Once Upon a Time is undergoing a major overhaul heading into season 7, which means new characters, new locales, and even a new curse. To keep track of all the big changes, EW will bring you interviews with the cast — new and old — along with executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis over the next two weeks until the ABC fairy-tale drama’s return.
Once Upon a Time may look drastically different in its rebooted seventh season, but the DNA of the beloved fairy-tale drama is still intact.
Here’s where we’re picking up with the new season: After Henry leaves Storybrooke in search of his own tale, he finds a different iteration of Cinderella (Dania Ramirez), with whom he eventually has a precocious daughter, Lucy (Alison Fernandez). But the family is torn apart when a new, yet familiar, curse traps them and a trio of returning characters — former Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla), one-handed pirate Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), and the Dark One Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) — as well as a quintet of new characters (see the full character rundown here) — in the Seattle neighborhood of Hyperion Heights.
On Monday, we gave you a primer on the show’s many changes, but to get more insight on the reasons behind the reboot, EW sat down with executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis for a major deep dive on season 7. [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in two parts, one of which included executive producer David H. Goodman. Portions of these interviews have previously appeared in other stories on EW.]
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the first germ of an idea to take the show in this direction?
EDWARD KITSIS: The first time I really started to think about doing what we’ve been calling the requel — half reboot, half sequel — is around season 4. Every year we kind of reinvent the show, but for us personally, we felt like there was a six-year plan. Either these characters get a happy ending or they don’t, but at a certain point, it’s going to start feeling like we’re just stretching.
ADAM HOROWITZ: So around season 4, when we’d been on for a while and realized it looked like we’d be on for a little while more, the idea of a six-season plan for this first chapter of the story of these characters seemed like the right idea.
KITSIS: And I think for us, personally, we wanted to be able to end the show the way we wanted to with all the actors that we started with in the pilot. We didn’t want to just be like, “Oh, well, these people are sent off to an island and we’re still in Storybrooke.” We wanted to end it the way we envisioned it when we pitched the show. At the same respect, we felt like this was an idea that we still loved, we still had fun doing, we still had fun telling, and it felt like fairy tales in the real world are needed more today than they were when we started seven years ago, so in a world where superheroes can reboot, we thought, “Why not fairy tales?”
You’ve said before that the DNA of the show will still be intact. Can you expand on that?
HOROWITZ: I would never put us in the same category as this, but the analogy could be Star Wars in a sense, which is that you had these first couple of trilogies, they wrap, and now we’re in a new adventure. We have some of the same characters who are carrying over into it, and a bunch of new characters who are telling the story. So the DNA’s the same, and again, we’re not putting our toes in the league of Star Wars. That’s like one of our greatest inspirations ever, but—
KITSIS: But we are saying we’re stealing from their reboots. [Laughs] But I mean the general idea of “Here is Henry, here is Regina, here is Hook, and here is Rumple on a new adventure within a new book with new fairy-tale characters” felt exciting to us.
HOROWITZ: When we talk about the DNA remaining the same, what I think we’re referring to is a few things. One thing we’re referring to is on a literal level. It’s still Henry. He’s older, but it’s still Henry. Then you have Regina and you’ve got Hook and you’ve got Rumplestiltskin, and those characters are all characters we’ve seen before in the first six seasons of the show, but the adventure and the emotional journey of those six seasons, we feel like we wrapped up the way we wanted to at the end of season 6. But now, you get to continue on new adventures with them and with some new characters.
KITSIS: And so what will be the same is we will be going back and forth between flashbacks and in an enchanted forest, and stories in the present modern world.
Via those flashbacks, are we going to see a lot of what has happened in the intervening years?
KITSIS: Yeah, we’re going to be flashing back to the time, as we showed, when Henry left home. We showed the teaser at Comic-Con this year. And we’re going to be flashing back to a new period. So we’re not going to be going back and showing, “Oh, this was the time before the [first] curse.” We’re in a new book with a new land, so we’ll be telling new origin stories as well as Henry’s epic adventure.
The flashbacks we saw in the Enchanted Forest in the finale, was that our Enchanted Forest?
HOROWITZ: This new Enchanted Forest that you glimpsed, as Henry says to Regina before he goes off on his adventures, it’s another realm. It’s another one of these books that has these stories and a different iteration. So, yes, we’re in a new forest.
Tell us about Hyperion Heights and how it’s different from what we were seeing with Storybrooke.
HOROWITZ: The main difference is Storybrooke was a self-contained small town that only contained the fairy-tale characters and they were trapped there. Hyperion Heights is part of Seattle the way Brooklyn is part of New York. We’re in a city now, and it’s more densely populated, and it’s filled with both fairy-tale characters and non-fairy-tale characters, and that’s another interaction and vibe that we didn’t really have in Storybrooke, where it was all the cursed people. So for the first time in the show, we’re really seeing our fairy-tale characters in the mix with real people, so there’s an element of, who is a fairy-tale character, who isn’t a fairy-tale character, and we’re dealing with a villain whose goal is quite different than we saw originally in Storybrooke, it was about trapping everyone in there. In this, we’re going to see that Lady Tremaine wants to push everybody away, wants to gentrify the neighborhood, so that all these characters are separated forever.
Can you speak to how different this curse is?
DAVID H.GOODMAN: In terms of Lady Tremaine’s motivations in Hyperion Heights, she’s sort of Regina Prime. She’s trying to figure out a way to scatter these fairy-tale characters to the wind so they can’t be together. We’ve always seen when these characters get together, they always figure out how to beat the bad guys. She’s learning and standing on the backs of these other curses that have come before her to be as effective a villain as possible.
KITSIS: If she indeed cast it. That is the other thing. We said very clearly in the pilot of Once Upon a Time that Regina cast the curse, but what you will see this season is we don’t necessarily say that in the premiere.
HOROWITZ: So there are mysteries to be solved. What we hope for the audience is when they come in that hopefully we signal right away, and they accept it, is we’re not redoing season 1. There will be elements that are familiar that will echo it, but we’re hoping to take a left turn where we took a right this time.
KITSIS: This curse is going to be designed differently than the last one, and I think with the last one it was very clear it was the Queen and she wanted to keep everyone at a status quo and enjoy their misery every day. We’re going to enter a season much more like we did with the second part of season 3 where we’re not going to actually know who cast the curse and why, and that will be one of the mysteries. One of the other things is Hyperion Heights will much more reflect the world we’re living in today whereas Storybrooke kind of was its own timeless, you know, Capraesque little, small town.
So we’ll actually have technology?
KITSIS: We are going to have technology and juice bars and Instagram and robots.
HOROWITZ: And robots everywhere.
KITSIS: Jetpacks! No, but we are going to have technology.
Is this the type of curse that can be broken by true love’s kiss, or will heroes have to figure out something else?
KITSIS: You’re assuming that we break the curse this year, which we may or may not, and you’re assuming that the heroes didn’t cast it, which we don’t know also. So I would say that hopefully who cast the curse and what’s going on and what the end goals are is an intriguing mystery for the audience to watch this season.
You have done a relatively large time jump. Is there anything you can say as to just how far ahead we are, both in flashbacks and in Hyperion Heights?
HOROWITZ: I would say that it’s not as simple as it appears, and we get into that in the first couple of episodes.
KITSIS: I would say as long as it takes Henry to go from Jared to Andrew.
HOROWITZ: But it’s not as simple as it looks, because we’re not in the year 2030.
KITSIS: Yes, we’re not doing sci-fi. As we’ve said in the past, some realms move at their own time.
HOROWITZ: But we get into how all that works very quickly, but the present-day Hyperion Heights, Seattle stuff takes place in 2017.
Can you tease anything about the cursed versions of your familiar characters?
KITSIS: When we find them in Seattle, they will be under cursed personas.
HOROWITZ: They’re different than the cursed personas we’ve seen before. While it’s Regina that you’ve been with for six seasons, what she is now in Seattle is something different. What it’s allowing us to do is see these same characters in a new way. Also, Hook never had a cursed persona, so this allows us to do something we haven’t done with Hook before.
KITSIS: I would say Regina never had a cursed persona, because she was the Queen and the Mayor, but she was always awake.
GOODMAN: And it’s been really fun as we enter in season 7 with these cursed personas, but seeing how we can reflect these characters that people have known and loved underneath, and see the ways that they’re bubbling through, and we’re seeing who they were, but in this new guise.
HOROWITZ: The situations they find themselves in their cursed identities are different. She’s not going to be the mayor. But you cannot keep Regina down. You cannot keep that spirit away. That character still exists, lives, and breathes, and thrives.
KITSIS: If somebody is coming into Regina’s neighborhood and telling them they’re going to push everyone out, someone has to stand up for the little people and my bet would be that it’s her.
What’s Regina’s mindset when we pick up with Roni? How different is she?
KITSIS: Well, Roni is Regina with the wisdom of six years of the show, so she is tough character, she’s a bartender, she is sticking up for the little people in the neighborhood against the bully, who we’ll realize is Lady Tremaine. At the same respect, all the experiences she’s had going from Evil Queen to Queen [have led to] a mature character. Roni is kind of the Regina who has all those life experiences and maturity and the wisdom that comes with it.
What about for Rumple? We don’t know much about his character.
KITSIS: Well, that’s how he likes it.
Does he have a name?
KITSIS: The name will be revealed in the premiere.
But is he much of the same, somebody that we should be questioning whether we can trust?
KITSIS: Absolutely. We warned you season 1 he was a difficult man to love, but at the same time, he did find true love last year and choose love over power, so we don’t know what we’ll be looking at. I would hope that the growth and everything he fought for wouldn’t be erased. But as we know, that’s the day-to-day fight.
Is Gold still the Dark One?
KITSIS: That is exactly who he is. As we know, you can’t get rid of the dagger. How do you get rid of the dagger?
HOROWITZ: Once a Dark One—
KITSIS: Always a Dark One. That will remain the same.
Let’s talk about Hook’s alter ego.
KITSIS: Rogers. It’s plural. It’s his last name.
Please confirm his first name is not Pauley/Polly/Pauly.
KITSIS: No. Where did that come from? By the way, was someone watching Rocky?
HOROWITZ: We keep hearing that rumor. That is not even remotely correct.
KITSIS: But it kind of sounds awesome.
Because we’ve seen Hook’s transformation from dark to light, much like you’re talking about with Rumple, what kind of cop is Rogers?
KITSIS: He’s a good cop [with] a plate filled with temptation. He is a cop with a very specific mission and a case that has haunted him that he has not solved, and that will be what we’ll be teasing out in the first couple episodes.
Ostensibly cursed Hook doesn’t remember Emma. How do you think that would affect him?
HOROWITZ: Well, we’ve never said who remembers who or not. I don’t want to say anymore.
GOODMAN: There’s an entire episode that’s devoted to answering that question. We’re super excited for people to see it.
KITSIS: That’s episode 2.
What can you tease of Emma’s return?
HOROWITZ: I would say the red jacket is back. Emma returns for one episode and it’s nice.
KITSIS: I would say that we get to find out what has happened with Emma and Hook since our happy ending we showed last year.
HOROWITZ: What we’re not doing is a flashback story where we’re seeing stuff prior to, or during, the previous six seasons. We’re moving forward past the end of season 6, seeing what happened with Emma and Hook, and how it relates to the events in Hyperion Heights.
KITSIS: We will be getting closure on her story in what we feel is a satisfying way.
HOROWITZ: I think it’s an emotional curtain call.
KITSIS: It’s an emotional curtain call.
Are there any other familiar faces we can expect moving forward this season? [Editor’s note: In addition to Morrison, Jared Gilmore will return as a young Henry in the premiere, Emilie de Ravin and Giles Matthey are back as Belle and Gideon, respectively, in the emotional Rumple-centric fourth hour, and Rebecca Mader will reprise her role as Zelena, a.k.a the Wicked Witch, for multiple episodes.]
HOROWITZ: I mean, we hope so and we’re not ready to make any announcements yet.
KITSIS: We would love to see a few people come back this year, absolutely.
Henry calls on his family and the trio shows up. Is there a specific reason why other people didn’t show up?
HOROWITZ: Yes, and that is a reason that is—
KITSIS: Actually shown.
HOROWITZ: It is part of the first few episodes in a major way.
Who is Henry now? Is he jaded like Emma was in season 1?
KITSIS: Yeah, Henry had the heart of the true believer and when we meet him he no longer believes, and it’s up to his daughter — who he doesn’t even realize is his daughter — to help him find his belief again. He is an Uber driver. He wrote one book called Once Upon a Time that we’ll realize has all the stories from the first six seasons, but it did not do well, no one bought it, and he’s a guy that’s kind of down on his luck looking for his place in the world. In the fairy tale, we’re going to tell a very epic love story between him and Cinderella as well as we’re going to see Henry helping out other people.
At the center of the first six seasons was obviously a Savior. We look at Henry as the new hero. Is he a Savior or are you leaning more into just how somebody steps up as a hero?
HOROWITZ: I would say this: The savior and the savior mythology, that was the first six seasons. That was the story we really explored there. We’re telling a new story here, and yeah, Henry and Cinderella are at the center of it, as well as Hook and Rumple and Regina.
KITSIS: I would say that in the first one, Emma needed to come back and break the curse, but what we realized toward the end is it takes a village, and I think that here we are starting with it takes a village approach, but if I was looking toward leadership, I would look for somebody who was both a mayor and a queen.
HOROWITZ: The Savior mythology is something that is super unique to Emma and what her journey was for those six years. Yes, we established there were other Saviors, but that was Emma’s journey. We don’t want to retell the first six seasons, so Henry’s journey is going to be a different one, and it’s going to involve things that are unique to this iteration of the show.
KITSIS: But their motivation is still the same, which is helping people.
How does Cinderella and Henry’s relationship compare to Snow and Charming’s?
HOROWITZ: One, you can’t compare them to Snow and Charming. That was a unique thing and it truly was lightning in a bottle, and it was amazing. What we’re hoping with these two characters is that we find something new that is as exciting to the audience, that the audience can really get emotionally invested in, and we want the audience to fall in love with these characters and fall in love with their struggles in a new way, so we’re not planning to repeat a love story that we’ve already told with new characters. What we are doing is keeping romance and love at the center of the show, because that’s always been a huge part of the show, and we’re telling a new love story with these new characters.
KITSIS: Yeah, I would say what started with Henry and Violet at 14, you’re going to see an adult Henry actually find his true love.
Tell us about Cinderella as a person.
HOROWITZ: I think that we’re picking up with Cinderella in the midst of her iconic story, but there’s a twist to it.
KITSIS: Yeah, we’ll find out she’s not necessarily looking for her prince. And I would say that in Hyperion Heights, we see a single mother who is struggling to keep her family together, keep her life together, keep her head up against many obstacles, and so finding herself once again being Cinderella to the world where she feels like she is constantly cleaning up her mess, but yet she can never get ahead.
Tell us about Lucy.
KITSIS: Lucy right now has to bear the burden of the truest believer because her father no longer does. So it is up to her to get people to remain hopeful and I think that you’ll see a lot of Henry in her, and I think you’ll see a lot of her grandma, Snow, in her.
What can you tell us about Lady Tremaine?
HOROWITZ: As often as is the case on Once Upon a Time, there’s more than meets the eye to what we know about the character, so Lady Tremaine is the wicked stepmother, she doesn’t like Cinderella very much and she’s got an agenda.
KITSIS: I’ll tell you what she is: She’s somebody who wants to get to the top and will use any means necessary. So why it’s important for her to be royalty, why it’s important for her to crush everyone else is the story of the year.
HOROWITZ: Beyond that, there is something broiling beneath, personal and painful, that is driving all of this.
KITSIS: In true Once Upon a Time fashion, evil isn’t born, it’s made, and we’ll see that with her as well.
HOROWITZ: So how was it made is one of the questions we explore.
She sounds a lot like Cora, no?
GOODMAN: She might be a little bit like Cora. We’re also going to see in Hyperion Heights that the role she’s taking is very similar in terms of getting to the top, in terms of being a developer who is this character who is trying to push out the fairy-tale characters who are living in Hyperion Heights, gentrifying the neighborhood and bringing other people in.
KITSIS: She learned the lesson that Regina didn’t, which is, don’t keep them all together where one day they can find themselves.
GOODMAN: Spread them out.
KITSIS: Push them the hell out. You push them the hell out and you gentrify the neighborhood and you bring in a cold press juicer and they can’t afford it anymore, then you won’t worry about the Pied Piper finding Alice.
What can you tease about Lady Tremaine’s daughter Drizella?
KITSIS: She presents to be as evil as the Evil Stepsisters promise to be, but like everything in Once Upon a Time, you never know what’s underneath it. What we can say is that she is deliciously evil.
HOROWITZ: There’s a lot going on inside Drizella. She earned the evil moniker.
What kind of dynamic does she have with her mom?
KITSIS: She takes a lot of abuse, it seems like, from her mom, but I wonder how long that will last.
Where are we picking up in the timeline of Tiana’s story?
KITSIS: We will be doing her origin story in episode 5, and like all Once Upon a Time [characters], we will have our own spin on it. It will not just be the movie.
HOROWITZ: We’re not redoing the movie, but we’re taking it as a jumping-off point. We want to honor the character and make sure we’re true to it, but we have a Once Upon a Time spin.
KITSIS: What we also love is that in Seattle, her relationship with Cinderella is like Snow and Red’s. They’re roommates, they’re good friends. We love to write those friendship stories.
And she’s a good person?
KITSIS: Yes, she’s a hero.
How about Alice?
KITSIS: Be careful what you drink around her. [Laughs] I’m sorry, I meant LSD because it’s Alice. No, I was kidding. I would say the thing about Alice is she is a character in the vein of Rumplestiltskin in that you don’t really quite know what she’s up to, or where she’s going, or where she’s been.
You’re going to be bringing in a prominent LGBT character. What do you want to say about that?
KITSIS: One of the show’s franchises is love. This iteration is reflecting the world today and so it will not be anything other than just one of the other love stories that are happening. There will be a character who is gay and that’s just who they are. They exist in the world. They don’t have a sign on that says, “Special Episode.”
Will we see other new iterations of characters we’ve seen on the show before?
KITSIS: We will, as the year goes, do new iterations, because as Henry said, he has found himself in a new book with a different author. So similar to the way that there are many different versions of fairy tales in the world, be it in Germany or Italy—
HOROWITZ: But I think there’s an important distinction for fans to understand. We’re not recasting Josh [Dallas] and Ginny [Goodwin] as Snow and Charming. Those characters still exist in our show, whether they’re on the show or not, or if they come back for a guest appearance or not. There are some instances with some of these characters that we’ve already explained — with Cinderella or Alice — where we’re finding the different versions of them elsewhere. But what we’ve seen on the show still exists. And it’s important to be able to say to fans that that exists and it’s all very important to what we’re doing now, but now we’re going into a new book and a new chapter.
Are we in one new book or multiple?
KITSIS: We have the freedom to go through multiple books.
You mentioned another author, so are there multiple authors then?
KITSIS: I think so. I think there is. There has to be one author for each book. I think that is the case.
HOROWITZ: I would say the different books have different mythologies. It’s not like we’re going to retell the author mythology the same way or the Dark One mythology the same way. There’s going to be new things and new mythologies to explore.
KITSIS: What we aren’t trying to do is repeat the first six seasons with different people. We are not just trying to redo it. We’re trying to keep this show moving forward in being fresh and different, while still recapturing the spirit of the first six seasons.
Anything you can tease about the new darkness we’re seeing that we got a hint of in the finale?
HOROWITZ: You got a hint of it in the finale, and I hope you enjoyed it. It’s different than what we’ve done before in terms of how the curses work and who is employing them and how they’re manifesting. What you saw in the finale of season 6 is just a hint and a tip of an iceberg of what’s going on in this new fairy-tale land we’re going to be in.
KITSIS: We’re not going to get there right away, because as you saw, that seems like the end. He had a 9-year-old. We’re going to start with the beginnings of how did Henry meet Cinderella.
HOROWITZ: Right, so when we first see him at the start of the season premiere, that’s Henry just a couple years after he left Storybrooke. Clearly another 10 years or so passed before what we saw in the season 6 finale, because he’s got the fully grown Lucy there. There’s a lot of holes to fill in there, and that’s one of the things we’re going to be doing in the flashbacks.
Is the show, at its core, still about finding happy endings?
KITSIS: The show is the same as it was when it was created, which it wasn’t about finding happy endings, it was about hope. And what we learned on this show is that happy endings aren’t what you always think they are, and that you need the hope to find that happiness, so it is still a positive show, it is still a show about hope and belief and love and all the nice things in the world that we wish there were more of.
You initially had a six-year plan. Do you have a certain year plan for this time around?
KITSIS: Six months.
HOROWITZ: Let me put it this way: When we started Once Upon a Time, we had about a six-hour plan, which was it would air and then within six hours we’d get ratings and would know.
KITSIS: I mean, literally, when everyone predicted us first to be canceled, Adam and I took that to heart and we said “Well, all right, usually they yank you after four. So let’s deal with ours…” But we came up with that plan in the beginning and then actually had to put it to use once we succeeded.
HOROWITZ: We’re only sort of half kidding. Like when we created the show we, of course, presented the network with big ideas and big long-term plans. So now, in the same respect, with this new iteration of the show, we do have big ideas and big long-term plans, but we wouldn’t presume to say that we can enact on it. It’s up to the audience.
KITSIS: I think we’re in a different situation where in season 1 we were brand new, and here we have six years of fandom and people understand the show. So we hope they like this new iteration, and if they do, we’ll keep making them, and if not, seven years was a good run.
HOROWITZ: All we want to do is try to put our best foot forward, let the audience see what we’re doing, and let them decide if they want to keep going.
Do you feel like you could wrap this story up to completion should the show not get renewed this year?
HOROWITZ: Yeah, I think we could, but I also think it’s like anything else where we’re hoping we’re starting a new chapter.
KITSIS: We would be bad showrunners if we didn’t plan for that, or didn’t have that in our head. So if this is the last year, then we won’t leave people hanging, and if it’s not, then we’ll keep coming up with the craziness.
Could somebody tune in to the first episode of season 7 and understand where we are as a story?
KITSIS: Yeah, in fact, I think that part of the fun with this was being able to start over, and I think that if you’ve never seen Once Upon a Time, you can absolutely watch episode 1 and not miss a beat, because it really is like a pilot in that we explain the situation in the world and what’s going on. But if you have watched for six years, then the opening scene of Regina saying goodbye to Henry will mean much more. We wanted to approach it with the hopes that there are new people that can come and watch. There are kids that were maybe too young who now are older and can start Once Upon a Time, and people who feel like “Oh, well, I didn’t want to catch up on six seasons,” they can jump in.
Once Upon a Time returns Friday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Read our primer of the new season here. Check back Wednesday for our full Q&A with Lana Parrilla.