The ABC fantasy series Once Upon A Time is back, and a new trifecta of evil – Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten), Ursula (Merrin Dungey) and Cruella De Vil (Victoria Smurfit) – is joining forces with Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) on a mission to find the happy endings that have eluded them. There’s no telling what the Queens of Darkness will be up to in Storybrooke, but with the Dark One involved, no one is safe.
After a screening of the first two episodes in this new storyline, executive producers Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis spoke to press about why they chose these three villains, in particular, weaving story points into the mythology of the show, whether Belle (Emilie de Ravin) is past forgiving Rumple, whether Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) might possibly go evil, Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) connection to Ursula, Hook’s relationship with Emma, Emma’s friendship with Regina (Lana Parrilla), having a wish list of characters they’re hoping to still work into the show, whether Jamie Dornan could ever return as Sheriff Graham/The Huntsman, and that there will be some death. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: Why these three villains, in particular?
EDDY KITSIS: Maleficent was previously on the show and we always wanted to get back to her, which is why we never fully killed her. Ursula we set up a little bit and teased in the Ariel episode, and we think she’s a lot of fun. And we just liked Cruella. There’s a sass to her. What we wanted was for Gold to take the lesson from the heroes, who always work together, and realize that he needed to work together with villains. We just loved the idea of a team of evil, and our wish list of who we wanted to write was these three.
ADAM HOROWITZ: If you keep watching, you’ll see that there’s a connection between all of them and our characters. You’ll learn more about why those three, in particular.
How did you land on the power of persuasion for Cruella’s magic power?
KITSIS: The power of persuasion, unfortunately for her, seems to only work with animals. When we re-imagined Cruella, we wanted her to be Zelda Fitzgerald. We wanted her to be more Jazz Age than ‘50s England, and we wanted her to have a power, so she feels a part of the show. We loved the idea that she can speak to animals, not like Dr. Doolittle, but in a more cruel way. Her backstory is coming up in the second half, and that’s probably our favorite one.
HOROWITZ: The origin of that power and why she is the way she is, in our version, is coming up soon.
KITSIS: With Anna and Elsa, we did our best to not damage them. This, we have taken a whole new spin on.
When you guys go back and play with the mythology of the whole show, how complicated is it to weave in a big secret, like the reveal for Snow and Charming?
HOROWITZ: It’s an interesting needle to thread. It’s only the tip of the iceberg of the secret, in the second episode. Our hope is that, by the time everything is revealed, you’ll see that it really informs who they were, in Season 1, when you met them.
KITSIS: We know that the curse was cast and we know a lot of the origins, but for us, it’s the character motivation. We hope that, in seeing the second half of this season, you will go back and see the series in a different way. At the end of the second episode, you will realize that Maleficent isn’t just a villain. So then, if you go re-watch Episode 13 and everything she’s doing, hopefully that will give more depth to it.
HOROWITZ: The goal is to take what we’ve already presented and show you another layer, and hopefully show you a little bit of a why they became who they are.
Is Belle past forgiving Rumplestiltskin, or will she always be able to forgive him?
KITSIS: She kicked him out of town, so she reached her last straw and she’s moved on, a little bit. He has his work cut out for him. What we loved about Belle, in the winter finale, is that she was like, “It’s enough! It’s enough lying!” At a certain point, you have to stop giving people the benefit of the doubt and say, “Change or fuck off.” We love that strength from Belle, and we love her moving on. If you look at Belle, as a character, she volunteered to save her town because her father wouldn’t let her be the hero. She hasn’t really lived. If you got married at 21 and now you’re 32, you might want to live again.
HOROWITZ: We really wanted to let her act out of strength. Now, if they are to have any chance to be together, she has to be a strong person, and what he has to do is probably going to be pretty difficult.
KITSIS: We like how many people were upset by his behavior, and yet he warned us, “I’m a difficult man to love.” We just don’t want to believe it. Even the fans are like, “Yeah, he’s killed a lot of people. Yeah, he told us he was a liar and that he always chooses power over love. But, that was different.” It’s not.
After seeing the promo, a lot of people became nervous about Emma possibly going evil. What can you say about that?
HOROWITZ: One of the big themes for the second half of the season is, what makes someone a hero and what makes someone a villain? What are those differences, and what is the common ground? Emma has spent a long time, in the series, being told that she’s a savior and a hero. Now, she’s going to have to face that it’s not as black and white as that. Going into the second half of the season, all of the characters are going to be wrestling with this idea of not just the external threat, but internally, within themselves.
What are the challenges that are coming up for Emma?
KITSIS: For Emma, right now, the two people she trusts most in her life are lying to her, and she’s suppressing that. Finding that out will be a bummer. Emma is going to have to confront her past, in a lot of different ways. She’s done a lot of growing, over the seasons. What happens when you find out that the person that’s helping you grow, might actually be just as bad as the people you’re trying to get away from?
Will it work to her detriment that she’s not trusting her instincts like she used to?
If Emma were to embrace her dark side, how would Henry react?
KITSIS: I would say that Henry would do his best to keep her on the good side of the force. Henry is the heart of the truest believer, and the truest believer always believes in you, even when you’re maybe going down a wrong path.
If Emma explores her dark side, will that change her powers?
HOROWITZ: It’s less about what the powers are than how they’re used.
KITSIS: We’ve seen Rumple and Regina use their powers to help unify, and we’ve seen them rip out the hearts of 20 villagers.
Would the color of her magic change?
KITSIS: Only if she goes dark.
How deeply will you explore Hook’s connection with Ursula?
KITSIS: Episode 15 will explain what he did to her. It is not sexual. It is far worse. When you think about what would be worse than having your heart broken, I would say it would be having your soul crushed. So, you’re going to see the entire flashback of what happened, and you’re going to see the origin of Ursula.
KITSIS: Similar to what we’ve done with young Cora and young Emma, we’re going to meet Ursula around 18 or 19.
Will we learn about why Ursula and Cruella didn’t end up in Storybrooke, in the first place?
HOROWITZ: Yeah, there’s an upcoming episode where all the pieces on the chess board are laid out. You’ll learn about who ended up where and why. That will also speak to why these three and how they’re connected, and what they’re all after together.
Do you already know what further characters you want to introduce, especially now that you’re going beyond just fairy tales?
KITSIS: We would like to dive into the Nixon foreign policy, and you’ll realize that Henry was the one who broke into Water Gate.
HOROWITZ: We have a whole wish list of characters we would like to bring on, and how we would like to incorporate them into our universe. The arrival of these villains has a really profound affect on Snow and Charming, and that’s something we really delve into, in these next episodes.
Have you thought about incorporating the Marvel universe, at all?
HOROWITZ: We like watching the show.
KITSIS: We often have Henry reading Marvel. We love Marvel and we love Star Wars, but we know what works on the show and what doesn’t. A lot of times, our audience will really respond to something like the Wicked Witch, which is not technically a fairy tale, per se. But, I don’t know if people want to see David Copperfield. We have a lot of characters that we haven’t gotten to, that we think are fun. Really, it’s about the core characters from our show. All of these other characters are really there to help them grow as people.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve come across with developing this storyline?
KITSIS: The biggest challenge is that, even though these are all iconic characters, we make it up. There is no book to refer to and go, “Well, we’re doing Chapter 8, this year?” We stare at a blank wall and we beat our heads against it, until we all feel inspired to write something. So, it’s never easy.
HOROWITZ: The challenge ultimately is taking our core characters and deepening them, and hopefully making them more understandable, while using all of the fun toys at our disposal to do that. It is challenging because so many of these characters are iconic. It’s been our goal, from day one on the show, to take the iconography and turn them into flesh and blood real people.
Is there any chance of Jamie Dornan ever coming back?
KITSIS: No. I would love to have him back. In fact, when we were filming Episode 13, we got to hang out with him because he was shooting a movie there. I don’t know if you know this, but he’s a huge movie star, and his schedule is such that we can’t fly him back to Vancouver. We’d love to have him, and if the schedules ever worked out, everyone would be thrilled to have The Huntsman back. I can just tell you that his schedule, this year, is non-stop.
Do you feel bad that he’s the only character that hasn’t been resurrected?
KITSIS: Yeah, because he became a big movie star.
HOROWITZ: The plan with The Huntsman character was always to kill him in Episode 7 of that first season, which was really about developing the show and setting the tone for what could or couldn’t happen to characters. We brought him back a few times in flashbacks, and we’d love to do it again, if he wanted to and the schedule permitted.
KITSIS: We haven’t fully resurrected anyone, in that way. Maleficent was cast in a spell to keep her in this constant state. Jamie is a great friend of ours, and he’s like family to the show. We love him. If the opportunity was right, we’d always like to bring him back. He was back in Season 1 and 2.
In what capacity will Eoin Bailey be back, as August?
KITSIS: If you’re searching for the author, they’re going to look for the guy who rode into town with the typewriter.
What can you say about the development of Emma’s relationship with Hook and her friendship with Regina, moving forward?
KITSIS: With her and Hook, it’s about watching Emma open her heart up, even though she’s about to find out some really bad information. For Hook, we are going to realize that he’s got some things going on in his head that he’s concerned about. Regina hasn’t been that open to friendship, but I think we’re going to see that change a little bit. The evolution of their growth is fun for us. Regina and Emma are a huge part of this show. It started with her trying to get Emma out of town. They’ve fought together, and they’ve fought against each other. Now, whether or not they can be friends, we’re going to see in the second half.
HOROWITZ: Given what Emma is starting to go through, and given what Regina has gone through, there’s a new common ground between the characters. In addition to Henry, they now have something else that they can share and deal with.
KITSIS: I love the fact that Snow and Regina are friends. Snow just confided in Regina. That’s who she went to for help, after she’s spent years trying to kill her.
Will we see more of what Rumplestiltskin is up to?
KITSIS: You have a man who’s lost everything. Now that Belle has moved on, he is going to do his Rumplest to get it all back. You are going to see full Rumple.
HOROWITZ: He doesn’t disappear. He will start on a new quest that he’s going to be very energized about.
KITSIS: The Queens of Darkness believe they’re working with Rumple, but we all realize that you work for Rumple.
Are we going to lose any major characters during this second half?
KITSIS: There is going to be some death. Will there be death of one of our main characters? Who do you want gone?!
Once Upon A Time airs on Sunday nights on ABC.