'Once Upon a Time' Season 2: Jennifer Morrison on Emma's Past and 'Superhuman' Qualities

The ABC star hints to THR that the sixth episode of the season, "Tallahassee," will provide crucial back story to her character.
"Once Upon a Time"

Storybrooke, get ready.

ABC's fairy tale drama Once Upon a Time returns for season two Sunday and as the trailers and clips released have teased, the premiere kicks off with magic, new dynamics and new characters (hint: Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, Prince Philip). But what should viewers expect now that the curse on Storybrooke is broken? 

Jennifer Morrison, who plays the tough-as-nails Storybrooke detective Emma Swan, previewed the new season with THR and gave just enough hints to intrigue viewers.

The Hollywood Reporter: Now that the curse has been broken in Storybrooke, what can be expected in the season premiere?

Jennifer Morrison: The season finale last year set us up for so much. So much happened so fast. Now we're really diving headfirst to try to resolve and handle everything that happened in that episode. There's a tremendous amount that's happening with every character. For Emma in particular, there is a tremendous amount of emotional adjustment going on.

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The first season was its own emotional adjustment having been back in Henry's (Jared Gilmore) life and and really wanting to be his mother and taking on that responsibility. Now, we're embarking on a whole other level with Emma discovering her own parents [Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas)] and trying to figure that out. She's been looking for them her whole life and now that she's found them -- you don't know how you're going to react until you find them -- developing those relationships. Emma doubted Henry for all that time and now he was right. There are complications with that as well. Some characters are also being added to the show like Henry's father, so there have been some great adventures to follow. 

THR: The identity of Henry's father has been a big point of discussion for season two and there is  a big Emma episode ("Tallahassee") coming down the line this year. Can you speak to any surprises you discovered about Emma's back story while filming it and speaking to the writers?

Morrison: What was really great was [executive producer] Eddie [Kitsis] and I had many conversations about Henry's father, back before even the pilot was shot just because that's obviously a formative and important relationship for a child to come out of it. What ended up on the page and what ended up on the screen is really a culmination of those conversations and all of us putting our heads together. Also, it was great to see every little detail come to fruition.

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In that episode, there are definitely hints along the way -- moments in her life that you never would have known were happening -- and once you see episode six this year, you'll go, "Oh, that's why she said that!" They planted those seeds, so it was fun as an actor working on your character's back story trying to figure out what that means here and to actually play it out. [Laughs] A lot of times, you don't get that chance. You have things in your head and you hope that it's all working and serving the character, but you don't really know. It was a good time for me and I think the audience will enjoy seeing a different time in Emma's life.

THR: How so?

Morrison: The audience will really get to see what has happened to Emma in the last 10 years.

THR: How would you compare "younger" Emma to how she is now? Are there drastic differences? 

Morrison: What's similar is that she was raised in the foster program, she had to survive to make her life work. She had to rely on her own resources to be able to eat, sleep, take care of herself. She definitely still has the damage that exists in her childhood but there is a different .. hopeful may be the wrong word  -- I don't know that she's ever been a tremendously hopeful person before Henry came into her life. She believes that because she's been through so much by the time she was 18, she almost feels superhuman. "What else can I possibly endure at this point?" There almost an element of I survived so many outrageous situations in my life and I've hung through it and I've been OK, bring it on, what else is there, I can handle it.

Having a child, some things they just change you, so in that episode, you see her before those things put her on her heels, in a sense. I was actually talking to someone about how I get cramps in my legs when I was playing Emma at 18 because she walked on her toes. And Emma, as we know now, has a very serious walk on her heels. The world has pushed her back on her heels a little bit. She's so sturdy, you know: "I am here." At 18, she's still like a fox. I think that symbolically represents the differences between her during those two times in her life more than anything else.

Once Upon a Time premieres season two 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@thr.com