By Diane J Reed - @DianeJReed
You’ve seen Once Upon a Time for three seasons now—you’ve watched favorite characters come and go, people change, people become redeemed, and a host of fantastical lands journeyed through that test everyone’s mettle. But how do Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis keep their ideas and writing fresh episode after episode? With one word we can all relate to: Hope. For them, it is the human struggle to hold onto hope, despite all the odds, that energizes their writing and gives a poignant dignity to every show. During their hiatus before the second half of Season 3, I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with them about what’s coming for each character and what new worlds the show might venture into. The following is our conversation.
Diane: Hi guys—what are you having for lunch?
Eddy: Well, you know, there’s a bit of a division today. The rest of the writing room is getting Chinese, and I wasn’t feeling it, so I got a veggie burger.
Diane: Yum! Fans really want to know this stuff—honest. So down to business: I have a host of questions for you, which I realize you can’t always answer in full, but at least try to tease us with a little something. Are you ready?
Adam: We are!
Diane: Well first of all, Robert Carlyle appears to still be on the ABC payroll despite his “death” in the last episode, because there were pictures leaked of him in the media reporting to the set last week. So naturally, fans are dying to know whether we’ll see another incarnation of Rumple in some form in the latter half of Season 3 or in Season 4. After all, the Blue Fairy did pop up out of that casket pretty quick. What can you say about Rumple’s role in the future?
Eddy: Well, he definitely sacrificed his life, but I would be disappointed if I never saw him again in some form.
Adam: Yeah, me too. And anything beyond that really goes into spoiler territory, unfortunately.
Diane: Then tell me about the Dark One—can that status shift? Without Rumple for a while, can the Dark One status be handed off to another character?
Adam: The Dark One status as we have seen it is an ever-shifting thing. It’s what we established when we showed the origins of Rumple as the Dark One. And I think it’s fair to say that we will further explore that mythology.
Eddy: And I will say that what we’ve seen in the past is that the only way to become the Dark One is to kill the one before you, and then you take his suit. It’s the evil version of Santa Claus!
Eddy: But for us, I think this is a first, because we’ve never seen a Dark One zap themselves.
Diane: Right. So these are the logistics belonging to Dark One status? That’s a very cool detail.
Eddy: And I can tell you that this will absolutely be explored.
Diane: Oh yay! That’s fascinating. Now I’d love to know: When did you decide that Rumple would sacrifice his life? When you first created the show, or at the beginning of Season 3? How far ahead do you plot the sweep of a season or the entire show?
Eddy: Last year, we really understood that Rumple is someone who regretted the decision he made. This year, we really wanted to deepen WHY. I mean, it’s seems pretty obvious in Season 1 that a man who let go of his child for power would have regrets. What the Peter Pan story did was let the audience understand every decision he made, because Rumple was trying to not only make it up to his son, he was trying not to be like his father. So last year when we had him get on that ship, we knew. When we said that the “boy would be his undoing”, that’s when we came up with the Neverland plot. As you see with Rumple, who’s a very difficult man to love, he was haunted a lot. It was very hard for him to make the right decision, and he tried to exhaust every other option until sacrificing himself was the only one left.
Diane: Do you guys ever have conflict with each other about what should happen with a character, or are you pretty united about a character’s destiny?
Adam: It’s always a discussion. As we cook up the stories for the show, Eddy and I go back and forth. We’ve had a vision for this show from day one, and yeah, there may be discussions on details within it, but our approach has always been finding the things that excites the both of us.
Eddy: For us it’s a collaboration, so if one person feels really strongly about something and the other person doesn’t, then the goal is: What makes everyone feel excited? And that’s how the writers’ room works. We encourage vigorous debate. And it can get hot in there! But that’s what we want—those new story ideas to come out.
Diane: Are you flexible enough that an idea can literally hit you in the middle of the night and you can make a quick change? Has anything like that ever happened?
Adam: Oh, all the time!
Eddy: It’s a moving target. That’s the thing about creativity. There’s this sense that people in television are just making it all up. But when you come up with a pilot and have large ideas, you have to give it the freedom to grow. If we’re going from L.A. to New York, we may not realize that we want to stop off to see the “World’s Largest Potato That Looks Like Abraham Lincoln.” But you have to allow yourself the freedom to do it.
Adam: And for us, it’s always about trying to know where we want to end up and trying to have as much fun as we can getting there.
Diane: I have to say the last episode “Going Home” is my favorite episode ever, and it’s due to the freshness that you’re talking about here. You did such a wonderful job, over the last two and a half years now, of the backstory and the subsequent growth of your two darkest characters. And as a result, I absolutely believed that Rumple and Regina would make the sacrifices that they did. That episode was just brilliant to me, and I couldn’t believe that you achieved it. So for me, that’s a favorite, but so many of the fans have voiced in a poll recently that their favorite episode of all time, by a mile, is “Skin Deep.” I’m thinking that a lot of that might be due to the power of the love between Rumple and Belle. If I put a gun to your head, could you possibly name your top three episodes in the show?
Eddy: When you’re doing the show, in a perfect world, the newest episode is always your favorite. We have favorites for each character, probably.
Adam: It really is the cliché about the favorite child. When we’re cooking up each episode, that episode has to be your favorite at the time. So we don’t look back and rank them in that way—it’s all part of one big story we’re trying to tell. We’re very humbled by the passion fans have voiced, especially for “Skin Deep,” or “Going Home,” or for the pilot episode of the show.
Eddy: For us it’s like writing a book. Neverland has a complete beginning, middle, and an end. But due to the nature of television and the internet, people are commenting on every chapter. But we still have to look at it as a whole. If you’re reading the Hunger Games, you know in Chapter 3 that they’re not going to tell you who wins! So we have to look at it as a whole like Adam said, and say, “Where are the characters growing? Have we earned this moment?”
Adam: Let’s take “Going Home” as an example, which is an episode that decidedly everyone seemed to like. What’s interesting about it is that it’s a cumulative experience, which means that the power that the episode may or may not have had on an audience I believe is a direct result of the ten episodes that preceded it.
Diane: Oh, and the whole two and a half years! That’s what blew me away is that you took a very weak man, Rumple, who abuses power as a substitute for courage, who then in turn sacrifices his life, and I believed it. And that was so well earned. How many characters can have that kind of arc? Very rare. And yet Regina does the same thing by giving Emma positive memories—her happy ending. I mean, when Emma’s holding Henry as a baby—I’m sobbing! It’s just gorgeous. But the fans of “Skin Deep” will shoot me if I don’t ask this question: Could Belle and Rumple have their “moment” again?
Eddy: Well the real question is this—does the audience really want to know? I mean, we could sit here and tell you every plan we have! What fun is that? I could tell you what’s going to happen to Emma, but then what’s the fun of watching the show?
Adam: Let me put it this way, if we were asked this question at the start of Season 3, akin to “Will Rumple ever be able to redeem himself or sacrifice himself for the good of others?” and we were to answer “Yeah, yeah—we’ll get to that,” that would harm the experience of watching episode 3/11! The same thing applies when you want to talk about Rumple and Belle. We have plans—we have plenty of plans for Belle. What they are is plans that we don’t want to share because we think that will hurt the impact of the show.
Eddy: The other thing you have to understand is that we’re really trying our best to honor the things we’ve set up. So Rumple said to Belle, “I’m a difficult man to love.” Which means that is not an easy relationship! Believe me, our job would be much easier if we could actually just have them sit together, and then the episode would be where they say, “Hey, what do you want to watch on TV tonight? Another episode of Breaking Bad?” “No, I’ve picked out Ellen.” But the audience wouldn’t go for that.
Diane: Well, just saying that Belle is a major character who will not be dropped and her threads will still evolve—I think that’s enough for now.
Diane: So on to the new characters—Elphaba, the Wicked Witch is coming, and she’s HOT! She’s sexier than ever before, right?
Adam: She’s NOT Elphaba—she’s not any version of the Wicked Witch that’s been in movies or on TV before.
Diane: That’s a good point because the media has been calling her Elphaba, but you’re saying she’s really not? She’s your own creation?
Adam: We took inspiration from the book, and we’ve created what we hope will be our Once spin. She has her own name, she has her own backstory.
Eddy: Just like we did with the Mad Hatter. For us, the question is “Why did the Wicked Witch become wicked, and how did her skin become green?”
Diane: Very good! Would you say that she’s going to become Regina’s prime nemesis, or Rumple’s, or is she pretty much going to harass everyone?
Eddy: Well it’s definitely Wicked versus Evil, but when you’re that wicked, you’re going to get into everyone’s way.
Diane: And I would expect that from you—you’re so good at that! Will we see other characters or the setting from Oz, or Dorothy and her ruby slippers, or can you tease that?
Eddy: We will definitely be seeing other people and going to Oz, and including a few of their iconic characters who will be there throughout the 11 episodes that will be airing this spring.
Adam: We’re not going to Oz the way we went to Neverland. It’s more of a dipping our toe into that realm
Diane: Do you foresee doing future seasons in this 11/11 episode style?
Adam: We hope so. We really enjoy it as writers, and we hope the audience enjoyed the experience of it.
Eddy: Adam and I write to the breaks—the writers are very conscious of when we go off. And we really felt that last season, by virtue of the schedule, was hurt by the stop and start nature of Season 2. When you watch it as a whole, you kind of get what we were doing. But when you have to go off for three weeks, and then get caught back up, you lose your momentum. That’s why 11/11 is a no-brainer for us now.
Diane: And what about Wonderland characters—might any of them sneak onto the show? Our fans from the site are particularly fond of Emma Rigby and Michael Socha.
Adam: Never say never.
Eddy: I would say not this season, but perhaps the next.
Diane: And how about Regina—fans are wondering if there might be something between her and Robin Hood, either a love or hate reaction coming up in Season 3.
Adam: Oh, there will definitely be something—we did not show that flashback and that tattoo for nothing.
Diane: Yay!!! I love Regina and her vulnerability and her hatefulness—gotta love her.
Eddy: Oh yeah—we always root for Regina because we root for someone to find the light. The whole show was created about hope. So for us, even the villains are striving to find their own happy ending.
Diane: Well on the note of hope, a lot of fans really adore that soliloquy that Jefferson has in the “Hat Trick” episode where he’s confronting Emma about her cynicism, and he’s talking about where imagination comes from—which is basically from the human heart. And Emma’s whole arc is really from cynicism to hope. Will there be other characters who continue in that kind of theme in the future? Because Emma finally saw the light about the fairy tale world, but then she’s gone back to the veil of unknowing again in the last episode.
Eddy: When Adam and I created Emma, she became a character who is looking for home. But since she never had one, she doesn’t know what it is when she finds it. And so, like most people, you always have internal struggles. I think that the theme of going home is that happy endings aren’t always what we expect them to be. So I think Emma is still looking for home, but in a lot of ways, all the characters are. Think about it—if you have a good day today, but tomorrow sucks, you hope that the day after will be better. That is what we realized—happy endings aren’t always as pat as we thought they would be. And they’re something that have to be fought for and earned.
Diane: And I love that line that Mary Margaret said in the last episode—that happy ending aren’t always what we think they’re going to be. So you’re saying all the characters have to struggle to believe every day, just like we do?
Eddy: Yeah, or else they’re not real. And for us the whole point of the show is to take these iconic characters and make them go from icon to human. And so that’s what’s fun about Snow White and Prince Charming is that we really try to portray a married couple in a real way. Even though the things they’re fighting are fantastical, deep down they’re a married couple who are dealing with problems and are trying to keep their hope alive.
Diane: Well speaking of real, the harshest reality of all is death. And there have been some media murmurs that a character might be killed off this season. A core character who won’t bounce back like the Blue Fairy did. Can you speak to that at all?
Eddy: Well we can tell you that those rumors are true.
Diane: Okay, and will this be as harsh as reality? In that the loss remains real?
Eddy: Yes, this will be very much the way in which the Huntsman was killed.
Diane: How does that feel for you? These are like your dear friends—you’ve known these people for years! What is it like for you to take someone out?
Adam: It’s not something that we take lightly. It’s something that was story driven. We felt it was the culmination of his or her arc—and it’s something that leads into our plans going forward. It kind of came to this place, and it was emotional for us to write. We hope it will be emotional for the audience to experience. But this whole journey should be an emotional one.
Diane: Was that a fairly recent decision, or had you decided from the beginning of the show that a certain character would go?
Eddy: From the beginning of the show, no. It’s hard to say, because you get ideas for other seasons within the season you’re doing. Sometimes you have larger goals. We knew we wanted to have Ariel, for example, but we wanted to wait for Neverland because that’s where mermaids are. Of course, we had to wait until we got the rights for Neverland. So this was a decision that was probably thought of in between Season 2 and Season 3.
Diane: Well speaking of the rights, the very first time I talked with you was after the end of Season 1 and you had just gotten the rights to use Peter Pan. So naturally, you could get excited about Neverland then. Are there any other fictional universes you would love to tap into?
Adam: There are some. I think we have a lot of toys in our toy box right now that we’re playing with, though.
Eddy: There are new characters that we’d love to come in. But as you saw this season, the characters in the pilot are the core characters of the show, what the show is about. And really, a lot of time characters come in and out basically in service of the larger arc of Emma or Regina or Rumple.
Diane: I actually really admire that because the easiest thing in the world, narratively, is to trot in a bunch of people. And I love the way that you never lose sight of those core characters because they really become, as a viewer, like your family—you bond with them. I love it that you’re able to juggle all those balls, and yet keep that family “reunion” going.
Adam: Yeah, that’s what we strive for.
Diane: How about Hook and that kiss! Of course fans are dying to know: Why is Hook at Emma’s doorstep and not Neal?
Adam: If you watch you’ll see why!
Eddy: All of those answers will be explained in the next 11 episodes!
Diane: But can you answer that we’ll see Hook’s character grow more?
Adam: We sure hope so—he’s not going anywhere.
Diane: Beyond love and revenge? But what about Neal? Is his character going to evolve or will he take a back seat?
Adam: All of the characters are going to grow more, that’s why they’re there.
Eddy: Even the Huntsman who died—his character grew. You can grow a lot in one episode or you can grow a lot over 3 years. Every character, the minute they have screen time, is on a constant path of growth, similar to real life.
Adam: Sometimes that growth can mean changing who they are, or sometimes it can be like Rumple making a great sacrifice.
Eddy: And sometimes that growth can mean reversion—I’m on a path that’s not working for me, so I’m going to go back to my old ways.
Diane: That would actually be very cool to see—we all have those relatives, right? So why not have that be reflected in fairy tale world?
Diane: And on another note: Will Hook ever get a costume change?
Adam: Eventually, but we love it. Do you really want to see him in street clothes?
Diane: In jeans and flannel?
Adam: Yeah, exactly.
Diane: I don’t, but fans have been asking about a future costume change. Although there are people who would pay good money to have that leather outfit of his.
Diane: Speaking of Oncer paraphernalia, on Etsy you can buy copies of Henry’s story book. Will ABC ever put out an edition of Henry’s book as merchandise?
Eddy: Well Henry’s book, I don’t know. But we feel like the show definitely could put out great merchandise. Adam and I always encourage fan art. We love it, and we love seeing the things people come up with. We always say to ABC, “How come our t-shirts aren’t as good as the ones the fans are making?”
Diane: But the book in particular—people would love to have a color edition with the pictures inside it and everything, exactly what Henry sees when he opens it. Do you think that might ever be a possibility?
Adam: Hopefully someday.
Diane: Because it is really beautiful, but I realize that would be an expensive item.
Eddy: Well you know, the book is still being written...
Diane: That’s true! And that is a big point. People want to know: Will we see more about the genesis of that book, either in the rest of Season 3 or Season 4?
Adam: Well we can say the book plays a part in the rest of Season 3.
Eddy: But by the time the show is done, those questions will be answered.
Diane: But that could be several seasons from now, right?
Eddy: Well this year you didn’t realize that in episode 9 you would find out how Regina adopted Henry, right? Had we done all of that in Season 1, it wouldn’t be as interesting. This was the right time to reveal it because the arc was all about the sacrifice Regina was about to make. So yeah, we are going to tell you who wrote the book. But in the same respect, as writers, sometimes we have to resist the internet pressure and do it when it’s the right time.
Diane: I understand that. And a lot of us love Beverly Elliot—is there any possibility of exploring Granny’s backstory?
Adam: There’s always the possibility. We love Granny and you’ll be seeing more of her this year. I don’t know if we’ll get to her backstory this year, but we love the character, too.
Diane: There’s a huge rumor that she has something going on with Gepetto…I’m just coughing up the fan rumors. So no chance of seeing another actress play her as a younger woman?
Eddy: There’s always a chance—but this season, no.
Adam: But we love the character and the idea of the opportunity at some point.
Diane: I think one of you mentioned recently that there’s a new form of narrative coming this season for telling the story? Is that true?
Adam: It’s not that it’s a new form of narrative or that we’re reinventing anything in terms of storytelling. What we are doing is telling the show in a slightly different way than we have before that will hopefully feel familiar to those who’ve been watching all along, but also be new and exciting to the audience.
Diane: So for that to make sense to fans, in the past you’ve done fairy tale flashbacks juxtaposed with present-day reality, which I suppose is a zig-zag as opposed to linear kind of style. What could be a different form of storytelling?
Eddy: I think it’s more of a matter of when we’re flashing back and when the present is. The show will be in the present with flashbacks again—it’s just a matter of where and when.
Diane: And finally, we do know that Ginny Goodwin is pregnant—will that have any bearing on how much she’s available for the rest of the season?
Adam: She is available—she’s there working!
Diane: Just clever costume changes?
Eddy: She is a real trooper! And we have Eduardo Castro, who is the most clever costume designer of all.
Diane: Well, that’s about all that I have for you guys. I’m really thrilled that you took this time out during your lunch hour to give us this interview!
Eddy: And we’d just like to say thanks to you Diane, and to the fans, for doing the site. It’s really inspiring to us. You know, this was an idea that we had 10 years ago in an apartment, so to see people have this level of dedication is really awe inspiring. Everything we do is for the fans, and we never take them for granted.
Diane: And you know, of course, that 90% of that is Gareth Hughes. What he puts into this fansite is amazing, even though he works full time. And he adores the show and is over the moon that you’re doing this interview for us. So thank you very much guys!
Eddy: Anytime! Absolutely—it was good to talk to you.
Adam: Thank you, Diane.