The cast and creators of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland were present at ABC’s Television Critics Association day to discuss the show’s mashup of mythology and give some insight into Alice’s (Sophie Lowe) character.
Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis promised that the full pilot will take fans into present-day Wonderland, which will give viewers “a sense of the world now with Alice’s return,” as well as introducing them to the Wonderland version of Jafar (Naveen Andrews).
Andrews was enthusiastic about adding the classic “Aladdin” villain, telling critics, “In the popular imagination I know, he exists almost as an icon, a sort of incarnation of evil … But I think what we want to do is to present the audience with something they’ve never seen before. There has to be ambiguity and because everyone had a childhood.”
Horowitz admitted that they “fell in love with the idea of the mash-up” of “Aladdin” and “Alice in Wonderland”, they were determined to add Jafar and the genie mythology into the series. “For us, just on a pure, fun level, it’s Alice meeting Jafar!”
Kitsis added, “What we loved about the character of a genie is that you serve at the pleasure of your master. You are somebody who watches lifetimes of people ruin their lives and the things they hold dearest because they wish it away. They’re trying to find shortcuts. So we thought we loved the idea of a genie who thought, ‘If only one day, I could get free. I would be able to live that life.’ Our character of Alice had a really tough growing-up process. And so when you see the pilot, you’ll see [she and Cyrus] kind of complete each other in a way. And we just love the idea that somebody, who was curious enough as a child to follow a rabbit down a hole, would love a genie who could go to many different lands.”
Kitsis tolf Huffington Post that they were “very influenced by American Horror Story“.
“I loved [American Horror Story] so much and I loved that it had a beginning, middle and end,” Kitsis explained. “And we had all of this Wonderland crap [in our heads] that if we put in the main show, you would kill us. You’d be like, ‘Go back to Snow!’ So we were like, ‘It deserves its own journey.” While the plan was initially to hold the series until midseason to give them more time to work on it, Kitsis told HuffPost TV that the network liked it so much, they wanted it for fall: “So it’s hard to be mad at them for liking something and rewarding you.”
“Everybody’s goal is the same, which is just to make a great show and get as many people to hopefully enjoy it as possible,” Horowitz agreed. “So we know this is the way to do it and we can’t disagree with them. So for us, it’s all about sticking to the plan, which was, to tell a complete story in Wonderland.”
The spin-off for Once Upon a Time is designed to stand on its own. Watching the original Once Upon a Time is not required in order to watch the new series. “If you have seen Once Upon a Time for two seasons and you love the show, you’ll be rewarded, but if you’ve never seen Once Upon a Time, it doesn’t matter,” Kitsis noted. “You’re getting your own journey and we don’t want it to be this show where every week, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is the time to go see Rumple.’ It’s got to live on its own and that’s what we are the most proud of, because when you watch it, it feels like it’s in the Once family, but it feels like a different band.”
Wonderland will exist concurrently with Once Upon a Time, showing us a present-day Wonderland after Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) broke the curse in Storybrooke, the spinoff also features Alice in a mental hospital in Victorian England.
Horowitz clarified, “The way we do it … it’s not historical Victorian England — it is fictional Victorian England,” a literary world similar to the colorless world of Victor Frankenstein as seen in the Once Upon a Time episode “The Doctor”. Alice could potentially appear in modern-day Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest, although the creator says that the dividing lines between the series are “very clear in our heads.”
One of the big appeals of Wonderland for viewers and star Lowe is a “kick-ass” Alice: “She’s tough mentally and physically … she can look after herself.”
The show will tell viewers more about Alice’s past and her relationship with her father. “You’ll realize that Alice was an ignored girl growing up, and so, in a lot of ways, she is trying to prove to her father this is real to win his love,” Kitsis said.
“We just love writing strong females,” Kitsis added. “We never wanted Alice to be a damsel in distress. We liked the idea that she is going to go back down that rabbit hole, sword in hand, to find her man.”
Horowitz agreed that the appeal of the show is “a woman who is taking control of her own destiny. And what we are really excited with this show is taking this strong woman and taking her into this insane land and seeing where it goes.”
Executive producer Zack Estrin agreed, “We all know what happened to her in the book since she was this amazing character. But as writers and as actors, we are all really curious to know what happened to that girl when she grew up. How did those adventures in the book formulate this amazing, strong woman who you are going to see in the series?”
Sebastian Stan will likely not be back in the show’s first 13 episodes because of his involvement with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, but the creators have no intention of recasting the role of the Mad Hatter. ” Kitsis promised. “We are not recasting him. We are just going to keep that seat empty until he’s able to come back.”
John Lithgow’s White Rabbit will also be an integral part of the series. “This is a character that we are treating like any human character. There are layers to this character we want to reveal. There are twists and turns in his backstory that will be, hopefully, surprising,” Horowitz promised.
Once Upon A Time in Wonderland is coming to ABC in May.