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Lana Parrilla: the Evil Queen on ABC’s Once Upon a Time

By Andrew Stone
Posted On Dec 01, 2014

Heartbreak, revenge, tenderness, villainy. Lana Parrilla displays acting chops galore on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. An alum of Spin City, Swingtown, 24, and Miami Medical, Parrilla shines as Regina, the mayor of fictional Storybrooke, Maine. Here, fairy tale characters have forgotten their true identities. The culprit? Miss Mayor herself, otherwise known as the Evil Queen of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs fame. It’s a big role, one that Parrilla plays with remarkable subtlety. Her highness (a new bride in real life, who recently  married software exec Fred Di Blasio and took on the role of not-so-evil stepmom to his three sons) shares her take on success—on TV and off.

Once Upon a Time is a monumental hit. What keeps viewers tuning in?
It has all sorts of emotions and situations to relate to—trust, betrayal, murder, lust, love. Though the heart of the show is hope. That resonates with people of all ages across the world. Each character takes turns as the center of the action, and you never know what surprise is waiting for any of us.

Your character runs the gamut of emotions. Did you ever think you’d get such a role?
I didn’t realize she was going to become so multidimensional. The writers have given me lots to play with. There’s the bright-eyed, young Regina who’s so innocent, then of course there’s the Evil
Queen side, so temperamental and impulsive and delicious. She also has this calculated, vulnerable side. Few actors play so many parts in one role.

How did you land the part?
I auditioned to play a trauma surgeon on a different show. At the end of this monster monologue, the casting director said, “I want you to read for Once Upon a Time, for the Evil Queen.” It was one of the most unique scripts I’d ever read. I asked about what they were after, since this character could come across very theatrical. I was told, “Be as human as possible. They don’t want over-the-top.” I knew I had to remove the icon notion from the Evil Queen. I just had to think of her as a woman.

You managed to bring humanity to that mythic hatred of Snow White.
I had to be open-minded about who Snow White was to her, and why she would be driven to kill someone. The most fun part of the show is the emotional arc that has grown after that story line. As the writers have shown, there was still so much room to grow.

You all must have a great rapport on set, yes?
An unbelievable camaraderie has been built among the cast and crew. The greatest part is the sense of humor everyone has—about ourselves, our characters, funny lines we have to say. We’ll have moments when we go, “I can’t believe I have to say this,” which helps us keep the momentum going.

There’s a lot of physicality involved in playing Regina. What is your conditioning routine?
I’d honestly welcome more physical activity with this character. I don’t do all that much running myself—we have a number of stunt girls for that—but I do get thrown a lot. Emma [played by
Jennifer Morrison], the hero of the show, gets most of the physicality. She’s always hanging from something, or swinging somewhere. My character just builds fireballs and smokes the town.
But staying fit is everything. When you’re a professional actor, your body is your instrument. I exercise, watch my diet, take vitamins, drink lots of water, and get eight hours of sleep.

Were you always conscious of your health?
It’s a principle I grew up with. My mother taught me yoga at age 5, and I’ve always eaten organic. My mom had us eat vegetarian for six months out of the year, and she taught me that a healthy
diet keeps a healthy mind. I’ve been introducing my philosophy on food to my husband and the boys.

Speaking of the boys, you recently married off the radar, and became a step-mom. How are you enjoying these changes?
They’re 13, 15, and 18, so there’s a lot of testosterone going on. Coming home and seeing their faces is a great new joy. I have this handsome husband—my best friend. They all contribute so much to my happiness. I love that instead of just playing an “evil stepmother” on the show, I’m a real stepmom.

Were you a fairy tale fan growing up?
I loved “Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” I saw The Little Mermaid around age 11, while Dumbo is my favorite of all time. As a kid we built forts, and mythology
spoke to my imagination.

You were raised in Brooklyn, correct?
I grew up between Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Some of my fondest memories are of hopping in hydrants back in Brooklyn on summer days. I grew up in the time of the crack epidemic, and some of the nearby neighborhoods were scary, so I was on lockdown after sundown. Imagination really came in handy. My family still has two homes in Brooklyn, and I am still amazed by the change that has happened there.

It must be gratifying to experience this success, and to reflect on your life’s journey.
I grew up lower-middle class with very little, and now I’m living my dream. How often do people get to do that? I feel so fortunate. Now, I’m not a very religious woman, but I do believe in energy and I believe in being kind to people. I know there’s an exchange in life that really goes well when people are generous with time and spirit. The principle behind that is love and gratitude. And it has served me well.

You give and receive a lot of love through your social media interactions. What does that communication offer you?
The social media world—Twitter and all—has been such a rewarding element of my career. It makes every day better, knowing that I have that degree of support and love. Not only that, I see that they’re getting something out of this character I play. I’ve always wanted to find ways to give back, and it feels like it’s really happening.
Photography by Troy Jensen