Alice (Sophie Lowe) is back in Wonderland with the help of the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha).
ABC's highly anticipated spin-off of "Once Upon a Time," "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," finally premieres Thursday night. So how does the new show differ from the original series besides having nearly the same title save for the last two words? (A mouthful that just might drive us all as mad as a hatter.)
To start with, it's in a different land. (And it's now especially confusing, because the original "Once" has moved from the Enchanted Forest and Storybrooke, Maine, to Neverland.) Even this cast is foreign, with most of the actors hailing from England. Here's what the stars revealed — in those lovely accents — to reporters on a recent set visit to Vancouver.
The only crossover between the "Onces" happens at the beginning of "Wonderland," when the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) barges into Granny's diner, helps himself to a cup of coffee and disappears down a rabbit hole to save Alice. Otherwise, expect to see each shows' characters to stay put in their respective lands. As Emma Rigby (the Red Queen) said, "No, I'm not sure that's on the agenda," adding that the spin-off has "a different tone or beast to it" without the modern-day element.
One strange crossover we do see in "Wonderland" involves another Disney franchise: "Aladdin." Jafar (Naveen Andrews) is the Red Queen's evil counterpart, and the genie (Peter Gadiot) is Alice's one true love. Guess that's better than our heroine hooking up with The White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow).
One reason the "Onces" don't lend themselves to crossovers is that their "real-life" worlds are two different eras: modern-day Storybrooke versus Victorian England.
"There's definitely flashbacks similar to the 'Once' show that's an element of our show," confirmed Rigby. For example, said Sophie Lowe, who plays Alice, "There will be flashbacks to explain how (Alice) became the way she is now" — in an insane asylum prepping for a lobotomy! — but as far as going (between) Victorian England (and) the present time, I'm not sure. I haven't done that yet."
"You find out that there's, like, history between all of the characters," revealed Socha, "and it's all revealed in one of the episodes."
We see young Alice in her traditional blue-and-white pinafore in the opening scenes of "Wonderland," but the Alice we get to know is marrying age. In fact, she is married ... to the genie Cyrus. Sadly, the Red Queen pushed him over a cliff, so Alice is spending most of her time with another handsome bloke: the Knave.
"We're just friends," Lowe insisted. "There's no romantic thing — it's just besties."
"Unfortunately for Alice," laughed Socha.
I dream of genie
Alas, Cyrus is the truly unfortunate one. "He does not have it easy," said Gadiot ruefully. His character has "two adversaries in the Red Queen and Jafar, who have lots of magical powers and lots of abilities ... every genie has a flaw, and they know the flaws and so they exploit it, so he suffers a lot."
Although it won't happen until after episode six, Gadiot said that "ultimately I think there is hope. We have to hope and believe that Alice and Cyrus will be united and they'll live happily ever after. It's a fairy tale after all!"
Doing their best to prevent any happy endings in Wonderland are the Red Queen and Jafar. "She's pretty evil," said Socha about the scarlet-gowned villain. But, added Lowe, "Jafar is a shock for us when he comes along. ... We don't know how strong he is or anything, but it's pretty scary."
Like Lana Parrilla's Evil Queen on "Once," "You want people to enjoy (the Red Queen) and laugh with her," said Rigby. "She's not taking herself seriously. Yes she's bad, and she's evil. But she's also — she looks kind of fabulous, and she enjoys the fact that she's bad. And she's a little bit naughty. ... She's got an agenda, and she's going to get them — but she's going to have fun, she's going to enjoy every moment of getting them."
Alice is just "an annoyance" to the Red Queen, said Rigby. "It's kind of, 'Ugh, this girl's in my way. You're in my land now, little girl, sit!' The Red Queen's main relationship is with Jafar. ... They have this partnership. They're very codependent on each other — and also they're very maybe afraid of one another."
"Alice" fans can look forward to meeting Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mock Turtle, the Caterpillar (voiced magnificently by Iggy Pop) and the Cheshire Cat, who makes an uncharacteristically terrifying appearance in the pilot.
As Lowe promised, "There's definitely surprises!"
"Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" premieres Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
First published October 10 2013, 9:23 AM