As the song goes, “Wicked Always Wins” — and that’s true for Rebecca Mader’s triumphant return to Once Upon a Time.
After being among six cast members announced as exiting the series ahead of the rebooted seventh season, Mader is now being brought back for a multi-episode arc that reunites her character with half-sister Regina (Lana Parrilla). But thanks to the curse, their dynamic is now very different.
When viewers pick up with Zelena again during Friday’s fall finale, Regina and Henry (Andrew J. West) have traveled to San Francisco, where instead of the powerless Wicked Witch, they find a peppy spin instructor named Kelly. Yes, seriously. Did you see our exclusive sneak peek? Good. Now check out our interview with Mader about her return to the world of OUAT.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What has this roller coaster ride of leaving and then returning been like for you?
REBECCA MADER: It’s been like a roller coast ride! [Laughs] More like a broomstick ride, maybe. It’s been bizarre. It’s been such a crazy journey for the past four years. It was like, “Come and do an eight-episode arc,” and four years later, it’s like, I’m here and then I’m not here. You cannot get rid of me, apparently. You can’t keep a Wicked Witch down. “All right, that’s enough of you. Oh, you’re back.” It’s pretty funny at this point. My friends are like, “Oh, are you back [in L.A.]?” “No, well I was in L.A., but then I’m back in Vancouver.” They’re like, “Aren’t you done with that show yet?” “Nope!” It’s great, though. It’s been really fun this season. It’s different obviously with a different cast, a different realm, and a different curse. It’s sort of different and the same all at once, to go back to something where all this fresh blood has been found, but it also feels very comfortable because it’s obviously some of the same people with cast and crew. It’s been really nice to be back this season.
You have a pretty close relationship with Lana Parrilla, so what’s it been like getting back to work with her again?
We’re out of control. It’s like, “What are you doing?” “I don’t know, I’m on the way to yours.” We live right next to each other, our trailers are right next to each other, we’re so annoying. I always say, “I wouldn’t want to work with us.” We make the same sounds, we finish each other’s sentences. It’s pretty ridiculous, I’m not going to lie. But it’s been really great to be back. We’re having so much fun. It’s been good to be back with my bestie. I missed her.
What can you tease of where we’ll find Zelena when we pick back up with her in the real world?
It’s hilarious. When Adam [Horowitz] and Eddy [Kitsis] first pitched it to me, I think I bent over laughing, because it’s so the antithesis of Zelena, who just wants to punch everyone in the face and have a glass of whiskey. My cursed character is the complete opposite. She’s super duper healthy and just adorable. It’s really funny. When you find my character, I’m in San Francisco, and I’m actually a spinning instructor, which is classic, because Zelena was never going to the gym ever. Why would you when you’re that powerful? Like, “I’m five pounds thinner,” and then it happens. She has no idea who she is or what she’s capable of. There’s a lot of comedy in it.
How different is this character to play?
It’s a completely different person. I’ve still got a big red mane of hair. Kelly and Zelena are completely different. Although toward the end of season 6, Zelena had softened and had become a little more delightful than she was when we first saw her in season 3. It’s not a massive stretch. Also, obviously I lost my magic, too, at the end of season 6. The fun of it is I have no clue who I am and I’m just skipping around being adorable, not knowing that I’m an incredibly powerful person. It’s similar. I think she’s a bit more sweet and less complex than Zelena.
What kind of history do Kelly and Roni, as their cursed characters, have?
There was definitely a falling out because it’s an echo of Regina and Zelena having a tumultuous sibling relationship and it’s a mirror of that. They had fallen out, so they’re not really on speaking terms. She needs my help, and she’s awake and I’m asleep, so she’s on this mission to come to San Francisco and smack me around the face and try to wake me up because she needs my help this season. She needs to make up with me to try and get my help.
Will we get to see Zelena in this new Enchanted Forest via flashback?
Not in the old Enchanted Forest. But yeah, you do see me in the new fairy tale land in the [fall finale]. In the script, it’s called, “New FTL” — New Fairy Tale Land. You do see me in that with Regina and my daughter, Robin.
What kind of relationship does Zelena have with her daughter?
Super excited to not be holding a heavy doll this season. [Laughs] It really hurt! I said to the props master, “Why the bloody hell are these dolls heavier than an actual baby?” They weigh like 50 pounds, and I always had to hold it with one hand, because with my other hand, I’d be poofing out or making a fireball. So try holding a 50-pound doll for a seven-hour scene and I’d lose the feeling in my left shoulder. I would always joke to Adam and Eddy, “Can’t we just go, ‘You’re 21!’ and just magic it up?” They would always laugh about it. So then when they asked me to come back, I said, “Please don’t do that,” and they said, “Nope, we’ve made her 21!” I’m like, “Oh, thank God! Yay, I don’t have to carry her!” That’s been really great. The actress that’s playing her, Tiera [Skovbye], is really, really good, and really cute. We have great chemistry, and I’m really enjoying working with her. I think it’s great casting. It’s really cute. I didn’t realize at first, but I love the fact that she’s this new female re-imagined Robin Hood. It’s really cute. She totally looks like she’s got greenish blue eyes like Sean [Maguire], which makes me miss Sean. We have a really good relationship.
Once Upon a Time‘s fall finale airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.