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'Once Upon a Time' Set Visit: The Cast Explains How They're Breathing New Life Into Old Stories

by Laura Prudom, posted Oct 21st 2011 1:15PM
Jennifer MorrisonI'm not being hyperbolic when I say that ABC's 'Once Upon a Time' is unlike anything you've seen on television before. Its closest relative is probably a little-watched NBC miniseries called 'The 10th Kingdom' which aired in 2000, at least in the way it blends classic fairytales with the modern world to offer a whole new interpretation of pop culture's most familiar yarns.

'Once' also shares a certain amount of DNA with 'Lost,' since it was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who wrote for the mystery series for the duration of its run (you can read Mo Ryan's recent interview with the duo here). But in its ideas, execution, and undeniable sense of whimsy, 'Once' is a unique creature, accessible to viewers from ages eight to 80.

Earlier this month, AOL TV visited the Vancouver set of the fantasy drama, wandering through the enchanting streets of fictional Storybrooke and talking with the cast about how the show is evolving so far. Join us after the jump for a hint of what you can expect when the show premieres on Sunday (8PM ET, ABC), and come back next week for a deeper look. Mild spoilers ahead.

Our story revolves around Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), an emotionally repressed bail bondswoman who prefers to spend her birthdays chasing down bail jumpers instead of throwing herself a party. But when the son she gave up for adoption 10 years prior appears at her door, Emma finds herself dragged into a world of make-believe and magic -- or, at least, into a world made far more colorful by a lonely boy's imagination.

Henry (Jared Gilmore) believes that his long-lost mom is secretly the child of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) -- or, as they're known in the depressing town of Storybrooke, Maine, Sister Mary Margaret Blanchard and John Doe. Thanks to a book given to him by Mary Margaret, Henry believes that Emma is the only one who can break the curse that's keeping them trapped in our world, a place where "happily ever after" doesn't exist. And did we mention that he thinks that his adoptive mother, Regina (Lana Parrilla), is the Evil Queen who banished Snow White and the other fairytale folk to our world to live their days in misery?

It might sound complicated, but considering that the show leaps between our reality and the land of fairytales with giddy abandon, the story is easy to follow. And while the names may seem familiar, as the series progresses, it will become clear that the show isn't interested in simply retelling Disney stories -- it wants to give these characters a depth that no 90-minute movie ever could.

Snow White and Prince CharmingThat's especially true of Snow White and Prince Charming -- two characters who are indelibly etched into our cultural consciousness, but whose story will be nothing like what you've seen before. Unlike the Disney version, this Snow is a little less passive and a little more ... kick-ass than we're used to, but she's also far from a pure, pristine princess.

"Once we started exploring what her backstory might be, it occurred to me, as I was inspired by many of the things that I was reading, that maybe Snow White was suffering from the same flaws and inefficiencies that her stepmother suffers from; maybe she really is vain, maybe she really is prideful, maybe she really was competing for the attention of her father. Those things are justifiable in the story," Goodwin explained, fresh from the set and dressed in Mary Margaret's somewhat conservative attire: a high-collared blouse and knee-length skirt, her short, elfin haircut making her seem smaller and more fragile than her vibrant fairytale alter-ego.

"In that, I started thinking about things," she continued. "She's a princess and there would be a sense of entitlement that comes with that and a lack of social experience. So I think that these things that I think of as flaws in a character do come across as strength in some ways. I think we can still justify the Disney version of Snow White, the Grimm's version of Snow White, with these elements. We haven't redefined her, we're just fleshing her out a lot."

Likewise, the iconic romance between Snow and Charming is given some real exploration, according to the exceedingly charming Josh Dallas: "We're going all the way back to the origins of Snow White and Prince Charming. We're going to find out how they met, where they met, what his real name is, how he got the name Charming, all of those kinds of things. We're going to find out a lot of information about their backstory, when that epic true love first was kindled."

"I think some of my favorite scenes are between Snow White and Prince Charming, just because their relationship is so complicated," Goodwin told us. "We will find out that it's based, in the beginning, on real animosity and manipulation, I would say, and selfishness. I really love that that is our foundation, that's our platform and it gives us so far to go."

Each episode will be structured around a specific character and their backstory; the pilot establishes all the players, while the second episode centers around the Evil Queen, the third around Snow White and Charming -- you get the idea.

Executive producer Steve Pearlman elaborated on their plans for the arc of the season: "Network television in particular has become a very tricky animal in that, on the one hand, you want episodes that can be self-contained, so if the audience missed last week or the last two weeks, they can still come in, watch this week, and feel like they haven't missed anything," he pointed out. "On the other hand, you want people to be watching every week. The idea of having a show that grasps people and just holds them by the hand and says, 'you must be here to watch every single week,' that's what we all want, right?"

Lana Parrilla and Jennifer MorrisonTo explain their structure, Pearlman used the example of the fourth episode, which is about Cinderella (a friend of Snow White's, naturally). "We introduce Cinderella in the first act and we resolve the story in the final act. [But then there's an] Emma portion of that story that kind of continues," he said. "There are other twists and turns along the way that don't have anything to do with the specifics of the Cinderella story that are additive to our character development. Hopefully, what we're doing over the course of the season is continuing to build each week, give the audience something new about our main characters that keeps them coming back."

If you're concerned that the concept sounds too campy or cheesy, Morrison reassured us that they want to keep the Storybrooke scenes grounded, to allow for the fairytale scenes to ham things up a little (and if you have a character whose name is literally "The Evil Queen," a little tongue-in-cheek scenery-chewing should be a prerequisite).

"The approach for all of us has just been to treat it as if it's very real. There is no sense of, 'oh, we're in a fairytale' -- it's been really important for us to really keep its feet on the ground that way," she insisted. "And Emma is the one character that is grounded in reality and doesn't buy any of this fairytale stuff and thinks it's just this child who is trying to deal with his emotions by having this fantasy idea. From that perspective, it's just all about digging into these relationships and figuring out the root of all those things. Every time I've read through the script I'm so blown away by how specific and different those relationships are to each character in front of her."

For more 'Once Upon a Time,' check out Maureen Ryan's interview with the creators about how the show is and isn't like 'Lost.'

If you just can't wait until Sunday, US viewers can currently watch the pilot online at IMDB. For those that want the full, widescreen experience, the first episode airs Sunday at 8PM ET on ABC.

Are you intrigued by the concept of 'Once Upon a Time'? Which of your favorite fairytale characters are you hoping to see on the show? Share your first impressions below.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA.

Below, check out a video of Ginnifer Goodwin talking to 'Live With Regis and Kelly' about getting injured on the 'Once Upon a Time' set:

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Loved The 10th Kingdom!
Only -like- Once Upon a Time so far.

October 21 2011 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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