How many ways can a familiar story be told?
In one case, the latest version has strong similarities to an earlier one, by its makers' own admission. Premiering Thursday, Oct. 11, The CW's take on "Beauty and the Beast" updates the 1980s CBS series that starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, with Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan now playing the central characters, still named Catherine and Vincent.
Returning to weekly television -- and to The CW -- after her long "Smallville" stint as Lana Lang, Kreuk portrays Catherine as a New York police detective who finally meets the secretive figure (New Zealand native Ryan) responsible for saving her from a years-earlier attack that killed her mother. He's watched over her since, and after he rescues her again, a potentially dangerous attraction develops.
"When it was brought to us," explains executive producer Sherri Cooper, "they said, 'You have the rights to the '80s show. This would be a reboot or a reimagining.' We also have three producers from that original show who have been involved and have been great, and that's why I'm totally open to this new vision of it ... at the same time reminding us that this is a romance and that these people have obstacles. The spirit is the same."
Kreuk knows she has predecessor Hamilton's blessing, since she reports, "She actually signed photos for Jay and I both, and it was unexpected and surprising and wonderful. I got it on our first day of work, and it's in my trailer, and it feels really cool to have her know about what we're doing and wishing us well."
As the new Catherine, Kreuk gets to reuse her physical training from her later "Smallville" work and also from her starring role in the 2009 movie "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li." She confirms, "I want to push the envelope. I really want to challenge myself, and even with 'Smallville,' where we started and where we ended was a huge shift. I think we can do that and do it faster and better here, so I'm excited about that."
Co-star Ryan sports considerably less makeup than Perlman did as the "Beast," a facial scar the most telling sign of the character's underlying nature, positioned as the result of a military experiment. His still-hunky look is entirely by design of making the new version as much a romantic saga as an action-mystery piece.
"I've kind of based this role on his genetic makeup," Ryan reasons. "He has DNA from many different animals, so I've researched the vision of a hawk, the strength of a tiger, all this sort of stuff. It feels like Vincent is the body, but the beast is the disease. It's trying to come out, and he's trying to suppress it."
In fact, the "beast" concept may be more psychological than physical this time. "We started talking about which of us doesn't love a beast, a guy with a lot of baggage," executive producer Jennifer Levin says. "We really wanted to feel this was relevant to our lives, and we thought we'd be able to make it more grounded and compelling that way ... more realistic in a way than just a guy who looks like a lion."
Recalling her beginnings in series work, Kreuk says that time was "really scary. It's still uncomfortable, to be honest, but I have a lot more perspective, and I feel like I kind of know the realities of what I'm getting into in a way that I didn't before. It's exciting to get back into it, and I'm also a little nervous. Both of those things."
Photo/Video credit: The CW