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Once Upon a Time Returning Drama

Premieres Sept. 30, 8-9 p.m. ABC

Snow White escorts a friend through an exotic rural village. ”I know this world,” she assures. ”And it’s dangerous.” Suddenly a creature interrupts: Hee-haw! Hee-haw! Snow struggles to keep a straight face. That damn donkey. ”It won’t happen again,” a grinning Ginnifer Goodwin promises the crew as the scene is halted. ”It was just too perfect!”

Being upstaged by noisy animals is only one peril of shooting ABC’s breakout hit. As last year’s top-rated new drama (averaging 11.8 million viewers a week), Once has developed such a devout following that filming in Vancouver’s historic Steveston village — which stands in for the town of Storybrooke — has become a major tourist draw, requiring security guards to keep crowds at bay. ”It’s almost like doing outdoor theater,” marvels Lana Parrilla, 35, who plays the show’s Evil Queen/evil Storybrooke mayor. The hordes also serve as a constant reminder of fans’ high expectations. But on that point, the actors are confident that Once will cast an even stronger spell this season. ”We’ve upped the ante,” says Goodwin, 34. ”Things seem more grand, more epic. Last year felt like we were creating a weekly movie; now it’s like we’re creating weekly blockbusters.”

Unlike most Hollywood films, whose trailers give away all the best parts, however, Once‘s story lines are protected by Pentagon-level security by order of showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. Here’s what we can tell you about season 2: The premiere picks up right where the finale left off, with Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) having broken the Queen’s curse over Storybrooke and freed the fairy-tale characters from their collective amnesia. Magic now exists in the modern-day Maine town, except the Queen quickly learns it doesn’t work quite the same as in fairy-tale land. Characters have their memories back, which leads to all sorts of raw feelings — such as Emma having mixed emotions about her newly discovered parents, Snow White/Mary Margaret and Prince Charming/David (Josh Dallas). ”She didn’t anticipate how much resentment she’d have for them giving her up,” says Morrison, 33, whose character will also get some romance this season (her suggestion: Robin Hood). Meanwhile, an angry Prince won’t waste any charm on the Queen. ”She’s robbed him of his life with his daughter,” says Dallas, 30. ”She’s got a lot to answer for.”

Viewers can look forward to a variety of new characters populating season 2, including Mulan (Jamie Chung), Lancelot (Sinqua Walls), and Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), as well as a feisty warrior princess version of Sleeping Beauty (Sarah Bolger). ”The love of her life does wake her up, but what you expect to happen after that is not what Disney had planned,” teases Bolger, 21, who was stunned to discover she’d been cast as the iconic Disney character after auditioning for a phony part titled ”Anastasia.” The deceptive casting calls are just another way producers try to keep every aspect of the show under wraps. ”My manager called and said, ‘You got the role of Lancelot!”’ recalls Walls, 27. ”I was like, ‘I don’t remember even reading for Lancelot!”’

The flashbacks to fairy-tale land will continue, plus there will be flashes of pre-curse Storybrooke — meaning many of the cast members (including Emilie de Ravin, who’s been promoted to series regular) will now play their characters during three different time periods. Says Horowitz, ”This season everyone has a second chance to deal with both their fairy-tale and Storybrooke pasts.”

The two styles of flashbacks also add to the complexity of the show — which isn’t necessarily a good thing when a drama is trying to retain a mainstream audience. Kitsis says Once can pull off having a large cast and massive mythology because each episode focuses on the current story rather than chipping away at past mysteries. ”A lot of shows are about explaining the first five minutes of the pilot,” the writer-producer says. ”Our show is not about ‘What happened?!’ The audience knows what happened.”

But not what will happen next, if producers have their way. The writers have grandiose plans for the new season (one intriguing image on the wall of their Burbank office: a ship caught in a maelstrom), and they include continuing to take Disney characters to dark new places. ”You get the sense of where the line is and you try to push as far over it as you can, without going too far,” Horowitz says. How far will Once‘s corporate bosses permit the writers to go this year? ”Once you add an eighth dwarf and kill him,” Kitsis says, ”there’s not a lot they can say no to.”

Episode Recaps

Once Upon a Time

Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.

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