Defying the odds, the fairy-tale reimagining Once Upon a Time became a surprise hit, ending its first season in May with a twist that left viewers wanting more. With production about to begin on Season 2, the drama’s creators and stars met with reporters at Comic-Con International to drop a few hints about what fans can expect in the fall.
Created by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis (Lost), the series centers on Emma Swan (played by Jennifer Morrison), a 28-year-old orphan who’s found by the son she gave up 10 years earlier and brought to Storybrooke, Maine, a town populated by fairy-tale characters trapped in our world, forgetting who they really are, because of the Evil Queen’s curse. And only Emma can help them.
The continued success of Once Upon a Time, which was the No. 1 non-sports show on Sunday nights, surprises no one more than its creators and showrunners.
“Everyone predicted us first canceled,” Kitsis said. “We were premiering against the World Series and football and we’re like, ‘OK, we’re dead. Let’s just make sure that the three episodes that air are exactly the way we want.’ In a season willed with surprise plot developments and character revelations, the showrunners said that getting picked up for a second season was the greatest shock.
Much of the show’s success is due to its familiar characters. “We were very fortunate in Season 1 to really do the characters we wanted to do, and Disney was really gracious in allowing us to play with their iconic figures,”
The second season will see the addition of new, yet still familiar, figures. “Captain Hook is a character we’ve wanted on for a while,” Kitsis said, adding that this will be “another bad story for him where he will be tied in to our people.”
Following the major changes at the end of the first season, the established characters still have a lot ahead of them. “They get to talk about things that happened in the past,” Kitsis said. “What happens when you’re confronted with your past now? There’s lot of loss and redemption for these characters still to come.”
The creators would reveal little of what happens beyond the second season, but they teased they’ve already scattered a few Easter eggs. For instance, Henry’s book has a few flying monkeys on the illustrated pages, and there’s a green curtain in the Mad Hatter’s realm. Clearly the world of The Wizard of Oz isn’t far away.
Key to this upcoming season will be the Evil Queen/Mayor Regina Mills, played by Lana Parrilla. With her curse now broken and the memories of Storybrooke’s residents restored, she now finds herself in a dangerous position.
“I think it was about time for the curse to break,” Parrilla said. “I think it was really smart. I think it really opened the door for so many stories. We can go anywhere now — although the first episode does pick up at the end of the finale.”
She said she isn’t sure what will become of her character in the new season. “I think it’s really fun for me to be able to separate the two (Evil Queen and Regina),” Parrilla said. “I’m curious to see how much of the Evil Queen we know from fairy-tale land. That’s gonna be fun to play with.”
Acknowledging that “the research is endless,” Parrilla said she turns to a variety of sources to help shape her character. For example, Hillary Clinton served as a model for Regina’s hairstyle and body language. For the Evil Queen, however, “it was everything from Ursula to family members to Cruella de Vil.”
Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White, also conducted extensive research. “I read every version of Snow White I could come across,” she said. “I studied the Disney animated feature.” She describes Mary Margaret as “sort of her own worst enemy, and someone who “makes just enough excuses not to get what she wants.”
For Goodwin, her Once Upon a Time role satisfies a lifelong dream. “All I ever wanted to do was be a Disney princess,” she confessed.
In the upcoming season, however, Goodwin will blend together the two versions of her character. “It’s far more fun for us now that we broke the curse,” she said. “Now we can all create amalgamations of the characters we played before. It’s gonna be crazy fun. I have no idea how we’re gonna do it.”
Snow White/Mary Margaret will also regain the knowledge that she has a daughter: Emma Swan. “I think it’s going to be extremely complicated,” Goodwin said. “They each missed their first 28 years of being together. … I think that while there’ll be relief, there’ll have to be, on both sides, some resentment, also some confusion, because they’re the same age at this point.”
Prince Charming/David Nolan, played by Josh Dallas, will find himself in the same situation. “He has a daughter that is grown,” Dallas said. “He missed out on her entire childhood.”
He praised Kitsis and Horowitz for keeping Once Upon a Time fresh.
“They’re so creative and they keep changing it up every time,” Dallas said. “I never thought they would have lifted the curse at the end of Season 1, but they did. They changed the whole chemical makeup of the show.”
Once Upon a Time returns Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.