In Episode 16 of Once Upon A Time (called “It’s Not Easy Being Green”), the wicked Zelena (Rebecca Mader) challenges Regina (Lana Parrilla) to a fight to the death and reveals their shocking familial connection. Meanwhile back in the past in the land of Oz, viewers will get a greater understanding of the Wicked Witch and learn about why she’s so upset, why she’s seeking vengeance, why she’s become green, and why she’s become wicked.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Rebecca Mader talked about how much fun she’s having playing the Wicked Witch, how no one should want to get caught in the crossfire of the wicked vs. evil duel, getting to do all of her own broomstick action, what it’s like to put the green make-up and the witch’s hat on, having no allies to turn to, working with Mario Van Peebles as the episode’s director, finding her own version of this character, what it’s like to join a pre-existing hit, much like she did previously with Lost, keeping story secrets, and just how much she knew about her character’s journey ahead of time. Check out our Rebecca Mader interview for Once Upon a Time Season 3 after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
REBECCA MADER: It’s very, very true. I’m having a lot of fun with this part, definitely.
Now that Zelena’s true identity is out there, what can you say to tease what comes next?
MADER: Well, there’s a big showdown coming, which is going to be really fun to watch. It’s a Wild West, old school, one-on-one fight between evil and wicked, and I think the fans are really looking forward to seeing that.
What does a wicked vs. evil duel look like? Should everyone in Storybrooke be a bit frightened about that?
MADER: I would rather watch it from home than be there in person, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t want to get in the crossfire. It would be safer to watch it from home on the couch. It’s pretty epic, I’m not gonna lie. It was like shooting a film. It’s a bit scene.
How was it to shoot that big showdown? Do you enjoy getting to do that type of physical work and effects work? Was it just a monster to shoot?
MADER: It was a huge monster. The stunt team on this show are amazing. The stunt coordinator and the people they have working on this show are amazing, but I always try to do as much of my own stunts as possible. I love stunt work. I love jumping around. I’ll fling myself around. I’ll always see if I can do it first, but if it’s a bit too dangerous, then I’ll concede and be like, “Fine, all right, I’ll sit down and watch.” But, it’s more fun to do it yourself. I did all of my broomstick action myself, like jumping on my broomstick and flying around, and flying up into the sky. I did that all myself, and it was really fun.
You’ve already had some great costumes to wear, but what was it like to put the witch’s hat on? Does it make you carry yourself different?
MADER: Yeah, it’s such a part of it. When you put it all together, the hat was always the last thing. When I get dressed, I do my green make-up first, and then I start to become the character. And then, it takes one or two people to get me into my witch’s gown. And then, I go to set and my hair guy puts my hat on. It’s like the pièce de résistance. It’s the last thing that goes on, and then I’m the Wicked Witch. It’s definitely a huge part of it. But cut to 15 hours later when I’ve still got those pins in my hair, I’m like, “Oh, god, I can’t feel my scalp anymore.” I forget who I am and what I look like sometimes. I’ll be on set, and then I’ll turn around and catch a glimpse of myself and I almost scream. It’s really scary. When you’re in it for such a long time, you forget who you are and what you look like. Then I see myself and I’m like, “Oh, my god, I’m green!” It’s really shocking.
MADER: She’s feeling pretty invincible, at this point. She’s got the dagger and she’s controlling the Dark One. Rumple is two feet behind her. She’s feeling pretty invincible and like Neal’s death is inconsequential, at this point.
Is there anyone that she can turn to, as an ally, that she hasn’t, in some way, forced to be her ally, or is she just a party of one with her flying monkeys?
MADER: Right now, it seems like she’s a bitter party of one.
Would you say that her desire for vengeance is solely based on family drama?
MADER: You’ll see. You’re going to get a lot of my character’s backstory and it’s going to be a lot more understandable to everybody, why she’s so upset, why she’s seeking what she’s seeking, why she’s become green, and why she’s become wicked. I think there will be a much greater understanding of where Zelena is coming from.
In a perfect world, do you think she would stop being so wicked, if she could get Regina’s respect and have a relationship with her, or is she just too far past redemption?
MADER: There’s always hope for anybody to get what they want and come full circle. But, you’ll see.
Since we’ll be getting to learn more about her time in Oz, what do you think viewers will find surprising about the Oz that will be presented on this show?
MADER: I can’t really talk about Oz, except to say that we’re going. You’ll see me there. And then, soon enough, you’re going to see Dorothy and you’re going to meet Glinda, tool.
MADER: I would need an hour to talk about working with Mario Van Peebles. This episode is such a great episode. It’s so wicked, for me and my character. It was like a little mini Zelena movie. The whole time I was shooting it, I kept thinking, “Thank god, I got Mario Van Peebles for this episode.” He’s just so much fun to work with. He really, really cares about your character and about finding things. He was just right by my side, the whole time. I felt like he held my hand through this episode. I’m so grateful to him. He’s such a wonderful director, and such a nice person.
When you found out about this role, were you hesitant about taking on such an iconic character, or did it help that this version of the Wicked Witch is its own creation?
MADER: No, I said yes to being on the show without even knowing who I was playing. They were like, “Do you want to be on the show?,” and I was like, “Yes!” When I found out who I was playing, I was like, “I just knew you were going to make me evil.” I just knew the boys were going to do that. I knew they were going to have me be someone awful and ghastly, which is great. They never said, “We want you to play it this way or that way.” They just said, “Go be the Wicked Witch of the West.” I didn’t do any research. I didn’t go back and watch anyone else’s take on it. I haven’t watched the original movie in ages, and I saw the musical five years ago. I just concentrated on taking the writing that they had given me, and then just put my own wickedness on it and trusted that it would work out. And it did. I did my own take on it with what they had written for me.
Once you found out who you’d be playing, did you ever have a moment where you stopped to wonder just how long you might be in make-up or if there would be any prosthetics involved?
MADER: No, not at all. I’ve just literally had a blast. I feel really, really grateful to have been given such a wicked opportunity. I’ve just really, really enjoyed myself. It’s a role that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
You joined one popular ensemble series previously, when you did Lost, and then you joined this series. What do you remember about how nervous you were when you started Lost, and how did that compare to your first day on Once Upon A Time?
MADER: In a way, they were very similar. It’s a very similar feeling when you get interjected sideways into a pre-existing hit. It’s not like I was there from the pilot. It’s like, “Here’s a hit show, and you’re going to enter stage left.” That’s really odd and really wonderful, at the same time. Another similarity between the two is that when I got Lost, I wasn’t watching it, so I had to watch 66 episodes in two and a half weeks, and then meet everybody. It was like climbing into a TV show because I’d been knee-deep in it for weeks. It was the same thing with Once Upon A Time. I have a TV bucket list, and it was on my list. So, when I got the part, I had to watch 54 episodes in two weeks. It was the same thing, all over again. I feel like I’ve climbed into my own television. It’s really surreal.
Was Lost the first time you’d worked on something so secretive, and did that really prepare you for this?
MADER: Yeah. These two shows are very unique and very similar, in that regard. You have to keep things close to your chest, and I’m pretty good at that. I’m pretty good at keeping secrets.
Zelena’s motives for her actions have been pretty unclear, up until this point, but how much were you told about what her journey would be?
MADER: I’ve had a couple of conversations with the boys, so I did know some of it ahead of time. It was a mixed bag of knowing some stuff, but then finding out a lot of stuff along with the cast and crew, as the scripts were coming in. I would mostly find out by reading it.
Once Upon A Time airs on Sunday nights on ABC. You can learn more about the show at www.abc.com/onceuponatime.