Once Upon a Time's Gabrielle Anwar talks villainous turn as Lady Tremaine
Get the scoop on the new antagonist in town
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.
When Once Upon a Time returns for its rebooted seventh season, there’ll be a new villain in town.
With a new iteration of Cinderella (Dania Ramirez) taking center stage comes the introduction of her evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine (Gabrielle Anwar). Driven by a desire for status in both the fairy tale world and in the cursed Seattle-based neighborhood of Hyperion Heights, Lady Tremaine takes the form of a developer trying to push the fairy tale residents out of town in a bid to separate them. It’s the perfect plan for the new curse. But did Lady Tremaine actually cast it? EW turned to Anwar to get the scoop on her new villain.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your first day like on set? Were you nervous to come on this established show that was going through a reboot?
GABRIELLE ANWAR: I don’t think I was nervous. I was curious for sure. I think it’s always quite awkward when you’re coming into something that’s so well established in any department, but particularly in front of the camera. So I was curious about the dynamics that had already been established and those that were being forged. And so, I’m very happy that we’re now on our seventh episode.
Had you watched the show before you were cast, or did you go back and watch it all since you joined?
Actually, my youngest daughter is in fact the reason why I’m here living in this city up north. She is a huge fan of the show. She actually overheard me having a conversation with my agent and as soon as I said the words “Once Upon a Time,” she started bouncing around and said, “Mommy, you have to do the show. You have to do the show.” So I was kind of emotionally blackmailed into taking the role.
Tell us about Lady Tremaine as a character. What is she driven by?
Lady Tremaine for me, and there have been many incarnations before me, I think she is driven by every passing second on the clock that she is becoming an “older woman.” And I think that is a very brutal rite of passage for most women, particularly those that were the “trophy wife,” which I am building her character on. There’s a tremendous amount of greed and a little bit of pompousness to her, but I think it’s fueled daily, which is a wonderful character trait, because with every passing moment of the day she becomes more and more unbearable because she’s getting older and older, and it’s inevitable.
Let’s talk about the animosity between Lady Tremaine and Cinderella. Where was that born, and what does their relationship look like?
Well, it’s such a quirky and interesting relationship between stepparent and stepchild. Whether it’s in a cartoon or otherwise, as a stepmother myself to a stepson and step-grandson, it’s a complicated relationship, because blood is thicker than anything and when there is no blood, you’re in this very delicate fluidity that is not easy. My husband is a stepfather to my children too, so it’s a very tenuous line that you tread between being involved and having a perspective and an opinion, but not trying to parent, because that is in fact not your role. So, it’s a very complex character and I have to say my relationship with Cinderella is very much a more catastrophic version of what we’re all dealing with as stepparents in the real world.
How does that shine through in Hyperion Heights? How is Victoria different from Lady Tremaine?
I think she’s the same character in a contemporary world. She’s still using the same chronic manipulations and desperately unkind puppeteering of her stepchild in the shape of materialism and physical control of her life and her daughter’s life. It’s just a contemporary version of what she’s doing in fairy tale existence.
We actually don’t technically know if she cast the curse, but how would you say she’s taking advantage of being in Hyperion Heights?
Well, I think she’s trying to eradicate the inhospitable characters that aren’t behooving her journey. She’s doing so with capitalism, essentially. She’s raising the rent, she’s building new buildings that none of these people can afford because they’re regular folks. They’re not coming in with extraordinary amounts of finances in order to be able to supplement such extraordinary realty costs. I mean, it’s a common activity in most of these up-and-coming neighborhoods all over the country, in major cities particularly.
The biggest followers of the show always want to know who’s in charge of the curse. It’s so funny and I find it very amusing. And the truth is, to be perfectly honest, most of the cast doesn’t know, because we truly are kept in the dark. I know that you hear this on every show, and I’ve certainly worked on shows where I didn’t really know where the plot was headed, but I certainly haven’t been so kept in the dark as I am with Disney.
Do you have a theory though on who might have cast the curse?
No, I’m not smart enough. The plot is so complex that I couldn’t possibly figure it out even if I had graduated college. Let’s put it that way.
How does Victoria feel about Henry (Andrew J. West) coming to town and possibly getting close to Jacinda?
Not happy. Victoria is gung-ho to destroy most relationships around her for whatever particular reason she has that morning.
What is the dynamic like between Lady Tremaine and her daughter Drizella (Adelaide Kane)?
Horrific. It’s very interesting to play someone so cool. I have been raising my own children with a philosophy that I learned from an extraordinary pediatrician in Hungary and it’s very much about kindness and respect, and the complete polar opposite of what I’m playing in the show. My youngest daughter is out here with me right now because she’s a refugee from Miami from Irma and she’s just absolutely appalled at how I relate to Drizella in character. And the other day we were driving along and somebody pulled out in front of me at this traffic light and we almost lost our lives. And I burst into Lady Tremaine and my daughter said, “Oh, God, mom. You really can’t bring this character home with you, I won’t survive.” [Laughs]
What do you think Lady Tremaine ultimately wants?
Once Upon a Time returns Friday, Oct. 6, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Read our primer of the new season here, our full Q&A with executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis here, our interview with Lana Parrilla here, our interview with Andrew J. West here, and our interview with Dania Ramirez here. Check back Tuesday for our interview with Adelaide Kane.
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