Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis Discuss Their Insights and Creative Strategies for Once Upon a Time’s Powerhouse Season 2 - by Diane J. Reed
Sometimes when you follow that yellow brick road with Toto tucked under your arm, you discover that the Wizard of Oz is REAL after all! Such was the case when I had the extraordinary good fortune to talk with the brilliant creators & writers of Once Upon a Time, Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis. Behind the magic curtain of Hollywood, these two geniuses take a passionate and very hands-on approach to cooking up those enchanting characters and plots that we’ve all come to love week after week. So put on your ruby slippers and get ready for a wild ride with this Season 2 exclusive interview!
Diane: Hi there guys—thanks for talking to us!
Eddy & Adam: Of course! Thank you for having the fansite - we are honored!
Diane: All right, I know we only have a short time, so let’s begin with the obvious: Everybody and his brother wants to know what the next season will be like now that the curse has ended. Is it safe to assume that fairy tale characters might venture out into the wider world to some extent?
Eddy: I would say that the first step is, “Can we cross the Storybrooke line? What will happen if you do that?” What do you say, Adam?
Adam: There’s a lot that has changed in our world with magic coming to Storybrooke. But at the same time, the show will continue to do many of the things it did before, which is telling stories where characters are welcome to go into other lands, but hopefully in a new way.
Diane: So the new magic might be just as restrictive as Storybrooke was with the curse, but also expansive sometimes in that you can traverse different worlds?
Adam: The stories we’re telling will be in the same format where you can flash back between time and place. But as far as what happens in Storybrooke with magic and your ability to come and go, those new rules and paradigms for alliances in Storybrooke are what we’re planning to explore in the first two episodes of the season. Very quickly, you should get an understanding of what Season 2 will be like and what the characters are going to have to deal with.
Diane: One thing we know for certain, though, is that the Storybrooke characters now have their memories back. Is that always a good thing?
Eddy: I think that’s a great point. I mean, if you were somebody like Archie, for instance, who has a conscience and for twenty years thought he was a psychiatrist—but now he remembers who he was and what he did to Geppetto’s parents. So I think the philosophical debate of “Are they better off knowing or not?” and “Who do we want to be—people of Storybrooke or Fairy Tale Land?” is definitely something we are going to explore this season. I don’t think it’s as easy as we would assume it would be.
Diane: I’ve heard that both of you are fans of the show Breaking Bad. Might the breaking of the curse and the return of memories have a gritty effect on some characters? My mind wanders to a character like Sidney who’s been something of a mole. He’s Regina’s henchman, her mirror, and he’s been slavishly in love with her all this time. Could he start to feel really sorry for himself and turn very bad?
Adam: The answer to that is, if you look at all of the characters, they’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that their lives were ripped away from them 28 years earlier. What’s happened in the subsequent 28 years? Their time in Storybrooke, while cursed, was real. So all their experiences and memories, all the things they did or didn’t do—whether influenced by a curse or not—are as real to them as their lives prior to that. So what we have now is potentially a new character for each one of these characters! They are now products of both their Fairy Tale lives and their cursed lives. What’s that going to mean? How do they come to terms with that? That’s what we’re hoping will be the fodder for drama.
Diane: Might this cause any of the so-called good characters in Storybrooke to “flip”? Like Mary Margaret, for example—will she just be eternally good? She’s actually more transgressive in Fairy Tale Land than she is in Storybrooke.
Eddy: I think again that [laughs] — you know, all the questions you’re asking are the reasons we wanted to break the curse last year!
Diane: [Laughs] Okay!
Eddy: We wanted to get into these interesting character decisions. Mary Margaret is much weaker than Snow White the bandit. But at the same time, Snow White the bandit was only Snow White the mother for 12 seconds before she had to shove her child into a magical wardrobe. Her child is 28 now, and she’s going to realize everything she’s missed. So there are a lot of really complex emotions that they haven’t even begun to understand yet.
Diane: I think that was a brilliant move—it reminds me of that Robert DeNiro movie Awakenings where the main character becomes lucid after a long period of illness. It’s a fascinating concept to play with. So I’m dying to know: Were you aware all along that you would break the curse at the end of Season 1? Or did you surprise yourselves mid-season with that plot twist?
Adam: When we first started, we had no idea that we would get past episode 2! We were very excited that you guys were so supportive of the show and it allowed us to continue. But with that said, we never thought of the show as a “Breaking the curse show.” We always knew that we wanted to deal with that earlier than you might have thought we would. Because for us, there’s a lot more we want to mine and a lot more stories we want to tell beyond just the “Will they or won’t they break the curse?” The scariest thought—breaking the curse—for us usually brings the most exciting results.
Diane: Well I have to say that my jaw just dropped. You blew me away when you dared to break that curse so soon! I know that you worked on Fantasy Island and Lost, and these are shows where people are pretty much held hostage. It’s that classic Gilligan’s Island effect where you have an ensemble cast and you keep creating situations for these “stuck” people to deal with. So when you removed your own restrictions, I thought “Oh my god—what are they going to do now?”
Eddy: Well you know, we’re big fans of painting ourselves into a corner and seeing what happens! We have a really exciting plan for Season 2, and we hope people like it. But for us, when we set out to do this show after Lost, we wanted to do something that was fun and totally original, and we feel like we have to keep the show moving forward.
Diane: So why did fairy tales attract you? I know you had this idea brewing for a pretty long time. Did you only pitch it to ABC?
Eddy: Yes. We came up with the idea 9 years ago—we’d both just read that Bruno Bettelheim book.
Adam: The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.
Eddy: So we started talking about how both of us realized that fairy tales were not only the first stories we’d heard, but in a lot of ways they taught us about structure and morals and character. And we discussed what we loved about them, which is the fact that in those worlds anything can happen. One week you could write an episode about a dwarf and it could be funny, and the next week you could write about the Evil Queen and it would be a completely different tone. Creatively, we liked being able to have that freedom. Then we talked about how hard it must be to be the Evil Queen in a place where there are only happy endings! Everything that she tries to make happen there fails. So where’s the one place that the Evil Queen could win? That has to be our world. That was the original idea we had years ago but at the time, pre-Lost, we were really young writers and people weren’t ready for the idea. Then when we got off Lost, we pitched it to ABC, and they immediately loved it.
Diane: They did? They didn’t look at you cross-eyed or anything? They just said, “Yay, fairy tales!”
Eddy: They were our biggest supporters. Truly, in every step of the way. Disney not only “got” it, but allowed us to take their most beloved characters and make them killers. You know, to say that the Magic Mirror was once a Genie and he killed Snow White’s father. And they were like, “Great! Go forward.”
Diane: Wow, that’s amazing. I noticed last season that Emma Swan and David Nolan seemed the most “frozen” as characters because they were caught in certain circumstances, yet they achieved the biggest breakthroughs. With their memories back, David knows he’s Prince Charming and Emma is aware that fairy tales are real. Will Emma continue with that arc? She’s a believer now, but only for the five minutes at the end of the season. Will she start to embrace the Fairy Tale world?
Eddy: I would be awfully disappointed if I were a fan and we come to Season 2 and Emma doesn’t believe again! The real thrust for Emma as a character is someone who has spent her entire life searching for her parents. What happens when you find them and they’re your age? In her mind, she has probably run every scenario. This is not one of them!
Diane: Right! [Laughs] In our world you get Prozac for that…
Eddy: Exactly! So I don’t know if she’ll get magical Prozac or not. And as far as David goes, I think he obviously was cursed and had a very tough year. Now that he knows who he is, the exciting thing for us is: What happens when Prince Charming comes to Storybrooke?
Diane: To me, he seems the most opposite of his Fairy Tale self in Storybrooke.
Eddy: In Fairy Tale Land, Prince Charming is, well, Prince Charming! He’s perfect. So what makes him cursed in our world is to be a flawed person. He’s a normal man - he isn’t the super human that we’re used to.
Diane: Most fans, if I ask them who are the main characters of the show, will say Emma, Snow and Prince Charming. Will that focus change at all in Season 2, or will they still be the most prominent players of good?
Adam: It’s going to be similar to what we did last year, in that they are the central core of our show, along with the Evil Queen and Rumpel, and how their lives all intertwine. But like Season 1, there are other players who will come out of the woodwork who will have an impact on our core group.
Eddy: And I would also add to that core group Henry as well as Rumpelstiltskin and the Evil Queen. Because I feel that a lot of Season 1 was finding out about the Evil Queen and Rumpel. I think there’s much more to tell about both of them this year.
Diane: Well I, for one, I’m just dying to know how you’re going to keep Regina and Mr. Gold from nuking the free world, now that they both know who each other are! But I guess you can’t really tell us, can you?
Eddy: I could tell you this: Gold can’t just let it stand that she locked up Belle for 20 years and didn’t tell him!
Adam: This is something I’d be very disappointed with if we didn’t deal with it very soon…
Diane: Oh boy!
Eddy: So they might just have to go nuclear!
Diane: Ah, that’s right! Will Mr. Gold and Regina have any competition in the field of evil in Season 2?
Eddy: I hope so! It’s Season 2!
Diane: I saw the flash of that hook in the preview trailer. I have to assume that Captain Hook is evil…
Eddy: Well evil is in the eye of the beholder. But he is a pirate!
Diane: I heard once that Eddy’s favorite fairy tale character is Peter Pan, but that you couldn’t get the rights to feature his character yet. But once I saw the flash of that hook, does that mean you did get the rights to work with Neverland characters?
Eddy: Yes, that’s exactly right. We now can do Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and all of their cohorts in Neverland.
Diane: And I’ve heard about of a menagerie of other characters: Ariel, Aladdin, Mulan, Lancelot, etc. That must be a huge challenge to keep all of these ensemble stories balanced and all of these balls in the air.
Eddy: Yeah. [Laughs] Yes it is!
Diane: Do you assign different writers to different characters, or how does that work?
Eddy: We have a really great team of writers. It’s a team effort, and everyone works on every episode. We’ll have an idea, let’s say for instance, the Red Riding Hood episode—we all decided in the room, “Wouldn’t it be great if she’s the Werewolf?” So we all work on it together. And then Jane [Espenson] will go off with the work we did and write the episode. It’s kind of a rotation throughout the year of writers, but it’s really a collaborative thing.
Diane: I LOVE the Red episode! Are you influenced at all by ratings for a character? If your ratings spike during a given week that has featured a certain character, do you then write more episodes for them?
Adam: No, the ratings can change for virtually a billion reasons. It’s hard to put stock in them. We really try to focus on what are the stories that make the most sense for this world that we’ve created. We’re very, very lucky to have this incredible ensemble of actors to play these characters. They’re so good that every week we want to write for all of them! We want them all to do amazing things.
Eddy: And for us, in the case of Meghan, we just really liked her! We started giving her more and more to do in each episode. We always wanted to get to her story because she’s Little Red Riding Hood, but we thought we should introduce her to the audience for a while so by the time we reveal her story, everyone’s comfortable with who she really is.
Diane: One of the reasons I love her story is because that darkness, that primal character, is actually inside of her. She’s hard to peg as good or bad. But you want to love her anyway! That’s one of the nuances I love about the whole show—it’s the reason we love Rumpel/Mr. Gold. We know he’s redeemable at some level, but oh god—we’re fearing for Belle! None of us can see how that love affair will work now that he’s unleashed magic!
Eddy: We’re going to have to find out. Perhaps he might have to give her a mix tape!
Diane: [Laughs] Poor Belle! She just got out of the psych ward!
Eddy: Yeah, she picked someone hard to love.
Diane: Oh, but he does have a lot of fans, let me tell you!
Adam: He is definitely a favorite of everyone. What Robert Carlyle does to the role is just ART.
Diane: I’m still bitter that he didn’t get an Emmy for it, but I’m in therapy now to let that go…
Adam: We are as well. He totally, totally, totally deserves that nomination. As does the rest of the cast.
Diane: I heard he was your first pick for the role—is that true?
Adam & Eddy: [In conjunction] Oh yeah!!
Adam: We’ve been huge fans of him forever, and we always wanted him on Lost, but he’d never been available. And when we were ready to do the Pilot, he was the first and only name that came to mind.
Diane: Had you intentionally cultivated a relationship with him so that you could hopefully bring him into the show?
Adam: No, we’d never met him! We just finished the script and sent it to him, and we just hoped he’d be interested!
Eddy: Just blind luck! Stupid naivety—we wrote this for Robert Carlyle, and we had it sent to his agent who told us “Well, he’s really picky, so I don’t know…” And then he read it and liked it, and the next day we were skyping with him in Glasgow. We were just so honored that he would do it! You know, sometimes you write parts for people and their spirit kind of guides you. But to actually GET the people that you write them for is an honor and it’s humbling.
Diane: This is PROOF that the fairies were on your side! I swear to god!
Eddy: It was! We believe that all the time. You know what they say, “Don’t work with dogs and children,” but in the Pilot we worked with fairies, dogs and children, and somehow it all came together.
Diane: And dwarves—and it works! A lot of fans want to see more of Grumpy and Nova. That episode broke my heart! Will we see more of Grumpy in future episodes?
Adam & Eddy: [In unison] Absolutely!!
Diane: And of course a lot of fans love the Mad Hatter.
Adam: How could you not?
Diane: He’s the world’s favorite sociopath. Will we see more of his tortured soul in Season 2?
Adam: We will indeed.
Diane: Are there any other surprises you can give us—hints or teasers for Season 2?
Adam: As you may know, we’ll be seeing Aurora and Mulan.
Eddy: And we can tease that rather quickly in the first batch of episodes you’ll see how Rumpel met Regina — or actually, how Regina met Rumpel…
Diane: Ooh, I can’t wait!! Now Keegan mentioned to me that she feels the Blue Fairy and Rumpel have shared a certain history — will that pan out more in Season 2?
Eddy: We saw some of that history in The Return episode when we realize that she gave the magic bean that allowed Baelfire to go away. I think that’s what started his hatred of the fairies.
Diane: Will we see more fairy action in Season 2?
Eddy: Yes, I think we will.
Diane: And what about Henry — he’s one of the few characters who’s been fully aware of Fairy Tale Land as well as Storybrooke all along. The breaking of the curse seems like it would be his dream come true, but it could be a whole new set of darkness for him. Will we see a different arc of growth for Henry this season?
Eddy: I think with Henry there’s a real sense of getting what you want, but it’s not what you thought it would be. He just assumed that when the curse broke, he would end up in the Enchanted Forest and be learning how to be a knight. That is not what the case seems to be so far. I think right now for Henry there’s probably a joy in the fact that he was right—he’s not crazy, this IS his mom, his mom’s the savior, and this IS his life.
Diane: I can definitely see that for him. Now many of the fans have been wondering if you’ve ever read the fan theories that have appeared on our fansite.
Eddy: We’ve seen the site — but I didn’t realize there were fan theories there. Do we have fan fiction?
Diane: [Gasps] Oh my lord! Check out the website — there’s a ton of fan fiction and theories, and sometimes they’re right! Like one fan pegged that August was Pinocchio long before the truth came out.
Adam: Well I would say that if people are inspired by the show to go and create their own fan fiction, that is fantastic, and we encourage it! That’s so cool.
Diane: I realize you guys have to go soon, so I have one last thing — the fansite really supports Robert Carlyle’s charity, With Kids. If you have anything that you might be willing to donate for the auction, it would really help — a pencil, a mug, anything...
Eddy: Yes, we’d be happy to donate.
Adam: Why don’t you coordinate with our office and we could get you an autographed copy of a script?
Diane: That would be fabulous! All of the proceeds will go to the charity.
Eddy: Again, we really appreciate how much support you’ve given us and the show, and we want you to know that we’re grateful for it and inspired by it! The whole staff and crew and everybody is totally aware of what you guys do.
Adam: We only get to do this because of you guys, so thank you!
Diane: Well I just want you to know that 99% of that effort is Gareth Hughes. He’s your hero! He created the site and runs it, and he’s the heart and soul of our effort.
Eddy: Oh yes, we know! Gareth Hughes is definitely in the Hall of Fame of Fans. Everybody knows what he does for the show.
Diane: Yay! Thank you so much — we love you guys — do great work!
Adam & Eddy: Thank you, and good to meet you!
A huge thank you to Eddy and Adam for taking time out of their insanely busy schedule to chat with us. We cannot even begin to descibe how excited the whole team has been about this interview. You are legends!
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