With only three days left in production on Once Upon a Time, it’s all about last chances. That’s why Dania Ramirez stands before the camera, holding the slate for the series finale. It’s her way of letting go of the ABC fairy-tale drama on her final day of shooting.
Many of the show’s original cast members have returned to film the show’s final hour, with Ramirez and onscreen husband Andrew J. West in awe of teaming up with the beloved literary legends who made audiences fall in love with the show. But in its rebooted seventh season, the show switched gears to tell a new family fairy tale, an epic love story between West’s Henry and a new iteration of Cinderella (Ramirez).
The couple just reunited after the curse broke, only to be torn apart again when Wish Realm Rumple (Robert Carlyle) imprisoned Ella and daughter Lucy (Alison Fernandez), forcing Henry to steal the Dark One’s dagger for him. Instead, Henry sought the Author’s pen to rewrite their story — exactly what Wish Rumple wanted, as he’s teamed up with Wish Henry (Jared Gilmore) to steal everyone’s happy endings once and for all. EW turned to Ramirez and West to get the scoop. [Editor’s note: The interviews took place separately, but were stitched together.]
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As you’re heading into the final days of production, what’s the feeling like? Are you ready to say goodbye to these characters?
DANIA RAMIREZ: It always feels like it was way too short, even though I’ve played it for an entire season. From episode 1, there was always a possibility. I always knew, and so did the creators, that this might be the last season they had. So the plan for the character was always a very three-dimensional way of looking at it, just in case it was one final season and one final chapter. So for me, it’s bittersweet. I will always be the first Latina Cinderella, so I always have that to take with me, and I’m very proud of that. I believe that it was a life-changing experience for me. I got to work with these incredible people for nine months. I really felt like I grew as a person, I grew as an artist, I got a real shot at doing something special with a character that I don’t normally get to play in fairy-tale land. But then I also got to play a really gritty side of a three-dimensional character, and I really enjoyed that.
ANDREW J. WEST: Well, 22 episodes in a nine-month stretch is a long haul, so I think it’s a good time for a break, but I wish I was coming back to it. That’s the thing. More than anything, the feeling is just that I’m grateful to have gotten to bring this other version of this character to life. I think they did a really good job of bringing the Henry character full circle with seeing these other versions of Henry. I’m not just talking about in flashbacks, but actually a little bit of a time-travel element. More so than letting go of the character, I feel like I’m part of sending this character off into legacy or whatever you want to call it, into the life that Henry had. That’s cool. That’s what this week feels like for me if I focus narrowly on just on my job, which is exciting.
What has it been like having all the originals back?
WEST: It’s so strange and surreal because I’ve watched all of the show, and I just met Josh and Ginny for the first time yesterday. In some ways, it kind of felt like we were doing a brand-new show, because there was such a big change at the start of season 7, but this week it feels like I’m a part of the original Once Upon A Time, which is just a surreal feeling, especially after having worked on the entire season. It feels great. It all makes perfect sense for the arc of the entire series over seven years. It’s just exciting.
What do you feel like is going to be Once Upon a Time’s legacy?
RAMIREZ: Happy endings. That’s more than a legacy. I think very few shows have come into our industry and changed the tempo and the narrative of stories, and Once Upon a Time did that.
WEST: [Executive producer Edward Kitsis] has said this a lot of times, but I think it’s absolutely right about this: It’s going to be a long-lasting piece that was extremely successful, that had a huge following, that really touched a huge audience, but that was very optimistic and hopeful, especially in this day and age. It ran from 2011 to 2018, and in that era, in the era of antiheroes and a lot of cynical television, it managed to be extremely successful as an optimistic and hopeful piece. I think that that’s what it will be remembered as, and I think that it’s going to continue to have a life, especially now with Netflix and streaming services. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it even continue to grow in popularity, at least for some years after it goes off the air, because it finds second life on those platforms. It’ll be just an example of a hopeful piece of entertainment in this day and age, which is sort of rare.
Can you talk about the importance of sending a message that anyone deserves a happy ending?
RAMIREZ: I think the temperament of the world today, and civilizations that have passed and civilizations that will come, it’s always important to know that you have a happy ending, whatever that means for you. It’s gonna be different than what it means to me. And I think that’s what Once Upon a Time really did for a lot of people, it really allowed them to love themselves as an individual and a person, and see what their happy ending could have been and gave them a lot of hope in their lives and in the world. I know that it changed my life and it’s changed a lot of people’s lives. I have fans that come up to me, or fans that write to me through social media, and say the most incredible things about how it’s helped them have confidence and it’s helped them see the world differently. Everybody needs an outlet, and I believe that Once Upon a Time did that for many, many fans.
If you could open up a new chapter of Once Upon a Time 10 years later, what would you want it to be about?
RAMIREZ: I would have to see what the temperament of the world is then to decide, because what I think Once Upon a Time does really well is touch upon universal themes like love, and confidence, and self-love. That’s always universal, and that’ll withstand the test of time. So no matter what time in the world that it is, or 10 years from now, five years from now, that’s something that Once Upon a Time will always touch upon.
WEST: When I think about some of my favorite characters from the show, and from this season, I genuinely love what they’ve done with the Alice/Tilly character. And I love what Rose [Reynolds] has done in it. I think you could spend a season, at least, focusing on how that develops, and her adventures with the flashbacks that Once Upon A Time has always done so well. I always wanted more of the dynamic between Gold/Rumple and Henry. It’s tough because of the way that things end in season 7. But that’s a relationship that I would like to see continue and see where it leads. And again, even see adventures and flashbacks that we haven’t seen. Then, on top of that, just to see how the Mills lineage continues, to see what happens with Lucy, because she’s so like Henry was at that age. There’s just endless possibilities. There’s no shortage of stories to go off on when it comes to that.
READ MORE OUAT CONTENT: On set of the series finale || OUAT bosses tease series finale || Check out series finale photos || OUAT’s final villain revealed || OUAT’s timeline explained || Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas interview || Lana Parrilla interview || The Hot Seat || Colin O’Donoghue interview || OUAT pokes fun of itself || OUAT‘s 25 craziest fairy-tale twists
What do you feel like you’ve achieved with these characters?
WEST: Well honestly, and this isn’t just me, it’s more the writers, and it’s Jared, and a little bit me coming in at the end and playing my small part, but what I feel like we’ve accomplished is that we’ve established Henry as a very multidimensional character. Henry was always the beacon of hope. He was the beacon of light. He strayed a little bit in season 3 when he went to Neverland. But otherwise, he was this rock that everybody else circled around. They would go off on their own adventures, but a lot of it had to do with his well-being or him. We saw a little bit of his adventures as the Author in some of the later seasons, before season 7. But now, in season 7, he’s become this multidimensional figure who has had struggles, and who’s had flaws and gone off on his own adventures. Again, a lot of that really is the writing, and it’s Jared’s foundation that he built. But I feel like together we’ve all accomplished that. We’ve created this very fleshed-out, highly illustrated character, and we brought it full circle, and we’ve wrapped it up.
RAMIREZ: Look at Cinderella and how much guts it took for the creators of Once Upon a Time to really tackle a different take on a character that they had even created for the first three seasons of a show and say, “Hey, no, we’re gonna take this other ride with this other person in this other book.” I’ll always be grateful to them for that, for having a vision and having an understanding and an open mind and really seeing that there are many different ways which you can interpret a character, because I could have played any other character. There’s so many princesses that we could have tackled, and it did take a lot of guts knowing the kind of fans that they had. But again, I think that what the creators of Once Upon a Time do, and as a show what it does, is really takes chances, and it really doesn’t care what anybody has to say. This is what we’re gonna say right now, and you’re gonna follow.
How do you feel about the ending for your characters?
RAMIREZ: I really loved it. You have to think about, when it comes to my character, it’s not in individual. I can never take an individualistic perspective when it comes to Ella. It’s not the kind of ending that it would have had had it just been a Cinderella story. So you have to think of the fact that they had to implement a lot of these other characters that they had to pay tribute to because there were six other seasons that have happened before my character come into play. So I do believe that we honored those characters in really great way. And as far as my character is concerned, I feel like I had an incredible beginning part of the final season. In a different way, I became a part of the entire show. I really love the way that in the final episode, we’re able to grab not only the characters within this particular season, but then bring all the characters that people have loved from all the other seasons and mesh them all into one beautiful stew.
WEST: I think Henry’s ending is extremely well done. But more so, the ending works for Henry because the ending works for Henry’s family. That’s what it’s always been about for Henry, since the beginning. He was the one who was always trying to bring people together, and that happens at the end. I think that that validates his struggle through this entire thing. So, by way of that accomplishment, he accomplishes the greatest thing that he ever could for himself, and that’s what’s cool to see.
How would you describe the finale in scope?
RAMIREZ: It’s epic. Again, I’m gonna give tribute to the creators for being able to tackle all the different realms and all the different characters that have touched peoples’ souls from season 1 to season 7. Even being a part of the show, and being a fan of the show before I became part of the show, I think it’s bittersweet. You get to see all the characters that you have fallen in love with all in one room for one last time. That’s beautiful. But for Ella, to be honest with you, if I could have had a couple of more family members, that would have been nice.
WEST: The finale is maybe the single most massive episode that the show has ever done, and I mean that in all sincerity. I mean, the amount of characters that we’re going to see in the series finale, the amount of characters that stretch back to the pilot that have been a part of the show since day one, the amount of locations, the adventure, the villain that rears their head toward the end there that needs to be vanquished, all of it is absolutely epic, and massive, and exciting. And it’s some of the best stuff that the show has ever done.
Once Upon a Time’s series finale airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.