Just like any good fairy tale, “Once Upon A Time” evolved through various incarnations over the years.
“The idea for the show really started over eight years ago,” says co-creator Adam Horowitz, who conceived the core notions for the series with writing partner Edward Kitsis. “Eddie and I had just come off working on 'Felicity' and we had just been talking about ‘Why are we writers, and what are the kinds of stories we like to tell?’ And fairy tales were these really formative things for us. Then we sat down to write it – and we didn't know what the hell we were doing.”
“We really didn't,” agrees Kitsis, “which is why it probably didn't sell eight years ago, and we kind of had an eight-year writers' block.” The duo had no shortage of creative ideas outside of that project, however, and went on to high-profile stints on the writing staff for “LOST” and as the screenwriters of the sci-fi sequel “Tron: Legacy.” “I think after our time on "LOST," we started to kind of see it differently, and it's just kind of been in our head for eight years, and this is kind of what came out.”
The result of the writers’ eight-year gestation is now ABC’s great white hope to fill the genre-centric, mystery filled hole left in its schedule when “LOST” closed up shop: Thanks to a curse cast by the legendary Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), the inhabitants of the magical fairy tale kingdom ruled by Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) have forgotten who they once were and live out mundane existences in the Maine town of Storybrooke. That is, until the royal couple’s long-lost, long-forgotten daughter Emma (Jennifer Morrison), a bounty hunter who’s surprised to learn of her supposed lineage after a life led in the real world, is led to the town by Henry (Jared Gilmore), the son she gave up for adoption years before.
While “Once Upon a Time” will both play on the legends of the storybook icons at the core of the story (and their pop culture iterations, since ABC’s parent company Disney will let the show tap some of its enduring takes on the fairy tales) and spin out some mysterious, simmering plotlines in the “LOST” tradition. But the creators are hoping to deliver something even deeper.
“The show at its core is a character show,” says Kitsis. “We are much more interested in the character than the mythology. We are much more interested in why does the Evil Queen hate Snow White? Why is Grumpy grumpy? Why does Geppetto want a boy so badly he made one out of wood? We love the idea of going back and forth and kind of informing what the character is missing in their life, and that's what going back and forth does for us.”
Goodwin says she was captivated by the opportunity to portray not just Snow White – her all-time favorite fairy tale character – but the real-world alter ego she’s been living as since the curse was cast. “I think physically we’ve altered the characters enough that it will do a lot of the work for the audience,” she says. “Snow White is in full bloom, while Mary Margaret has a long way to go to become comfortable in her skin. We’ve done a lot of costume and makeup work – in some ways subtle and some ways really obvious – to create two characters that work for us. I’m really excited to create two characters. It’s incredibly challenging, but I’m game.”
As the outsider who serves as the eyes of the audience, Morrison says “It's been fun actually to have that perspective on things, because I feel like someone has to comment on how ridiculous it all seems, to be able to have a genuine response to what's going on. If I were faced with this just as me, I would think it was ridiculous, so it's been fun to be able to have the freedom to have those reactions as Emma. She's had such a tough life in terms of being abandoned as a child and raised in the foster system and going through a lot of horrible things that we'll come to find out over time, that I think she has a really tough exterior. And I think that for her to open herself to the idea of something is out there and really embrace it is going to take some time.”
And then there’s the bad girl, the Evil Queen, who’s not only responsible for the fairy tale characters’ amnesiac states, she’s set herself up as the mayor of Storybrooke AND Henry’s adoptive mother, Regina. “I'm having a blast!” proclaims Parrila. “I think any time an actor is handed a script where you get to play two roles is pretty awesome. I've worked pretty hard at showing the contrast between the two characters. The queen is very powerful and puts everything out there, where Regina, she masks everything. I love them both.”
Providing more of a wild card is Rumpelstikskin (Robert Carlyle), a seeming troublemaker both then and now, in the guise of the wealthy Mr. Gold. “Rumpelstiltskin and Mr. Gold are obviously intrinsically linked,” says Carlyle. “In some way, they are pretty much spawn of the same person. What interested me about the change between the fairy tale world and the real world, that there wasn't such a massive jump in actual fact. It wasn't as if it's fantasy fairy tale jumped into social realism or something like that. I don't think that would necessarily work. I think Storybrooke is slightly off balance – everything's off kilter, so Gold and Rumpelstiltskin, though physically different, in their head there's an awful lot of similarities there.”
“For us the show isn't about breaking the curse,” says Horowitz. “That is obviously part of it, but the show’s really about these characters and it's about their lives and what they're going through. So how long can we explore those characters and what they're going through? As long as people want us to.”
"Once Upon a Time" debuts Sunday, October 23rd at 8 PM ET on ABC