just a very short time when I was very little, like two to four.

So really I’m a New Yorker. I didn’t go to law school. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I loved history as a kid. I did well in school. I read a ton and I think for me, how I found my way here, I’m not sure.

I think I always loved stories. I watched a ton of TV as a kid and movies with my family and the TV was always on and it just never was anything.

I never thought that results in a job, because we were poor and it just was too fantastical, you know?

So I did well in school. I’m going to be a lawyer. And then at some point, I just really wanted to explore what at types of jobs here were in storytelling what that could mean.

I started to do a ton of things. I was an assistant. I worked for different people. I was in the camera department and I just wanted to see if there was something I could find that felt right for me. And I started to work in theater to learn, and to work with actors and fell in love and then went from there.

M&C: Who are your mentors and heroes?

Zetna Fuentes: Well, thank you for asking. I think for me, my early, early mentors and directing Kevin Kittle and Brian Mertes. I am forever grateful for every single thing that they taught me about craft.

And they are two sort of titan theater directors that just took me under their wing. And Brian Mertes was also working in daytime television. And he’s the one who got me into [soap] Guiding Light and I’m forever grateful and we’re still in touch.

I’ve had mentors that have helped me navigate this primetime chapter, people like Lesli Linka Glatter, Bethany Rooney. I’ve had many people that have helped to open doors for me. And I’m eternally grateful.

I’ve had a lot of people that have helped me. I’m a big believer in that. I think you need it. It’s what I want to do for the people that are coming up next to me, behind me, and with me.

M&C: Is it more difficult now for women to break into directing or do you think it’s easier given that just as we’re moving on, I’m seeing more female faces… is it easier now or is it still a daunting club to breach?

Zetna Fuentes:  You know, I think it is a daunting club to breach. That’s a fact. But I am very optimistic that it is getting a bit easier because of the incredible work that many, many women and directors of color have done before me and I’m standing on their shoulders and that the door is slightly opening now.

Because of this need for fresh ideas, fresh points of view, and new talent. I am hopeful that that door is going to continue to open up wide and that people will be able to slam through them.

M&C: Oftentimes I’ve noticed directors bring their DPs and their other camera crew with them for every project. Are you finding yourself working with some of the same below-the-line talent that you rely upon that know your style and there’s a shorthand in your communication that makes the whole process easier and flow better?

Zetna Fuentes: It is an interesting question. Yes and no. I think I love my collaborators, especially on Cursed, I had such an amazing team, my DP is so talented. My production designer, the costume designer, the hair and makeup designers, such huge talents.

I do love that shorthand. I want to work with people who have similar sensibility or who pushed me in a new way because they have such a strong point of view.

But I think, talking about inclusiveness and diversity, what happens is because historically women and people of color have had less opportunity, we don’t have those resumes, right?

We haven’t worked on all those shows. I think if we don’t push to find new people for these positions, then we are going to continue to use the same people.

So I’m of two minds about it. I want to yes, work with these collaborators that I love and I trust. And I want to find a way to dig deep and find women and people of color that have that enormous talent and just haven’t had that chance yet.

Cursed is currently streaming on Netflix.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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