Once Upon a Time in Wonderland Star John Lithgow on the White Rabbit’s Secret Motivations — Exclusive
Remember when we thought the White Rabbit was just a cute little bunny who had trouble managing his time? Well, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland introduced us to an entirely new version of the classic fairy tale character — and this bunny is hiding a big secret.
As we learned in the pilot episode, the White Rabbit is working for the Red Queen. She wants to keep her eye on Alice, and she’s using the White Rabbit as her pawn. But will the White Rabbit really betray Alice and the Knave?
Wetpaint Entertainment chatted with the voice behind the enigmatic bunny, John Lithgow, and he dished on what’s to come for the White Rabbit and how his Wonderland castmates remind him of his 3rd Rock From the Sun ensemble.
Wetpaint Entertainment: You were the only cast member who wasn’t on set during filming, so what did you think of the White Rabbit when you first saw him?
John Lithgow: I loved it! I probably loved it more than anybody because I was so delighted with myself, of course. But it was such a revelation. I had actually seen a lot of what you saw, but I had seen it all in pre-production. Nothing was complete. I had seen Sophie [Lowe] and Michael’s [Socha] performance in great detail. I had seen them all do their work, but they were surrounded by green screens and temporary sets. I didn’t know what I was seeing! As far as myself, I was seeing two-dimensional cut-outs of the White Rabbit. In some scenes, I was actually looking at a little four-wheel remote car with a long chrome pole with a little red dot on the top — just so that everybody would be looking at the same thing when they talked to the White Rabbit! You know when you saw the White Rabbit running through the woods? Well, there’s that little remote car, running through the woods, down that path. It was so crazy! So when I saw that face — that marvelous animated face — I hadn’t seen it at all!
We're going to be honest with you: the eyes terrified us. But apparently White Rabbits have scary red eyes.
Those red eyes peeking out from behind his spectacles! I had not seen any of that. You may have thought it was great; I thought it was fantastic! It was such a surprise beyond what I had already seen.
Did you spend any time with the cast? We know you recorded your lines separately.
No! No, I haven’t been anywhere near them! They’ve been up there in Vancouver. I’ve never met any of these actors, and there I am playing these wonderful scenes with them. They’re just marvelous actors. I had never seen any of them before.
Really? We're a huge fans of Michael Socha.
I’d never seen him before! In anticipation of these interviews today, I got online just to find out more about them. That’s the kind of thing you usually find out when you're hanging out with actors while they’re waiting to set the lights for a scene. I may not even meet them for a year, until the Emmy Awards! [Laughs] It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?
Is that weird for you, as an actor? Not to know your co-stars?
I’m used to it. I’ve done plenty of voice animation stuff, so it’s what you expect. When I did Shrek, I met Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and Mike Meyers for the first time at the premiere. And I played long scenes with all of them.
Well, you are pretty lucky in some regards because at least you didn’t get stuck in the Mellow Marsh!
That’s right! Of course, neither did they. What I was seeing was just them pretending to be stuck in a Mellow Marsh. But they did it with such conviction! It was really hilarious.
You have a career full of interesting characters, from aliens to serial killers. What made you want to jump into this role as the White Rabbit and bring him to life?
He’s just a delightful character. He’s very unpredictable and full of secrets. It’s wonderful to play a part where you just know there’s more going on than meets the eye and you’re dying to know what’s really motivating him and what he’s really up to. This is not really true of the Lewis Carroll White Rabbit, where pretty much his only characteristics were he had a stopwatch and he was always late. He wore a little vest and a tailcoat. That’s all you knew about him! This one, you find out all sorts of things about him in upcoming episodes. In the first episode, my whole job was to make people curious. It’s really fun. It’s like telling a great story. You’re keeping a lot of secrets to yourself until the time is right.
In the future episodes, there will be flashbacks to the characters before all of this started. For example, Episode 3 is all about the Knave before he was the Knave of Hearts. Is that in the card for the White Rabbit?
I won’t tell you! But you’ve seen Once Upon a Time, so you know how these storytellers operate. The first episode is full of all sorts of episodes that you don’t get yet. We’re planting little seeds and deliberately making you curious and trying to drive you crazy. It sounds like we’ve done it.
We don’t really know if we can trust the White Rabbit. We assume that’s going to carry on in future episodes...
And it’s a wonderful surprise when you see him sitting down with the Red Queen. It’s like, “What is going on here?” But you’ll find out.
You’ve been part of some amazing ensemble casts and you’ve had a lot of experience working with young actors, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt on 3rd Rock From the Sun, who’s become this huge star.
That really was extraordinary. I knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to have a great future ahead of him. He was too talented. And then Kristen Johnston and French Stewart, these were dazzling comedic actors. We just had a great time. It’s very odd because I feel like I’m in an ensemble like that now on Wonderland— but I’ve never met them! But I know they’re all going to have bright futures in this industry.
Are you watching Wonderland, OUAT fans? What tricks do you think the White Rabbit has up his sleeve? Sound off in the comments!
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland airs on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.