I had the privilege of speaking with Jennifer Morrison about “Once Upon a Time” at a press roundtable this past weekend during New York Comic Con. Don’t forget to check back later this week for an interview with creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. “Once Upon a Time” airs Sunday nights at 7 on ABC.
Q: What would you say the theme is for this season?
Jennifer Morrison: My instinct is to say relationship because I feel like we spent so much time setting things up in the first two seasons, and not to say there weren’t relational things that were explored, but it’s definitely all happening at a deeper level, and also because of the nature of Neverland, which kind of causes you to go back to your childhood in a sense, and makes you more vulnerable and more emotional and all of those things. I think that it leaves room for all of those relationships to be explored on a deeper level, and so I would say relationship.
So far Emma has had a lot of scenes with Mary Margaret, especially where she wants to be called mom, but she hasn’t had anything with her dad.
Now that he is possibly dying, are we going to see a little bit more?
There’s a little bit more. That is definitely not explored as much as Mary Margaret and Emma, for sure. I’m not sure why, but it’s definitely a slower burn in terms of seeing moments of David and Emma over time. I think part of that, maybe, there is sort of an intrinsic understanding that they have. Emma is more similar to Charming than she is to Mary…I don’t even know which characters names to call them anymore. It’s so confusing!
Emma is more similar to – we’ll go with fairytale – Prince Charming than she is to Snow White in terms of her personality, so I think they have more of an intrinsic understanding of each other, a more unspoken understanding of each other. Whereas Mary Margaret, Snow White, and Emma are constantly trying to work out constantly misunderstanding each other, and that’s where we are seeing their relationship deepen is trying to find their common ground, and trying to find how they connect. I think Snow feels extremely guilty, and her maternal instincts have kicked in in an intense way that also heightens her emotional responses to Emma, which I guess men are just different.
Dad dealing with adult daughter who has relationships.
Well that he gets very protective about. He is not going to have flirting with Emma at all.
Do you have a preference for who you would prefer Emma to be with?
I feel like, and I genuinely mean this like I’m not taking this lightly, I genuinely feel like it’s my job to not have a judgment of that. I feel like as an actor my job is to not judge my character in the first place. That’s kind of the number one rule for me when I take on a character because I play characters – Emma’s pretty easy this way because there’s not a lot for me to look down on her for or potentially judge her for, where is I’ve played characters where I’ve personally might totally look down on certain things that they do. So I’ve had to remove my own judgments from those situation and find what drives them, what inspires them, what caused them to make those decisions that I might not personally have made, and find a way to fill the life that leads to those decisions in a totally justifiable loving way, so that I really truly love the character, even though they may be doing something not so great. In the same way that I feel that that’s an important part of acting, I feel that about the relationships that develop on the show. I don’t write it – thank God because I couldn’t because it’s incredible. My job is to show up every day, and do the best I can to bring her to life. And the best I can do that is to be in the moment of her life and to be fair to the moment of her life, so if I, Jennifer, make judgments about what I think Emma should be doing, then I feel like it starts to violate what I want to do to with the character and keep the character pure in that way.
What do you think the Neverland dynamic has added? What do you think that’s doing for Emma? What do you think it’s doing for the dynamic?
I love Neverland, personally as an actor, because I feel like it’s given me license to be far more vulnerable and volatile with her, and I know I’ve said that before, but I don’t know a better way to rearticulate it. Her life has been so tough, and she’s been so guarded, and she’s worked so hard to survive, and so hard to hang onto any ounce of hope in life based on the circumstances before Henry came to her door that it would not have been real for me to play her in a way where she was like: ‘Great! My son’s here! Oh, my parents! It’s all great!’ That wouldn’t be a far assessment of what this person has become and what they’ve gone through, so there were certain limitations that I had emotionally in terms of expression her because I had to true to her past and true to who she was. And the rules of Neverland have opened that up wide up, and it has given me an opportunity to push her further in every direction. It’s been way more fun for me to be able to explore those extremes in those personalities.
One thing I admired about her, in the beginning, was her reluctance to kind of be thrown into a bit of a heroic role, and eventually she kind of embraced her destiny.
That’s something I totally credit Eddie and Adam with because they totally understand human nature in a particular way where they realize that if this woman had lived her life this way, there is no way she would identify herself as a hero, in any way, and she will always continue to identify herself as a hero or brave or courageous. She just knows how to survive, and she’s always been, as we said in the ‘Lost Girl’ episode, she’s always been an orphan. She’s always been the kid that didn’t mean anything and wasn’t going to mean anything, and so that doesn’t go to go away. It will never go away. I know the crap I went through in junior high and high school that’s still there. It’s not gone. I still have buttons that can be pushed, and things that get under my skin, and things that hurt me, and things that change the way that I think for the rest of my life and have to fight against in certain ways. And so that is always going to be there in her, and that is the honest response of someone who has been through what she’s been through and put in that situation.
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