The new season of last year’s biggest breakout new drama Once Upon a Time will be more ambitious and more intense, particularly during the first batch of season 2 episodes, say showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Below, the writer-producers tease Sunday’s premiere and beyond (don’t worry, no spoilers here), talk about the overall changes coming to the show, and reveal what they absolutely cannot do with Cinderella.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First, talk about the decision to end the first season with something people thought would end the series — breaking the curse.
ADAM HOROWITZ: We never thought of this show as the “breaking the curse” show. There were places we wanted to go beyond that. We knew people would think that [storyline] is something that’s going to drag on for years.
But you couldn’t tell viewers it was going to get broken or else it would have spoiled the finale.
EDWARD KITSIS: Breaking the curse at the end of season 1 was always the goal because it felt like it would enable us to dig deeper in season 2 about who these people are.
HOROWITZ: There were two big things in season 1 for us: Breaking the curse and Emma believing — which was the other thing I could sense the audience was going to get impatient about.
KITSIS: And her [revelation] had to come from Henry. He had to make her believe. It couldn’t just be, ‘Oh my God, Ruby, you’re right!’
HOROWITZ: There’s so much we feel like we can do with these characters now that the curse is broken, now that they know who they are. Whereas season 1, to us, it felt like it built to get us to this place.
With the curse broken, are they still trapped in Storybrooke?
HOROWITZ: That’s an excellent question. Whether they can come and go and what leaving means is something that we’re addressing pretty much out of the gate.
KITSIS: Since “Magic Is Coming,” there will be a whole different vibe to Storybrooke this year.
Now that magic has been released, is magic just in Storybrooke, or is it in, say, Portland?
KITSIS: I’ve seen a lot of people in Portland who believe magic is already there, they don’t need us to bring it. What happens when you introduce something new to a new place is exactly what the first couple of episodes will deal with.
HOROWITZ: The way magic works in our world, the rules with which it’s operating, and the way it affects our characters is different than in fairy-tale land.
A couple of actors on the Once Upon set said that this year seems “bigger.” Obviously certain costs go up each year, but were you also given more money to put on the screen?
HOROWITZ: The ambition of this season is larger than season 1. We have been allowed to do more at the start of the [season]. Without addressing the budget, everybody at the studio is on board with this as a big-canvas show… A lot of it actually is the learning-curve aspect of season 1, where we figured out what we can do and how to do it well. We learned how to maximize our bang for our buck. The biggest key is time. If we can figure out our stories far enough in advance, the more time our effects team and department heads will have.
KITSIS: And [visual effects] technology continues to improve, which helps us … Every week we try to paint ourselves into a corner and have a potential shark-jumping moment and move past it. We’re always trying to make the show something new and something fun without changing the dynamic. There’s also certain ideas that we don’t chase down like we did last year — we know that’s not what our show is now, so let’s stay on this track.
Another thing the actors said is they felt this season is more “grounded.” Obviously you’re not putting Prince Charming’s head on a spike, but is that accurate?
HOROWITZ: I think part of what they’re reacting to is we come in this year into a very tense situation and by end of the premiere it’s even more intense. We didn’t have to set up the characters and situation. So this season we could dive right into the reality of what’s happening. The emotional intensity is ratcheted up.
So now there’s three characters that most of the actors will play in season 2. There’s their current new post-curse Storybrooke selves and, in flashbacks, their pre-curse fairy-tale land selves and their cursed Storybrooke selves.
KITSIS: Yes. We’ve made nothing easy.
HOROWITZ: But hopefully cool.
Does that complexity concern you?
KITSIS: Although the show is getting more complex, the story is told through the character prism and is not about you having to remember a lot of exposition. So they get to see Rumpelstiltskin before he was the Dark One, when he was a coward. So when you see him being frightened you understand it. It’s not like he went underground where he was handed a manila envelope and we don’t tell you what’s in the envelope [for several episodes/seasons].
HOROWITZ: We made a conscious decision in season 1 to lay it all there. So we’re not in a confusing haze of trying to figure out a world.
What’s been the biggest challenge of season 2?
HOROWITZ: Honestly, the same as season 1: What’s the next story we’re dying to tell and dying to kill ourselves to tell it on our schedule and with our constraints? What’s the episode that will make everybody in the writer’s room have writer’s envy and will want to write that episode because it’s going to be the coolest one we’ve ever done?
Here’s what I find interesting about the characters you’re adding this season. Mulan is a Chinese historical figure. Captain Hook is an early 20th century literary creation and Lancelot is a fifth-century possible historical figure. Those aren’t fairy-tale characters.
KITSIS: Go back and look at the pilot when you see Henry’s book and the book flips [through the pages of illustrations from different stories]. Also the episode with the Mad Hatter when you see all the doors [to other worlds]. If you Tivo-pause those doors there are some that look different than what you might think.
HOROWITZ: Fairy tales are ground zero. They’re the first stories we hear … Will Chewbacca show up in Storybrooke? Probably not, because that’s a Lucasfilm property.
KITSIS: But he’s welcome to!
You play a lot with Disney characters. What’s something you’re not allowed to do?
KITSIS: Cinderella is not going to be doing an 8-ball in a Boogie Nights scene.
But you wouldn’t write that anyway.
HOROWITZ: You get the sense of where the line is and you try to push as far over that as you can without going too far. We want to do cool dark stories, but we don’t want to sully the characters. We had Snow “under a curse” and not behaving as herself, capture and torture a guard with an axe and threaten him. It was very real to what our Snow was doing at the time, but it’s not something traditionally Disney would want to do with that character.
KITSIS: That was our Quentin Tarantino moment.
HOROWITZ: And we had things like the Red Riding Hood episode where she kills her boyfriend and eats him. We’re getting families to watch this, but we were able to get the dark things we wanted to do.
KITSIS: For us it’s about character. Everybody has darkness in them.