What lies at the end of the yellow brick road is no secret, but what came before it? What’s the story behind this eccentric land of toxic Poppies, flying monkeys, many munchkins and witches — both good and green? Who really is that man behind the curtain?

“Oz the Great and Powerful,” a prequel to the classic film, hit theaters this past weekend, nearly 75 years after Dorothy and crew made their epic quest.

In a conference call with journalists on Feb. 17, Director Sam Raimi (“Drag Me to Hell”) discussed the pressures and pleasures of creating a new world while preserving the spirit of the original story.

“The most challenging part was juggling what part of the backstory I should include, and what part would be most effective if I let the audience use their own imagination to fill in the blanks,” Raimi explained. “Because that’s really the secret — letting the audience participate. Not spoon-feeding them everything, but giving them just enough tools to finish building the bridge and make them their own collaborator.”

Raimi described how he made the pivotal creative decisions to best answer these daunting questions and fulfill his wish to captivate viewers.

“I drew it all from the great author L. Frank Baum — his vision of Oz — that he had written about in some 14 books, and I was also inspired by the illustrator Denslow (W.W Denslow),” Raimi said. “But more than the visuals, what inspired me was the characters’ sense of love that they have for each other. How friends come together, and that very soulful, sweet message when we learn from the Wizard that all of us are complete, all of us are broken, lonely individuals and we have within us the thing to make us complete if we only recognize it.”

Raimi detailed how he cast the dynamic roles of these beloved characters. He sought not star-quality, but actors who possessed the qualities of the characters, such as Mila Kunis (“Ted”), whom he chose to play Theodora, the Wicked Witch of the West in her prime.

“The wizard breaks her heart, but then a deep anger starts to stir within her, and she becomes a raging woman scorned,” Raimi said.

He said he knew Kunis could handle both sides of the character, because in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” she emanated a positive vibe, and in “Black Swan,” she took on a darker, witchier quality

Raimi mentioned how Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”), who plays Annie, a youthful Glinda the Good Witch, radiated a “very sweet aura” perfectly fit for the role.

“I needed an actress that had a good soul. So, suddenly that ruled out about 90 percent of the actresses in Hollywood,” he quipped.

James Franco (“Lovelace”) steps in as the enigmatic wizard, reuniting with Raimi, who he worked with in the “Spider-Man” trilogy, for a fourth collaboration. This time around entailed an entirely new working relationship.

“I was a supporting character (in ‘Spider-Man’), and Sam identifies with his lead characters very closely, so he very much identified with Peter Parker,” Franco said. “Because my character was trying to kill (him), I think Sam blamed me for that, not in a harsh way, but I felt like I got a little less love than Tobey Maguire, just because of what the character was doing. Now that I’m the protagonist, I felt a lot more of Sam’s love on this film.”

Apart from another chance to work with one of his favorite directors, Franco explained why, among a recent string of serious portrayals, he decided to do a more family-fun adventure film.

“(The Oz books) were some of the first that I read on my own for pleasure. In addition, I saw the role as something I could have a lot of fun with and be fairly creative,” Franco explained. “He was written as a comedic character within a fantastical world, and I found the combination fairly unusual. I thought that juxtaposition of two different things would result in something entertaining.”

Franco revealed that his character isn’t simply a male version of innocent, little Dorothy, but rather a con man, a charmer, an adventurer, and even has some tricks up his sleeve.

“I had to be able to carry myself as a magician, because my character, Oscar Diggs, starts off as a traveling magician in a circus and we even see a bit of one of his shows,” Franco said. “So, they hired one of the best magicians in Las Vegas, Lance Burton, to come to Detroit, and I was fortunate enough to have private lessons with him.”

Since a large portion of filming took place in and around Detroit, it was a sentimental experience for Raimi, who grew up in Royal Oak and attended Michigan State University. So emotional, in fact, that at the mention of “The Michigan Daily” during the conference call, Raimi asserted his disdain for Ann Arbor. It stretches far beyond simply school rivalry.

“Every time I would drop a girl at the University of Michigan, she left the car with the same line, ‘Sam, I never want to see you again.’ So that city brings tears to my eyes.”

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