Behind the Scenes of ‘Once Upon a Time’ with Executive Producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis Interview
Adam Horowitz, Josh Dallas, Rebecca Mader, and Edward Kitsis at the 2014 WonderCon. (Photo © Rebecca Murray)

By Rebecca Murray

Will Henry get his memory back? Will the Wicked Witch’s storyline wrap up during the season three finale? How about those rumors of Frozen characters visiting Storybrooke? And what about killing off a fan favorite character? Once Upon a Time co-creators and executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis answered/dodged those questions during our interview at the 2014 WonderCon in Anaheim, CA.

[Warning: This interview includes a specific question about a major character who was killed off this season.]

Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz Interview

We want all the secrets from next season.

Edward Kitsis: “You have to watch this season first or else next season will make no sense.”

How can you top this season?

Edward Kitsis: “I don’t know. That is what keeps us up at night.”

Adam Horowitz: “But the challenge is it’s to always raise the bar, to try to keep developing and deepening the story and take it different places. That’s what we push ourselves to do and we hope to continue doing that.”

Speculation on Twitter is that you’re looking into getting Frozen characters on the show.

Adam Horowitz: “There are a lot of rumors.”

Edward Kitsis: “We were asked a question, ‘Do we like Frozen?’ and we said, ‘Oh my god, we love Frozen. That would be awesome,’ and somehow that has become a story. I mean, I also like Darth Vader but he’s not coming on. But you know, you never say never.”

Adam Horowitz: “We’re fans of Frozen, we’re fans of Brave, we’re fans of a million Disney properties and fairy tales and stories that we feel would be great parts of this show. But what we’re doing right now this season is we’re really focusing on the characters you’ve seen and the ones we’ve introduced. And where we might go in the future is stuff that we’re hoping to mull over and hopefully surprise people.”

Why did you make the Wicked Witch so powerful that it will take Regina and Emma working together to fight her?

Edward Kitsis: “Well for us there was a sense of the Wicked Witch, you will find out that she’s a product of severe dark magic so you will need light magic to counteract that. But for us what we really liked when we came up with the Wicked Witch is somebody that for magic she was just a natural at. Her being so proficient at magic and Regina realizing that would kind of throw her off her game. When you think you’re the best and then you find out that the person who told you you were the best really didn’t think you were the best, how do you come back from that?”

Adam Horowitz: “And also just purely what’s the fun in a villain that’s easy to defeat? We wanted to find a villain or an antagonist like the Wicked Witch who is more than a match for all of our characters, and to give her hopefully a really deep, psychological reason for why she’s doing the things she’s doing and have those things touch all of our characters and force them to have to figure out ways to battle a tougher adversary than they’ve ever seen before.”

What can you tease about the rest of the season and will Henry get his memory back?

Adam Horowitz: “The issue of Henry and his memory…”

Edward Kitsis: “…gets revolved.”

Adam Horowitz: “It gets resolved and it comes to the forefront rather quickly, obviously before the end of the year. What happens with Henry is really key to what happens as the climax between our heroes and the witch.”

Edward Kitsis: “What I can say is we designed this season as to be two separate seasons. There’s the Neverland and as we said, there’s a beginning, middle, and end. And so for the Wicked Witch it’s the same thing. We plan to complete this season’s arc so that what we set up in the beginnings of 12 episodes in the beginning will finish the story by the end.”

Is there any character who has gotten more time on screen based on fan reaction?

Adam Horowitz: “I wouldn’t say that. Look, we love to listen to our fans and to hear from all of our fans on what they’re thinking and feeling but…”

Edward Kitsis: “When we originally wrote the pilot, our idea was that Prince Charming didn’t get out of the coma until episodes three or four. We felt that would be a great thing to build to, and Josh [Dallas] was so good in the pilot that we woke him up in the next episode. So oftentimes characters will get…it’s based on excitement. That’s a perfect example. We hadn’t even aired, it was a pilot, but we were so excited by Josh and the way he portrayed this character that we started writing for him more.”

Adam Horowitz: “Right. And it’s a balancing act of we want the fans to be happy, we want create a show that they appreciate and like, but we have to go with our gut. The example Eddie just explained is a perfect example of that where it’s like Josh was so amazing in the pilot that it kind of shifted a lot of the thinking about when the character would wake up and all that, that it forced us to act in a different way. It has to come from the gut and you have to go with your instincts. And, also, the way that the show is produced particularly this year when we did 11 episodes and 11 episodes, by the time we aired the first episode of the second run this year, we were writing the finale. So we really have to learn to trust our instincts and hope the fans trust them as well and go along with them.”

Edward Kitsis: “You can’t adjust that quickly. We don’t do it live. So if they’re like, ‘Wow, we really want more of somebody,’ you can’t just change the next week’s episode because that’s been locked and cut for months.”

Adam Horowitz: “It’s that thing where you want to know what the fans think and feel and appreciate that, but you also can’t write by polling.”

Edward Kitsis: “If we listened to everything, every character would be alive, dead, married, and single. [Laughing] I don’t know how to do all four.”

Adam Horowitz: “Exactly. And we would still be writing episode 102. We’d still be trying to figure out what to do, based on millions of opinions.”

We’ve found out a little bit about what happened to Hook over the past year. Are we going to get more memories back before the finale?

Adam Horowitz: “I think that the mystery of that missing year will be definitely resolved before the end of this year.”

Edward Kitsis: “We will see a big chunk of that next week in episode 19 called ‘A Curious Thing.'”

You do such a good job of taking your bad characters and making us sympathetic to them (other than Pan). Are we ever going to be sympathetic to the Wicked Witch?

Edward Kitsis: “Pan, what we loved is that at the end of the day we wanted to create…to us, anyone who wants to live 14 forever is the most selfish person in the world. We knew he was Rumpel’s dad, and we wanted his end goal just to be self-preservation. We loved the idea of just selfishness as opposed to world domination. The Wicked Witch, I think if you felt for her in ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green,’ then you feel for her. If you think that she handled it badly, then you want her to die. I think it’s your interpretation of whether or not had she had more support and love in her life, she’d have gone down a different road.”

Adam Horowitz: “I think as far as the witch goes we’ve shown some of the past that shaped her into who she was. We’re going to delve a bit more into what she’s doing and why, and we’ll see more of that. It’s up to the audience to decide if that’s sympathetic or not.”

Edward Kitsis: “What we can tell you is she’s wicked.”

Adam Horowitz: “She’s wicked. And a lot of our so-called evil characters or bad characters are characters who take adversity and things that happen to all of us and they react in a different way. Hopefully you understand the reasoning behind their reaction, even if you don’t condone what they do.”

Can you talk about the decision to kill Bae?

Adam Horowitz: “Look, it’s not something we take lightly. We love the character, we love Michael Raymond-James. When you’re telling a large serialized story like we’re endeavoring to do, there are ups and downs in that story for those characters. This was one of the most difficult things we’ve had to do on this show the entire run.”

Edward Kitsis: “Yes. For us, we loved the idea of him when he lost Emma and Henry at the end of the first 11 and they went to New York, we loved the idea of him starting to go down the same path his father did which was, ‘I will do anything to get with my son, no matter the cost.’ And then realizing that his father sacrificed himself for him, so the person that he always thought was a coward finally redeemed himself, and so Neal had to honor that. We liked that kind of history repeating itself and then not. Unfortunately that meant he had to die.”

Adam Horowitz: “And I would also say this about his death which is that the ripples of the death have not stopped being felt. As you continue to watch this season you’ll see that play out.”

Any chance August Booth will be back anytime soon?

Edward Kitsis: “Not this year but definitely. We love Eion Bailey and we love that character. He’s always on our mind.”

Adam Horowitz: “August is in our mind and how to incorporate him in the show.”

How far ahead are you thinking?

Adam Horowitz: “I would say this, if we’re lucky enough to continue for however many years we sort of attack that. We try to have a broad sense of where we would want the show to ultimately finish and end – whenever that might be. But we can really only attack it one season at a time. What we try to do is plan out the entire arc of the season with the hope that there’s further seasons beyond that to sort of set the pieces in place for that. But, say, do we have an idea for what season seven would be? No. Do we have an idea of where we would like the show to ultimately go? Yes.”

Edward Kitsis: “We kind of know the last couple scenes and where we want to get to. And what we do is in between seasons – in fact, we’re doing it right now – is we are planning next season and then we all go take a little time off and come back.”

Why do you think parenthood is such a strong motif in this show?

Edward Kitsis: “Well, I think there’s no greater stakes than family. I think family is a very universal theme and I think the things that are interesting about fairy tales is they tell us how to live our life or be with our family, or how we deal with the loss of a family member. And for us this was always about a dysfunctional family trying to come together and get their happy ending. For us, what’s more emotional? If Peter Pan was just some really snotty kid at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean anything. But when you realize he’s Rumpel’s father, and you go back to everything that Rumpel’s ever done – ‘I don’t want to be a coward.’ ‘I don’t want to be like my dad.’ – the fact that he let Bae go and it drove him nuts because he did to his son what he did to his father, it makes it richer. People were like, ‘Did Bae have to be Henry’s dad and that?’ If he was just some guy named Steve, who cares? Right? Think that through. ‘Okay, he’s a guy named Steve. He’s living in Detroit.’ Who cares?”

Adam Horowitz: “You know, it’s not to say that everybody has to be related or anything like that. It’s that that kind of bond, the familial bond, is so strong, so powerful, that there’s no greater state at least for us to think about when you’re writing which is how do you interact with your family? How do you raise a family? How do you be a part of a family? Or, how do you find a family, because you’re family doesn’t have to be blood? That’s the greatest thing you can see with the characters is when they find each other and come together and form their own family.”

What does the future hold for Hook and Emma?

Adam Horowitz: “As far as Hook and Emma…”

Edward Kitsis: “…there’s more to be told.”

Adam Horowitz: “There’s more to be told and there’s a lot of craziness going on in Storybrooke right now that they’ve both got to deal with.”

Edward Kitsis: “Unfortunately, Emma wants to go back to New York and Hook wants her to stay, so we’ll see what happens.”

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