Once Upon A Time interview: Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis, Rebecca Mader

At this year's Wondercon in April, Laura chatted to Once Upon A Time showrunners about season 3, the show's characters, and fairy tales...

Warning: contains spoilers for Once Upon A Time season 3.

Once Upon A Time‘s third season was an epic one which included both an outright evil Peter Pan and a very human Wicked Witch. At this year’s Wondercon in Anaheim, we got to sit down with OUaT’s showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and actress Rebecca Mader to discuss to gingers, family, bad motivations, old favourites, and the difference between “evil” and “wicked.”

You have done a great job in taking really good characters and making them not so good and taking bad characters and giving them really justifiable motivations – but not all of your bad characters, right? Pan, we were never really sympathetic to him.  Do you want us to view the Wicked Witch sympathetically?

Edward Kitsis: You know, that’s a really good question. You know, Pan – what we loved… to us, you know, anyone who wants to live 14 forever is the most selfish person in the world. And then when we knew that he was Rumple’s dad… we wanted his end-goal to be self-preservation. We loved the idea of just selfishness as opposed to world domination. And the Wicked Witch, I think if you felt for her in the episode It’s Not Easy Being Green, then you are going to feel for her. If not, then you want her to die.

Ad – content continues below

Adam Horowitz: As far as the Witch goes, I think we have shown some of the past that shaped her into who she is, and we delved more into her and what she’s doing and why… It is up to the audience to decide whether that is acceptable or not. Yes, you know she is very wicked, and so many of our so-called “evil” characters or “bad” characters, they take adversity and these things that would happen to all of us and they react in a different way. And hopefully you understand their reaction, even if you don’t condone what they do.

What’s the difference between “evil” and “wicked”?

Rebecca Mader: Well, I wanted to differentiate the Wicked Witch from the Evil Queen because Lana [Parilla] is so good and so strong. You know, she is the evil Queen, and I watched 53 of the episodes in two and a half weeks before I started [playing the Wicked Witch]. And you know, we’re sisters, but I don’t want to be the same. In England [this interview was given in California], “wicked” is a very popular word and I still use it to this day, like “Oh, wicked!” But “wicked” also means a bit naughty and a bit cheeky, so I was like “Ooo! I am going to add that and be a little bit naughty.” Make it a little bit saucy and “How’s your father?” And I think that differentiated the Queen from the Wicked Witch. A tongue-in-cheek-ness to it.

You know, she does seem to be having a good time, which is a bit weird.

Mader: Yeah, my mum said, “You were so awful – that is just so good.” But I liked the funeral [where] she was just a great gatecrasher and she’s just like, you know, “Did I miss the speeches?” She is just so sarcastic and awful that it’s just so fun to play.

Whenever you play a bad guy, of course, you have to feel justified in what you are doing, but stepping back now and looking at your character from the outside, do you think she is actually justified in her actions in the story?

Ad – content continues below

Mader: I mean, yes, it’s radical, but I had to feel a way to feel that justification, otherwise I would just feel mean. But I do actually think she is justified, especially in 3.16. She didn’t even know she was adopted. And finding out that late is messed up, and then the abuse from her father and the abuse and the pain, I think that was the catalyst. I mean, her life has been crap, being given up by her mother. And instead of talking to a therapist, she just shut down, and it is just building and building into revenge because she can’t cope with it correctly. If it were me, I would have sat down and drunk a cup of tea, gotten a therapist. But she didn’t make that choice.

And I was able to use past experiences of being wronged and feeling jealous and feeling cut out, you know. I was bullied a lot growing up from the age of 4 to 14, and that was some really yummy stuff I was able to use for this character. It was really cathartic. (laughs)

You were bullied?

Mader: In England, it’s really not cool to have red hair and so I was bullied for my hair, and I have been this tall since I was 11 – I was the person that was the tallest in my year – and I was heavier and I had acne on my chest and back. Girls would pick on me and have a boy come kick me at lunchtime. I had a difficult time at school and I’m grateful for it because if I had grown up a pretty, skinny girl at school, I would have become a different person. I think I had to develop different aspects of my personality: I developed a sense of humour, I worked really hard at school, and I became a more well-rounded person. And I think it’s made me a better actor.

You always meet people who have just always been gorgeous, and it’s just not as interesting to me. There is just no story, and that’s one of the reasons why I like this character: she has been through so much, and I could relate to that. And I think the fans can relate to that, especially some of the kids who have been going through this [kind of stuff] stuff.  It’s been really cool because, at first, when I got the part, Adam and Eddie were like “Get ready for hate mail, and I thought “Oh, no! I don’t want to get lots of hate mail” because I was worried… because actors can feel bullied on Twitter. But I’ve had the opposite experience where people have been really positive. And I think because they wrote the character so well and wrote the back story, people have been able to feel for my character rather than just thinking, “Oh, you bitch! Get away from me!” It’s a bit more interesting [than that].”

Can you talk about the decision to kill Bae?

Ad – content continues below

Horowitz: You know, this is not something we take lightly. We love the character, we love Michael Raymond James. But when you are telling a large serialized story like we’re endeavoring to do, there are ups and downs in that story for these characters, and this was one of the most difficult things we’ve had to do on the show in the entire run.

Kitsis: When he lost Emma, and Henry at the end of the first eleven (episodes) and they went to New York, we loved the idea of him going down the same path his father did which was “I will do anything to get with my son, no matter the cost.”  And then realizing that his father sacrificed himself for him – so the person that he always thought was a coward finally redeemed himself – so Neil had to honour that. And we like that kind of history repeating itself and then not. So, unfortunately, that meant he had to die.

Horowitz: You know, the ripples of the death have not stopped being felt, and if you’ve been watching this season, I think you will see that play out.

Are we going to see August again?

Kitsis: Not this year. But definitely. We love Eion Bailey and we love the character, so he is always on our mind.

Horowitz: August is on our mind, and we will try to continue to try incorporate him in the show.

Ad – content continues below

How far ahead do you plan the stories?

Horowitz: I would say this: if we are lucky enough to continue for however many years we’ll try to attack that. You know, we have a broad sense of where we want the show to end, whenever that may be, but we can really only attack it one season at a time. And so what we try to do is plan out the arc of one season at a time, and hope there will be other seasons so we can set up storylines for that season. Do we know what seven will be like? No. Do we have an idea of where we would like to end up? Yes.

Were you a fan of The Wizard Of Oz or Wicked before the show?

Mader: Yes, I love the musical. I’m a huge musical person. And I love the original movie, although I watched it too young. The Wicked Witch of the West really give me some serious nightmares. I think I watched it when I was five or something stupid, so I didn’t sleep for a long time. And I love that I’ve gone from being terrorized by someone and now paying it forward and terrorizing other people. I’m now giving other children nightmares; what were the odds?  Talk about coming full circle! But I’ve always been a fan of franchise. It’s crazy that I’m playing it. Someone said , “Do you realize the gravity of playing such an iconic character?” and I was like, “No.” Not until two episodes in, and I realized it is an iconic character. “My God! And what if I have messed it up?” It didn’t really sink until I had established the character, when I thought, “Oh, my God! This is a really big deal! [But] I’m glad I didn’t get into my head about it because I just went in very free about it, like “I’m just going to create it and it is going to be great. And luckily, I am glad how it turned because normally, I normally hate watching myself. But I’m very pleased with how the character turned out.

Why do you think parenthood is such a strong motif in this show?

Kitsis: Well, I think there are no greater stakes than family. I think family is a very universal theme and the things that are interesting about fairy tales is they tell us how to live our life, (including how) to live with family or how to deal with loss of a family member. And for us, this is always about a dysfunctional family trying to come together and trying to get their happy ending.  And you know, it just it’s more emotional. If Peter Pan was just some really snotty kid, at the end the day, that doesn’t mean anything. But when you realize he’s Rumple’s father and you go back to everything Rumple’s ever done – I don’t want to be coward, I don’t want to be like my dad, the fact that he let Bae go and it drove him nuts, that he what he did to his son  what his father did to him—it makes it richer. If he was just some guy named Steve, who cares?

Ad – content continues below

Horowitz: And that’s not to say that everybody has to be related or any of that, but that that kind of bond, the familial bond, is so strong and so powerful that there’s no greater stakes, for us at least, to think about when you’re writing. Which is, you know, how you do you interact with your family, how do you raise a family, how do you be part of a family, or how do you find a family? Because the family doesn’t have to be blood. You can find a family and that’s the greatest thing to see with characters, is when they find each other and they can come together and form their own family.

And I think fairy tales are very ripe for that because, in them, parents are often missing or not very good people. 

All: (laughs)

Thank you very much!

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.