Press conference with the Queens of Darkness from 'Once Upon A Time'

At Dragon Con 2015, had the opportunity to speak with Kristen Bauer van Straten (Maleficent), Merrin Dungey (Ursula) and Victoria Smurfit (Cruella De Vil), better known as the Queens of Darkness from ABC’s Once Upon a Time.

Bauer, Dungey and Smurfit each admitted to enjoying their stay at Dragon Con 2015, though they did make it clear that they always have fun together. Smurfit pointed out that because Dragon Con is a fan run convention there’s a freedom to it you don’t see at other cons. “There’s a ridiculous amount of human beings in this building, there’s more here than in the country I come from and frankly they’re all being polite and getting on with it...they’re all expressing themselves in extraordinary ways," Smurfit said.

Traveling the convention circuits representing Once Upon a Time has been a great way to interact with their fans, and they each have a goal for that interaction. Smurfit wants fans to know that they are not actually as evil as they appear on T.V. Bauer wants them to feel like she is listening to them; to give them that genuine interaction that she desires when she meets people from shows that she loves. “I want to hear them, and say ‘thank you,’” she explained. In a similar statement, Dungey expressed her concern that fans are calm enough to enjoy and remember the experience of meeting her. She wants them to know “I’m here and I appreciate that you’re here and I appreciate that you’re my fan and that you enjoy what I have done and that we’re having this moment.” Then, true to her witty nature, Smurfit threw in “I know what I don’t want them to take from it, my wallet or my cell phone!”

On the topic of Once Upon a Time, they were asked what the Queens of Darkness could teach Emma about being evil, assuming she is transported to the Enchanted Forest of the past. Smurfit and Dungey echoed the sentiment that Jennifer Morrison has previously expressed, be selfish! Smurfit exclaimed, “I’d teach her to enjoy every evil second of it, feel no remorse, feel no guilt, and always look fabulous!” As a side note, Dungey added that since Emma never seems to have time to enjoy her lunch, perhaps she could sit back and say “f-off” to everyone as she eats ALL of Granny’s grilled cheese sandwiches!

Previously, at MCM London Comic Con, Dungey commented that if she had the opportunity to return to the show, she’d like Ursula to be called upon when Storybrooke needs something handled, and explained it as “she’s like the town fixer, whether for good or for ill.” So, we asked her to share how she’d go about fixing the problem of Dark Swan, but Dungey pointed out that we don’t really know what the actual problem is yet. We only know that Emma’s the new bad guy. She did, however, share a few humorous musings. If, for instance, Emma were eating all the grilled cheese at Granny’s, she could slip a tentacle in there and take the bread, or if Emma’s ignoring Henry because she’s being selfish, Ursula could rock him to sleep with her tentacles!

This led into a discussion of how incredibly fun their work has been, and how lucky they feel to have been part of the Once Upon a Time family. Dungey brought up the scene in the cabin where Ursula grabs Snow by the neck and Emma reacts by lifting up her hands to use her magic. She said she felt silly because there they were, a bunch of grown-ups in a room yelling “tentacle,” and “laser hands!”

Each of the queens’ stories this past season revolved around family in some manner. Cruella had a dysfunctional relationship with her mother, Ursula was estranged from her father, and Maleficent was reunited with her daughter. When asked if they drew upon their experiences with their own families, Bauer said there was nothing to draw from for Maleficent, which implied that perhaps there was for her portrayal of Pam on True Blood. Dungey admitted that she was able to pull from her experience with disappointing her father when she was a teen, and wanting to apologize. After establishing that she hoped her family was nothing like Cruella’s, Smurfit shared that when her children watched the show they asked her why she always plays the mean person (she was the villain Nina in Bulletproof Monk, and Lady Jayne Wetherby in Dracula).

Screenshot of Nina from Shanahan’s YouTube video and screenshot of Lady Jayne from Nadia Parrilla’s YouTube video

Acting is not only about effectively expressing emotions, but there is also a physical, technical aspect to it. Once Upon a Time presents a technical challenge when actors have to stop mid-motion, or mid-emotion to allow for the magic to happen (usually CGI added in later). Bauer pointed out that it’s hard to have things filmed piecemeal. Dungey added that “As an actor, you want to be able to finish the emotion, and it’s hard to do that when you have to keep stopping.” Smurfit had a perfect example to share. She described what it was like to film the scene in the speak easy when the author gives her jewelry:

“...put the earrings on, take the earrings off. To do something like that, the filming has to pause for you to put the earrings in, and so as an actor you have to kind of push pause in your brain. You’re in the emotional moment going through what you’re doing, but you have to press pause to do something physically to change to then press pause, press play again to continue on and it’s a new trick I had to learn for Once Upon a Time.”

You can view the entire press conference here.

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Carissa Shuman

Carissa is a writer, editor, and artist with a love for science and science fiction.

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