Interview with Lana Parrilla (aka: Regina) of ‘Once Upon A Time’

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Lana Parrilla’s acting CV is more eclectic than most. Kicking off with Spin City at the start of the century, then moving on to cop drama Boomtown, and a slew of hit series, from Lost to NYPD Blue, 24 to Six Feet Under, “variety” to her “is what it’s all about”. And let’s not get started on the host of left-of-centre movies she’s been bold enough to feature in (from Very Mean Men to Spiders to Replicants).

Currently, Parrilla stars in the dual role of Regina Mills and The Evil Queen in the adventure fantasy television series, Once Upon A Time.

Here she chats with Antonino Tati about avoiding typecasting, the strength of television today, and how her Spin City co-star Charlie Sheen would endlessly chew gum…


‘Once Upon A Time’: did you sense from the beginning that the show would be such a huge hit?

I knew it was very special when I read the script. Because of Adam [Horowitz] and Eddy [Kitsis, creators] and their experience on Lost, I thought if anyone can do this show, it was them. I have to admit I was hopeful but I wasn’t certain that it would go anywhere.


Being a show based on parallel universes, per se, was it difficult to get a grip on the scripts and plots?

It was a little confusing at first, but I found a method very early on that would help out. I would separate Fairytale Land and Storybrooke and approached them as individual scripts.


Playing two of the main roles – of Regina Mills and the Evil Queen, do you ever lapse into one when you should be acting as the other?

Never. I think I do a pretty good job of keeping them separate. I honestly didn’t find that challenging at all. I found other things challenging, but not keeping the roles apart.


Tell us something you have found challenging.

I think the origin of the characters’ pain: Regina’s psychological mind and how it works, I found challenging. And that required a ton of research.


You do have to psyche yourself up to play a baddie, don’t you?

On some level, yes.


Were you hesitant of taking on a prime-time role as a baddie?

Not so much. I know that it can sometimes bleed into life.


You mean some viewers might find it difficult to differentiate Lana Parilla, the actress, from the characters you play?

Yes I do. I think a lot of people have difficulty differentiating. I think it’s how viewers are introduced to a person. Some people think I really am Regina and they don’t know how to differentiate between Lana and the character.


Some directors and producers like to have their actors follow typecast patterns. Are you very aware of that and hence like to keep a variety of roles you choose?

A variety, definitely. I think my resume shows that this isn’t the only role I’ve played. In fact, this is my seventh series, and hopefully my demo shows the other sides, and my range.


Certainly. We first saw you in Spin City which was very much a comedy. Do you have fond memories of that show?

I do have fond memories of that show. It was my first big job in television. Funnily enough, I haven’t done comedy since. [Laughs]. I don’t know why; I just haven’t. I learnt a lot from Spin City, working with Charlie [Sheen], and Heather [Locklear] and Michael [J. Fox], I learnt quite a bit from those guys.


How was Charlie Sheen to work with back then? Was he going through a decadent thing or was he more together in those days?

I always found him to be well together. He is a total pro and I found him to be very focused and dedicated. He chewed a lot of gum! Smoked a lot of cigarettes. But he was a true professional and I believe Spin City was his big break back into the industry at that time.


I wanted to focus a little on your filmography. I’ve noticed a lot of the cinema you’ve featured in is quite left-of-centre. Is that by choice?

Yes, I like very unique projects. The most important things for me in a script is the writing. And the role: I don’t like to repeat something I’ve played already. Again, it’s about variety.


Television is becoming what cinema once was: bold and daring, with things we’re seeing on the screen just getting stranger and stranger, would you agree?

I think they’re getting stronger and stronger. I think we’re taking more risks in television. The writing has improved tremendously from what it used to be 15 years ago. The writing is much better than it ever was. And what’s proof of that is the amount of movie actors who are signing up for television. There are a lot more networks and channels producing more dramas and episodics. Before, those were never a consideration. It was always prime-time TV or HBO/Showtime, some things here and there, and that’s about it. Now you can make great shows on any network.


Would you agree that writers used to be dictated by producers and directors to come up with safe material whereas now there’s more free reign on the writers’ behalf?

Yes, there’s definitely more freedom for the writers.


Why do you think fairytale themes are so popular right now, both in film and on television? From the many Snow White movies on the big screen, to Grimm and of course ‘Once Upon A Time’ on TV?

I think it’s because these are stories we’ve grown up reading and loving. These are characters that are familiar to us, and people like what’s familiar to them. It’s comforting, right? On a creative level, though, I think we are exposing these characters on a more human level that no-one has ever seen before; showing their different levels of emotions; their back stories; and a lot of human complexities that go with those. The books we grew up reading didn’t really give much of those back stories…


We’re certainly seeing darker representations of classic fairytales…

Actually, I think they were always dark. They’ve been modified over the years, sure, but initially they were quite dark. And they were written that way for a reason: to teach children what not to do.


But they would capture the baddie in the fairytale books and be done with them, whereas now the force is very strong on both sides: good and evil. I’m sure film analysts are very confused now as to who is the villain and who is the hero…

Well now the hero is the villain and the villain is the hero. I find that [in Once Upon A Time] I’m both the hero and the villain.


Which means characters, both good and evil, end up with these huge followings of fans, sometimes the baddies end up with more fans than the goodies!

This is true. [Laughs].


Who are some of your dream directors to work with?

I would love to work with Almodovar. Michael Mann would be great. And Spielberg would be great; just so iconic. There are tons more but you’ve put me on the spot here…


That’s a nice variety already. Just one more question to round off the interview. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one film on Blu-ray in your position, what would that film be?

I could say The Thief Of Bagdad but if I was stranded alone on an island it could either make me feel very happy – because of all the memories I have associated with the film – or it would make me really upset because I’d be alone and stuck with all those memories and wouldn’t be able to see the people whom I shared this film with! But for escapism, I’d say C.R.A.Z.Y. The capital letters represent an initial of each of five sons. It’s a Jean-Marc Vallée film about a young man who is coming out, actually, and it brings a lot of joy. It’s set in the Seventies, has a great soundtrack, and it’s just fun and very funny. You should see it if you haven’t already; a real feel-good movie.


Once Upon A Time airs on Channel Seven, Thursday nights, 9.15pm.

Main photography by Troy Jensen.

Insert: Lana Parrilla as The Evil Queen.