Once Upon a Time Exclusive: Jane Espenson on the "Triumph of True Love"

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Can true love triumph over all? It's a heavy question, but it's one Jane Espenson tackles in both of her latest project: the hit ABC drama Once Upon a Time and the Web program Husbands.

In the following exclusive interview, the writer/producer tells TV Fanatic about this Sunday's new episode; casting for the series; and what other familiar faces will soon stop by Storybrooke...

Snow White in the Forest

What can you tell us about "That Still Small Voice?"
This episode is about Jiminy Cricket – about his life in Fairy Tale Land, and his new life as Archie the therapist in Storybrooke. The fairy tale side of the story breaks some new ground in the area of cricket backstories. It’s really an origin story, in fact, as we see him laying the ground toward becoming a conscience. I LOVED writing this episode – who gets to write for Jiminy Cricket? This is one of the marvelous things about writing on a Disney show... you get to refer not just to the original stories, but also to the childhood-fave Disney movies.

Where did the inspiration for the series come from? Why fairy tales?
The series was created by Executive Producers Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. This is an idea they had before they started working on Lost, that they had never forgotten about. I believe they would talk about the power of these familiar stories, especially during hard times.

Did one specific fairy tale stand out for you as a child?
Strangely, I remember the illustration for a fairy tale called Snow White and Rose Red that showed characters vomiting up frogs – I used to get the book out just to look at the picture. In researching for the show, I recently read the story and it was not familiar at all. I suspect that I was both fascinated and repelled by the image and actually never read the story at all. In terms of the classic movies, I loved Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but probably was MOST fond of 101 Dalmations, Lady and the Tramp, and The Aristocats. Loved the animal ones.

Everyone is so perfect in his/her role. Can you talk about the casting process? Did you have certain actors or actresses in mind for certain roles?
The main casting was done for the pilot, before the writing staff was hired. So I had no input on that. But on individual episodes I will sometimes watch an audition tape and give an opinion, and of course we all throw around names when we’re creating roles in the room. In my Jiminy episode, the plum roles are those of Jiminy’s mother and father and we talked about a LOT of great classic comedy actors for those roles.  y the way, we ended up with Buffy alum Harry Groener as Jiminy’s dad and he’s amazing. Watch for him on Sunday.

You film a lot with CGI. You transition from one world to the next. What's the most challenging aspect of this kind of series?
From my point of view, it’s the storytelling. We spend a lot of time talking about how the fairy tale flashback relates to the Storybrooke story. We want them to resonate with each other, without feeling like we’re telling the same story twice. And most of the characters can’t remember their fairy tale pasts, so the connection can’t usually be about someone thinking about a lesson they learned in the past. It’s challenging, but there’s something really satisfying when it comes together. I work with an amazing staff who are so good at finding those connections.

You've worked a lot with Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse).  What are the best and worst parts about working on a Joss Whedon project? What keeps you coming back for more?
The best part is undoubtedly working with – and learning from – Joss. He is a true genius.  I would work for or with him any time he wants. He is amazing. The worst part? It was frustrating watching Firefly and Dollhouse both end too soon.

Why did you decide to do a Web series? And why Husbands? From where did that idea originate?
The idea came first. I wasn’t looking to do a Web series, although I’ve written webisodes before and loved it. My friend Brad Bell (aka Cheeks) had an idea, and we developed it into the classic-with-a-twist idea behind Husbands. The idea is that a marriage equality law has passed and a young couple find themselves drunk-married before they’re ready. They decide to make a go of it – it’s sweet and romantic and really really funny. It just was so clearly an idea that deserved to be made, and a web series was the fastest, best way to bring it to fruition right away and without us having to make any compromises. We found a director (Desperate Housewives’ Jeff Greenstein), a crew (led by producer M. Elizabeth Hughes), a cast (Cheeks, Sean Hemeon, Alessandra Torresani)... and we just shot it!

Will there be a second season of Husbands?
I feel really confident that there will be more content, yes. We don’t know where or in what form or under what banner, but yes, we want to make more! Right now, we’ll be helped by people watching and rewatching so that we can point to the view count as evidence that viewers are ready for this kind of content. The series lives HERE.

What else can you tease about what's to come this season on Once Upon a Time?
Oh, so much good stuff! Look to see Belle, in our take on Beauty and the Beast, which I wrote and am so proud of. And you might see a little Hansel and a bit of Gretel.  And we will keep coming back to Snow White and Charming – their story has so many twists and turns, you’re going to want to watch for that.   Will true love find a way? Actually, that’s kind of a theme for me right now – Husbands and Once – both are about the Triumph of True Love. Awww!

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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