When “Once Upon a Time” returns to ABC this fall, the fairytale drama is going to look very different. At the end of the sixth season, series stars Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, Jared Gilmore, and Emilie de Ravin all exited, paving the way for new cast and characters.
“We were coming from ‘Lost’ so we thought of a five-year plan, and I think around Season 4 we wanted to write toward our own endpoint, and if the show was successful enough, or the network had interest, then we would reboot it,” executive producer Edward Kitsis says.
When “Once Upon a Time” first launched in 2011, the central story was that of Snow White (Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Dallas) and the daughter they saved from a curse by pushing her through a magical portal to the real world. Years after that event, Emma (Morrison) had a child of her own, Henry (Gilmore), who came to find her to save the characters from his book from the curse. Now, though, the show will shift focus to put a similar twist on another classic Disney princess.
Henry is now the grown-up (played by Andrew J. West) getting a knock on his door from his child, Lucy (Allison Hernandez), who needs help to save beloved characters, including her mother, Cinderella (Dania Ramirez). And with Cinderella of course comes a new ensemble that includes her evil stepmother (Gabrielle Anwar) and wicked stepsister (Adelaide Kane).
“Henry has found himself in a new book with new characters, and he’s called on some of his friends like Captain Hook and Rumplestiltskin and his mom, the Evil Queen, to join him,” Kitsis says.
That means that Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue, and Robert Carlyle are back for season seven, but in a new way — and also a new location in Seattle from the small, fictional town of Storybrooke.
“It’s a mix of characters the audience has grown to love over the years but also bring in new characters and be able to tell new origin stories,” executive producer Adam Horowitz says. “With the new stories we’re not so beholden to that old mythology. Hopefully it will be refreshing for the audience to come in and start with new chapters.”
However, neither Horowitz nor Kitsis is looking to undo or rewrite any of the histories or happy endings of the characters the audience came to know and love in the first six seasons. And they promise long-time viewers of the show will get answers as to what happened to some of the partners of characters that are still on the show.
“Episode two is going to answer what has happened with Emma and Captain Hook, and episode four is going to answer for Belle,” Kitsis says.
When the show picks up with Hook minus the love of his life, he is very different from the other versions of the character O’Donoghue has played. “There’s a sense of loss there in the guy that I like to think he just doesn’t know what it is, what’s missing. So he’s striving to find who he is still. The Hook that we meet is trying to be the best uniform cop that he can be, but as is always the case on ‘Once Upon a Time,’ it’s more complicated than that!” O’Donoghue says.
Similarly, without the love of Regina’s life — her son Henry — she will be very different as well, from her look to her attitude. Going by a new name which producers and Parrilla aren’t ready to reveal just yet, the character is now a bar owner who lives in denim and rock tee-shirts instead of pantsuits. “She’s a little rough around the edges, not the queen that we’re used to. She has curly hair, she looks very different — she feels very different,” Parrilla says.
Her relationship with her son is also very different because she has not seen Henry at all as a man, only as a teenager years ago. Parrilla says she’s “taken aback” by seeing him grown and the journey, especially in the first few episodes, is in finding the relationship at all — much like how Emma had to find a relationship with her parents in the early days of the show. “He’s a man now and how does she deal with him as a man?” Parrilla says.
Horowitz says that even with all of the changes, the core of the show being centered on hope and characters wanting to build better lives is still intact. And of course the “epic romance” that comes with fairytale couples has to be a core staple, too. While Snow and Charming gave the audience that in season one, and later seasons introduced Emma and Hook, this time around the couple Horowitz and Kitsis hope viewers fall in love with is Henry and Cinderella.
“This year we’re showing you how they met, how they fell in love, and whether or not they’ll find each other in Seattle,” Kitsis says.
There is a figurative magic in such romance, but Horowitz and Kitsis say the show is dialing back the literal magic in the present day story on the show. “In the pilot there was a stopped clock that ticked at the end and that was [a little bit of magic],” Horowitz says. “We’re returning to that modality where in the real world we’re aiming to tell really grounded, emotional, human stories and then contrast that with the magic of the fairytale world.”
“Once Upon a Time” returns to ABC on Sunday, October 6.