As an actor, Raphael Sbarge has had plenty of intriguing roles (starting with one on “Sesame Street” when he was four and followed by appearances in everything from “Pearl Harbor” to “Nip/Tuck”). But few could compare to his most recent — he’s the human version of Jiminy Cricket (yes, the little bug in “Pinocchio”) on “Once Upon A Time.” I talked to Sbarge about what it’s like to play a cricket (well, sort of), his big episode this Sunday, and why he’s glad this role isn’t “clean and sparkly.”
Because “Once” is divided into two arenas — the “real” Storybrooke and a fairytale world — Sbarge says that we will see some “cricket talk” on Sunday but that “the majority of what you’ll see is me playing me. You saw the cricket in the pilot, but he’s obviously Archie in the real world. It’s not all CGI characters. On Sunday’s episode, you’ll see that they’ve created the whole backstory of how Jiminy came to be. They’ll also have two younger actors playing me as a young man, so you see the evolution.”
While he admits that taking on an iconic Disney character like Jiminy Cricket is daunting, Sbarge feels that at least he’s not alone. “There’s a mantle for a lot of characters on the show, like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The history of the character Jiminy Cricket is pre-Disney, though. In the book, which was written by an Italian man [Carlo Collodi], he was more of a ghostlike character and more silent and not a main character at all, then Disney wanted to make him into more of a main character. What they’re attempting to do on this show is like ‘WIcked’ in that they’re taking these characters and breathing new life into them and humanizing them. Myself or even my parents have a relationship to that Disney characters, but what they’re crafting here is reinventing them in an unsweet way.”
Though Sbarge’s take on the cricket (and the show’s take on fairy tales) may not be so sweet, he still thinks there’s plenty of potential for Disney to get in on the action. “It’s a marketer’s fantasmagoria. When Disney heard about this I’m sure they were very excited. They’re not taking the slick and easy way out on this show; they’re not doing something sort of clean and sparkly. They’re creating people who seem real. Jiminy really struggles. It’s like Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, in which characters are defined through the difficulties they experience. This goes back to ‘The Iliad,’ stories that exist to remind us what it’s like to be human. What I love about the writing is that they’re trying to show struggle and humanize a storyline that could potentially be very ‘gee whiz, do the right thing.’ They make Jiminy Cricket complex.”
On Sunday, the storyline will be largely devoted to giving us Jiminy/Archie’s backstory, which is part of the show’s master plan. “They’re taking a page from the ‘Lost’ playbook in that this is a large cast, and each of us gets an episode to show who this character is and how they came to be defined this way. You’ve got Storybrooke and this curse on the characters, and clearly, this isn’t a leak; it’s just my opinion, but obviously there’s got to be some kind of struggle that’s got to ensue at some point, in which evil is going to face off against good. But this is sort of my defining episode, and there’s more to come.”
Sbarge, whose two children are seven and nine, says that his kids are thrilled he’s taking on Jiminy. “They love the show, but that speaks to the fact the show’s demographic is so wide. My kids’ class was like, ‘I love your show,’ but then a woman in her 40s said to me, ‘My husband and I love your show,’ too. At a hotel, the girl at the front desk said she couldn’t wait for the next episode, while my mother, who’s in her 70s, told me that she thinks they’re telling really interesting stories. They’ve created a show that has a demo from eight to 80, which I think is unique and remarkable.” Plus, it has a cricket.