At its core, the ABC drama series Once Upon A Time is a story of hope, but now in its seventh season, it’s also in a new town (Hyperion Heights) run by a new villain (Gabrielle Anwar as Victoria Belfrey), and there’s a new curse that’s taken the memories of the former residents of the Enchanted Forest. And to overcome it all, a young girl named Lucy (Alison Fernandez) has to convince a grown-up Henry Mills (Andrew J. West) that his true love, aka her mother, is actually Cinderella (Dania Ramirez).
During this interview with Collider, co-creators/showrunners Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis talked about why Season 7 is a “requel,” how the idea for this season evolved, grown-up Henry, what life is like in Hyperion Heights, Cinderella’s journey, Lucy’s struggle, their spin on Tiana (Mekia Cox) and Alice (Rose Reynolds), and figuring out how this new curse would affect the characters.
Collider: Would you guys prefer that the word reboot not be used to describe the new season? Do you see this as more of a new chapter in the story?
EDDY KITSIS: You can call it anything you want.
ADAM HOROWITZ: It’s weird because we do have returning characters.
KITSIS: Someone used the word requel, which is a sequel/reboot combined.
HOROWITZ: If you look at the first six seasons as the first movie, this is the requel. Some of the characters are returning and there’s some new folks joining the party, and it opens the door to new adventures and new worlds to explore and new stories to tell.
When and how did the idea for Season 7 come about?
KITSIS: We had a general idea of new curse, new town, which was the premise for the beginning, and we knew that we were going to have adult Henry. Last year, when we really started to realize that this was the reality, we sat down with the actors. We knew some were going to leave, at the end of the season, so creatively, we had to adjust for that, and we knew that some wanted to stay, so we had to creatively adjust for that. That’s how we figured it out.
Did you ever consider ending the show with Season 6, or did coming up with this idea give you the inspiration to move forward with Season 7?
HOROWITZ: It’s up to ABC, ultimately, if we have to stop doing the show. We were so happy that the network gave us so much support.
KITSIS: Last season, we ended it the way we would, if that were the end. We wanted to end our version of what we started six seasons ago, in our way. That’s what you say last season.
HOROWITZ: Coming from Lost, we always looked at it as, in success, this is a six-season plan. We have a new chapter in a new world. Around Season 4, we started to think that maybe this could be a reality and that we could do this. And then, when we got to Season 6, we thought about the different pieces of storytelling that we would need, to put together Season 7 and beyond.
KITSIS: We thought, if you can reboot superheroes, why not fairy tales? Every year feels like a new show, but this premise incorporates a requel.
HOROWITZ: It’s a risk. We know it’s a risk when you do something very different than you’ve done before, that has worked. In the same respect, when we did the show in the first year, there hadn’t been anything like it, at that point. Nobody had done a show this crazy, with this many worlds and characters. In our mind, the riskiness of it is what makes it worth doing and trying.
KITSIS: The riskiness is what made us want to continue. Just to lose characters and pretend like the show is moving forward felt like a stall to us. So, we wanted to end our vision and start a new one.
HOROWITZ: There’s a real sense of people being re-energized. No matter how much you love your character and how much your audience loves them, after six seasons, it’s great to have an opportunity to play something that’s the same, but a little bit different. Now, they get to do different stuff, and there’s new folks coming in. It was very hard to say goodbye to people that we’ve been with for six seasons and that we love. It’s not a qualitative judgment on any of them. We love them and we love the story we told with them, but now we’re telling a new story.
What are you enjoying about flipping things this season, where Henry, who as a young boy was the one who kicked this whole journey off by wanting his mother to believe in magic and fairy tales, is now the one who needs convincing by his own child?
HOROWITZ: That’s a great question. One of the things that we hope to signal to the audience, from the onset, is that we’re not redoing Season 1. Yeah, there are echoes of it in how we ended Season 6 and how we start Season 7, but we’re doing a new thing. It’s not the same curse, it’s not for the same reasons, and it’s not the same things happening, but we’re hopefully riffing on what we did before and going in a different direction.
How is grown-up Henry different from young Henry? Will we feel echoes of young Henry in him?
KITSIS: Absolutely! Especially in the Enchanted Forest and in flashbacks, you’ll see the Henry that was excited about Operation Cobra in adult Henry. We always said that Henry had the heart of the truest believer, but when we meet him in Seattle, he no longer believes. Getting his belief back is what the arc of the season is.
HOROWITZ: Jared [Gilmore], who played Henry for six seasons, was amazing. For a kid to be able to come into an hour-long drama and be a central part of it, at the age of 10, it’s unbelievable what he did. What Andy [West] is doing is he’s capturing the spirit of what Jared did and showing us what that future character could be. It’s a tricky balancing act because we have to stay true to what Jared created with that character, but go to this new place. We’ll start to see what the world is like for Henry when he has a kid, he’s grown up, and he’s facing a crisis of belief that he never thought he would have.
What is life like, in Hyperion Heights?
KITSIS: I would say that they’re going through some changes. Victoria Belfrey, who is played by Gabrielle Anwar, is a developer who’s trying to change the neighborhood. She is looking to move the residents out. Where Regina cast a curse and brought everyone together and kept them there, this character understands that it’s better to spread them out, so that they never see each other again. She’s trying to gentrify the neighborhood, and you’ve got people like [Roni], who doesn’t want to sell. So, it depends which side you’re on.
What can you say about villains and adversaries, for at least the first portion of this season? Who will be causing the most mischief, or stirring things up the most?
KITSIS: Where the first season of Once was the Snow White mythology, we are doing the Cinderella mythology. There will be a wicked stepsister and a very wicked stepmom.
HOROWITZ: There are hopefully surprising places that they come from. What we’ve done throughout the show is have a mash-up quality. Snow White’s best friend was Little Red Riding Hood. I think you’ll see that the Cinderella mythology crisscrosses with some other things that hopefully provide some opportunity for surprising places for villainy and heroism.
KITSIS: We’ve always said that evil isn’t born, it’s made, so we never wanted to be a show that spoke in black and white terms because there is no black and white. There’s always a reason why someone is the way they are. For us, it’s a show about hope for everyone, and not just heroes, but villains. There’s the hope that they can redeem themselves. Everyone wants to feel hopeful.
What are you most excited about with Cinderella’s story, this season?
HOROWITZ: Dania [Ramirez] is an amazing actress. She came in and blew us away. Just on a pure talent and acting level, we’re excited to see what she does. What we wanted to do was to tell a story that will hopefully be an epic love story, where we can capture the spirit of romance.
KITSIS: One of the things that we’re also excited about is that the Cinderella story in the real world is very relevant. Feeling like people keep changing the goal posts and you can’t get out ahead is a story that we’re excited to tell. It’s fun to see Cinderella in both worlds. In true Once fashion, we don’t do damsels in distress, so this is a Cinderella that doesn’t need a prince to save her. She’ll save herself.
We know that Once Upon A Time puts its own spin on fairy tales, so what can we expect from this Cinderella and her family?
HOROWITZ: The relationship is obviously strained. When your stepmother and stepsister have evil as a prefix, you can expect some strain. That said, there is hopefully some depth and some twists to the Cinderella story that will show you why the relationship is strained, why they treat her the way they do, and why she treats them the way she does.
How much more challenging will it be for Lucy to make her plan work than it was for Henry?
KITSIS: She’s got a tougher thing because she’s trying to get her mom to be with this guy that she’s convinced is her dad, so she’s trying to parent trap these two and they’re like, “Kid, this is awkward!” The actress who plays Lucy, Alison [Fernandez], is so good. You’re like, “Are you sure you’re 11?!” She has that Macaulay Culkin ability to just carry a scene.
How difficult was it to find your Lucy?
HOROWITZ: Casting is always a challenge, and casting a kid is very hard. Finding Jared was an amazing stroke of luck, to find a kid who could do that. And finding Alison, we are very optimistic. We think she’s incredibly talented and special.
We know that we’ll be seeing Tiana and a new Alice. What can you say about those characters and where they’ll fit in, this season?
KITSIS: Alice is fun. I think that she’s gonna have a psychedelic edge to her. There’s something uneasy about her. Like Rumplestiltskin, she’s gonna keep people on edge.
HOROWITZ: Rose Reynolds, the actress playing Alice, has found a really interesting take on Alice. There’s an off-kilterness and a sense of fun to it, as well, that we think is really cool.
KITSIS: And Mekia [Cox], who’s playing Tiana, is also fun. We never got to do Tiana and we’ve always wanted to. You’re going to find her and Jacinda very close friends, in the way that Snow and Ruby were. We’re going to do our own version of The Princess and the Frog story, but it’s going to be fun to do Tiana in that world.
What led you to explore Hook as a cop and Regina as a bartender?
HOROWITZ: The starting place was the decision that we wanted to be in a city and we wanted to do something that felt very different than Storybrooke. Once we made that decision, it became about finding the places to put these characters that would open up storytelling avenues and be reflective of who they are, both in their real selves and their new cursed identities.
KITSIS: For us, Regina was always the mayor or the queen. We said, who’s the person that sticks up for the neighborhood, and it was the local bar. That’s how we got to her. And Killian as a cop gets explained in story.
Did you also think about the fun of putting them into types of clothing that we’ve never seen them in before?
KITSIS: That was a lucky one. With Lana [Parrilla], we wanted her to have a Debbie Harry/Siouxsie Sioux vibe, which is like Lana, in real life.
HOROWITZ: In the requel analogy, you want to see your favorites return, but you want to see them doing something new, and you have to find that balance where they still feel like the characters you love. Seeing Regina in a bar and in this new role has been a lot of fun to write, and seeing what Lana is doing with it has been great. It’s the same with Colin [O’Donoghue], seeing him as a cop.
Once Upon A Time airs on Friday nights on ABC.