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At New York Comic-Con, fans of “Once Upon A Time” and “Once Upon A Time In Wonderland” poured into the crowded Empire Stage room to hear creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz speak about their two ABC/Disney shows.
Moderated by TVline.com’s Matt Mitovich, the panel kicked off the two co-creators talking about “Wonderland.” Kitsis and Horowitz explained the idea for the spinoff came to them during season one of “Once” while they were working on the first Mad Hatter/Wonderland episode.
“We were in this world we were creating, and it was so fun and it was so exciting, and we were thinking about the character of Alice — there was so much we wanted to do with her, but there wasn’t really a way to fit it in with ‘Once,’” Horowitz said. “It just stuck in the back of our head for a while and grew and grew until it’s ‘Wonderland’ now.”
“We wanted to go back in and tell a really epic love story in this trippy world,” Kitsis said, adding that they thought of mashing it up with Jafar, played by “Lost’s” Naveen Andrews, and the genie Cyrus, played by Peter Gadiot, in order to accomplish that.
Speaking about British actor Michael Socha, who plays the Knave Of Hearts and Alice’s reluctant assistant in her quest to find Cyrus, Horowitz told the audience they were impressed with all the cast members but, “as soon as we met him we were like, this is the Knave Of Hearts,” Kitsis said.
“It took us a minute to understand what he was saying, but once he slowed down it was fine,” Horowitz joked.
Speaking about the villains introduced in the first episode, Kitsis explained that while Jafar wants the bottle for nefarious purposes, what the Red Queen, played by actress Emma Rigby, wants is a mystery “that we’ll slowly unravel.” He then added that much like Regina’s history in the main show, “Wonderland” will show viewers the Red Queen and Alice’s backgrounds via flashbacks.
“Red Queen is very different,” Horowitz said. “Like all of our villains, there are really deep emotional mysteries to what she’s doing.”
“That’s not the last we’re going to see of the little girl in the blue dress,” Horowitz added, promising that watchers will find out how Alice, played by Sophie Lowe, was institutionalized and will get glimpses into her life in Victorian England.
Teasing the fact that Robin Hood will appear on both shows, Kitsis said in episode three viewers will see how the Knave Of Hearts is linked to him. Both co-creators laughed as the audience burst into applause for Barbara Hershey, the veteran television and film actress who plays Regina’s ruthless mother and the Queen Of Hearts in the main “Once” series.
“The Red Queen had to learn it from somewhere,” Kitsis teased of a planned appearance in “Wonderland” for later in the season as the audience gasped and applauded.
Speaking about the show’s use of green screen and CGI characters and world, the co-creators explained that the actors act against white cardboard cutouts of the effects-generated creatures.
“The Caterpillar is real, [Caterpillar actor] Iggy Pop can just transform himself,” Kitsis joked.
The two co-creators also promised that the White Rabbit, voiced by John Lithgow, will have his back story explained in upcoming episodes.
“The Rabbit seems to have affection for Alice, but clearly he’s working for the Red Queen, so the question is “Why?” and we intend to answer that,” Kitsis said.
Mitovich took a moment to ask about the glimpse of Storybrooke viewers saw in “Wonderland” and ask who was driving Emma’s yellow car while she was off in Neverland. The two clarified the pilot of “Wonderland” was co-current with season two of “Once” and that they were planning to wrap up most if not all of the story in the first standalone season.
“The whole idea was telling like a short story…we intend to give you a beginning, middle and end, so if you watch all these questions will be answered,” Kitsis said.
“And answers will be questioned if my Twitter feed is any indication,” Horowitz joked as the audience laughed.
The co-creators then announced a special guest and brought out “Once” star Jennifer Morrison, who plays fairy tale savior Emma Swan, to thunderous applause.
“Season three we get to go so much deeper emotionally…we’ve enjoyed all of the traumatic experiences these guys are putting us through,” Morrison joked.
Speaking about the challenges of season three of “Once,” the co-creators said their main goal was to improve the show episode by episode and to show Emma’s growth. Labeling Morrison’s character Emma a “protective mama bear — and she’s got a sword!” Horowitz continued that he felt this season the character was “fully realized.”
“When Emma’s in a tank top, you know there’s action,” Kitsis added as the audience laughed.
“I had a feeling after spending nine episodes in the fairy tale lands last season in the same outfit and how smelly that was that I had to prepare for the similar possibility this year,” Morrison laughed.
“Every actor gets on the ship with like a backpack because they were trying to outsmart us. They were like, ‘This is our wardrobe!’” Kitsis said, joking, “Then we sent a fleet of mermaids to destroy them.”
Turning to the decision to send Rumplestiltskin off on his own in Neverland, Kitsis explained, “Rumplestiltskin is many things, but a team player is not one of them. He never said he’d work with them, he was not looking for a kumbaya moment, he said he would go to his death to save Henry and he felt he was probably better to do it alone.”
Horowitz added that Regina’s tolerance is quickly wearing thin, and there will be more splintering of the cast as all of the main group begin to rub each other the wrong way. Kitsis also promised fans will see in episode seven what happened in Storybrooke after the ship went through the portal to Neverland.
The two then addressed Charming’s poisoned wound, a result from fighting with the Lost Boys. “There is no cure for the dream shade. He’s always a hero, but right now his mission is saving his grandson,” Kitsis said. “In the next few episodes you’ll get to see why Prince Charming is Charming.”
“It’s going to be a big burden not just physically but mentally,” Horowitz agreed, calling it a “test of strength” for the character.
The panelists and audience cheered again as Mitovich mentioned actor Robbie Kay, who plays the malicious and murderous Peter Pan.
“We’re frightened of him to be honest,” Kitsis said.
“The first time I met him in person up there [at a cast party] and as I was looking for snacks I turned and he was behind me and my instinct was to run away,” Horowitz added with another laugh.
Mitovich asked the panelists why Pan, who had kidnapped Henry due to him possessing the heart of a true believer, didn’t simply take what he wanted from Henry, who is played by Jared S. Gilmore.
“Then there would be no story,” Kitsis joked.
“There is definitely a reason for that,” Morrison said.
“It was our intention to not create a villain who is just out for murder or world domination,” Horowitz said, adding that Peter Pan had a more “complicated agenda.”
“I think Peter Pan is our nastiest villain and most complicated villain — we’re airing 11 straight this year, and by the end of it you’ll understand why I just made that comment,” Kitsis said.
Speaking about the conspicuous deer in the background of a recent episode, the co-creators joked that it was Bambi, then admitted that it was a total accident and a wild deer just happen to wander into the scene while they were shooting.
“With hiring an animal trainer…we cannot afford that shot!” Kitsis laughed, explaining to the crowd that when the deer wandered in they and the director realized they could pass it off as a Bambi reference and told the cameras to “keep shooting!”
“We also got a memo warning about a bear sighting,” Morrison said as the room cracked up.
As for the Captain Hook/Emma relationship, Kitsis joked, “He is working overtime for her!”
However, the three panelists agreed that Emma’s focus was on getting Henry back, though she is impressed by Hook, played by Colin O’Donoghue, and his knowledge of Neverland.
“Episode five we’re going to find out how he became a pirate,” Horowitz added as the audience cheered.
As for Neal/Baelfire, played by Michael Raymond-James, reaching Emma in Neverland, “If and when Neal and Emma find each other again, it’s not as simple as running into each other’s arms,” Horowitz said.
Laughing after Mitovich mentioned the robust fanfic community that had sprung up around the show, and in particular the practice of “shipping” or making up fictional relationships for characters, often of the same sex, the panelists told the cheering crowd they thought it was funny and just showed how invested fans were in their world.
“We’re doing a show about fairy tales…and if you’ve projected yourself into it…then great, that’s awesome, we’re doing our job!” Morrison said as the audience applauded.
“We love the fan art!” Kitsis added.
Mitovich then began the audience Q&A portion of the panel leading with a question from a TVline commenter who wanted to know if viewers would ever find out who wrote the book of fairy tales Henry draws his knowledge from.
“Someday, yes,” Kitsis said, before confirming for another TVline questioner that fans will get to see Regina teach Emma magic.
An audience member wanted to know about the Neal, Mulan, Aurora and Prince Phillip contingent trying to get to Emma and the others in “Once.”
“There’s going to be an interesting scene between Mulan and Aurora,” Kitsis said as the audience gasped and applauded again.
The next fan asked if the panelists could change the events of any episode in “Once,” what they would change. “Here’s the thing — when we sit down to do it, we do what we feel at the time and what we think is best,” Kitsis said.
The next fan to the microphone wanted to know if there are new fairy tale characters they plan on introducing in “Once” and “Wonderland,” or if the co-creators were sticking with the Peter Pan and Aladdin/Wonderland mythologies.
“There are many characters out there — we are going to meet Ariel,” Kitsis said, pausing as the room erupted into cheers and applause. The two also added Rapunzel and Cinderella will be making appearances, though in “Once” they were committed to mainly staying on the core group of main characters in their quest for Henry.
Another audience member wanted to know why Emma refused to hold Henry in the flashback birth scene.
“Emma is not in a situation where she wants to not raise her child, she actually believes that she can’t — she’s in prison and she believes this will be a terrible situation,” Morrison said. “She knows if she even holds him for a second she will keep him, for sure.”
“We really wanted to see that emotion and then cut to the determined Emma on the ship who is going to get her son, no mater what,” Kitsis said.
“And we are going to see Regina’s adoption of Henry soon,” Horowitz added to audience cheers.
The room cracked up as the next fan asked if viewers would ever get to see Emma in a ball gown, as Morrison pointedly looked at the co-creators as well.
“I think all of us want to see Emma in a ball gown,” Horowitz said, adding that it’s not something fans should expect to see while she’s still traipsing around the jungles of Neverland.
A lesbian fan asked the panel if there was any chance that they could give the LGBT community representation on the show.
“Aurora and Mulan?” Morrison began to tease, laughing as the audience burst into wild cheers. She continued, “We’re starting from fairy tales that people have already written, and it takes time to evolve them, and it takes time to mash them, but the series continues to change and evolve, so what I can say to you is keep watching and I think you’ll see what you want to see.”
“We want to represent love in every form,” Kitsis added to whistles and applause.
The last question came from a male fan of the show asked whether or not Ursula will appear in “Once” since Ariel is already confirmed.
“I would be very disappointed if the question is not, ‘Who is she’?” Kitsis said as the audience gasped.
“You’ll see our twist on who is Ursula,” Horowitz added. The three ended the panel by thanking their fans for supporting the show.