'Once Upon a Time': JoAnna Garcia on 'Quirky' Ariel, Romance and Befriending Snow White

In a chat with THR, the actress discusses taking on the Little Mermaid, going up against a familiar enemy and how Ariel plays into the quest to save Henry.
Jack Rowand/ABC
JoAnna Garcia in "Once Upon a Time"

[Warning: Some spoilers ahead.]

JoAnna Garcia enters the Once Upon a Time universe as iconic Disney princess Ariel, aka the Little Mermaid.

"The idea of doing this has been in my life for a while, so I was happy when they figured out a way for Ariel to come into the story that I was able to do this," Garcia, who debuts in the Nov. 3 episode of ABC's fairy tale drama, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "To be able to play a beloved Disney princess has been a dream come true."

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Though there was a brief glimpse in the season opener of a group of angry mermaids terrorizing the occupants on the Jolly Roger, Ariel won't be in the same boat. She "definitely marches to the beat of her own drum," Garcia says.

In a chat with THR, the actress previews Ariel's arc, going up against a familiar enemy and the Little Mermaid's romance with Prince Eric.

Executive producers Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are known for putting their own twists on iconic characters. Did they inform you of Ariel's arc and how they planned to differentiate her from what we're familiar with?

They did. Mermaids are not nice creatures in the story of Once Upon a Time, so I was a little nervous of the fact that Ariel would be some renegade, but they informed me very quickly that she would be a very sweet version. She would play similarly in that regard to the original Ariel, which I was excited and quite relieved about because I don't think I have thick enough skin to make Ariel evil. But in perfect Eddy and Adam form, they created a character that is very true and pulls on your heartstrings, in the same way the animated version does. How she's woven into their whole quilt has the Once Upon a Time flair to it.

We got a glimpse of how vicious the mermaids can get in the premiere. How distinct is Ariel from her counterparts?

Ariel definitely marches to the beat of her own drum. Her life is filled with curiosity and optimism and she's completely a hopeless romantic. I think that that lends itself to an organic way of her not being a part of that evil crew. I think she would be quite offended if someone fancied herself to be anything but sweet and kind. Her whole life mission is she's in love with this man, and wants to find him and wants to be with him and she can't stop being with him. It sounds scary but it's actually romantic and sweet.

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What can you say about her connection to Prince Eric (Gil McKinney)?

Thematically it's very similar [to the animated feature]. It's love at first sight. She saves him, falls in love with this shipwrecked prince and it's her life's mission to find her way back to him. The fact that she's a mermaid and he's a man is not necessarily [ideal] -- even if they were to happen upon each other, it wouldn't necessarily work. It's a great love mixed with a great tragedy, but having said that, that's what her friendship with Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) shows her, that not only can she be who she truly is, but that there's a chance. She just has to stay true to herself and Snow White gives her the confidence to do that. But in true Once Upon a Time form, there's always a twist.

How does Ariel come to meet Snow White?

Snow White is on the run at this time and Ariel is in the right place in the right time and ends up saving her life. There's an instant appreciation and almost instantly, there's a friendship that's sort of sparked. To repay Ariel for saving her life, she wants to help her find her true love because Snow White wants that so much in her life and can't have it. They have this old friendship that withstands the test of time and ultimately will help save Henry (Jared S. Gilmore).

How does Regina (Lana Parrilla) play into Ariel's story? (In a promo, we see Ariel refer to her as Ursula.)

Regina is Ursula. That is something they're letting me tell you. They've released it. That is one thing I am allowed to say. She is Ursula. There are no limits to Regina's tentacles ... evil tentacles.

What else should we keep in mind about Ariel?

The love affair of Eric and Ariel, being that it's the most important thing to her, exploring that has been fun and something I was glad to do. But there are also other quirky elements to Ariel that I really love, the fact that she finds a lot of weight and finds these simple, mundane items on land to be incredible treasures and I love that part of her. She's quirky.

Does Ariel resurface in present day? If she does, how?

Mermaids can swim between realms, so in an attempt to fight Pan (Robbie Kay) and gather the things they need, Ariel can find herself to be very useful.

Should we expect Ariel to have some surprising interactions with characters other than Snow White?

Like I said, mermaids can swim between realms so there's no limit to the people Ariel can come into contact with. She doesn't need a magic bean. (Laughs.)

Once Upon a Time airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
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