Once Upon a Time's Emilie de Ravin on that heartbreaking Belle ending

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Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Friday’s episode of Once Upon a Time. Read at your own risk!

Emilie de Ravin returned to Once Upon a Time Friday for an emotional gut-punch hour comparable to the heartbreaking opening montage of the Pixar animated film Up — and that’s no coincidence.

After Rumple (Robert Carlyle) gave Belle (Emilie de Ravin) her very own travel book in Storybrooke, the duo set out with their young son, Gideon, to travel the world. But Rumple also confesses to searching for a way to be free of the Dark One dagger so he could live as a mortal and grow old with Belle.

After Belle discovers a fairy prophecy that sends them to the edge of realms, where time moves differently, she grows old in an Up-style montage that will absolutely break you. (If you haven’t watched it yet, prepare yourself.) On Belle’s deathbed, she reveals she purposefully misinterpreted the prophecy — it’s her death that will show Rumple the path that will lead him back to her. And thus, Belle dies. EW caught up with De Ravin to get her thoughts on the end to Belle’s tale:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Wow, this episode is so emotional.
EMILIE DE RAVIN: Yeah, it’s so nice to hear that. That’s the best word for it, right? If you want to sum it up in one word: emotional.

What was your first reaction when you learned Belle’s fate?
With everything with this show, and for that matter with Lost, I never take anything as finality, because there’s always this revolving door of things. I was so excited to be able to bring their story to the fans and to bring their later years in love, and to be able to play that was really beautiful. They’ve had quite a tumultuous relationship, so for them to be able to get to a place of such acceptance with each other and themselves, and with life, and this inner peace that has washed over them. They’ve been able to now show everyone maybe you can come to a point — whether it’s with someone else or with yourself, or with both — of just having that, having life be life, an acceptance of what it is, an acceptance of living, an acceptance of dying. Her acceptance of mortality is shining a lot brighter than his acceptance or non-acceptance of immortality, which you’d expect to be the reverse in a way. That’s quite beautiful and was lovely to play. I’m going on and on, but just because able to bring full-circle their story was a blessing and I was really happy when they said they were going to do this.

What was your reaction to reading the script, or at least hearing about this Up-esque montage?
I had been briefed slightly on what the story was going to be. I’ve been reading these scripts for nearly seven years. I love reading them and always enjoy them, some more than others, but never had a reaction like this. I couldn’t stop crying. I challenged myself, like, “Okay, the second time I read it, [it’ll be easier], maybe I was just having an emotional day.” The second time I read it, I was supposed to go out to lunch afterwards. Nope, can’t do it. I called Bobby and said, “I can’t read this without crying,” he said, “I know, I’m the same way.” We’ve both had instances where our significant others were like, “Are you okay?” [Feigns crying] “Yup, just reading the script.”

What were some of those conversations like with Bobby knowing that this, in certain ways, is the end for them?
The initial one was just about how beautiful this was written. Reading this script was both of our — if I can speak for him as well — favorite reads of really hitting the nail on the head with the emotion and the sensibility of these two characters, where they’ve been, where they’re going, and more to the point, the present-ness is played so [well]. It’s written such in the moment. A lot of this show is, “What’s going to happen? What has happened?” Our pasts and our futures and we’re all living in 10 different moments instead of just, “What is in front of you right now?” That really stood out to me as being so special and so lovely. As I was saying before, it’s really a big shift for them to be able to get to a place of, “We’re just going to live our life and,” in essence, “screw everything else. Let’s just be.”

What was it like filming that final scene between them as Belle comes clean about purposefully misinterpreting the prophecy before dying? Especially with that makeup and prosthetics.
Oh no, I just laid out in the sun for a few days. It was all me. [Laughs] From now on, I will only be playing grandmas. Just putting that out there. [Laughs] That was the hardest day of work, that scene. It was really emotional. The feeling and vibe on set was so special and so respectful and loving and warm. It brought out a lot of feelings for a lot of the crew and cast. I suppose it was really just me and Bobby and the crew that day, but we were so lucky to have Mick Garris as our director, who is a lovely guy and such a sensitive man. He did a beautiful job with the episode. It’s such a safe — safe is probably the best word. I felt very safe and respected that whole day. But it was sad, we were crying. It was very hard to stop crying between takes. It was hard for me as I was trying to, as Emilie, not cry watching Bobby — not as the characters. I really wanted Belle to be, in essence, the strong one of accepting her moving on to whatever she believes is the next chapter after mortal existence, and being the strong one for him as well as for herself, and not breaking down. You can’t have her breaking down and crying all over her prosthetics. [Laughs] That was probably the biggest challenge because Bobby’s performance was so beautiful to watch. Yeah, definitely a difficult night to go to sleep after that as well, when you’re so enveloped in doing something that’s that intense, and that you’re dying, so it brings up a lot of personal feelings and emotions.

There is obviously a prophecy of how Rumple can find his way back to Belle, so is there any chance you’ll come back to the show for whenever that does happen?
If the prophecy figures itself out, I’m sure Belle will be there. I would think. You know, as she says so beautifully, they’ve come back to each other many, many times. I love that she keeps her sarcasm until the end too, it’s pretty cute. From the get-go of their relationship, it’s been a coming and going, a push and pull of “Are they together or are they not?” Are they going to figure things out? They always do. There’s always been that incredibly strong bond and connection that they have, so I don’t think a realm is going to get in the way of that. But who knows?

With all those exits at the end of last season, we didn’t get to hear too much from you about how it feels to leave the show. Is there anything else you wish you had gotten to do with Belle on Once Upon a Time?
I still wish I got to ride a horse. [Laughs] I do! It was the one thing I remember saying in season 1 or season 2 to the question, “What would you like to do?” “I’m such an animal lover, I had animals growing up, I’d love to ride a horse. Everyone else is riding horses!” Cut to season 5, they write me in that Gaston episode, “Her Handsome Hero,” riding on a horse, but by that episode I was seven months pregnant. They wrote most of the horse riding out and then used a double. But as far as character-wise, I do wish we would’ve been able to delve more into Belle’s past as a child, as a teenager, or even as a younger woman and learn a little bit more about her family dynamic and her early life, and what shaped her into the young woman that we met in “Skin Deep.”

What’s been your favorite moment on the show?
I’m kind of torn now, because I really love this episode [“Beauty”]. I’ve always said my favorite episode is “Skin Deep.” I love that episode and it’s a perfect depiction of these characters. We learn so much in one episode. I have two favorite actual moments now, and one is from that episode that’s repeated in this episode. It’s not even a scene, it’s literally a moment when she falls from the curtains in “Skin Deep” and he catches her, because it’s such a pivotal moment, it’s such a turning point for their relationship. It’s not just a pretty shot or a cool visual, which I think it is, but it just changes everything. That’s mimicked in “Beauty,” which is just heartbreaking, but another pivotal moment for them.

As an actress, what do you think is your biggest takeaway from your time on Once Upon a Time? Is there anything you learned about yourself over the last six years or so?
I always like to learn. I always think there’s no cap on learning. That just goes on and on. Everything I do, I try to take something from. I’ve learned so much. I’ve been blessed 1,000 times being able to work with Bobby. I’ve been a fan of his work for so long, he’s an incredibly talented man. Being able to do probably 90 percent of my work with him has just been a dream. As an actor, I’ve learned so much from him. In regards to playing Belle, it’s given me insights. I think I have a little more of a questioning attitude with myself like, “Am I being honest with myself? Am I doing this for myself or for someone else?” I think that’s something Belle has asked herself many times and has had to work through herself as well. “Am I in this relationship? Am I doing this for me?” Not that everything has to be self-centered, but, “Is this good for me? Or is this actually really toxic to me and I’m doing it because I feel obligated?” Finding that balance that she’s had to find is something I’ve taken away personally as well.

What’s next for you?
There are things in the works right now, but I’ve taken the last few months off to be a mom, because I’ve been working since I had my daughter a year and a half ago, so I was just very excited to be able to do that. That’s what’s happening right now. And at this second, I’m on the way to the airport to meet some awesome Once Upon a Time fans in Atlanta for a convention. It’s been pretty cool and really nice. A lot of us have been doing these conventions and it’s been so nice to be able to hear from people firsthand of how much they like the show or how it has affected him. The coolest thing is how people are being brought together by this truly lovely family that watches together. It’s very heartwarming.

What do you want to say to the OUAT fans on the night of your exit?
First, I hope you enjoy it. I love all you guys, and the fans are why we do this show, and why it’s still on. The episode tonight is really, really special and close to my heart. Bring a box of tissues or two, not just for sad tears, for happy tears. It’s really beautiful. And let me know what you think! Write me on Twitter or Instagram. I’d love to hear what everyone thinks. Snuggle up and enjoy, and I love you.

Once Upon a Time airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Read our postmortem with executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis here, and our postmortem with Robert Carlyle here.

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