“Episode 1, season 5, she is not the Dark One,” co-star Robert Carlyle explains. “Maybe she becomes that, but at this point, she’s trying to get rid of it. She’s trying to get rid of the dark magic at the moment.”
After the darkness within Rumple (Carlyle) was accidentally set free in the season finale, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) decided to sacrifice herself for the town and become the new Dark One, a.k.a. Dark Swan. But as executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis previously told EW, Emma is still fighting to stay good when the show returns — though it’s clear that’s a losing battle based on the aforementioned photos and video.
“Before she’s surrendered to it and given into it, the good part of her is fighting with this darkness that is consuming her and it’s a constant struggle that’s really angsty and intense,” Morrison says. But once she goes full-on evil, it’s a whole different story. “In the surrender to the actual darkness, not necessarily the journey and the fight to try to stay light, she’s pretty different. I started by looking at all of her opposites, looking at everything that was opposite of what Emma stood for and opposite of what we’ve seen of her and trying to look at what that would mean.
“Emotionally, it’s interesting because there’s something really fun and free about Emma in the darkness, where she’s just free of the gravity of what other people think and the gravity of worrying about saving people,” the actress continues. “There’s a lightness, in a sense, in her darkness, because she doesn’t have to do the right thing and she doesn’t have to try to be the stronger, better person all the time. There’s a little bit of freedom in that that is really fun.”
In inhabiting this character, Morrison keeps a quote from her former House co-star Hugh Laurie in mind. “He said, ‘When you ride a motorcycle, you feel like you’re flying. When you fly, you’re free of gravity. I feel like that represented House because House was free of the gravity of what other people thought.’ I thought, what a cool image, the idea of being free of gravity. I just kept going back to him saying that in my mind about Dark Emma. She really is, she’s free of the gravity of so many things that have been weighing on her her whole life.”
“In addition to that, there are swans that can fly for a certain distance, and there are certain black swans that can fly for 60 feet,” she says. “Eddy, Adam and I have talked about looking at this as her 60 feet of flight. Instead of looking at this as, ‘I’m trying to be mean, dark and evil,’ it’s about the absoluteness of her freedom from responsibility in the darkest way you can imagine. She’s completely selfish and she’s completely free of her responsibility. She is completely indulgent in her sensuality and her confidence and her demand for things in life. We’re building her from that place. It’s coming from a guttural, raw place in her that is almost like sociopathic in a way, someone just completely free of conscience.”
To get into the mindset of evil, Morrison spent much of the hiatus doing research. “The New York Public Library was amazing,” she says. “A couple of the curators there pulled tons and tons of research of the psychology of certain fairy tales, some of the older more obscure fairy tales that we wouldn’t necessarily have in a normal storybook nowadays. There’s some really great parallels for Emma. I looked at a lot of research about swans in general and just tried to pull little things from mythology, and from fairy tales, and psychology of fairy tales to have a well of things to pull from. And then also some really personal things, trying to find things that I relate to in my own life that I can allow to be a part of Emma dealing with this darkness and try to have it be as personal as possible.”
In addition to the “intense playlists” that have aided Morrison in getting into character, Morrison says the process of suiting up as the Dark Swan has also helped. “Obviously, I’ve had the luxury of jumping in and out of jeans and t-shirts for the last four years, so it is a whole different thing to have something a little bit more extravagant and to be painted white and all that stuff,” she says.
Once Upon a Time returns Sunday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.