In a role three years in the making, JoAnna Garcia Swisher makes a splashy entrance as little mermaid Ariel on Once Upon a Time Season 3, Episode 6, aptly titled after the dinglehopper-loving redhead. While fans of the original Disney film know that she doesn’t stay in the water for long, the fairy tale drama is taking her story one step further as she explores multiple lands — both on foot and swimming — and all of Once’s magical realms.
While we already knew that Ariel would appear in Neverland, JoAnna tells Wetpaint Entertainment that she “gets around” to multiple worlds, both in flashbacks (Ursula’s transformation, saving Snow White from drowning in Fairytale Land, and, of course, meeting the dashing Prince Eric) and present day (assisting to save Henry and perhaps even entering Storybrooke).
Read on for the first part of our chat, including how her dream role came about, if Ariel will have a hint of evilness in her, Regina’s transformation into Ursula, JoAnna’s instant connection with Ginny Goodwin, and more.
Wetpaint Entertainment: So excited for Ariel to make her splash. The co-creators had you in mind for this role, but since you were pregnant, they had to wait. How long ago did you find out and when did the process officially start?
JoAnna Garcia Swisher: I found out a couple months ago that it was happening before, then we finalized everything. I was in Cleveland with my husband and my daughter, so I flew to L.A. and we sat down and chatted about their ideas for Ariel and I just fell in love with the idea of it, even though I just had a baby. I was like, “Oh my god!” Playing a mermaid just after you have baby is always a little nerve-racking, but it was just too good to be true. I was so excited to do it.
Was Ariel your favorite Disney princess growing up?
I had two — Ariel and Belle. They were my two favorites.
But you don’t get to interact with Belle, who is unfortunately stuck under the Storybrooke dome.
Well, I wouldn’t be so sure about that!
Well, well, well! We know for sure that Ariel will be with Snow White when she saves her, which is in Fairytale Land. When we see her with Ursula, is this all in flashbacks, or is it present day?
You do definitely see me in flashbacks and you find out how Snow and Ariel become friends, and the interesting thing about mermaids is that we can easily swim between realms. So, I think that’s maybe enough of a way to kind of give you an idea of how Ariel aids in the hunt to save Henry.
Adam and Eddy teased she will be seen in Neverland, and there we’ve only seen these scary mermaids who were trying to kill them on their way. We know Ariel is a little bit nicer…
It was the first question I asked Eddy and Adam. I sat down and I was like, “Listen, guys. Is Ariel going to be evil?” And they were like, “Ariel cannot be evil,” and I was like, “Thank you, Jesus!” because I really don’t know if I could have done that.
How is she different from the other mermaids and also from the Ariel we know and love?
That’s what I love about Ariel — she’s just so optimistic and spunky and courageous and a hopeless romantic and I think that fits very well into the notion that maybe she could be living her life in this really beautiful bubble that could be separate to that of the evil mermaids. But she really is true to the original story, and the whole story of Ariel on Once Upon a Time really honors everything that you loved about her — at least I hope! It’s written that way, and I hope that I’ve been able to bring it to life in that way because it was very important for me to be able to do that.
Adam and Eddy did such a great job of creating this hopeless romantic who is so pure and so true and you know, I think all of those special qualities lend themselves to her getting into a little trouble and learning lessons pretty quickly on the fly, and pretty grave lessons, at that. And also, too, the notion of her being in love with this prince who she’s had very little interaction with. It will push her to go to the ends of the earth to do anything to find this man, so if you dangle Eric as a little carrot in front of her, she’ll do anything for you.
That sounds like something that Ursula could use to her advantage…
I think so!
Gil McKinney comes in as your dashing prince, Eric. What was the chemistry like between you two, and what can we expect? It seems like it’s a little more difficult for them to get together than in the movie.
It is. it’s because it has to be a little more realistic, and it’s human. So it is a little different. I mean Gil is fantastic. He’s great and he looks like a Disney prince, so it was a lot of fun. We get to fall in love at a ball, and there is that instant connection, and it was really fun to be able to just bring that to life. But yeah, it's not as easy this time around, and there is always a price for magic, so I think that is the struggle and the journey of Ariel, and it’s interesting to see how it continues to unfold.
We see that Ursula is the Evil Queen in sneak peek footage. Is it a separate persona for Regina, or a completely new character?
Regina is Ursula, so that is really… I mean, Lana [Parrilla] really has the coolest character in the whole world, doesn’t she? It’s like all of these incredibly iconic characters all mixed into one, and for her to be able to pull it off the way that she does is quite humbling to watch. But yes, she is Ursula. I think there was a lot of speculation and it was the obvious choice, but it’s amazing how they’ve been able to figure out a way to make that happen. But that’s the genius of Eddy and Adam! They are so cool.
Ariel is said to come in a surprising way and have a connection to an interesting character. Is that Snow White, or should we be expecting a more shocking reveal?
I definitely am brought in to the story in a surprising way with Snow White, and I say that only because I just love that it was Snow White. Ginny Goodwin is a gem of a human and has probably been one of my most favorite people to work with. I can’t explain it, the love that you see that these two characters share for each other; this instant friendship that they have is something I felt we really have instantly, and I have so much admiration for her. I just love watching her!
And I know Ginnifer hates being in the water, so having you there was probably very comforting.
That is just the tip of the iceberg of the comfort that Ginny brought to me. We just really, we had a lot of fun. Like I said, coming to my first job back just after having a baby — I started the show only 10 weeks after I had the baby — it was, you know, a little nerve-racking.
It sounds like we’ll be seeing her helping Snow out in the past and in the present. She’s everywhere!
Yeah! Ariel gets around, that’s all I’ll say. [Laughs] Leave it to me — friggin’ everyone at ABC probably just had a heart attack, but they know me well enough now. I’ve worked for them long enough that they know I can always come up with some good one-liners.
What do you want to see from Ariel on Once Upon a Time? Do you think she and Prince Eric will get their happily ever after? Sound off below, and check back to Wetpaint Entertainment for the second part of our chat tomorrow — including what it was like working with that infamous green screen and if singing will be involved.
Once Upon a Time airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.