Once Upon a Time: Barbara Hershey Explains Cora’s Motivations and Teases More Backstory

Once Upon a TimeOnce Upon a Time’s Barbara Hershey is a vault of information.  Her desire to let the audience experience the story instead of spoiling it should be the stuff of legends (much like the fairytales in her show), but we were able to tease some information out of her during a recent conversation, as well as discuss what makes Cora the woman she is today.

In last week’s episode of Once Upon a Time we got a crucial piece of Regina’s backstory….specifically, how she turned from the girl we’ve seen in the past to the magical – and evil – Queen we know now.  As it turns out, Regina’s journey wasn’t all that different from her mother’s, Cora.  Both women were approached by Rumplestiltskin and introduced to magic and both women became hardened.  For Regina, this process specifically began as her wedding day approached.  Unwilling to marry King Leopold, she finally made a desperate attempt to escape, only to be stopped by Cora.  Later, Rumple approached her and offered to help get rid of her mother.  As Cora continued to push and push, insisting her daughter do as she was told, Regina finally snapped, pushing her mother into a mirror that sent her elsewhere.  Where that was, we don’t know.  But we do know that Cora is currently residing in a dungeon in present day fairytale land, kept prisoner by the cursed land’s survivors.

Barbara is set to appear in tonight’s and next week’s episodes, as well as returning as Cora in episodes throughout November and December.  While her role was initially smaller, it’s since been expanded, giving us a chance to learn more about her interesting character.  And learn we shall.  Barbara told us that we’ll delve into Cora’s backstory in upcoming episodes: “I do know they’re going to explore – as they do with these characters – why they turned, why she’s the way she is.  There’s a whole history with Rumple, I’m sure, that they’re going to explore.  I know it’s coming.”  And will we will learn Cora’s whereabouts between the time she was pushed into the mirror until she appeared in Mulan’s dungeon in present-day fairytale land?  “Yes, you will.  But all I can say is that it’s very exciting.”

After seeing Regina attempt to regain her earlier goodness in last week’s episode, I had to ask Barbara whether that internal struggle might come for Cora, or whether she’s a proper villain.  Barbara chose the former: “I don’t think Eddie and Adam approach any character as a ‘proper villain’, a mustache-twirling villain.  They’ve always said that ‘evil isn’t born, it’s made’.  I think when you understand when a character changed – what it was that changed them – it doesn’t excuse the path they’re on, but it does explain it.  Hopefully you feel a bit of it, even now, under the surface with Cora.  I’m not going to excuse what she does.  She does horrible things.  She’s very warped and whether she can go anywhere from that – beyond that – I don’t know yet.”

Once Upon a TimeBarbara went on to explain that “For all her terribleness, she, in a very warped way, does love her daughter.  We’ve all seen these parents who push their kids in a direction that they don’t want to go in the name of love.  Cora is just this mega version of that horror story.  From Cora’s point of view she loves her daughter and wants the best for her.  Wants what she thinks would make [Regina] happy and free.  So yes, she would be hurt [by Regina pushing her into the mirror].  Any mother would.”  At the same time, however, “[Cora] is warped.  She’s not operating from a healthy place, so I think all of her perceptions are kind of misguided and turned beyond what they should be.  She has this line where she says ‘power is freedom’ and I think she means that.  She thinks that’s the place for a woman to live and have happiness…not be a victim of circumstance or men, to be in a place where, if you have the power, then you’re free.  She wants that for her daughter.  [But she’ll also be open to] living vicariously through [Regina’s position in life].”

On a final note, I mentioned a scene from last week’s Once Upon a Time where Regina wanted to give up magic after getting rid of her mother, but Rumple made what were clearly false promises to get her to continue.  So how much of Regina and Cora’s paths were because of their own desires for power and how much were as a result of Rumple’s influence.  Speculating, Barbara replied that it was “Probably both. The other theme that they had last season was that magic comes with a price.  I think that’s what they’re talking about when they say it…that you give up something to be able to have magic.  You saw it in the transition of Regina from an innocent girl to the Evil Queen.  I imagine something similar happened to Cora.  You give up something, I think, for this magic, at least [for] Rumple’s magic.  Maybe there’s other magic you don’t give up your soul for.”  There is, and it involves fairy dust.  But somehow we just don’t see Cora and Regina sprinkling it over things to get their way.

Don’t miss Barbara Hershey in a new episode of Once Upon a Time tonight, airing at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.  You can see sneak peeks for the episode here.

Visit our Once Upon a Time page for sneak peeks, spoilers and reviews for the show.

  • Jj

    well we know how much rumple is involved from her first appearance she said she was the millets daughter. the traditional rumplestiltskin story is about the millers daughter she promised him her first born, also played on last week when rumple talked about regina as a youngster. theres alot of mystery but rumples involvement isnt one.

  • Chas

    A word about Fairy Magic mentioned in the closing sentence…

    Oddly enough, the fairies don’t seem to have magic innately, but require the use of fairy dust to perform such deeds. The fairy dust is mined by the dwarves who crush up crystals to make the fabled dust. A yearly supply of dust is henceforth commissioned to the fairies, who then use it to make people’s wishes come true, bring about happy endings, and apparently keep their world running efficiently and satisfactorily. It’s a limited supply and precious commodity born from hard work and selfless labor. This suggests a magic that is earned through hard work and perseverance, with magic essentially a reward for good behavior. Essentially a price that’s been paid in advance through good deeds, and the magic of the fairies is a return for good behavior. Fairy dust seems to be a magic that is of assistance to the people of the Enchanted Forest, but is not the end all and be all happy ending itself. But rather a tool to help bring about that happy ending with the hard work on the part of the people of the Enchanted Forest. In a real world comparison, it would be equivalent to the US’s Social Security. You pay in with hard work and determination, and will receive in time assistance when you need it later. What you do with the assistance is up to you, but essentially you’ve already done the hard work if you’re being visited by a fairy in this universe. However in order for fairy magic to work, it requires a system to be in place and for that system to not be disturbed by disinters or non-native magic. It might not be the best system out there, but it works for this world, so long as there’s no one trying to “buck the system” like Dreamy and Nova tried to. It requires that some people (Dwarves and Fairies) take a personal sacrifice and not pursue their own happiness, so that many more may have their happiness. And with Dreamy he was a special case unknown to the Blue Fairy, due to a small amount of fairy dust being sprinkled on him by accident. The dwarves, as far as we know, are the perfect laborer class as with the exception of Dreamy, they do as they’re told and find personal satisfaction in working in the mines and making other people’s dreams come true. The same could be said for the fairies, who in order to make other people’s dreams come true give up the idea of personal happiness that doesn’t conflict with being of service to others (Nova is allowed to have a personal dream of being a Fairy Godmother because it perpetuates the system, but is denied the personal dream of exploring the world with Dreamy, because it deprives the system of its workers). Actually making the Dwarves have the service level jobs (store clerk, security, janitor, etc.) parallels this quite well as in the real world they are the people who do the dirty jobs so that others might be able to live in a well run and efficient world. Furthermore, making the fairies nuns (who are well known to bring comfort and relief to those in need) also bespeaks of the personal sacrifice one must make in order to bring happiness to others as a fairy. Nuns in theory find happiness in helping others at the expense of experiencing personal happiness for themselves. So fairy magic has a cost that the dwarves and the fairies each make on our own behalf, and we ourselves also pay for such magic by choosing ourselves to be good and do good things despite the situations we may find ourselves in.

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