ONCE UPON A TIME’s Mekia Cox on Tiana, Sabine, and playing CHICAGO MED’s Robin

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Mekia Cox has been busy this year – joining ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME as iconic Disney Princess Tiana (and her Hyperion Heights counterpart, Sabine) and gearing up for a rough go of it as CHICAGO MED’s Robin (Season 3 premieres 11/21). Adding to her busy Chicago to Vancouver schedule, not one but two production companies that produce musical performances on multiple nights in multiple cities, and Mekia is living a “when it rains, it pours” kind of life!

I had the time to chat with her about both shows, her multiple roles, switching gears between Tiana, Sabine, and Robin’s duality, plus what it means to play an iconic character and what feedback she’s getting from the fans. Check it out!

How exciting is it for you to get to play an iconic character like Tiana?
It’s extremely exciting. It’s kind of a dream come true, really, for me. In a very specific dream I had as a kid. I actually, my very first professional job was dancing at the State of the Kingdom at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. It was a big deal for me because at the time I was only eight, seven, dancing on the stage with Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. That was a dream come true in itself, but I had heard that when you turn sixteen you can come back and you can play one of the Disney princesses. And I had always thought, “Great, when it’s time I’m going to come back and I’m going to play a Disney princess.” But I realized once I got to that age that there was no Disney princess for me to actually be able to play.

So, in 2009 when “The Princess and the Frog” came out, I was really happy for the young little ones who look like me and are now able to go … you know portray a beautiful princess and a strong woman at Disney. But I thought that had passed for me. I was excited for all of the little girls, but I didn’t think that was going to happen for me. So, once I heard that was who I would be playing I was quite ecstatic.

ONCE UPON A TIME – ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” stars Mekia Cox as Tiana/Sabine. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

Talk to us a little bit about what we’re going to see coming up, maybe for Sabine and Tiana and those two worlds. What is coming in ONCE UPON A TIME?
So, you [got] to understand a little bit more about her back story. You understand where she came from. Robin Givens plays my mother, who is amazing, and [we got] to see her relationship with her mother. You get to understand a little bit about her … She has an introduction to a familiar face and name, Dr. Facilier. You get to see a little bit of that. Of course you know Eddy (Kitsis) and Adam (Horowitz), the show creators, they take bits and pieces of stories and then they put their own twist on it.

They did a bit of a reset on the series this season. Did it help, still, to go back and watch the seasons you weren’t involved in to see what the show had been? To get involved in now, in season seven?
For sure! I keep saying, if there are new people out there who want to watch the show they could start at this season. However, I think the more you watch it the more you’re like, “Wait, I feel like I’m missing something.” You know what I mean? It’s good to get to go back and then all of a sudden you see all of these seeds that have been planted earlier. You understand what they mean now.

I love the relationship you and Jacinda have (Dania Ramirez). What has that been like? To form the bond as these roommates in Hyperion Heights?
Well, we got lucky because we actually just have really good chemistry. We like each other on and off set. You know what I mean? So that is really wonderful. It’s nice to be able to portray a friendship on-screen between two strong females who really care for each other, who want the best for each other and I know that I have been fortunate enough in my life to have a few really good friends. I feel like it’s nice to see that on-screen and know that these are the type of friends that can tell each other about themselves, but in a way that the other person will hear it. It’s a fun dynamic to really be around.

As the season kind of progresses here, I’m not sure what episode you guys are shooting now, but will we see you interact with more characters? What will we see in either side of the world?
You will see Tiana interact with a few of the other characters. There are a lot of characters, I feel like, just in general on this show. So you do get to see her interact with different people as the show progresses. Eventually, she does get a little bit more with Regina that takes … it’s a while before that happens. Honestly, every character, eventually you start to see all of their connections.

What are you hearing from fans on social media? What are they saying about this new season or your character?
The feedback has been really great. I have been surprised and very much overwhelmed with some of the kind things that they have been saying. From me and my character and some of the gifts and fan mail that I have gotten have been really … They help. They help a lot. Sometimes I don’t know if fans know how much their kind statements help me do my work.

Switching gears a bit – I had to opportunity to see the CHICAGO MED premiere and there’s a whole lot going on with Robin. Getting a little racy in that first ep!
[laughs] Yep. We’re on at ten now.

That’s what everyone said at One Chicago Day, “We’re on at ten now.” We can show it all, right? We were talking about how she, as a doctor, is clearly aware that her disease may be manifesting. It’s a lot of “does she actually really have these feelings, or is this just her issue that’s causing it?” So what’s that been like, to kind of play this turmoil for her?
It’s been really quite interesting. First of all just the fact that at this time I was going back and forth between Chicago and Vancouver doing two different roles. And it’s funny because even though yes I was doing two different roles it really is like I’m doing five different roles. As for me, I’m not only Sabine, but I’m also Princess Tiana and then I come back and I’m Robin, but she has this sort of dual personality in her role. It’s like I’ve got all of these different characters going on in my head.

CHICAGO MED — “Speak Your Truth” Episode 301 — Pictured: (l-r) Colin Donnell as Connor Rhodes, Mekia Cox as Robin Charles — (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC)

So it was somewhat difficult because I have to … There was this one time where I got a note from one of the MED directors that was like, “Can you bring your tone down a little bit?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I realized for half a second that I was more so playing Tiana than I was Robin. Like I had slipped into Tiana a little bit, switched scenes really. Just vocally I had slipped into her. I was like, “Oh, that’s right. Hello, I’ve got to bring it down. This is Robin. I can’t remember where you are.”

The way Robin is not really sure who she is and not really being sure which character you’re playing at each time, it lends itself to making Robin’s head a bit of a mess.
[laughs] That’s true. Life imitating art.

Will we see the Robin and Dr Charles relationship kind of settle down or get better? What will we see with Oliver through this season of Med?
Yeah, you can say that. You kind of saw that towards the end of last season. I think there was a realization between both of them, especially on her side, because I know she was sort of against it for a little while, but I think that she really realizes that the past is the past. They are where they’re at. This person really loves her and it’s someone who she has looked up to and admired for years. Though they had some time off, I think she is realizing that she can regain that time now with him. So you will see that a little bit with the two of them.

Jumping back and forth between Vancouver and Chicago that’s kind of got to be crazy. You mention it’s a different approach to the shows, how you’re directed in Vancouver versus how you’re directed in Chicago, etc.? Was it really like that wildly different that it was a bit of a shake up for you?
Yeah, it could be, because Robin is a little bit of a different character than the Sabine. They do both have similarities. I think they’re very driven, they try to be good at whatever it is that they’re doing. Just in terms of personality and sort of their traits is where they really differ. Robin like I said she has got a little bit of a lower tone to her. She is very much all about her work and what she does and she’s extremely focused. She has a little bit more of a bite to her than Sabine does. I think Sabine is very caring and loving of those around her. Yet she can also have that same bite if she doesn’t like … her relationship with Lady Germaine is not great. So she can flip on you if need be as well.

It was kind of hard going between the two. It’s interesting because the way I work in between these two shows has changed a little bit. Sometimes as actors once we get into a role we like to figure out our own back story. Want to understand where she’s been and how she’s gotten to where she is, and we can create that on our own. With one it’s a little different because they have all of the ideas about that story. You create something and then get a script that was completely wrong.

So it was funny to me because I would go to Eddie and Adam with questions and they’re like, “Oh yeah that’s nice, but no that’s not what’s happening.” So I’m like, “oh okay cool.” [laughs] Eventually I kind of just stopped doing that and happened to sort of believe and trust in the creators and know that they know where the story is going. Try my best to be true to the scene and to my mind and what it is that I am saying. Really be present in the moment as an actress. So it worked two different kind of skill sets.

Obviously you have been pretty busy. Is there anything else you have been working on?
I also have a production company called 42 Seven Productions with the two, 42 Seven Productions and Little Man productions. With 42 Seven we have been putting on shows at the W Hotels in Los Angeles and New York and occasionally Chicago and occasionally in London. We’ve only really sort of been an official business for about a year and all of this has happened within that year.

So … yeah. It’s kind of one of those things where it’s like, when it rains it pours. [laughs] On top of flying between two different shows. It’s all good and I am very excited about all of it. We put on shows, we have a couple different shows one called, “Live in the Living Room” and that happens every Thursday in LA. Every other Monday in New York, and then Broadway at the W that was what originated, that’s what started everything. We have those occasionally in LA, more so in New York. We have Sunday Soiree in LA, that’s every Sunday in LA. We just got a lot of different things sort of happening but it came about because I was missing music and singing and dancing and that style of entertainment in my life.

So I and some good friends of mine decided to put on our show and then out of that spawned a bunch of different other shows. I am really happy to be a part of it. I am also happy to be able to give a platform for others. There really are some amazing artists out there that some people may not even know about. To get them in front of others and get their artistry out there has been really good for me.

ONCE UPON A TIME airs Friday nights at 9/8c on ABC (with a two hour episode tonight).
CHICAGO MED will premiere 11/21 and air Tuesday nights at 10/9c on NBC.
Mekia can be found online @MekiaCox on Twitter.