Proud Papa: Interview with Once Upon a Time's Tony Amendola

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Tony Amendola as Geppetto in Once Upon a Time

Over the years, classic fairy tales have been twisted, tweaked, turned on their heads and re-imagined for the big and small screens. In season one of ABC’s fantasy TV series Once Upon a Time, The Evil Queen interrupts the wedding of Snow White and Prince “Charming” James and places a curse on everyone, taking away all their love so that only she will ever have a happy ending.

Having also had their memories erased by The Evil Queen, these former residents of the Enchanted Forest end up in fictional Storybrooke, Maine, where time is frozen and they are living their lives as very different people. Only Snow White’s and Prince Charming’s daughter Emma Swan can break the curse, and the town’s mayor, Regina Mills (The Evil Queen), is well aware of that. Among those exiled to Storybrooke is Geppetto, an elderly carpenter who, according to the popular fairy tale, carved himself a son named Pinocchio out of magical wood. Veteran stage, feature film and TV actor Tony Amendola, who plays Geppetto, was delighted to venture into this “fractured” TV fairy tale world.

“I read the pilot script for Once Upon a Time and thought, ‘Wow, this is really wonderful,’” says the actor. “So I went in to audition for the Geppetto role, but there really wasn’t that much material on the actual character. I was given a brief scene as Geppetto, but the rest of the material was, I’m pretty sure, from a film. It was similar, though, to Once Upon a Time in that it involved a father giving advice to his son. So I just presented it in the style of who I thought Geppetto was. They [the show’s producers] seemed very pleased with what I did, and before I knew it I was being welcomed into their world of classic fairy tales.

“It’s funny, after we shot the pilot, some people were trying to make like there was a competition between [the NBC fantasy show] Grimm and Once Upon a Time, which showed a complete lack of knowledge on their part. Clearly they hadn’t read either script, because if they had, they would have realized there was no competition at all. They’re very different shows, especially with Once Upon a Time airing Sundays at 8 o’clock. I remember that being the Disney hour, way back when; Lassie would come on first, followed by Swamp Fox or another Disney program. In the beginning, I didn’t know how good Once Upon a Time would turn out to be, but I did know that that was the perfect time slot for such a show.”

Geppetto’s “alter ego” in Storybrooke is Marco, a handyman and old friend of the local psychotherapist, Archie Hopper (Raphael Sbarge), who is, in fact, Jiminy Cricket. In season one of Once Upon a Time it is revealed that Marco and his wife are unable to have children. When a mysterious stranger, August Wayne Booth/the adult Pinocchio (Eion Bailey), arrives in town, the handyman takes a liking to the young man and hires him as his assistant. Although it took a little while, viewers were finally given some further details surrounding Geppetto’s past, and Amendola could not have been happier about that.

“To be honest, for the first couple of episodes, although I was truly delighted to be there, I felt a bit like ballast,” he explains. “However, there are several stories to tell and with the first season of any show it’s a matter of getting the ball rolling, so as an actor you’ve got to be patient.

“After I shot my first two episodes of Once Upon a Time, I began work in Vancouver on a new sci-fi/police drama series, Continuum. While I was up there, my agent called me and said, ‘Once Upon a Time has another episode for you ["The Stranger"]. They tell me it’s quite a good episode and a heavy one for your character. So we’re going to try to make this work.’ Luckily, Holly, one of the Continuum producers, and one of the producers on Once Upon a Time were able to coordinate things schedule-wise and I was thrilled.

“The greatest thing about this show is that it’s not a retelling of a fairy tale. Each episode deals with a different question of something that preceded it, or an implication of why certain characters are together. For instance, with Geppetto there’s this whole back story involving Jiminy Cricket, why he’s in my character’s life and the fact that he feels this sense of responsibility towards Geppetto.

“That’s what I love. How did Prince Charming [Josh Dallas] meet Snow White [Ginnifer Goodwin]? Why does The Evil Queen [Lana Perrilla] hate so much? Is she just all hate or is there hurt there, too? The fact that they look at those types of questions is what makes the show so fascinating to me, and I actually watch it, too, which says something right there. As an actor you might watch your episodes, but with Once Upon a Time I’ve seen every one so far. It was great fun to shoot the episode with Geppetto’s back story. They worked me wonderfully hard and I’m appreciative of that. It felt so good.”

Please note, all photos copyright of ABC.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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