Raphael Sbarge, who plays Dr. Archie Hopper/Jiminy Cricket on ABC’s “Once Upon A Time,” recently took the time to answer of my questions. He delved into his character, reflected on the season, and spoke about the show’s improbable success in its first year.
BLAST: First, your career spans many recognizable titles in TV and film. You had a role on The Guardian as well as several parts on notable shows like Dexter, Heroes, 24, Prison Break, and the list goes on. No doubt you’ve had a prolific career and have been sought after for many parts. What in particular drew you to the role of Dr. Archie Hopper a.k.a Jiminy Cricket?
RS: Thank you for your kinds words. Yes, I have been blessed with a career that had many wonderful opportunities. Needless to say, there are hills and valleys in any actor’s journey, and one never knows what is coming next, and so you learn, as a matter of survival, to finesse the twists and turns that are inevitable. As far as Once Upon a Time is concerned, my feeling from the moment I read the script was that it was something special. My concern (on the page) was that it was wildly ambitious, and could never be pulled off. I mean, how on earth could they create two distinct worlds— and one a fantasy world, in a regular 8 day shooting schedule (the standard amount of time for a network show?) Clearly they have exceeded expectations on all counts. I shudder to think how this idea would have been done in lesser hands.
BLAST: Now, funny enough, I started reviewing Once Upon A Time for Blast a few episodes into the season and the first review I did was of your spotlight episode, “That Still Small Voice.” Tell me what it was like to delve into this fresh back-story for the Jiminy Cricket character and what may have surprised or intrigued about the somewhat dark direction the show took with his beginnings and transformation from man to cricket.
RS: When I first heard that it was “coming”( from our creators, Eddie Kitsis, and Adam Horowitz) I got very excited. When I finally got to read it, I was really moved by the story they had created— it made me weep, actually. Jiminy’s story is not a happy one. His “conscience” was born out of some terrible stuff, which, in my humble opinion, gives it some depth (and doesn’t make him a “know-it-all.”) Once I got past the teary stage, then I got to the “Holy-Cow!” stage, meaning, this is a big bite, and one that will make a lasting impression. There are moments, and this was one of them, when the “Hey, I’m portraying an icon and I hope I’m up to the challenge” gave me more than a few sleepless nights. I was very happy with how it turned out, and been greeted with folks saying, “Wow! I didn’t know that was Jiminy Cricket’s back story.” Of course they made it up, but I consider this a huge compliment to their ingenuity.
BLAST: A follow-up to my last question about “That Still Small Voice,” your real-world arc in that episode surrounds Archie’s relationship with Henry. Will that doctor-patient relationship play a role as Emma seeks custody of her son?
RS: As I write this, I believe that you will have seen a scene with Emma and I that addresses that, yes [In last week's "An Apple Red As Blood]. There is clearly a struggle, a battle for Henry and for who knows best. Adam and Eddie have set up a huge power play between two powerful women— both seemingly with Henry’s well being in mind, but with different methods, it seems. Henry too, has emerging ideas about who he wants to spend time with. Clearly we have not seen the end of this. Archie, as the man in the middle, will have a lot to discuss. Won’t it be interesting if the Mayor comes to the therapy room, too?
BLAST: A couple weeks ago in “The Return,” Dr. Hopper had his first pivotal scene since Jiminy Cricket’s “fairyback” (my term for the fairy tale flashbacks) where Archie has a mini-therapy session with Mr. Gold. This exchange fascinated me and a lot of fans because it gave Gold a vulnerability we hadn’t yet seen. How did you approach that scene and do you think Gold will return to Dr. Hopper for further therapy?
RS: I love that term, “fairyback!” You may have coined something! Ha! Yes! We got tremendous response to that scene— I LOVE Robert Carlyle, and was a huge fan of his even before I got to be on a show with him( and now that I get to watch him every week, my appreciation has only grown!) We had a blast together, and I do hope we have many more opportunities to explore some of the themes that got initiated in that episode.
BLAST: ”The Stranger” was one of my favorite episodes of the season, and you as the voice of Jiminy Cricket played a significant role. Can you tell our readers a little more about how you feel your character played a vital part in Geppetto and Pinocchio’s story (on the show)?
RS: I loved this episode too (but I have so many favorites now, its hard to pick one out, personally). Tony Amendola who plays Gepetto, quite by coincidence, is an old friend of mine. We have known each other for 25 years, and done more plays together than I can count. He is such a wonderful actor, and I was incredibly proud of him. I loved too, the last moment in the episode when August/ Pinocchio says to his father, “I want to fix things.” Killed me. I was there doing off camera Jiminy work for the scene at the enchanted tree, when Gepetto and Jiminy have a tiff— and was so pleased that we got to revisit the painful past between these two. There is a lot to mine, in that relationship I think. And, needless to say, the episode was just wonderful!
BLAST: Can you speculate at all about how Archie/Jiminy Cricket will factor in next season? If you can’t speculate, what would you like to see for Archie/Jiminy in successive seasons?
RS: Well, I am in the dark as much as you are, frankly ( the story lines to future episodes are a very closely guarded secret, especially for next year). But that said, I will be interested to see if we get a chance to explore Archie’s love life and or his life in the town outside of his time in the office. As well, I would love to see more time with Mr. Gold, or Emma, or the Mayor in the therapy room. Based on the finale, I would say there is a lot of job security ahead for a therapist in Storybrooke.
BLAST: Do you approach your character as separate entities (Archie Hopper AND Jiminy Cricket) that you play differently (distinct voices, personalities, demeanors), or do consider them as one person at two places in time that happens embody a human and cricket form?
RS: This is a very interesting question. They are, I believe, as you suggest, the same person, in two places at once. One has a broader view of things, and one is locked in time. And there is indeed a different voice that Jiminy has. But, they are both bound by a conscience, born of some hard knocks, and a desire to help others find their way.
BLAST: Obviously, doing the voice of a CGI cricket is a lot different from playing a human therapist. What can you tell us about filming the Jiminy scenes and how involved you are in the process?
RS: It is a fascinating experience. Completely different from any other I have ever had on a set. I mean, to be an actor in the scene, playing it full out, but to always be off camera is very unusual. The actors in the scene, ON camera have been very thankful that I am there to do it (and not a script supervisor, reading lines from way off set, as is the norm). It has given me, as well, a chance to find him amidst the action, and not just on a dark sound stage by myself. I have done a lot of voice over work in other mediums (in video games, and commercial work), and it is a particular skill. But, this is unique in my four decades as an actor.
BLAST: As a Lost fan, I have great respect for Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. I often talk in my reviews about the similarities the shows share. Kitsis and Horowitz use flashbacks in both to add depth to characters, and I talk about the theme of faith vs. reason—a continuous thread in Lost and something Emma is struggling with mightily on Once Upon A Time. What is it like to work with those two (Kitsis and Horowitz) and what elements of Lost do you think they’ve carried over to this show?)
RS: Wow. Big question. You elucidate the theme quite beautifully. I would say simply, that it is a marvel to work with them. They have created a very, very complex world, with distinct rules, and clear structure (very hard to do). I don’t know if I can speak to how Lost themes or elements have carried over, but I can say that I am constantly surprised how they are able to surprise me. I mean, I watch television. I work in television. More often then not, I can anticipate where the story is headed, who the killer is, or where it might be headed. With this show, I never know where they are going next, and this seems to be one of the things that fans are so excited about (amongst others, of course). What they have done is create a world of characters that are both good and evil, but complex, and multidimensional.With the Evil Queen or Rumplestilskin, we see evil deeds, with devastating consequences, but we also get to see the cost, the pain, the horror of their interior life, that gives us compassion for them, even as we love to hate them.
This is no easy task— and to do it week after week, I am as I say, slack jawed at how they can balance so many stories at once. I feel at times like a squealing fan, and when people tell me ( as they often do), “I’m totally addicted to your show.” I say, “I know! Me, too!”
BLAST: To be honest, it seemed improbable this series would last. It’s such a high-concept show that asks a lot of its audience in terms of patience and trust that it will all become clear soon. Though it helps that the source material includes familiar and timeless tales like Snow White and Pinocchio. But against formidable odds, it has a huge following and is the most watched new drama. Are you surprised at all by the show’s success?
RS: I am 100 percent surprised by the success. Not as any disparagement to any of us. But, just because the odds of any new show finding its audience is slim to none— let alone to be dubbed the “most watched new drama.” Just as I was writing these answers to you, I just got an email from Adam and Eddie saying it was official, we are picked up for next year (thrilling to hear!). Based on the honor of Most Watched, we all felt pretty confident, but needless to say, after years of doing this job, it makes you very humble and grateful for those rare moments when something comes together and works. This is one of those rare moments.
BLAST: here’s some incredible acting on this show (yourself included, obviously ha-ha). Who have you most enjoyed working with?
RS: I feel like I am on an All-Star team, and every time I come to the set, the level of commitment and pride that we all share is very evident. In fact, it is shared by every department— camera, props, costumes— even the guy who watches our cars in the parking lot told me how proud he was to be on this crew! We all feel like we are on something very special.
BLAST: Overall, what have you considered most rewarding about working on Once Upon A Time and playing Archie/Jiminy?
RS: As actors, we are innately story tellers. We are, of course, completely reliant on the world that is created by the writers, and the elements that they craft for us. What is most rewarding? The absolutely breathtaking stories that we get to tell, every week. I am so incredibly grateful.
BLAST: For our readers, what should fans know before going into the finale? Will their minds be blown? Can fans look forward to more answers (like the many provided in “The Stranger”) or will more questions arise?
RS: I can’t tell you. But, even if I could, wouldn’t you rather find out yourself? So much more fun to unwrap you own Christmas present, isn’t it? :) What I will say is this, prepare for a big finish!
BLAST: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Sbarge. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to speak with you and I wish you (and Archie/Jiminy) all the best. I hope I get to speak with you in the future regarding Once Upon A Time and possibly any other roles you take on.
RS: And, thank you for these great questions!