From co-creators/executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis (Lost, Tron: Legacy), the imaginative new ABC fantasy drama Once Upon A Time, tells the story of a time when there was an enchanted forest filled with all the classic fairy tale characters that we know. Then one day, the Evil Queen cursed them all to live in the modern world, in a sleepy New England town called Storybrooke, where all of their happy endings were stolen and they had no memory of their former selves. With the epic battle for the future of all worlds about to begin, audiences will get glimpses of darkness and wonder, as the magic of the most beloved fairytales is brought to life.
During a recent interview to promote the series, Adam Horowitz talked about how this idea really started over eight years ago when he and Edward Kitsis were trying to figure out what they love about storytelling, that coming off of Lost made them want to challenge themselves as writers, how they were able to get everyone for the cast that they wanted, how this will be a character show at its heart with mysteries that come out of that, that they feel Snow White is ground zero for fairy tales, and how they’ve put their feature film work aside to focus completely on this show. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: What started this project for you? Where did the idea come from?
ADAM HOROWITZ: The idea for the show really started over eight years ago, when Eddie [Kitsis] and I had just come off of working on Felicity. The seed of it was that we were trying to figure out what it is about storytelling that we really love, and what we love is the mystery and excitement of exploring lots of different worlds. Fairy tales clicked with us because they were so much in the DNA of what made us storytellers, to begin with. If we can go between two different worlds and see two different sides of these characters, for us, as writers, that was a new way to explore characters and what makes them tick, and come at them from different angles. What you always want, as a writer, is to find different ways to explore the characters, and that’s what got us excited about this idea.
When you were developing these two worlds, was there any point where you wondered how you were going to balance the story between them?
HOROWITZ: Oh, every day! That’s the challenge. Right now, we’ve got 12 episodes to try to do the best we can, to tell the coolest stories that we know how to tell, and it is an incredible challenge. In coming off of Lost, we didn’t want to try anything that was easy. So, we’ll do our best and, if we succeed, great. If we fail, at least we’re doing something that’s challenging to us, as writers.
Do you enjoy writing one world more than the other?
HOROWITZ: No. The truth is, who the characters are in both worlds is so tied together that you can’t really split up the worlds. We have to attack it altogether, as one big puzzle that we’re tying to figure out together.
When it came to the casting for this, how did you assemble everyone?
HOROWITZ: What’s amazing about our cast, and the casting for this, is that everyone we wanted, did it. That’s no joke. We went to Ginnifer Goodwin. We went to Jennifer Morrison. We went to Robert Carlyle. We sent them the script and we said, “Would you want to do it?,” and they unbelievably all said, “Yes.” It was very heartening. For us, with this pilot, there’s been this sense of enthusiasm from everyone. Everyone who signed onto the show did so because they wanted to do it, and they’re excited about the material. At least, that’s what they’ve told us, so I’m choosing to believe that. And, because of that, there’s this incredible energy of, “Let’s all try to raise our game and do our best work.”
Isn’t it like a dream job for the actors, though, getting to play dual roles?
HOROWITZ: That’s what’s exciting, both for the actors and for us, as writers. We’re able to constantly play with the duality of these characters and what unifies them. It’s fun. We get to write for Ginnifer [Goodwin] as both Snow White and Mary Margaret. We get to explore different parts of the same character.
How challenging was it to develop the dual aspects of each character and to make each an evolution of the other?
HOROWITZ: It was very challenging. It became about, “How do you create a character that is one thing, but then divide it up in a way that doesn’t feel inorganic, between two worlds?” The approach with each one of those characters was really, really hard.
HOROWITZ: Every week.
Because of all the complexities of the show, is it really hard to keep things on track?
HOROWITZ: For any show to work, whether it’s a fantasy show or a cop show, or whatever it is, it’s lightning in a bottle. You need all the elements to come together. You need the cast, the writing, the directing and the production, all to come together in a special way. All you can do is try to do your best work, cross your fingers, and hope. It’s absolutely terrifying! We get into the writers’ room, every day, and we’re terrified. But, that’s the great lesson we learned on Lost. If you’re not terrified and challenged, as a writer, then you’re not exercising the muscles you want to exercise. So, we had to come up with something that was going to scare us to death, as writers, and I think we’ve succeeded. Every day that we walk into that office, we look at each other and go, “This is only getting harder.”
What can you say to tease where you want things to go this season?
HOROWITZ: The pilot is very deceptively, in some ways, the template for what the series will be. The question we got from everyone, including the network, when we wrote the pilot and produced it was, “Well, where does the series go?” The idea is that, yes, we’re going to go back and forth between worlds, but exploring these characters and the mysteries of what makes them who they are is where the show will go. At its heart, it will be a character show, and the mysteries will be characters mysteries. That said, we can’t resist the temptation to put in little Easter eggs and big pictures stuff, but it’s really about who these characters are, where they’re going to go, how they’re going to grow, and how they’re going to figure out the situation they’re in.
HOROWITZ: Right now, we’re looking to just write these first 12, and hope that people like them. To direct, on top of everything else, I think I would die.
Would you like to eventually direct together?
HOROWITZ: We’re a partnership. We do everything together, professionally. Whatever we do, it will be together. Producing and writing, and all that stuff, is something we do, side by side.
Do any of the fairy tale storylines parallel real world problems?
HOROWITZ: What I would say is that, when we approach each episode, it’s about, “What are the characters going to go through?” We want it to be about something. Whatever the characters are dealing with, will hopefully be something real and relatable and understandable in our world, if we succeed. We’re not setting out to do social commentary, but what we are setting out to do is tell stories that reflect on our world, and what our world is today.
Are there any specific fairy tale characters that you were most excited about bringing to life?
HOROWITZ: Really, all of them. When we wrote Snow White, we were like, “What is this going to be like? God, I hope we get Ginnifer [Goodwin].” When we wrote Rumplestiltskin, it was like, “How will this be realized? What will someone like Robert Carlyle bring to it?” That first day on the set, when we shot the prison sequence in the pilot, and we saw him play the character, for the first time, it was mind-blowing. You could see Ginny actually jump, the first time he did that character. It was fantastic! Each one had their own unique thing. These are iconic characters, and now we’re trying to do our spin on them, so it’s about what that’s going to look like. Until we figured out the script and the casting and the production, we really didn’t know.
HOROWITZ: Snow White is ground zero for fairy tales. It was the first movie I saw, as a kid, and I remember being terrified, seeing the Evil Queen. I’ve got twin daughters, who are 2 ½ years old, and I don’t even remember showing them anything, but they know Snow White. It’s amazing. When I was watching dailies for the pilot, they would see the stuff of Ginny in the coffin and start going, “Snow White is sleeping!,” and I was like, “How do you know who she is already?” I think it’s just something in our DNA. Because of that, everybody loves the character and loves that story so much that it’s going to continually be told, in new and different ways.
What was your first impression of the Snow White story? What sticks out most in your mind?
HOROWITZ: What sticks out is when the Evil Queen came on screen with the apple, and how terrifying that was. I remember turning to my mom, just freaked out.
How do you guys approach working together?
HOROWITZ: The interesting thing about it is that, with two people, you’d think it would take half the time, but it actually takes twice as long. We work it all out together. Since sophomore year of college, we’ve sat in a room together, gutting everything out together. It’s really a partnership, in the sense that we gut out every word together. It’s not like, “Oh, you’ll take half the script and I’ll take half the script.” We just sit there in a room, banging our heads together.
HOROWITZ: We finished our work on Ouija, and we were working on the Tron sequel, which we had to step away from writing to do this. We’re now co-producers on that. The reason for that is, to do a television series, it’s gotta be everything. So, we’ve put the feature stuff aside and said, “This is what we want to do, and this is the challenge before us. We’re going to try to make the coolest show we know how.” To do that, you have to be 110% committed.
What makes your partnership work so well?
HOROWITZ: The simplest answer is that we were friends first. We met in college and we both liked the same things, and the same kinds of movies and television shows, and had the same sensibilities. So, when we started to work together, we had the same basis that we were working off of. And, more importantly, there was no ego of, “My idea is more important!” It’s always about doing the best work. The best idea wins.
ONCE UPON A TIME premieres on Sunday, October 23rd