'Once Upon a Time': Victoria Smurfit wants to be friends with Cruella De Vil

A chat with Victoria Smurfit about inhabiting the baddie but goodie Cruella De Vil

Victoria Smurfit's interpretation of Cruella De Vil, and by extension the character set up by co-creators Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis, may have been one of the few villains on "Once Upon a Time" who was not sympathetic at all.

But she was fun.

The show tempted viewers with a possible Cinderella-like story line: Poor Cruella, locked indoors by her evil stepmother and watched over by two mean Dalmatians. But that was a clever smokescreen to the real problem.

In Storybrooke, the villain wanted to kill the Author of the fairy tales, held a kid at gunpoint and even subdued a dragon. She also did it with a souped-up 1920s car and a flashy fashion sense all her own.

Her place in folklore did not seem to be as "magical" as many of the other characters, but Smurfit and the showrunners pulled that off well, giving her a power to rival her queens of darkness cohorts. In a chat before last Sunday's revealing episode -- so no chance of spoilers for the late DVR crowd -- Smurfit talked a bit about Cruella, the show in general, and how she would like to have seen her character evolve.

What was you relationship with Cruella De Vil before getting the role?

I remember being terrified of her as a child from the cartoon. That's what I knew. And I remember watching Glenn Close in it, but I couldn't revisit Glenn Close's version once I was offered the show. She's one of my favorite actresses on the planet, and I thought, I was too scared. I was far too intimidated with what she did. You just can't. I felt an enormous sort of responsibility because she's so iconic.

It was exciting to step into her [Cruella's] 6-inch heels and her blood diamonds and her furs and just run with it because she's got such a free license with her humor, and Eddie and Adam have given her this back story that's so extraordinary and surprising and intense. But I didn't know about that when I came on board. They've brought her back to 1920s England and taken their own imaginative liberties. I think it'll go to folklore and we'll all just assume that that's what happened. But, yeah, it's very scary and very exciting and I adore her. I think it's fabulous. I want to be her friend!

Really?

Yes! If only to steal the clothes, darling. You've got to have chutzpah to wear what she does. You can't be shy!

What did you find about her and her history that may have thrown you?

If you have any ideas of where she comes from or where she's going to, you're wrong. I had ideas about how it would play out and I was highly wrong. It's so mind-boggling and eye-watering what they bring her through. You find out that she had her agenda the whole time, and she puts her plan in action to get what it is that she wants. They bring her through this twisty path and an intense relationship. The Author is key for her and they had a life together in 1920s England. And how that evolved is how she ends up in the trio of evil, the queens of darkness. She saw her opportunity to get back what he took.

In terms of the show itself, what did you think about it?

It's fascinating because there's no stone left unturned, nowhere that you can't go with it -- so there's no wrong. It's such an incredible concept and it's delivered and executed so well. The actors -- everybody plays it for real. Though you're in a fairy tale, it's very much real emotions and real life and real pain and real sorrow and real evil. Because it's TV, it seems like the perfect match for that. I was laughing with Adam thinking how on Earth I'm going to go back to procedurals. 'Darling, where on Earth were you at, oh, eight hundred hours?' [The show] is so freeing for the actor. If the concept of the actor is a small child playing in an arena, it would be the embodiment of that -- the whole show. With the green screen and the fairy tales, you have to rely enormously on you imagination and not be scared to fail. Just throw it all out there.

So for Cruella, you mentioned that you didn't look too closely at Glenn Close's performance, but you embodied the character so well.

I looked at the original cartoon for sure because I wanted to make sure that I got her stance and her shape and how ... I sort of stood with my arm up to indicate the cigarette holder. There's always a hip jutted out cause she's so angular. I wanted to keep her angular and, I keep saying, osteoporosis-y. There's angles and edges to her at all times. I wanted her to be recognizable as the cartoon.

Where would you have liked to have seen the character go?

I had it all wrong. I was thinking far too small. The boys were thinking far bigger than I was. But I always wanted to see where you saw her just sitting in front of a mirror, wiping her lipstick off and pulling her hair out and just deconstructing. I really wanted to see her deconstruct, but actually what they did is much smarter, and you see her construct.

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