Raphael Sbarge plays one of the most conscientious characters on Once Upon a Time, Archie Hopper/Jiminy Cricket, so who could be better to comment on the way Once's optimistic outlook makes it standout in today's TV landscape of antiheroes and gritty cable dramas?
Wetpaint Entertainment had the chance to chat with Raphael, and in this third part of our interview (don't miss Parts One and Two!) he delves into the way the show plays with classic fairy tales, reinventing them for the modern world while keeping what resonates.
Wetpaint Entertainment: You seem to have hit on why this show has been so successful [in Part Two of our interview]. It's one of the few dramas out there that's a true family show, in that it appeals to people of all ages. How does it do that?
Raphael Sbarge: Right. Without being treacly or too sweet. Sometimes "family entertainment" can be a dirty word, just because of potentially being limiting. Did you ever see the musical, or read the book, Wicked? I feel like [the writers] have done something similar, which is [in Wicked] to take a story we know and reinvent it in such a clever way, such that you can't ever go back to the Wizard of Oz without thinking of some of these other things, and [it was done] with such intelligence and with, again, maintaining the integrity of the original characters.
[The OUAT writers] seem to do that, and keep doing it, even though they're now going into [Mary] Shelley with Frankenstein [Dr. Whale (David Anders)], and Lewis Carroll with The Mad Hatter [Sebastian Stan]. They seem to be on the right side of really creative and imaginative storytelling, so that you're being invited in and creating new relationships with these characters, even though in our imagination it sort of co-mingles with what we already know about them.
When I first went in to audition the part, not knowing what they wanted, I thought, "Do they want a voice soundalike? Or what do they want?" And the early word back was "No, no. Just keep it real, they just want it real." And I feel like that has been a hallmark of what they've done, which is take these characters and open them up, but still maintain their integrity.
When you're playing Archie/Jiminy, how much do you draw from the original tale, or the classic Disney film of Pinocchio, and how much do you just focus on what's presented in the script?
We're all obviously aware of what came before. And I went back and did the research about what the history was, and how [my character] came out of the original Italian novel [The Adventures of Pinocchio] from the 1880s, and how it evolved, and how Walt Disney brought Jiminy from a peripheral character into a much more integral character in the screenplay.
You know all that, and then you have to go with what you have, the story that's at hand, which is a new interpretation, but keeping in mind where it comes from. I'm sure if you were to speak to Ginnifer [Goodwin], who is Snow White, or Josh [Dallas] who's Prince Charming, or any of us — I think we all felt some of the weight of trying to do the right thing with characters who are so beloved. You think, "Oh god, I hope that I don't mess this up for all these people who love these characters!"
What has helped us is how good the storytelling has been. For example, with Jiminy Cricket, they took a guy who's supposed to be "conscience." But as opposed to being a guy who is doing the right thing because he learned it in a book, or because that's what you're "supposed" to do, or that's the etiquette, you actually got the story of a guy who really suffered. A very painful story about how he did the wrong thing, until he decided to do the right thing, and that's where it came out of. What they did, in doing that, is create this idea of conscience coming out of quite a bit of pain. Very cleverly so. It could have been so treacly, and they averted that.
Yes, they do an incredible job taking characters who are so archetypal and larger than life, and giving them motivations and personalities that feel like they could be real, even when they're so good, or so evil.
And then — for example, with the Evil Queen [Lana Parrilla], and Rumplestiltskin [Robert Carlyle], you find yourself rooting for them. You see their hero's journey. I think that they must have read a lot of Joseph Campbell. Everyone in this show has their hero's journey, even the bad guys.
Which is so interesting, given that it's based on fairy tales, where everything is so black and white.
It's funny. I was just talking to someone who was saying that, of course, some of these original Grimms' fairy tales were created, initially, to scare children. To give them a "you shouldn't do that, or the Big Bad Wolf will eat you," essentially. There's a lot of uses for these characters. Like any myth, they carry a lot of basic human truths in them. They carry stories about us.
I think, if I was going to be philosophical and say, "Why is [the show] so successful now in these difficult times?" In these times where we're outside black and white, where we're trying to work through shades of grey, I think it is our attempt to try and understand ourselves, and try to get back to simple truths, and make sense of things.
Do you think that's part of what makes it so successful? It's very different from all the dramas that seem to dwell in the harsher side of things. Anti-heroes are so popular now, but OUAT seems to say, no, you can be good.
In someone else's hands, this would be terrible! [Laughs] They've been able to, in the cynical world we live in, actually do something that has some hope, and speaks to the angel of our better natures, and is about trying to do the right thing, and doing things for love, and fighting because you care. All these kinds of ideas. In the cops and robbers and legal shows and medical shows that the TV dial is rife with — it's really a distinct voice.
For more from Raphael, you can follow him on Twitter @RaphaelSbarge, and don't miss Parts One and Two of our interview.
Catch the next new episode of Once Upon a Time on Sunday, November 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaMartin47.
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