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The Cast and Creators of ONCE UPON A TIME Open Up About Merida, Camelot, and Leather Pants

During my time at San Diego Comic-Con, I had the pleasure of hitting the Once Upon a Time press room to ask the show’s cast and producers all of the burning questions I had in my mind after season 4’s explosive conclusion. It was just last season that we learned that Prince Charming and Snow White weren’t as charming as they seem, Regina finally found love with Robin, only to have it taken away by her sister Zelena, Rumple is in a coma after having his heart purified, and Emma became the new dark one. Whew!

We also learned courtesy of the show’s official panel in Ballroom 20 earlier that day, that┬áBrave’s Merida was going to appear on the show. I got to ask about all of that, and more. The cast touched on their relationships with each other, playing different roles, and what they hope to see this season.

To find out more about season 5, and which actor/actress thinks they’d make a great dark one, check out our full interview below.

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You get to play this big evil character but also a really human, grounded character. How does that get complicated, and how does that deepen in season 5?

LANA PARILLA: I’ve always looked at this woman as a human being. Not this iconic evil queen. She’s so different than what we saw in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I think it’s going to be very similar. She will always be grounded. I think her biggest challenge this season is learning how to be a hero, learning how to be a savior and being there for others. That’s not really who she is. So, that’s going to be her biggest challenge.

Regina had a chance to write Zelena out of the story, but didn’t. What kind of repercussions do you think that’s going to have? Is she going to regret it?

LP: I think she does already, but she’s willing to deal with the consequences. There’ve been so many rewards when she does the right thing. Deep down inside she knows it was the right thing to do. She knows that it’s going to come with challenges but I don’t think she feels threatened by Zelena at all. Zelena is secondary to saving Emma right now.

Is Regina comfortable with being the savior?

LP: She really hates the fact that Emma did this. Not because Emma is the dark one, but because she has to do something about it. I think she really hates owing someone. So it’s become a burden for her. It’s not what she wants to deal with, but she has no choice. If anyone knows or can relate to where Emma is on this path, it’s Regina. She’s been there. She’s been the evil one.

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Next up, we spoke to Jennifer Morrison who plays Emma and Colin O’Donoghue who plays Hook.

What did you think of Emma becoming the new dark one? Was it something you were asking for, or did they just spring it on you?

JENNIFER MORRISON: I kind of knew from last season that they were heading in the direction of this possibly happening and I was definitely very excited about it. It’s just an awesome opportunity to shift into something completely different than what we were doing for four years. They are always coming up with these amazing ideas.

COLIN O’DONOGHUE: I heard she just wanted to wear a lot of leather to be more like me.

JM: Yes, that’s it. I was wondering how I could become more like Captain Hook.

With the background of the character being so good but then merging with the dark one, how much of the different shades of gray do you get to play?

JM: There’s going to be a while of it being a push and pull between the light and dark for sure, because the real Emma doesn’t want to give into the darkness, but the darkness is all consuming so there is a very intense internal struggle for a long stretch of time that leads to her surrender to the darkness.

How is Hook dealing with the love of his life leaving?

CO: I think it’s very difficult for him because she just basically said “I love you” for the first time, and then she goes. He spent so long trying to win her over and show that he’s a different man and how he’s a good guy but now she’s gone bad. I think he’ll do whatever he can to pull her back.

We got to see that short clip of Emma as the dark one during the panel. What was it like playing the Dark Swan? Are you excited?

JM: I’m so excited. It was great. We shot it back at the end of season four so we were in quite a hurry to try to build her as quickly as possible, knowing that I would then have the hiatus to do much more research and have more time to build the character. Eddie, Adam and I spent countless hours sending photos, images, ideas and thoughts about things back and forth. It was really fun. We were creating a villain that’s never existed before. It’s been a really exciting experience to collaborate with a group of people and then come up with something new.
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Then, we spoke to Ginnifer Goodwin (Mary Margaret/Snow White) and Josh Dallas (David/Prince Charming).

It seems like every year the story gets more complicated. How do you deal with that as actors? What is the most exciting thing for you about Snow’s story this season?

GINNIFER GOODWIN: I am equally confused and need notes and for the producers to explain to me what order things are going to happen in. Because we [the actors] don’t have a master timeline. At the same time, at this point, the characters are so established that as the years go by, it just becomes easier in that way. What most excites me is how human these characters are. The creators have always found a way to find new cracks that I find to be completely believable in these characters. It’s all about exploring those flaws. I felt like what was said at the end of the season about the Charmings going dark was a place to have been revealed as being terribly hypocritical and having unrealistic high standards. I can’t imagine being raised by two people in that kind of pressure. It’s opened up a whole world for us to balance out what’s so pure about our foundation. What makes them iconic. There’s a real human place that we’ll find in a new way.

The Charmings started out as quiet, bland characters but suddenly took a turn for the dark last season. Does this open up a whole new world of possibilities for them?

JOSH DALLAS: Absolutely. We’re looking at a different aspect of these characters and a different side to them. Now that Emma has gone dark, it’s something that the Charmings spent a good part of their life trying to ensure didn’t happen. They did something extremely heinous to guarantee that it wouldn’t. But, now that she’s gone dark, I think we’ll see the Charmings go to some extraordinary lengths, and maybe some questionable lengths to try to get her to come back to the savior that she is.

We’re going to new worlds this season with Camelot and Brave. Were you surprised when you found out about the new locations?What excites you about the new stuff?

JD: I was surprised. I think Merida is another great strong female character to come to the show, and I think it fits well in our world. Of course Camelot is going to be a huge part of the Charmings’ life, particularly Charming. You’re gonna see him grow with King Arthur in a big way and your also going to see him at his most heroic.

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Rebecca Mader (Zelena/Wicked Witch) and Sean Maguire (Robin Hood)

What is Zelena up to this season?

REBECCA MADER: I have no idea. They don’t tell us anything. I know I’m still pregnant but that’s pretty much it. I don’t know. We’ll find out when the next script comes out.

Do you like being surprised about the script the same way that the fans do?

RM: Yeah, I like not knowing. It’s the same as when I was doing LOST. I never knew what was going on and I like that. Some actors need to know everything so they can prepare. But my style is that I like to fly by the seat of my pants and go along the journey with everybody. I don’t want to know. If I start thinking about it then I’ll get attached to the future and it will stop me being present. I don’t even read the next script until I’ve finished shooting the episode I’m doing because otherwise I’m living in the future and it will affect what I’m doing.

So we know Zelena is still pregnant. How do you feel about the whole baby daddy situation?

SEAN MAGUIRE: All I can say is that he is a very human and therefore fallible man, but with a good heart and good intentions. Like any good man he’s trying to do the right thing. The Robin Hood Episode was about him going through being in love with Regina but doing the right thing now. He really thought he was with his wife. He had not fallen out of love with her but she’d died, he grieved her and he had fallen in love again. So his heart is with someone else but then he thought he had to say goodbye to that chapter and try and make a go at it with his wife.

When we read the episode where she’s [Zelena] pregnant, I was like “I’m going to get so much abuse.” With this show, it seems more so than other shows that I think both of us have done, that the fandom is so passionate. It’s sort of like how football fans are about winning but all logic goes out the window. I want to tell them, “You know, I’m not actually Robin Hood.”

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Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold/Rumple) and Emilie de Ravin (Belle)

What are you excited for this season?

EMILIE DE RAVIN: We haven’t been told much, but from the little that I do know, I think the Camelot storyline is going to be really interesting and visually awesome.

What would you like to see happen?

EDR: I want to be the dark one!

ROBERT CARLYLE: “I want to see Belle be the dark one. She can tease me with the dagger.”

EDR: I’m going to tease him with a dagger, be the dark one and ride a horse in every scene. That’s Season 5 in a nutshell.

Where will Belle and Rumple’s relationship be this season? Do you think their relationship will change change now that he isn’t the dark one anymore?

EDR: Belle and Gold’s relationship has to be put on the back burner for a minute. She can’t have the conversation she wants to have with him right now. Of course, everyone is trying to help Emma and help extract the darkness there.

RC: This relationship, I think, is too important for the show to let go. There will obviously be something happening with us, but what it is we don’t know at the moment. I think it will continue along the lines that it always had. I think Emilie said it really nice earlier about this idea of gaining love and maintaining love and that’s really what this is about. This whole relationship has been about the trials and tribulations of their relationship. I think it’s probably the realest relationship of the whole thing. I can’t imagine the directors letting go of this.”

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Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (Creators)

It seems like every season has had a theme. Have you discussed the theme of season 5?

EDDIE KITSIS: One of the themes I think we have this year for the first half is: “Love is a dangerous weapon”. I think we are going to explore love in many different forms and how it’s both something to be cherished, to strive for and something that can be dangerous when misused and out of control. For us, Emma’s journey as the Dark Swan is this natural progression of someone who has learned how to become a hero and has become a savior, to now have to face the darkness within her, and how that’s going to affect all of the people who she loves and who love her.

With Emma going dark, we have Rumple who’s no longer the dark one and with the white heart. What’s that about?

EK: Well he dies in the premiere. It’s sad. [laughs] No. You know what. That is the question that everyone is asking. What is happening to the man now that he no longer has the darkness and where does it go? We are going to answer both of those questions in the premiere.

When and how does Merida come in?

EK: The premiere. She’s already shot some stuff. You’ll meet her right away. She becomes very much a part of the story as we pick up with Emma being the dark one and her family trying to help her.

Will her archery play a part in helping get Emma back?

EK: You don’t bring Merida and not let her shoot a weapon.

What was it that made you decide to bring Merida into the show?

EK: She’s a character we’ve loved since the movie came out. It’s a character that when we saw her, we thought “Oh there is a way that she fits into our world” in our minds and hopefully you’ll all agree. She’s a natural fit. She’s a nontraditional disney Princess which is now becoming the traditional Disney Princess. She is very strong, empowered etc.

ADAM HOROWITZ: Merida really fits in. You can see her with Snow, Ruby, with anyone really.

This season feels like a reset of sorts, with characters playing their polar opposites. Can you tell us a little about that?

EK: One of the things that we love so far having written the first few episodes is that by Emma being the dark one, it’s really like season one because the crisis is internal as opposed to external. It sets up everybody. Emma is gone and now Snow and Charming want their daughter. Hook wants to find her and so does Regina. She united them all in Neverland and now they all have different opinions about how to save her. The pressure really comes from within. Instead of ‘we’re all going to fight the snow queen this year’, the pressure is the person that we are worried about, that we have to defeat, is the person within us that we love. So, its a conundrum.

With Camelot being in the show this season, are we expected to see any knights of the round table?

EK: I hope so. I can’t imagine seeing Camelot without the round table. We have a few of the knights. As you know, Lancelot will be returning.

Are you as excited as I am for Season 5? Let us know in the comments below.

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