Gabrielle Anwar Dishes On Her New Role In ABC’s Hit Show, Once Upon A Time

Gabrielle AnwarPhoto Credit: Gabrielle Anwar

In ABC’s newest series premiere, Once Upon a Time, actress Gabrielle Anwar takes on a role that’s unfamiliar territory for her—the diabolical, manipulative stepmother to Cinderella, Lady Tremaine. In a whimsical, old-world fairy tale meets new-world story, iconic fictional characters and modern-day collide into a complex, mythical drama series set in the town of Hyperion Heights. The show has been widely praised by audiences around the country for six seasons, and the seventh season marks a significant reboot of the show, meaning new characters, locations and a new “curse”—it also marks the debut of Gabrielle Anwar and fellow newcomer Dania Ramirez to the well-established cast. Here, Haute Living catches up with the star and discusses the new show, shooting in Vancouver, life in Miami, her directorial debut and what else she’s working on in between:

HL: Tell us about Once Upon a Time. How is it going so far? 

GA: It’s very interesting to get back in front of the camera after having been behind it for the last three years, so it’s an exercise of discipline and surrender.

HL: How were you cast in your role?

GA: I had been reading scripts on and off for the last three years, with not much intention of doing anything unless it really tickled my fancy. I was visiting my daughter Willow in California, and I got a call from my agent and he was telling me there’s a great role of the wicked stepmother in Once Upon a Time on ABC, and I said “Once Upon a Time” out loud because I couldn’t fully hear what he was saying, and my 13-year-old daughter starting bouncing around the store exclaiming, “Mommy, you have to do it! You have to do it!” So basically that’s how I ended up living in Vancouver for 10 months [laughs].

HL: That’s exciting. How is it to enter the show in the midst of its seventh season as a regular?  

GA: Well, it’s always tricky to enter a new job when things are well established no matter what line of business you’re in because there’s a certain environment that’s been established from day one, and you’re tip-toeing around just to find your footing. The cast has been very welcoming, which is really nice. I’ve found that the trickiest thing is for me to step back into the schedule of being on a television show because it is very demanding and filled with long hours. It’s tough because we’re all characters playing two versions of themselves. It’s almost like filming a feature film every week.

HL: Explain what the day looks like.  

GA: We film a lot of footage that we don’t know if we necessarily need, but it’s good to have in case. We have to film tremendous amounts with elaborate costumes and storylines—I really take my hat off to those costume crew members who have been there since day one—it’s a lot of work, but it is very remarkable to see what comes out of it.

Gabrielle Anwar in costume
Gabrielle Anwar in costume

Photo Credit: ABC/Disney

HL: What’s your favorite part about getting to play Lady Tremaine? Is this a totally different type of role for you compared to others in the past? 

GA: My favorite thing about this character is that she is diabolical. She is really cruel and vicious and doesn’t apologize for it. She’s quite fun to play. I don’t see any resemblance to pretty much any character I’ve ever played because I usually end up playing someone with their heart in the right place. But I’ve been doing this for 33 years, and it’s fun to finally get to play a different type of role after all this time. It’s quite liberating.

HL: What’s the dynamic like between the cast on set? Who do you primarily work with? 

GA: I work with a young actress named Adelaide Kane who was the star of the TV show Reign. She is a queen—absolutely stunning and incredibly gifted as an actress. I also spend a lot of time with Dania Ramirez who plays alongside me as my stepdaughter Cinderella—she was in the show Devious Maids prior. She’s fantastic, and I have to say it’s such a pleasure to be playing the role with a Latina Cinderella—she’s so fresh and alive, and she has this tremendous energy. We’ve become quite friendly as we’ve both been acclimatized as the new chicks on the block.

HL: What’s it like shooting in Vancouver? What’s your favorite part about the new city? 

GA: I love the scenery—the landscaping is extremely conducive to hiking, which I’ve been partaking in, and that’s something I miss terribly in Miami because that’s not really available. And the Canadian people here are just so chill and friendly, and it’s a whole different pace of life up here. But I am missing the warm weather in Miami. I was born and raised in England where I was conceptually frozen all the time, but it’s been awhile since I got a taste of the cold weather! I am looking forward to those ThermaCare heat wraps from the pharmacy so I can wrap myself up like a mummy [laughs]. I love the convenience of a tropical climate. And of course, I miss my family and my bed! There’s nothing quite like your own bed.

HL: Of course. Aside from your new role in Once Upon a Time, how have things been following the debut of your documentary, Sexology

GA: It’s been really well received, which I am extremely proud of. We’ve translated it into a number of different languages so that it could be more widely viewed. I’ve had so many women approach me and talk to me about it asking for contacts so that they can start their own healing process, which has been really rewarding. I am hoping to build this website to actually be an educational tool so that one could go on their own and partake in their own personal sexual revolution.

HL: What was the best part about producing?  

GA: Being able to call all the shots. Also, working with an all-female cast was amazing—the scheduling was very flexible. We wanted to do it in a very feminine and undulating, organic way. It obviously takes much longer that way, but it is an entire reinvention of filmmaking, and it was one of the most exquisite experiences of my life.

Gabrielle AnwarPhoto Credit: Gabrielle Anwar

HL: How long did it take you to agree to do it? I remember at first you were reluctant because it was a bit of a racy subject. 

GA: When we first conceived the idea, I didn’t expect that I would be the one undergoing the revelation. So, I was reluctant to become so vulnerable and transparent on film regarding a subject that is so taboo. But I realized very quickly that in order to instruct any other woman—even if it’s just one other woman who happens to use this film to find her pleasure—I am going to have to sacrifice my privacy to a certain extent because secret-keeping is one of the most dangerous aspects of our inability to feel free and relax. So, to let that go was the key ingredient to finding sexual liberation.

HL: After experiencing your first directing gig, do you want to continue doing more of this? 

GA: I think so—there are so many interesting subjects out there that need to be explored, and I would be honored to do that. There are so many things I would like to accomplish before my time is up. One of them is obviously filmmaking, but there are so many things that I am excited about doing.

HL: What are some of those things? 

GA: I write. I am an avid writer and a prolific reader, so I am constantly being exposed to new information, which is exhilarating. I also am very involved in the local community of Coconut Grove where I live, and I hope the little project we’ve been working on will bring a pleasurable experience to as many people as possible and shed new light on the area—the city is going through somewhat of its own evolution right now.

HL: Aside from Once Upon a Time, what do you have going on for the coming year that you’re looking forward to? 

GA: I am hoping to publish a novel that I have spent the last 13 years writing in between birthing babies, TV shows and getting married. It’s a bit of a controversial fiction novel—a love story that explores topics that have a stigma around society. It should be very interesting to see how it is received. And of course, I’m excited to premiere the show we’ve been working so hard on. It’s a reboot, so I hope we are embraced—looking forward to finding out!