This week's "Once Upon a Time" reveals the backstory of the simple miller's daughter who grew up to be the terrifying Cora (Barbara Hershey), the woman responsible for making The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) the villain she is today. Rose McGowan is the actress tasked with showing us Cora's humble beginnings, portraying the character when she first made the outrageous claim that she could spin straw into gold.
HuffPost TV caught up with McGowan to find out how it felt to step into Barbara Hershey's shoes, the highlights of working with Robert Carlyle (Rumplestiltskin) and whether Cora is actually capable of love.
What are you allowed to reveal about this week's episode?
I can reveal that it was certainly an honor getting to play Barbara Hershey, younger, because she’s a tremendous actress. If you’re going to play a part she was playing, that’s a good one. I love people that are operatically evil -- the interesting part is that young Cora is not. She does not start that way; most people, unless they are true sociopaths, do not start off at evil, so to speak. She starts out dirt poor. So she really claws her way to the top and Rumple helps, a lot. He saved her life.
How was the experience of filming with the excellent Robert Carlyle?
Beyond. When Eddy [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz], the creators, called me and they asked me if I would consider doing a part on the show, I said, “Absolutely," the caveat being that I really want my scenes to be with Robert Carlyle because he’s such a tremendous actor. So then, I got my wish and then I was like "Oh no, just kidding -- it's Robert Carlyle and he’s a tremendous actor, I’ve got to step up my game!"
So it was thrilling and terrifying and fun and scary and everything all at once, but we had a fantastic time together. When you work with an actor who is that good, it’s like being professional tennis player. You’re playing with a pro at that point and you’re a pro yourself. So, it’s really nice, high-level tennis that you don’t often get to play with people.
Were you a fan of the show beforehand?
I was a fan of the show. I didn’t really watch it regularly, just because I travel all the time and I’m a very irregular TV watcher, period, but I certainly knew the story and the storyline. I thought this was an amazing way to introduce me into that world. What better way than playing somebody who is one of the coolest people on the show, one of the coolest characters? I love evil. I think there is something operatic and wonderful about it. I figured out that it’s not really much different than having comic timing. It’s very similar. You have to hit almost the exact same beat as if you were doing a comedy, but you’re doing something else. It has very specific beats. This was so well written. They did a really tremendous job. There is a scene that I have with Robert Carlyle, later in the show, that’s probably one of my favorite pieces I’ve done in a long time. It’s a very emotional scene and it was really beautifully written and beautifully acted by Robert, hopefully I did it justice.
Watching the episode, you can really buy into the idea that you and Barbara are the same character -- you have the same bearing and presence on the screen. Did you try to study her performance to capture the essence of the character?
I did at first, but then I realized, it was her origin story so I didn’t have to. I was like, "Wait; this is how she becomes that way. I am not the final incarnation of her." So, there is nothing I really have to imitate. So, that’s how I approached it and also, I watched her. I didn’t try to imitate her voice. We both have kind of deep voices. We already have a lot of physical similarities so I just kind of depended more on that, taking care of that part of it, which freed me up to do whatever I wanted to do.
Have the producers approached you about the possibility of doing more flashbacks?
Well, I just don’t know what to say about that ... [Laughs.] It would be great fun.
The episode features a lot of green screen work -- how was that experience for you?
I have a lot of background in green screen -- I’ve done some of my best work to a green tennis ball on a stick, crying hysterically to a green tennis ball. [Laughs.] I’m very well versed in that world. They’re like, “Do you need the other actor?” I’m like, “No, no. Get the tennis ball. They can go home. It’s okay.”
The dance sequence was amazing because it was huge. I don’t think I’ve done a green screen where they’ve made such a huge set out of green screen. I don’t think I’ve worked with green screen on that level. They’re making a huge castle that you’re walking in. That was interesting to me. I’m really curious to see how that comes out. They do a tremendous job on the show in general, but how great to be in a period scene where you’re doing a court ballroom dance? It’s amazing.
Since all of your scenes are in flashback and you were predominantly working with Robert, were there other characters or actors you wish you could've worked with?
I would love to work with Ginnifer Goodwin. Ginny lives in my old house, which is very funny. A house that I restored she’s lived in for a while now. We got to see each other in the makeup trailer and hang out stuff like that, but it would be great fun to do something with her and Robert ... all of them. It’s such a terrific cast.
Finally, do you think Cora is capable of love, or does she love power more?
I think at one point she was very capable of love and I think at one point in the future, she’ll be capable of it again.
By Laura Prudom