Jack Rowand/ABC
Natalie Abrams
May 16, 2018 at 01:16 PM EDT

On a dreary day in early April, Once Upon a Time is in its final days of production, and Rebecca Mader is getting ready to bid farewell to the Wicked Witch… again.

The actress was initially announced as one of six cast members not returning to the ABC fairy tale drama heading into the show’s rebooted seventh season. But Zelena got an 11th-hour return, with executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis bringing Lost alum Mader back for another story that saw the former villain get a happy ending of her own. EW was on set to get Mader’s take on saying goodbye for the last time. Probably.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As you’re heading into the final few days of shooting, how does it feel? Are you ready to say goodbye, well, again?
REBECCA MADER: I’ve said goodbye to Zelena a few times, but these last few days are definitely different, because we’re all saying goodbye to our characters, so it’s quite different energy. I think it’s really magical to have the old cast back, and everyone’s getting on really well. It almost doesn’t feel like work this week. It just feels like we’re all hanging out having a laugh, and I don’t want that part to end, because the friendships have been the most special part on this show.

What has it meant to you to play a character like Zelena?
It’s great. I’ve never been bored, because it’s just been a constant journey, and the character has continued to evolve and evolve and evolve. One thing I like about the villains on this show, it’s almost like they’re addicts where they might slip out, or they regress slightly, but then you come back to it. It’s not just like you go from you were a villain and now you’re a hero. You don’t go from being imperfect to perfect. They’re still multidimensional, which I love, because as an actor, when you’re playing the same character for a long time, you worry that you might get bored, but I’ve never felt that way on this show, because I’ve always felt like the journey’s ever-changing.

What do you think Once Upon a Time‘s legacy will be?
It’s interesting, because it’s two different legacies, like what it’s done to me, which is massive, and then what it’s done to the fandom. I think it’s brought as much to my life as it has to the fans. Doing these conventions has really made me realize what its legacy will be and the impact that it’s had on so many people’s lives, not just because of the themes of the show in terms of hope and faith and all that stuff, but just what it’s done in terms of bringing people together, or people who are having a hard time. The show has really resonated with people who don’t have an easy life, which I think is really beautiful. It’s brought a lot of people together that maybe never felt seen. I’ve met so many people who have felt like they were part of something because of their love for the show and being a part of this fandom. A lot of really beautiful relationships have come out of it. These people will now be friends forever because of a TV show that we made, and I think that’s really special.

Can you talk about the importance of sending a message that everyone deserves a happy ending?
Well, I think happiness is a state of mind, and I don’t necessarily think it’s an ending. That’s one thing I’ve loved about the musical episode, and the CaptainSwan wedding song, it’s a happy beginning. I think every day is a new beginning. We all have difficult times, and the hard times, or we get depressed or something dreadful happens, and the way I move through life is I try to look at every day as a happy beginning, and a chance to try and dust off the cobwebs, and put everything aside, and hold my head up, and get through life, and that’s, to me, the message of the show, is that every day could be a happy beginning.

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How do you feel about the end of Zelena’s story?
Well, it’s different, because where we are in the finale, and the Wish Realm, and everything else, it’s not the same person that we left when I went away in 717 with Chad, and I was Kelly. Now I’m full-on, full-blown Zelena again. I kind of wanted to see that wedding. Did she marry Chad? I don’t know. You know? Sometimes you don’t want everything wrapped up in a neat little bow. This is more about the fact that I just felt happy to be a part of the end thing.

Because of the time travel, how will this Zelena react to her grown-up daughter Robin (Tiera Skovbye) arriving in Storybrooke?
It’s a complete mind f—. It was really twisted, because I did believe her, because she knew so much about me, I’m like, “Hang on a minute,” and I’m looking at the little one, and I’m looking at the big one. It was one of those moments where it was like if there was a sound effect — [makes record scratch noise] — it would be like the world just stops spinning. I was reeling.

Is there some comedy to be had there?
I think so, yeah, but then I don’t think Zelena really wanted two. Two kids, that’s a handful. A lot of work.

If you could open a new chapter of Once Upon a Time 10 years later, what would you want it to be about?
I already have a really good idea for a spinoff. Do you want to hear it?

Sure.
I was talking about it at a convention the other day, and it was like, “We love it, we would totally love it!” I would like to do a spin-off with Zelena and Regina in New York, and we’re cops. We’re still Zelena and Regina, it’s like Cagney and Lacey, bit of a reboot, but it’s still got a magical element, because by day, we’re like badass cops and we go around and we get like drug dealers and bad guys, but then by night, it’s like the capes come on and I’m the Wicked Witch and she’s the Evil Queen, and we just doodle around Manhattan. She’s on the back of my broomstick. The flying monkey. We just get rid of all of the bad guys, like a superhero movie. Then, during the day, we’re bickering because we got each other’s Starbucks order wrong. I mean, it literally writes itself. I would watch that, but not like a full-on drama, drama; it would have to be a dramedy because we’re both so ridiculous and funny in real life that we’d have to throw in some of that stupidity into the show.

Once Upon a Time‘s series finale airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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