With the first season of Once Upon A Time about to be released on Blu-ray and DVD, we catch up with acclaimed actress Ginnifer Goodwin to discover more about the fantasy show. What does Ginnifer think of the two characters she plays? Why does she think the series has become so popular? And what secrets can she uncover about the first season? Read on for the answers…
Congratulations on a hugely successful first season, Ginnifer. Why do you think Once Upon A Time has had such an impact on audiences around the world?
I’m incredibly proud of this show and I’m ecstatic that it’s done so well. Why is it popular? Well, I think it’s down to the fact that we’ve all grown up loving these fairytales and we can all relate to the characters. Once Upon A Time has taken the fairytale stories from our childhood, filled in the blanks and given the characters some relatable flaws. It’s like a fan-fiction mash-up.
What is the atmosphere like on the set in Vancouver?
The atmosphere on set is wonderful. We’re like a theater company and every week we get to come and play. It’s amazing. I’m having the time of my life on the show and it’s incredibly thrilling to work with such a talented cast in such an amazing city. It’s truly magical.
What are the benefits of working on a television show compared to a movie?
TV lets you dig your elbows into a character and a story, but movies don’t allow that. With a film, you have an hour-and-a-half to tell a story. However, you have many, many hours to tell that story within episodic television. I think there is something really special about growing with a character on a TV show and exploring everything around them. That’s something you don’t have the luxury of being able to do with a film.
How challenging is it to play two characters – Snow White and Mary Margaret – in Once Upon A Time, even though they are essentially the same person?
It’s incredibly challenging and inspiring – and it certainly contributed to my wanting to be a part of the show. However, I don’t think about the fact that they are the same person because that is obvious to the audience. They can tell it’s essentially the same person because I’m playing both parts.
Do you try to act away the similarities between you and the characters you play in the show?
There are certain things about myself that are undeniable. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to act them away. That’s why I forget about the similarities and focus on where the characters differ.
Is that something you’ve always done, irrespective of the character you’re portraying?
Yes, that’s how I work with all of my characters. I don’t play the qualities that I already have in common with my characters, because those things are inherent. Instead, I focus on the qualities that I need to add on top.
What physical changes do you undergo to contrast Snow White with Mary Margaret?
We do a lot of costume and makeup work to distinguish the two characters. Some of the work is done in subtle ways and some is really obvious – but I feel like we have altered the characters enough to distinguish between them. Snow White is in full bloom and Mary Margaret has a long way to go to become comfortable in her own skin.
What can you tell us about the curse that has put the fairytale characters into a reality setting?
The nature of the curse is that the characters have been robbed of their happy endings. For Snow White and Prince Charming, that means we don’t remember who we are or whom we love. If the curse sustains itself, Snow White will never remember that there was a Prince Charming.
Why is everyone affected?
Everyone was punished in the world, including innocent bystanders, but we learn in the pilot episode that it was all about punishing Snow White. It was all about keeping Snow White from her favorite part of love, which is Prince Charming. It’s woven into the fabric of the show to keep these two characters apart – but they are still drawn together.
How did [executive producers and show creators] Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz describe Snow White when you first signed up for the role?
I was delighted when I went into my first meeting with Edward and Adam because they specifically told me that I was not going to look like Walt Disney’s animated Snow White. They explained that we were going to do our own thing with her, which was incredibly appealing to me.
Why do you think it’s been necessary to update Snow White?
We modernized her in many ways because we wanted to make her relatable. As obsessed as I am with all of Grimm’s tales and the Disney princesses, women have evolved so much socially since these characters were created. Women’s role in society is very different now. And anyway, I think it’s fun to add a new twist to them and to update them.
You have an apple tattoo. Isn’t that a little ironic?
I guess so. It’s funny because Mary Margaret has a distaste for apples, but she doesn’t know why. I wonder if she’ll uncover the truth at some point in the season?
Do you show your tattoo in the show?
No, I wish they’d let me show my tattoo in the show – but they don’t. To me, apples symbolize wisdom and purity, but I love the thought that the apple is something Snow White uses as a symbol of survival. This is the thing she overcame. It’s like a reminder to her.
One final question: What secrets can you share about the first season?
I don’t like to give away spoilers to people who haven’t seen the show, so that’s a tough question for me to answer. Without giving too much away, I will say that you will probably throw things at the screen when you see the season finale because it’s so good. I cannot believe where we took the show; it was terribly brave. Everything goes crazy and it’s very unexpected. It’s shocking, but it’s very exciting. I hope you like what you see!
What is your earliest memory of Snow White?
When I was growing up, Snow White was my princess. I don’t know if it was because she was the brunette princess or if I just immediately fell in love with her – but my family raised me on the Disney animated features and I have always admired her. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was Walt’s first animated feature, so she was the first Disney princess. She’s the original and the best.
Do you think your parents knew you’d immediately identify with Snow White?
I’m not sure if my parents showed her to me first for that reason. Perhaps she was the character to whom they figured I could most easily relate to, purely from an aesthetic standpoint. However, I have always loved the character and I really did take to her right away.
Have you held Snow White close to your heart ever since?
Yes, that’s very true. In fact, I dressed up as Snow White for Halloween a few years ago. I have always responded to the story of Snow White, but I would never have analyzed why until Once Upon A Time came along.
Did you research the origins of the Snow White story after landing the role?
I completely dove into the research after I signed up for the show. I looked into the history of Snow White and all of the different versions of the story. However, I consistently found myself looking at what is inherently flawed in her as a character.
Discovering Snow White’s flaws must have been eye opening…
Yes, it was. To be honest, I started to wonder if she was one of the more flawed princesses and if that’s what attracted me to her even more.
What other research did you undertake for the role?
I watched every Snow White movie ever made! I also found it very helpful to read the history of the English-language version of Snow White – and then I studied what great minds have interpreted from these stories.
How did your research affect your portrayal of Snow White?
All of the research definitely affected how I portrayed her. I like to think that Snow White has perhaps got a little bit of a manipulative streak; she tries to pretend she’s as wholesome as the Disney Snow White character, but she’s not.
What can you tell us about Mary Margaret, the other character you play in Once Upon A Time?
For those who haven’t seen the show, Mary Margaret is the character I play in the modern world. Want to know a crazy coincidence about the name? Historians believe that the original Snow White character was based on a Spanish princess called Maria Sophia Margarita, which is a very similar name to Mary Margaret.
Was your character named Mary Margaret on purpose?
Before we began shooting, I said to the creators, “I love that you named Mary Margaret after the inspiration for Snow White.” They said to me, “What are you talking about?” It was a pure coincidence. They had no idea. I told them to go online and look it up – but they kept saying to me, “No, seriously… What are you talking about?” They didn’t believe me for a while, but they eventually read up on the subject.
How does it feel to play Jennifer Morrison’s mother in the show?
Mary Margaret is unaware that she’s had a child, so her maternal instincts are more subconscious than anything. I think that she is honestly drawn to her daughter as almost a peer. Jennifer’s character, Emma, is our only truly original character in the show. She is the long-lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. She is the new fairytale.
What does that mean for the storyline?
Emma lives in this modern time that we call reality. However, it’s not the reality of the fairytale characters. It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens when the two worlds merge.
Why are you such a big fan of princesses?
It was my sister who gave me the idea of wanting to be a princess when I was younger. I remember when The Little Mermaid first came out. I thought I was far too old to watch animated features – but my little sister showed me the movie and I balled my eyes out. I have wanted to be a Disney princess ever since. On a side note, The Little Mermaid made my sister want to be an animator – and that’s exactly what she became.
Does this mean you dreamed about playing Snow White from a young age?
Yes, it was always my dream to play a Disney princess – and now I’m playing Snow White in Once Upon A Time. [Laughing] Dreams really do come true! It’s funny because as an actress in Hollywood, I always thought I’d end up voicing a princess for an animated feature – but I never thought I’d be a live-action princess.
Have you auditioned for many fantasy roles before?
For years and years, I have auditioned for everything under the sun – but I never had any idea that my dream of playing a princess would come to fruition in a live-action television series. Now, I get to play the part all the time, hopefully for years and years. Not only do I get to play such an iconic princess, but she also happens to be my favorite.
What do you like most about your Snow White character in Once Upon A Time?
To be honest, Snow White is an amalgamation of all kinds of qualities I wish I had. That’s why it’s such a joy to play her, especially in this setting.
Do you enjoy the fact that Snow White has the potential to be kick-ass in the show?
Well, she is a little impulsive and impetuous – but that may not always end up being a good thing. It’s fun to play, though.
How does it feel to walk onto the set dressed as such an iconic character from your childhood?
It feels incredible. We’ve not redefined her, but since we’re telling the parts of her story that could conceivably have existed off-page, there hasn’t been any pressure to live up to that iconography. I’m thankful for that, but I’m having a blast.