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Interview: Once Upon a Time Creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis

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Once Upon a Time returns Sunday night with new episodes, beginning with “The Cricket Game.” With Cora (Barbara Hershey) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) in Storybrooke, the episode focuses on Regina (Lana Parrilla) who is trying to live without magic, to please Henry (Jared S. Gilmore). But how will that play out as she tries to deal with her mother? “I think,” says Once Upon a Time executive Producer Adam Horowitz, “this episode is going to test [Regina] in many ways.” I caught up with Horowitz and his Once Upon a Time co-creator Edward Kitsis by phone to talk about their hit ABC series and what’s in store during the weeks ahead.

Colin O'Donoghue as Hook in Once Upon a Time

As you may recall, when season two got underway last fall, Regina’s curse had been broken and the good townsfolk of Storybrooke had begun to remember their true identities as fairytale characters. Everyone is pretty upset with the Evil Queen, and out for her head. But no one is more vengeful than Mr. Gold, otherwise known as Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) after learning that Regina had kept Belle (Emilie de Ravin) captive for 28 years in Storybrooke and even longer than that in Fairytale Land. He is out for blood…or rather her soul.

“Now that magic’s back,” explained Kitsis, “and [Rumple] realizes what’s happened to Belle, he needs to get his revenge.” But Rumple had vowed to Belle that he wouldn’t kill Regina, so what to do?

“And so like always, [Rumple finds] the loophole. Belle would never want to kill someone, so he’s like, ‘All right, well, I’ll rip her soul from her,’” Kitsis said.  He sends a very nasty soul-sucking wraith to deal with Regina and get his revenge. After all, it’s not killing her—at least not with his own hands…

But then, of course, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) intervenes when Henry pleads for the life of his adoptive mother. “We loved the idea of Emma sacrificing her own life to save Regina’s for Henry’s sake,” the showrunners told me. “And then [with Emma and Snow, Ginnifer Goodwin] ending up back in Fairytale Land,” Kitsis and Horowitz found they wanted to explore the character aspects of that journey.

Lana Parrilla and Raphael Sbarge in Once Upon a Time

On series television, sometimes plot drives the narrative, sometimes character. On Once Upon a Time, said Horowitz, “hopefully they’re all married together. Exploring the characters and telling their stories, getting into what makes them tick, entwines with the larger story we’re telling.”

Exploring a Magical Universe

Over the first season and a half, Once Upon a Time has explored several realms within the universe of myth, fantasy, literature and legend. Kitsis and Horowitz hadn’t wanted to stop with the classic fairytales, but to go beyond them. “We just loved the idea of going to other magical lands, but not [those] you would normally think of,” they explained. Kitsis explained that going into these other, different magical lands questions our perceptions of fairytales. “A lot of people think [the Gothic horror world of Frankenstein, for example] might not a fairytale, but for us in a weird way it’s almost become like one.”

There are so many magical realms to explore, and some have only been hinted at in the series so far, including a mention of Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers (Oz) and Killian/Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) obvious connection to Neverland. Kitsis noted that they would “love to see Neverland; we’d love to go to Oz. I think there are some worlds that fit more into the show than others.” But the writers are reluctant to visit extraordinary worlds just for the sake of going.  “It’s really got to be driven by the characters more than just the world that we want to go to.”

So for example, they said, “We always knew that Frankenstein (David Anders and his alter ego Dr. Whale) would be brought into our [fairytale] world, because he can bring people back from the dead. And we always loved the idea of him trying to revive [Regina’s fiancé] Daniel,” which he did in “The Doctor.”

The Ogre War

Back in season one (“Desperate Souls”) we first heard about the Ogre War, something that seems always to hover in the background of Fairytale Land, occasionally even causing havoc for the characters. I asked the Kitsis and Horowitz to talk a little about the Ogre War and whether we might learn anything more about its history.

The writers explained that the show would definitely be exploring more of the Ogre War and Rumplestiltskin’s experiences in it. Kitsis explained, “Rumplestiltskin, as you know, is very old. We loved thinking about this ancient time when ogres roamed the world and that Rumple was drafted into that. And that was where he would be called a coward.”  They liked the idea of  “this mythic, epic war” that went on so long that the draft age kept dropping, until mere children of 14 years old were conscripted.  

Noting that “Rumple does not have great memories,” of this war, Kitsis revealed that “it is something we will explore more this season, coming up in the next batch of episodes. It is really telling that Rumple became the dark one to save his son from the war, but of course he ended up losing his son because of the power and being seduced by it.”

I had always wondered whether Rumple’s reputation had been due to genuine cowardice, or is simply his perception of himself. Was there something else underpinning Rumple’s decision to walk away from the horror of war? “I think that that’s an interesting question,” Kitsis responded. “I can say will definitely be explored in an episode this year.”

Rumplestiltskin, RumBelle and Robert Carlyle

Speaking of Rumple, Kitsis noted that they wrote the part of Rumplestiltskin specifically for Robert Carlyle “because Adam and I were such huge fans of his.  So for us, it’s been such an honor to get to work with someone like Robert, because that character is so much fun and he just, he really elevates it with his performance. And really, sometimes he’s playing 10 different characters, even if they all have the same name.” (And sometimes all in the same episode; it is an extraordinary performance, no question—hear that, Emmy people?)

For many fans, last season’s “Skin Deep” episode was the highlight of season one. The episode retold the classic story of Beauty and the Beast, casting Rumplestiltskin as the Beast and bringing to the series, Lost’s Emilie de Ravin as Belle. The story was so well received that Emilie was made a series regular for this season with the hope of further exploring Belle and her relationship with Rumple. “RumBelle” was born.

Although there hasn’t thus far been a lot of RumBelle in season two (although there have been some beautiful moments between the two characters), Kitsis and Horowitz revealed that much more is coming, so fans of that “ship” should be patient and let the story unfolds.

“We look at each season like a book,” Horowitz explained. “And so in the first nine episodes Rumpel definitely changed, but he had other things going on, such as his son, and Belle was just getting introduced to town. We want to really get into these stories and be able to really explore them and not just check them off a list,” Kitsis added.

“I think we are going to get a lot of RumBelle. So I would say if you’re a RumBelle fan, keep watching because you’re going to get a lot of it.” In fact, Kitsis teased, “In episode 11 we are going to find out much more about Belle. So if the RumBelle fans want to know when are we going to see more of that relationship, episode 11 is RumBelle to the max!”

That Problematical Storybrooke Border

The biggest challenge facing Rumple these days is in finding a way to reunite with his son Baelfire (Dylan Schmid). The whole point of the curse had been to bring Rumple to Storybrooke where he’d be able to find Baelfire in “the land without magic” to which he’d escaped using a magic bean. Waiting 28 years for Emma to break the curse, Rumple had believed he’d now finally be free to leave town and find his long lost son.

Imagine his surprise when in the season premiere, Sneezy tries to cross the town boundary only to have his memory of Fairytale Land stripped away. Rumple, like everyone else in Storybrooke remains trapped, unable to leave—just as they had been before the curse had been broken. So, as Horowitz noted to me, “I think it’s the border of Storybrooke is a very important issue for a lot of people. And we are going to be exploring very soon.” Kitsis added, “I think Rumple—Mr. Gold—has said he wants to find his son, and we know his son isn’t in Storybrooke.  So that is a conundrum he is going to have to figure out.” (And it looks like he will be taking some steps towards that in episode 11 “The Outsider,” airing January 13.)

Speaking of the town border, I wondered whether Henry’s father Neal Cassady (Michael Raymond-James) might make another appearance. Last seen in “Tallahassee” (the episode, not the city), we learned that he’d left Emma pregnant (with Henry), holding the proverbial bag, and facing time in jail. Although the writers would not elaborate, they did tell me we’ve not seen the last of Emma’s old beau this season.

What’s Next on Once Upon a Time?

Although for much of season two the story has taken place in three different settings (Fairytale Land ruins, Fairytale Land, and Storybrooke), Kitsis pointed out that coming back from hiatus and for awhile to come, “we really are going to be in Storybrooke. The focus will be on Snow, Emma, and Charming (Josh Dallas), Regina and Henry, Rumple and Belle, and Hook and Cora. They are going to probably take center stage for awhile.”

Horowitz added that although we might even see some old friends “popping up here and there by the end of the season, we really feel like we also introduced a bunch of new characters this year, and we want to give them their due as well. But at the same time we really want to, of course, focus on our “hero” characters.

In this Sunday’s “The Cricket Game,” the focus is on Regina when she is accused of murder, but she seems to have an unlikely ally—Emma! Then on January 13, Mr. Gold continues his quest to find Baelfire, but first he needs to find a way to cross the Storybrooke border without sacrificing his memory in “The Outsider.” At the same time, Belle has a run-in with the vengeful Hook at the harbor, and that can’t be a good thing, can it?

In episode 12, “In the Name of the Brother,” airing January 20, Dr. Whale (AKA Frankenstein) is busy treating a wounded Captain Hook as well as a stranger who has come to town. That stranger may be able to cause trouble for the good people Storybrooke, exposing them to the world. It also looks to be a great episode for the Rumple and Belle as “Mr. Gold tries to reunite with a despondent Belle,” and Belle goes on an adventure in Fairytale Land with Mulan. Meanwhile, Cora tries to make nice with daughter Regina and Whale deals with his own Gothic daddy issues back in the Old Country.

January 21, the night after “In the Name of the Brother” airs, writer Jane Espenson will be my guest on a special Once Upon a Time edition of Let’s Talk TV Live. I will be interviewing her live on the show and she will also take questions from the fans. This is Jane’s second appearance on Let’s Talk TV Live, so be sure to check out the recording of her last appearance. And speaking of Let’s Talk TV Live, tomorrow night’s show will be all Once Upon a Time, and I will play the audio of my conversation with Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis.

Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Photos courtesy of ABC Medianet

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Betsy

    Barbara, that was really great stuff – you were not kidding.

    Bobby is playing pre-curse Rumple, all of DO Rumple’s personas, pre-Belle Gold and post-Belle Gold. God, he’s so brilliant. I thought it was an absolute disgrace that he didnt get an Emmy nod- I’m still ticked off.

    While I have complained quite a bit, lol, I have to acknowledge that there have been exquisite Rumbelle scenes this year: the Broken kiss, the entire end scene, the library scene in the Croc, the burger scene. I’m glad that Adam and Eddy are finally talking about them……I LOVE LOVE LOVE that they are acknowledging that Gold is changing/has changed because I think that that has been a wonderful, if subtle thing. Unlike with Regina, he understands the bad things he did, hates himself for them and is willing to deal with the consequences (people’s reactions to him). He’s so much more sensitive now – people can wound him. That outer shell he wore so well is almost gone now – Belle shattered it.

    My only issue here is that we didn’t get to see Belle get to know the town, the modern world…but I understand what they are saying. I’d also rather them have delayed their story and then give it full attention as opposed to rushing through it just to satisfy impatient fans like myself.

    I’m so excited…..now give us romance. Fans can deal with angst and, in fact, many love it – esp. because Bobby/Emilie are SOOO good at it…..as LONG as it’s balanced out by good times and loving. I miss that sizzling chemistry……

    There’s lots more to take in and I have to re-read, but I wanted to comment on my favorite parts, lol and to thank you again!!!

  • WML

    I’m with Betsy here. Tension and true love always seem to go hand in hand, and RC and Emilie are really sizzling together, even in their spats. Emilie’s eyes are so expressive (much like Jenna Louise Coleman). And RC? His Rumple/Gold is one of the great TV characters in the last few years, maybe even longer.

  • Betsy

    WML, I think that these 2 are so passionate that they might sometimes butt heads…..but it will be ok because they will not go to bed angry (literally and figuratively) and they will have great times making up!

    Of course now they are still feeling each other out…..and there is the issue of magic, but I really think that it doesn’t need to be a huge deal. I think Belle doesn’t want Gold to use it as a crutch because she wants him to rely more on his own abilities…..I think the use of magic is not a bad thing if done properly, but Gold has no faith in himself and that’s why he thinks he needs it. I’d like to see him be able to use magic….but for things that really count.

    Bobby/Emilie have the most incredible chemistry I’ve ever seen – in everything they do. There is a wonderful trust between them as actors, also…..I adore them.

    They also both have amazing, remarkable eyes; they don’t have to say a word and you know what they’re thinking.

    Rumple is an brilliant character, but it’s Bobby who’s made him that; he’s just incredibly great.

  • WML

    I had a comment blocked earlier but I am wondering what will cause the tension between Belle and Gold? Gold using magic to subdue Hook? Hook telling Belle how Milah’s heart was crushed by Rumple? Rumple leaving Storybrooke to find Bae without bring Belle along?

    To me, it’s how both Rumple/Gold and Belle have misgivings about themselves and each other and yet ultimately believing in their love for one other that makes this couple so great. Snow and Charming? Too much of the fairy tale – the lack of tension is BORING. Of course, I expect that with Emma and Henry in the mix, things will be different. And if Rumple is the other grandfather, that would be a further dynamic.

  • Betsy

    In terms of potential issues for Rumbelle, Emilie said this:

    “They are completely infatuated with each other and always have been,” Emilie de Ravin said. “It’s just [about] getting over these obstacles of being such different people coming from such different places and living such different lives.”

    It sounds pretty realistic to me. They must be spending an awful lot of time together without living together, lol. As long as they work through these issues together and the angst is balanced out with the joy of being in loev, I’m going to be happy.

    I don’t think either one has misgivings about the other, though – they never have, which makes their love incredible. When I start worrying about issues cropping up, I remind myself that David actually thought MM was capable of murder last year. That’s a pretty big issue to overcome, lol.

    Belle is supporting Gold in his search for Bae……that’s not an issue.

    Much as I love Neal (and Neal/Emma), I hope Neal is not Bae……..that’s just way too soapy. I hate the idea of everyone in town being related, lol

  • Rosie

    [“Unlike with Regina, he understands the bad things he did, hates himself for them and is willing to deal with the consequences (people’s reactions to him). He’s so much more sensitive now – people can wound him. That outer shell he wore so well is almost gone now – Belle shattered it.”]

    Aside from his love for Belle, Rumple hasn’t shown any attempt at redemption. None whatsoever. Nor has he shown any willingness to face the consequences of his past actions.

    I don’t hate Rumpel. But I haven’t seen any real attempt at redemption from him. And his relationship with Belle doesn’t strike me as any real proof.

  • http://www.itubexxx.com Xhamster

    I think Belle doesn’t want Gold to use it as a crutch because she wants him to rely more on his own abilities…..I think the use of magic is not a bad thing if done properly, but Gold has no faith in himself and that’s why he thinks he needs it. I’d like to see him be able to use magic….but for things that really count.
    My only issue here is that we didn’t get to see Belle get to know the town, the modern world…but I understand what they are saying. I’d also rather them have delayed their story and then give it full attention as opposed to rushing through it just to satisfy impatient fans like http://www.itubexxx.com myself.

  • http://www.itubexxx.com Xhamster

    They also both have amazing, remarkable eyes; they don’t have to say a word and you know what they’re thinking.