'Once Upon a Time': Jennifer Morrison talks ditching Neverland for Oz -- and Emma's epic love triangle

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Image Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

[Ahoy, Oncers: We’ve got some spoilers ahead.]

Flying monkeys! Surprise(ish) pregnancies! Another curse! Clearly, there’s a lot to unpack from Once Upon a Time‘s midseason premiere — but thankfully, EW had the opportunity to chat with OUAT star/savior Jennifer Morrison after we’d seen the episode. She couldn’t answer every burning question… but she could tease some pretty interesting details about the fairy tale series’ journey into Oz.

Read on to learn why the woman who plays Emma Swan might miss Neverland, what makes this half-season’s villain so wicked, what the future holds for a certain presumed-dead fan favorite — and, of course, how Morrison feels about Nealfire (Michael Raymond James) and Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) battle for Emma’s heart.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The end of the last episode before the break seemed a bit like it could have marked the end of the show. Did you guys feel like that at all? It was very definitive.
JENNIFER MORRISON: Yeah. I think that Eddy [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz, Once‘s showrunners] did that on purpose. I think they were looking at the cable model, where they do 10 to 12 episodes [per season], and that’s a really definitive length of time to tell a story. Because of the way we were going to air this year, they had an opportunity to do two half-seasons, basically. And so they wanted the end of that half of a season to really feel like a definitive end, and then dangle the carrot for the next arc. And the second half of the season is completely different. We have a totally different villain, we have a whole different world we’re dealing with.

Were you relieved to get off that Neverland jungle set?
You know, I kinda loved it [laughs]. There was so much dirt, and we were in a closed-in space, and they filled the space with this sort of smoky smog stuff to make it look cool. So it was hard to be breathing that every day. But we were inside, so we weren’t in the cold. And it was fun because I felt like we had all teamed up for the same mission. Every day we went to work all together. It was like the band got back together. So I actually really enjoyed Neverland. There was a little bit of a tradeoff; I probably lost a few years of my life in terms of whatever I was breathing.

How excited were you to go to Oz?
I was, because this is sort of our first time branching out from pure fairy tale into storybook. Wizard of Oz is more of a modern-day fairy tale, and it’s exciting to start mixing those storybook characters into our world.

Can you tell us more about Rebecca’s Wicked Witch?
Rebecca Mader plays the Wicked Witch, and she’s really just perfect casting for it. When she’s playing her character in Storybrooke, when she’s sort of disguised and we don’t realize that she’s the wicked witch, [she] is so sweet and so kind, and you just feel like she’s the nicest, happiest person. [Rebecca] always compares her to Mary Poppins. And then when she’s wicked, she’s so wicked.

So we were led to believe that Storybrooke had been destroyed by the curse — but now it’s back, because of another curse. Can you explain?
I don’t think I can totally get into it. It’s, like, re-created through a different circumstance — but it was destroyed when we think it was destroyed. So technically, if you were going to follow the chronology of time, there would be a space when Storybrooke didn’t exist. Does that make sense? It’ll make more sense when you see why it comes back.

From your first episode back, it seems that the Wicked Witch has some sort of beef with Regina.
Kind of. It’s interesting, because part of what makes it so intense is that it is not clear what the Wicked Witch wants, initially. And it is not clear who she’s after. It takes a long time to assess that. So everyone feels like they’re fair game in terms of her possibly hurting you. It’s not like the first half of the season where we knew Pan was after Henry. People are being picked off in a way that is so random that everyone feels like they have targets on their backs. So it’s definitely eerie and intense.

Can you say anything about Rumpelstiltskin and when he might turn up again?
Oh, Rumpelstiltskin! I forgot that that all happens. Umm, I don’t now what I can say about that. I’m just thinking back through all the logic of it.

So it’s complicated.
It is complicated. It’s always complicated on our show. I can say that he returns in an unexpected way, and the way that he is still alive makes someone else a hero, and also really impacts the mindset of Rumpelstiltskin.

Can you say anything about how Henry might get his memory back?
It is complicated, and it takes quite awhile. Mostly because Emma doesn’t want him to get his memories back. She works really hard to protect him from having to give up all these happy memories that were implanted in him. But eventually, we reach a crossroads where it’s sort of inevitable.

And lastly — you’ve said that you personally can’t choose between Emma’s two main love interests, Hook and Neal. Why is it so tough for you to take sides?
I really genuinely mean that. I know people think I’m just saying that, but they’ve set it up to be a really tough decision for Emma. No matter what, Neal is going to be meaningful to her because he’s always going to be the father of Henry. And then we’ve gone on this journey with Hook now, where he’s really changed, and he’s really stepped up, and he continuously does things where he’s there for Emma. And that’s the biggest thing that’s gone wrong for her in the past — she’s been abandoned, and she’s been left on her own, and people have let her down over and over again. So for someone to consistently be there for her is really compelling and attractive. And the time that she did spend with Neal before he was forced to let her go was really wonderful. So it really is this very, very complicated, layered problem. What also makes it an interesting love triangle is that Hook and Neal are friends, and they respect each other. So we’re not in a catty love triangle; everyone really cares about each other, and respects each other.

Well, Hook did kind of break up Bae’s parents. So that adds an extra weird layer.
It does. But also, Milah did run away from Rumpel first, you know what I mean? She came to him. At least now, in terms of the kind of person Hook is now, Bae and Hook have a good relationship, and they respect each other. And I think that makes a more compelling love triangle — there’s so much more heartbreak when everyone cares about each other, because no one wants to hurt each other. And yet everybody wants what everybody else wants.

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