Once upon a time, a young girl named Alice took a trip down a rabbit hole and experienced fantastical adventures that would sound insane to anyone in the real world.
That's exactly where we find Once Upon a Time in Wonderland's Alice (Sophie Lowe) when the Once Upon a Time spin-off premieres on Thursday (8/7c, ABC). It's been years after her journey following the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow), and Alice finds herself in a mental institute after her quest to get evidence that Wonderland exists results in the loss of her love, a genie named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot).
With Alice on the brink of receiving a procedure that would wipe her memories clean, former ally the Knave (Michael Socha) and the White Rabbit come bearing news that Cyrus is actually alive — and thus begins Alice's journey back to Wonderland, where, this time, she'll face more than just the dastardly Red Queen (Emma Rigby), but also a villain that Aladdin fans will deem worthy of joining the Once franchise: Jafar, the Royal Vizier of Agrabah (Lost's Naveen Andrews). To get familiar with Wonderland, TVGuide.com turned to executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis:
How does Wonderland stand apart from Once Upon a Time?
Adam Horowitz: It exists in the same universe as Once Upon a Time, but it really is designed as a show that anyone can drop in whether they've watched Once or not. If they have watched Once, there are shout-outs and tie-ins and things that reward you. The other difference is that with Once, we've been so lucky to have fans that have been watching us since the beginning telling what we hope to be a really big story spanning many, many seasons. Wonderland is designed as a single season story with a beginning, middle and end that completely resolves itself. Should it succeed, should people enjoy it and want more, we would then take these characters on a new adventure in the following season.
Edward Kitsis: We wanted to approach it like a movie. You watch Star Trek, they're on one adventure. Then in the next movie, it's the same people on another adventure. Of course, their character development is furthered and their personal relationships change. For us, with Wonderland, we weren't interested in creating another five-year mythology. We were interested in telling a very contained, limited story. If people like these characters, we'll throw them in another adventure.
Horowitz: It was never designed to be a full 22-episode season, which it will not be. Whatever the final number winds up being, it will be a more limited, contained series that by the end of it, you will hopefully know the complete resolution that was set up in the pilot.
Kitsis: You can sit down and watch the first episode and say, "OK, I can relax, because I know by the end of it, this story is going to end."
Where did the inspiration for Wonderland come from?
Horowitz: The inspiration from Wonderland really came in Season 1 when we did the Mad Hatter (Sebastian Stan) episode. We realized this is an awesome world to explore. We don't have room for it over on the mother ship show. It just stood in the back of our head, "If we ever had the opportunity, this would be a world that we'd explore." The character of Alice is one that we didn't want to have to just shoehorn into once. She seemed to have so much more that we can deal with, and the ideas kept snowballing.
Talk about Alice, who is a very strong character. When you guys were starting out with Once, you had issues with how much you could portray a Disney princess as a sword-wielding heroine. Do you have that same trouble with Alice?
Kitsis: Last year after Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) killed Cora (Barbara Hershey), they apparently let us push her as far as we can.
Horowitz: No, I would say that we've been very lucky that Disney has given us great latitude in how we do our spins on these characters. With Alice, it's no different. Part of it is the Alice that we're all familiar with is the Alice from the books [by Lewis Carroll] and the movies, which was the young Alice. We're taking Alice a little bit older, when she's grown up a bit and she's come back. We're saying: What happened next? Our first answer is that she wound up in a mental institution. We want to explore how she wound up there, but as you see in the pilot, you see her get out of there and go back to Wonderland. There's a whole slew of adventures that occur along the way of her trying to reunite with Cyrus.
Kitsis: You'll realize that our Alice is somebody who is adventurous and she is curious. At the same time, she's a little broken. She grew up without the love of a family and she found it in Cyrus and then lost him. I think that broke her. As you see in the pilot, when the Knave comes back and gives her the hope that he's alive, you see her light up. You see this glimpse of somebody, like, "Oh, I want to follow her! She's tough, she's adventurous, but she's kind."
What can you tell us about Cyrus, the genie?
Kitsis: We thought about who Alice would be in love with. Here is a curious girl who followed a White Rabbit down a hole. She's adventurous. So if she's adventurous, who would be the person she'd fall in love with? We thought of the genie. What we love about genies is that you're a prisoner of a bottle and you spend lifetimes watching people waste their lives. Our genie character thought, "If I ever fell in love, if I ever got out, I would do it right." We love the idea of mashing that up. We thought if there's a genie, we have to bring in Jafar. We immediately thought of Naveen. We were like, Sayid is going to be Jafar!
Horowitz: It was actually pretty funny because that was the inspiration at first when we were creating Jafar. When we got around to casting it, we knew we needed someone like Naveen to do this. We were like, "We've worked with him, maybe we should ask him." He was like, "Great!" We were so happy he said yes. He just slipped right in.
Kitsis: We just wanted the tone to be unsettling like a Kubrick film, but at the same time, we wanted it to be psychedelic, which is what Alice should be. Of course, the Once brand is about love. That is our franchise. So we wanted to tell this epic, psychedelic romance.
How different is this Jafar from the one we know from Aladdin?
Kitsis: It's not a cartoon.
Horowitz: He's pretty scary. He has a staff. The parrot is not there yet.
Kitsis: It's Naveen Andrews as Jafar. You know this is a man we've seen break someone's neck with his legs on Lost. Now he's got magic. What he's bringing to the role is so exciting. Yeah, he may be a villain and he may be evil, but how did he become what he is?
There seem to be a lot of parallels between Alice and Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison).
Kitsis: Yeah, there are a lot of parallels. In a weird way, she's a combination between Bandit Snow and Emma.
Horowitz: The approach is creating characters that I'd want my daughters to watch. They can be flawed and they should be flawed, because people are flawed, but they're strong women and they're smart and resourceful. They're not defined by their love interests. They're defined by what they want on a deep, emotional level. That's the bar we try to set for all our characters. What's the Alice I want my daughters to watch? What's the Alice that we think will be cool, different and will fit into contemporary times, even though she doesn't exist in contemporary times necessarily, but feels right for this age?
How does the Red Queen compare to the Queen of Hearts (Hershey) or the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla)?
Kitsis: Much different. I think that Cora and Regina have their own thing going on. The thing they have in common, as we always say, evil is not born, it's made. We will see what made the Red Queen. Emma Rigby plays it in this wicked Julie Christie-like way.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland premieres Thursday at 8/7c on ABC. Will you be watching?