Robert Carlyle Talks Once Upon a Time and the Importance of Fairy Tales

Robert Carlyle Once Upon a Time Interview
Robert Carlyle - Photo © Richard Chavez
Last season on ABC’s addictive fantasy adventure series Once Upon a Time was full of unexpected twists and complications, and things aren’t going to get any easier for our favorite fairy tale characters in season three. At the 2013 San Diego Comic Con to talk about the show, Robert Carlyle said these twists and turns are what makes the show so exciting for him as an actor. He’s not just playing one role; he’s playing a variety of interesting characters and each new script provides him with a further opportunity to learn new aspects of ‘Gold’/’Rumplestiltskin’.

Robert Carlyle Once Upon a Time Interview:

You went through some massive changes last season, character-wise. What was the season two experience like?
Robert Carlyle: “Well, it’s gold dust for an actor, that. You know, nothing would be more dull than playing the same thing for 22 episodes. With the best will and intent, you know, it would start to wobble. But the guys continue to keep me on my toes by changing things around.
A wonderful thing for me, of course, with Rumplestiltskin, is there’s not two characters but five. You’ve got the early one; you’ve got the kind of just where he became the dark one; the evil, dark one at the beginning; the guy who’s maybe a wee bit more fun towards the end of it; and you’ve got the different versions of Gold, as well, in there. There’s something different for me almost every episode.”
Of those five characters or parts of the same character, which one is really interesting to play?
Robert Carlyle: “I like the one who’s just became the dark one. I like that guy there because he’s still struggling with himself. He doesn’t really know where he is or what he can actually do and he’s impressed by that, so he impresses himself. I think that’s the guy who’s going to get the most mileage. I think that as this season progresses, I think we actually do go back to him. I think it will be episode four or five or six or something you see him again. I think you see him probably more than any of the other characters that I mentioned. I like playing that guy.”
Rumplestiltskin has almost become sort of a Greek tragic figure on the show in the sense that he knows he’s going to die. How has that affected your performance?
Robert Carlyle: “Well, he didn’t know that until maybe episode 16, 17, something like that. I think in the beginning he rejects it. I think that certainly Henry was absolutely in danger for a few episodes. I think he would have killed him. There’s not any doubt about that, but as it’s progressed, of course, he realizes who this kid is and this is too much even for him to take in.
As season two ends, we understand, obviously, that he thinks Baelfire is dead. What can he do to honor the memory of his son and to take away all the bad feelings that go along with that because of the fractious relationship that they’ve had? What can he do other than try to find Baelfire’s son, even though that means his eventual undoing? In a sense, at the beginning of season three, he’s in the most dangerous place that he’s been in so far. He is on a suicide mission. I think he expects to die…and he may well.”
What happens when he discovers his son isn’t dead? Does that suicide mission change for him?
Robert Carlyle: [Laughing] “I really don’t know because we’ve only got two scripts of season three at the moment, so I can’t see into the future there.”
Actors always say that they wanted to do something for their kids. Was that one of your thoughts when you got into this three years ago?
Robert Carlyle: “Yeah, I certainly thought of it. I wouldn’t say it was whole thing. It’s certainly part of it. I thought, for the first time my kids can actually sit and watch things that I’m in…and they do. They love it. That’s, again, the great thing about the show. It plays right across the board. My seven-year-old gets as much out of it in his way as my mother-in-law does in her way, who’s in her 80s. They enjoy it for different reasons.”
How do you feel about ‘happily ever after’ and do you think that we should sell that to our children?
Robert Carlyle: “Yeah, certainly, absolutely. I think fairy tales in general are things that have been kind of not lost exactly but in these days of video games, etc., etc., it’s easy for these things to get left behind when you see young kids at four and five years old with iPods and stuff like that. It’s sad. I remember when I was putting my kids into early kindergarten school, the teachers said that very few kids know nursery rhymes these days. That is really sad. ‘Hickory, Dickory, Dock’ or whatever it is, they don’t know these things; they’re not taught these things any more.
I think it’s one of the reasons why this show has been so successful is that it takes the audience back to that time. It’s maybe a simpler time, in a way, but these fairy tales themselves, they were originally used for warnings. Hansel and Gretel was ‘don’t take sweets from strangers. Don’t get in the house.’ These things are important life lessons to give to your kids early on, I think. I think this show brings a lot of that back.”
How about waiting for your Prince Charming then?
Robert Carlyle: “Why not? Why not? [Laughing] I believe everyone has someone for them. I think there’s someone out there for everyone. Maybe they just have to wait for Prince Charming to arrive.”