Talking Jiminy Cricket and ONCE UPON A TIME with Raphael Sbarge

Everyone plays pretend or make believe as they’re growing up.  They play house and princesses and cops and robbers, wishing to be what they’re playing at (….maybe not the robbers).  In ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME, Raphael Sbarge, a face you recognize from memorable roles in TV and movies like 24 and INDEPENDENCE DAY, is getting his chance to play make believe in a fantasy world full of our favorite fairy tale characters.  Sbarge is Archie in Storybrook – Henry’s therapist, someone clearly on Regina’s payroll – and the universal conscience Jiminy Cricket in the alterna-fantasy-world.  In tonight’s all new episode, while a sink hole at the edge of town is dealt with in the real world, we get some back story on the Jiminy Cricket family business: how he wants out, and how he became the voice inside all of our heads!

Raphael and I had a chance to chat late last week about what’s coming up tonight, why he loves being a part of this show, and why it seems that ONCE UPON A TIME has such a wide-range appeal –

Congrats on the success of the show.  I’m so excited for everybody involved!
Oh thank you!  I mean, if you work in television, or write about television, you know how rare it is that these things happen, so I’m so grateful for what feels like a show that’s found its audience.

When a show is able to find an audience, right away from the get go, and hold onto it, you know that you have something special.
Exactly.  Remember in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where he gets the one chocolate bar and it has the golden ticket.  I feel like that guy [laughs].  It’s so remarkable.  For the show to be good, actually.  I’m thrilled for the job, but I’m so thrilled to be a part of a show that’s actually this good.

It sounds like we’re going to learn more about Archie and Jiminy Cricket this week. What can you tell us about tonight’s episode?
The basic overall logline is that Emma gets deputized, and it begins to continue to shift the curse.  And there’s this sink hole and Henry rushes off because he knows that it’s a passageway to maybe understanding fairy tale land, and I then, as his therapist, and a concerned person, race after him, and we sort of, fall down the rabbit hole, as it were.  In so doing, what happens is that we get to do this kind of deep dive that they’ve been doing in these first episodes, about kind of how Jiminy Cricket came to be.  And what that has been.  What’s cool about that, in terms of storytelling, and I think somewhat distinct in the television landscape at this point, is that we sort of go with one character on a big journey, for example, like the Evil Queen, or the Snow White and Prince Charming episode that just aired.  What we do in that moment is we sort of learn this whole back story, which kind of really opens up, or almost triangulates, who these people are. So that, even if they come in for a scene or two, we have that sort of knowledge of who they are or from where they come.

It’s such an interesting way to tell a story.  In this case, we learn the definition of Jiminy Cricket.  What they did, when they created this show, obviously, in defining that they wanted Jiminy Cricket in the show, what they had to decide was, ok, Jiminy Cricket, who is obviously synonymous with you know, doing the right thing, let your conscience be your guide, what would he do in a modern world?  And they came up with this idea, which I think is very inspired, is to make him a therapist, being that we live in a world with a lot of gray areas, depending on what network you’re listening to, or what your political or religious passion might be, it’s difficult to find, actually, what black or white are. What a therapist does is, they sit with you in a room, and obviously help you define, for you, what doing the right thing is, what being a good person is, how to sort of respect others and respect yourself.  And how to effectively how to evolve one’s own sense of doing the right thing, you know, your conscience, and/or consciousness.  By counterpointing, in this case, him as a therapist, and then seeing how Jiminy came to define himself with this sense of kind of doing the right thing.  That’s what the storytelling is about, but what they do, as they’ve done in the other episodes, is that they haven’t done it sort of a sweet, overly sweet, or treacly way. They’ve actually sort of humanized the journey, and made it, I don’t know, somewhat tough at times.  Gives you an opportunity to sort of humanize who these characters are.

I like that the show takes an unpredictable stance on story telling.  We lost Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother fairy early.  The show stays exciting, because you really don’t know what’s going to happen, even if you know that fairy tale.
Yeah, I know [laughs].  We all sort of huddle around the new script, when it comes out, like, oh my god, what’s going to happen?  I’ve also been so struck with how wide the demographic is of people who are watching the show.  My kids are 7 and 9, they love the show.  I was at school and a second grader came up and said “Oh I love that show;” there was another mother on the campus, she’s about 40-something, and she said “My husband and I are crazy about the show, and my 7th grader is nuts for it.”  And then, there was someone at the hotel in Vancouver who was about 30, and she said, “Oh, I’m so addicted to the show!”  And my mother who is in the 70-80 range, said, “God I really love this show.  It’s so smart, and so clever, and so beautiful.  Production values are so beautiful,” so they’ve done almost the unthinkable which is create a demographic of sort of 8 to 80, which is kind of unheard of in the very fractionalized world that we live in.

Why do you think people are finding this fairy tale world, and wanting to sit down and watch this?
One can’t not consider how tough it is out there for everyone.  Obviously, there was some thought going into it, the kinds of escape that we all are looking for, from some of the tough things we’re dealing with day to day. That has to be sort of at play here.  In addition to that, you know, if you think back, coming out of the Great Depression, post WWII, and even in the 70s, the kinds of media and/or entertainment that people flocked to, is or was somewhat diversionary or had fantasy elements to it.  In addition to that, what they’re doing, is trying to tell stories the way that all the great myths and/or the Joseph Campbell stories, that we all know, they’re trying to tell parables, and stories that we can connect to, that have a human element, of struggling and trying to sort of find their way.  And again, I think there’s something in that that people are connecting to.  They’re authentically trying to tell us without sort of an agenda.  They’re not trying to do it in a simplistic way; they’re making some tough choices, like you said, the Fairy Princess being zapped.  I think it makes people feel like they’re not being condescended to, and I think it makes people feel like there’s something sort of authentic and strong.  And a story.  Obviously, stories, going back to Greek time, are a way in which we’ve all sort of connected to a way of sort of reminding ourselves what our journey is!

ONCE UPON A TIME airs tonight on ABC at 8/7c.  Be sure to tune in!