‘Once Upon a Time’s’ Ginnifer Goodwin talks fairy tales, plus first look at Sunday’s episode
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She’s met Prince Charming and still struggles in achieving that happily ever after. In ‘Once Upon a Time,’ Ginnifer Goodwin plays fairy-tale royalty (albeit, cursed royalty): starring as Snow White and her cursed alter-ego, Mary Margaret. And every week is a swoon-fest/frustration-fest as the iconic love story between her characters and Prince Charming and his amnesiac modern-world persona, David Nolan (played Josh Dallas), gets more tangled.
But the charm is not exclusive to the tortured couple — other fairy-tale characters get the spotlight too. Just last week we learned why Grumpy is grumpy. And in Sunday’s episode, Red (as in Red Riding Hood) wants to live her own happily ever after with her true love. But first she meets Snow White and things get a little bloody (check out this scene from the episode.)
Show Tracker caught up with Goodwin to talk about fairy-tale land and playing Hollywood’s current ‘It’ girl: Snow White. Read on.
Was it a jarring transition to go from a show like “Big Love” to this more family-friendly drama?
I signed on to this show because it was a show that I would have watched incessantly had I not been a part of it. “Big Love” will always have a ginormous chunk of my heart. As my agent said when we read the script for “Once Upon a Time”: This is my “Harry Potter.” This is my getting to satisfy the inner-8-year-old that has been with me for 33 years asking me to play a Disney Princess. I love this genre greatly, and I think that our creators, in turning fairy tales on their head and telling the stories in such an innovative way, it’s really allowed me as an actress to flex my muscles and dive in a way that I don’t know that I’ll ever have an opportinity to play quite like this. It’s a world where anything goes because we’ve created a world with very different rules. And I get to play more than one character — how often does that happen? So the challenges are really satisfying. It’s 100% more challenging than “Big Love.” I mean, “Big Love” had a very different part of me. I also feel that in many ways I was playing a child on “Big Love.” And on this show, I’m playing a women with magical obstacles that are quite outside of any human’s life experience. It really forces my imagination to work in overdrive and overtime.
You mention your inner child wanting you to play a Disney Princess for years. Was Snow White always the princess you clung to?
Oh, yeah. I have to believe that as a child I liked her for aesthetic, shallow reasons because she was the brunet princess. But I can’t say it’s my favorite Disney animated feature at all. I’ve always gone to see the animated features that they’ve re-released recently. I’m always at the El Capitan theater in L.A., and I see them on the big screen, and I buy the new edition. When I saw ‘Snow White’ before the script found its way to my hands, I was looking at it very objectively. I was thinking, you know, while I adore the princess and everything that she stands for, it’s definitely not the most entertaining Disney film.
What’s been your favorite plotline as the series has unfolded? How Grumpy became grumpy?
I’m especially partial to the Snow White/Prince Charming journey, which is why I signed on. Separating myself from the joy I find in being part of that storyline, I would say that I love the Rumpelstiltken-Belle story. I love the idea that he’s the Beast — and why not? There’s nothing in that story that implies that it could not have been the same Beast.
What do you make of the challenges that David and Mary Margaret have been facing this season? It’s worse than Ross and Rachel!
I love their storyline. It’s frustrating to play, and as an audience member, I’m certainly throwing things at the television. But it’s also — I feel it’s so relatable. And I don’t mean because people often find themselves in situations where they’re in love with married men.
Or soon-to-be married men, like in ‘Something Borrowed.’
Or ‘Walk the Line’ … or ‘Big Love.’ Geez. You know, someone pointed out to me how my characters are always invovled in extramartial affairs. It’s awful, right? I don’t condone it!
But I do feel that David and Mary Margaret are going throught a struggle that is relatable. And they are a couple who put obstacles in their own way. I’m finding that I thrive as an actress exploring that person and exploring that couple. It’s interesting because I know in some ways there has been a negative reaction by the public about what David is doing because everyone …
Is upset because he’s married, right?
Right. But people are forgetting that he’s cursed. The thing is, this couple will always put obstacles in their own way because they are cursed. That is what makes them different from their fairy-tale counterparts. In fairy-tale land, external things are always the obstacles. In Storybrook, just like in the modern world, these are people who insist on putting obstacles in their own way. And I think that Mary Margaret is addicted to disappointment so she puts herself in situations that are impossible — and that almost make her happy. Her curse, as inflicted by the Evil Queen, is that just when she’s about to possess her happiness, she finds a way to make things bad for herself and to have those things taken away from her.
I feel that in many ways, she should have forgiven David and been more empathetic to his situation. He did make a mistake, but he’s a good man and he was trying so hard to keep someone from hurting in not telling his wife about the other woman — even though it’s not really his wife. Snow White’s really his wife, and he doesn’t really have any kind of relationship with this woman because all of his memories of his relationship with Katherine are false. But that’s just another example of Mary Margaret keeping herself from happiness because instead of growing and evolving and compromising in relationships in the way that we should in order to make ourselves happy, she has a knee-jerk reaction, when there’s any sign of conflict, to push people away. And that’s her curse. And David’s curse is that he is insecure and he is paralyzed by guilt; he’s so set in doing the right thing that he actually makes everything far too messy. I feel like he sort of stalls like a car when there’s possibility that he’s hurt someone.
We find out how Henry gets the book — from you. But will it come into play how it came into Mary Margaret’s possession?
We haven’t explored that yet, and there’s no way for me to guess because if I were to speculate anything it would end up being the opposite. It will end up being a key plot point. I just assume that she’s always had it and that it was a non-event because I honestly have no idea what the creators are going to do there.
You surely did a lot of research prior to jumping into the role. What did you consider the best interpretation of Snow White?
I watched every Snow White movie ever made because I thought I could steal from people. The one I love the best is Elizabeth McGovern starring in Shelley Duvall’’s ‘Faerie Tale Theatre.’ I think it’s by far the best telling of the story. I read all kinds of versions because this is not a story written by the Grimms. This is a story older than anyone could possibly trace. It’s possible that it was based on a real-life story of a princess named Maria Sophia Maragrita. What is bananas to me about this is I called the creators before we began the show and was like, “I love that you named her Mary Margaret after the woman who could have possibly been the inspiration for Snow White,” and they were like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, you can find online — but most of the pages you have to get translated because they’re in Russian or something — but I had said that Mary Margaret was clearly named after Maria Sophia Margarita. And they were like, “No, seriously, what are you talking about?”
So are you saying you did more research than [creators] Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz?
Ha! I guess — as far as that part goes, maybe. I mean, originally the character was going to be a nun, and that’s why she had the double name. And then when we decided not to make her nun, we stuck with the name. But what I found most helpful was — look, we were all sharing books. I found that the things that affected my process the most were these critical analyses of fairy tales. There are these textbooks that break down what the importance was of each fairy tale in the time they were told. And I found all of that so fascinating. In reading the breakdowns, I read a lot about Snow White’s own vanity and her competition with her mother — or evil stepmother — and that greatly changed how I saw Snow White and understanding what that story was originally meant to teach. Because then I started seeing Snow White as a bit of a spoiled brat when she was younger and she was someone who did cherish the attention she won from her father over the woman that he married. The Grimms’ version tells of Snow White’s own vanity and her not being able to turn down the beautiful comb that was offered to her by the hag or the laces that the hag offeres her to hang around her neck. She was wrapped up in her own beauty. And the message was that her own vanity would kill her. I really liked that idea, and I’ve incorporated it subtly into my characterization.
Were you peeved that you didn’t get an iconic Disney-style costume like some of the other princesses that have passed through?
I wasn’t. I thought about it and, by the way, I’m sure they experimented with the idea. But by the time I was involved in the process and we were all sitting down with the costume designer, there was this idea that we all latched onto which was that Snow White is a child of nature. I really loved this idea that she’s a hippie chick. And I love this idea that she wears white all the time.
When we were talking about her look, in fact, there was no question that we weren’t going to go for the Walt Disney version of the 1930s bob — that we were going to go for something that was more John Waterhouse. We begin this story when she’s awaken by true love’s kiss. At that point, we can all agree that she’s this evolved woman that has really seen the worst that the world has to offer and isn’t it so beautiful that she still believes in love, she still sees the beauty in everything — and doesn’t that make her beautiful? I like the idea that where she comes from is the world of princess-dom and she was this spoiled brat and it took a lot for her to become this evolved woman. I’m not sure where, for instance, the Snow White — the Walt Disney look — would fit into the character we have created. But I feel like you can watch the animated feature and see how his character is a Cliff Notes version to the one seen in ‘Once Upon A Time.’
Do you prefer playing the characters in the modern-day world or do you like traveling back in time?
I prefer fairy-tale land just because it’s so extreme, it’s so dramatic. I come from theater, and doing period stuff is so whimsical and imaginative and so outside any frame of reference than I have ever had so I prefer that just in terms of fun factor. But I find the modern world to be challenging in other ways; I would have taken this character even if it was just to play Mary Margaret because I appreciate her struggle, and I think it’s making me more empathetic. And I really love the modern world because we get to explore the David-Mary Margaret story too.
What do you make of Snow White being everywhere these days? We got two feature films coming out soon.
I don’t know what that’s about! I really don’t. We knew scripts were going around when we started making the show a year ago — I mean, they were already getting going. It’s not like they were inspired by our show or anything. And they’re very different. I think there are more comedic elements to “Mirror Mirror,” and I know that “Snow White and the Huntsman” is more of an action film.
I’m very glad that we’re not all trying to tell the same story. But I don’t know what it is. I understand why society, especially American society, is gravitating toward fairy tales given our economy. We’ve been exploring the world of witches and wizards for years. We’ve been exploring the world of vampires for years. Clearly the public — I mean, I feel like all of this was ushered in by “Harry Potter” — in my own fannish beliefs. But the world has been responding in the last 10, 12, 15 years very strongly to fantasy. I think it’s always a reflection to where we are as a society. In some ways, we’ve exhausted some of these other types of fairy tales and so now we’re going back to the originals. But I don’t know why Snow White, specifically, has become the ‘It’ girl. But good for her.
Speaking of modern-day fairy tales, which fairy-tale ending did you prefer of the following RomComs you’ve appeared in: the one in “He’s Just Not That Into You” or the one in “Something Borrowed”?
Here’s the thing, I think I prefer the “He’s Just Not That Into You” ending. I love the idea that love is right before your eyes; that the love of your life has been right in front of you and you just don’t see it. I love that story.
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— Yvonne Villarreal