After the long slog “Once Upon A Time” took through a grim and colorless Neverland (sorry, Peter Pan, but you kind of creeped us out), the show's latest Big Bad has been a delicious and welcome change of direction. Played by Rebecca Mader (Charlotte Lewis on “Lost”), the Wicked Witch/Zelena has emerged as a villain we love to hate — and more importantly, a villain who just might be a worthy adversary for Regina, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla). In real life, Mader couldn't be more charming. We talked about being green, going “toe-to-toe” with Parrilla, and why it's fun to play off of a dot instead of a monkey.
You look great in green. It's really your color.
Why, thank you.
The make-up must be so helpful in creating this iconic character, but is it hard to get off?
Between the hair and the costume and the hat and then the lighting, there's been so much to play with in creating Zelena. But it's not easy to get off, especially when it's been on for twelve hours. It's the oil that takes the paint off my face, plus two other people and hot, wet towels does the trick.
You've joined an existing hit series before, namely “Lost.” Is that intimidating? Did this feel familiar?
It's very similar feeling to it. Joining a pre-existing hit, it's nicer because you feel less responsible for it — hey, it's a hit TV show! As an actor, it's wicked to get that. It's an injection of something spectacular. You're not worrying and feeling responsible for it. The cast has been so kind and welcoming as well. I felt like I'd been there forever. They were all really inclusive, which is lovely.I didn't really think about what a big deal it is to play the Wicked Witch, not at first. It wasn't until my boyfriends said, wow, it's such an ionic character, and I thought, oh no, what if they hate it, what if they hate what I do with it? I'm glad I didn't think about it until then.
Did you grow up watching “The Wizard of Oz,” or was it not on your radar?
That film is really big in the UK, and it comes on every year around Christmas time, so I saw it when I was really really young. It used to give me nightmares.
The Wicked Witch gave you nightmares?
Oh, yes. Someone said to me, you can't believe you're playing someone you think is mean. I'd never hope to give any children nightmares with my performance, though.
What did you know about “Once Upon A Time” before you got the role? Since you knew Adam Horowitz and Ed Kitsis from “Lost,” had you been lobbying for a part?
When I got the part, I hadn't been watching the show. I'd meant to, it was on my list, but I hadn't seen it. So I watched 54 episodes in two-and-a-half weeks, and the Evil Queen quickly became my favorite character. I was so drawn to the villain. So watching so much so quickly, I realized I do have to differentiate myself from Regina, who is so wonderful, because I don't want to be the Evil Queen. I wanted to be different than the Evil Queen and Rumple, too, so I kept that in mind.
But when I was first talking about the role, Ed and Adam said they'd always wanted me for the Wicked Witch. I just thought it was just a Hollywood line, but they said they'd planned to cast me from the beginning, which is incredibly flattering.
Watching the Wicked Witch go up against the Evil Queen is just so fun — two strong female characters who aren't princesses.
Lana is so talented and beautiful and wonderful and I think we have wonderful chemistry. It's really delicious when we go toe-to-toe, to play against someone strong. I think it works so well. In England, wicked can mean naughty and cheeky, so I try to add that wicked hot sauce, so Zelena is a little sarcastic and naughty in a way, and playing with Bobby [Carlyle], especially in his fairy tale make-up, is beyond. His character is so amazing, that's really delicious too. I'm very lucky to be up against these two amazing actors and characters.
I loved that scene in which Regina seemed so happy to have someone — the Wicked Witch — to destroy.
Regina has such an interesting arc and journey, and she's becoming nicer and more in cahoots with the rest of the group, so it's really fun for Regina to have another new enemy, to find out who's she's up against.
How is it acting against flying monkeys you can't see?
With shows like this, you are acting against a lot you can't see. Sometimes I'd be in a castle, which is entirely created in special effects, so I can't see anything. I'd have to run over and look at the screen for the director of photography, because they can see everything, and I'd say, oh, there's the wall, there's the balcony, there's the monkey. That makes it more fun to watch the show, because I couldn't see any of it while I was doing it, so it's all new to me.
Are you going online to read the rumors about Zelena? There are a lot of ideas about whether or not her dad is Rumple.
I definitely see on Twitter that people are asking about my father. There's lot of speculation, but you're going to find out a lot about my character's motivation and backstory this weekend.
So, is it more fun to play nice (as Zelena had with Charming and Snow) or naughty?
I liked that character, that aspect, too, because it's always fun to play somebody bad, and somebody bad pretending good, it's really fun.
Are you watching “Once Upon A Time” now that the show is out of Neverland?