Life in the FANTASY LANE
She plays the reluctant heroine in hit US fantasy fairytale drama Once Upon A Time, but for Jennifer Morrison being sceptical, cynical Emma Swan is a dream role.
And in this week’s episode, writers have used one of Morrison’s favourite childhood fairytales – Cinderella – to uncover more about her character.
Morrison, best known in Australia for a six-year-run as Dr Allison Cameron on medical drama House MD, still can’t quite believe she is playing out a fairytale on screen.
But after a season of Once Upon A Time, she has developed a new appreciation of why the Grimm brothers’ fairytales are often so ... well ... grim.
Once Upon A Time follows the life of Emma, a bail bond agent, and her son, Henry, who discover a small US town called Storybrooke.
Emma’s yet to be convinced, but Storybrooke is part of a parallel fairytale universe. It’s full of characters from the fairytales with no memory of who they are, including Snow White and Prince Charming – because they have this works’. But it works. I guess it’s like anything that involves some sort of mythology and fantasy element.
“There are things that obviously in reality would be outrageous, but they entice you into suspending belief.”
Morrison embraced the role of Emma from a purely human standpoint.
“There’s just so much going on with her,” Morrison says. “She was raised in the worst version of the foster system, and has had a really tough life, and admits to that. She’s been a survivor and she has so much room to grow and change. It’s exciting to dive into that.”
Emma may not have seen many fairytales in life, but Morrison was raised on them as a child.
“I was very familiar with all the Disney versions of these stories. It’s been fun to go back as an adult and read the Grimm versions. And they’re not called ‘Grimm’ for no reason.
“My favourite fairytale as a child was always a tie between Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland.
“In episode four ( which airs on Channel Seven on Tuesday night) they use Cinderella’s story to reveal some things about Emma.
“You have to wait till episode 17 for Alice in Wonderland. It’s interesting that the two stories I really connected with growing up are closely connected to Emma’s story.”
Emma is yet to be convinced of her fairytale character status this early in the series, but Morrison says “she’s actually the ultimate fairytale character – she just doesn’t know it yet”.
As the only main character without a fairytale backstory on the show, Morrison doesn’t don the exotic fairytale costumes of Snow White and Cinderella, but says that is no sacrifice given the richness of her character.
“I love Emma so much that I wouldn’t trade being her for a pretty fairytale gown,” she says.
Morrison says in real life, she shares Emma’s instinct for spotting lies.
“To survive she has had to become acutely aware of people around her and whether they are being honest or not,” been cursed by the evil Queen from the fairytale Snow White.
Each episode leaps between the real Storybrooke and the fairytale world.
Emma, although she thinks it’s all a load of codswallop, is apparently the daughter of Snow White – and the only person who can save the town.
Morrison agrees that it all sounds impossibly ridiculous. She felt like that too, until she read the first script.
“It was so beautifully written, they made it feasible,” Morrison says.
“I remember thinking ‘I can’t believe this works, I can’t believe she says. “In some instances I feel I do identify with that – I’ve always been a very intuitive person.”
The traits that make Emma and the series relatable are the ones Morrison loves most.
“The more emotions get involved the harder it is for her to tap into that instinct for knowing truth,” she says.
“That’s a really human trait for all of us. Our love or our emotions can sometimes get in the way of us seeing things as they really are.”
Morrison doesn’t share Emma’s temper, which can flare up in seconds.
“She’s the first character I’ve played who has a serious temper,” she says.
“I have done a lot of work to give vent to that temper. I have worked hard to find her trigger points and to discover what her damage is, so I know what pisses her off and why.”
In contrast, Morrison is “definitely a diplomat”.
“It takes me a long time to get riled up. I try to see things from the other side and talk things through.”
Part of the fun of the show for viewers is spotting which fairytale is being retold in Storybrooke – picking which modernday character parading as a civilian is what fairytale character.
Actors on the show played the guessing game – just like the fans – as the scripts rolled out.
“Yeah for sure. Sometimes they haven’t let us in on what’s coming,” Morrison says. “It’s just like a giant puzzle. We love digging that out of each script.”
One character she and co-star and close friend Ginnifer Goodwin ( who plays Snow White/ Mary Margaret in the show) are desperate to see in the show is Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
“We like the idea of the writers having to find a way to work a mermaid into the show. Even in Storybrooke that could be difficult,” Morrison laughs.