Robert Carlyle chats about the challenges of being Rumpelstiltskin on 'Once Upon A Time'
Once Upon A Time Season 2 is just a few weeks away! In promotion of the Season 1 DVD release, we had the chance to chat with Robert Carlyle about the series. From performing as Rumpelstiltskin as a child to how long it takes to get all the makeup on for the character, Robert spilled lots of details on Once Upon A Time!
What research did you undertake into the original Rumpelstiltskin fairytale when you signed up to appear in Once Upon A Time?
Robert Carlyle: I did a ton of research into the character of Rumpelstiltskin when I signed up for the show. And the more research I did, the more it helped give me a feel for how to play him. The Rumpelstiltskin story is in many, many different cultures throughout the world. He's called different names, but he's essentially the same guy with the same story. However, it's subtly different every time, which meant I didn't quite know who he was or how he should sound. I attempted to create a character from all of the Rumpelstiltskins that I read about, so it has been an incredibly interesting task.
Were you a fan of the original Rumpelstiltskin fairytale as a child?
Robert Carlyle: Let me tell you a story, and this is completely true... The very first thing I ever saw performed as a kid was Rumpelstiltskin. A theatre group came to my school to perform the fairytale and I never ever forgot it. Whenever the name came up in my life, I always reacted to it - and suddenly I discovered it right in front of my eyes as a character to play in Once Upon A Time. Immediately, I knew this was the part for me.
How did you get involved with the show?
Robert Carlyle: When the offer of a new fantasy television show first came through, I wasn't interested in doing it. I was planning on having a break; I wasn't going to work for quite a while. I had a little movie to shoot in Los Angeles during the summer and I thought that would be enough work for me. However, my manager pointed out that Once Upon A Time was from the team involved with Lost. I thought to myself, 'Oh, I'd better read it then!' That's when I discovered the role was Rumpelstiltskin and I was immediately hooked.
What did you enjoy the most reinventing such an iconic character?
Robert Carlyle: I thoroughly enjoyed all the research I undertook for the character. I thought it was fascinating to discover more about these incredible fairytale stories. You think you know what they mean and what they're about, but it's taken me many, many years to finally understand what they were originally for and where they came from. There is another not-so-obvious side to these tales and that's what we're trying to show with this series; we want to show you the other side of the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin and the rest of the gang.
How would you describe the tone of the series?
Robert Carlyle: Once Upon A Time is a heightened reality. What interested me when I first read the script was the contrast between the fairytale world and the real world in the story. In the beginning, I was concerned that the fairytale land - all colorful and otherworldly - would clash against the real world. But, of course, the real world is not quite real; Storybrooke is slightly off balance. All of the characters in Storybrooke, especially Mr. Gold, are heightened and there's something not quite right there, which makes it really interesting.
Do you enjoy playing the villain?
Robert Carlyle: I thoroughly enjoy playing villains because they are always the best parts. Villains tend to forward the plots. Whenever they are on screen, you have to listen because they've always got something important to say. However, if you go back to the origins of these fairytales, Rumpelstiltskin didn't start off evil and neither did the Evil Queen; circumstances changed them. To be honest, I don't think they are 100% good or evil.
How do you restrain from acting too over-the-top when you're playing such an iconic character?
Robert Carlyle: It's all about honesty and keeping it believable. The example I always give to a question like this is when you watch De Niro talking to a mirror in that famous scene in Taxi Driver: "You talkin' to me?" It's so theatrical but you believe every second of it because you believe in the character of Travis Bickle. If you believe Travis then you believe anything he says, therefore if you believe Rumpelstiltskin you believe everything he says.
How much of a challenge is it to play dual characters in the show?
Robert Carlyle: It's a lot of fun, although playing Rumpelstiltskin has been very challenging at times. It took an awful lot of preparation to be able to step up to the plate to play him. It took me way back to my drama school days when I did a lot of mask work because it's tough to act with all of the makeup I wear for Rumpelstiltskin. When you wear a mask, people don't get to see your face, so you have to work extra hard on the acting. You have to work extra hard to make everything believable.
How long does it take to get dressed as Rumpelstiltskin?
Robert Carlyle: In total, it takes about two hours to get ready as Rumpelstiltskin every morning - and then it takes an hour to get it off at the end of the night. The lace-up boots he wears take 20 minutes to put on - and that's just the boots! Then the nails go on, then the eyes and then the rest of his face. It's very difficult to move when I'm fully dressed. I think it's funny that the all-powerful Rumpelstiltskin can't actually maneuver around the set very well.
Do you prefer playing the fairytale character or the modern-day role?
Robert Carlyle: It doesn't matter to me. I don't have a favorite of these two characters because I think Gold and Rump are intrinsically linked. Like I said, they are essentially the same person, but I've enjoyed exploring the boundaries of both characters.
You tend to play a lot of complicated characters...
Robert Carlyle: That's because I love complications. I guess a lot of the roles I play are like a jigsaw puzzle; I try to piece all of the elements together. I think most actors would agree that those are the most rewarding roles to play. It's exciting to play a character that's pushing the plot along, rather than someone who has the plot bouncing off their back.
Why do you think there's been a recent resurgence of interest in the fairytale world with two Snow White movies being released alongside fantasy shows like Once Upon A Time?
Robert Carlyle: With everything going on in the world today, people need hope. That's why fairytales were originally written: to encourage children to dream and to have hope. I'm sure that when viewers first see each of the characters in the show, they have their own opinions on each one based on their childhood and what they felt about the story back then. I think that's what's drawn people to watch the show because they think the characters will be familiar - but then suddenly they're not. It doesn't matter that they are different; it makes it intriguing and interesting. It draws the audience in even more.
Once Upon A Time: The Complete First Season is now available on DVD and Blu-ray!
Scottish Actors disclaimer: this interview has been posted on several websites and blogs, all of whom claim to be the original source.
If you know the original source, please tell us!