Once 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.”
Barbara 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.