This Sunday at 8/7c, ABC’s Once Upon a Time heads under the sea to introduce us to a little mermaid. As played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Reba), a front-runner for the role since Season 1, Ariel will in flashback face off against a “familiar” foe, while in Neverland she offers her special swimming skills to Emma and the gang.
Swisher spoke with TVLine about assuming the iconic princess for “more than a couple of episodes,” the pitfalls of swimming with a fin and how Ariel will make a splash in Storybrooke. Plus: An exclusive clip of her debut.
TVLINE | You as Ariel — this has been, what, two years in the making?
I know, right? I’m so glad they decided to this right after I had a baby!
TVLINE | I was going to say, a few months earlier and you would have had to politely decline.
Even a few months after, I was like, “Oh god, here we go….”
TVLINE | [Once cocreator] Adam Horowitz is a great Yankees fan. Were you ever concerned along the way that your husband [Nick Swisher] leaving the Bronx to join the Cleveland Indians would jeopardize this gig?
Not in the slightest. In fact it was really cute, Adam got to talk to Nick while we were in Vancouver. He was really excited.
TVLINE | Where do we pick up Ariel’s story in Fairytale Land? Has she met Prince Eric yet?
Yes, she has – so she’s pining, plotting to figure out a way to see him again. She has met him and she is madly in love. It’s incredibly romantic. I save Snow White’s life, so to return the favor, Snow teaches me how to be a princess. And she also urges me to be myself and tell him the truth and follow my heart and all those incredibly romantic Snow White notions.
Watch an exclusive clip from Ariel’s introduction, then read on for more
TVLINE | How and why does Ursula enter the picture?
Well, there’s always a price to pay with magic, and when you dangle the idea of being with Eric in front of Ariel, she will go to no end to make it happen.
TVLINE | Meanwhile, what are you up to on the Neverland side?
Well, mermaids can swim between realms, so that ability becomes quite handy and useful to the gang…. They call upon Ariel to maybe help in their fight.
TVLINE | Is there any moment of recognition between Regina and Ariel? Because Regina is Ursula, right?
Yes, Regina is Ursula. I think there probably is a little bit of resentment….
TVLINE | So, why the purse? What’s in it?
Where else am I going to keep my dinglehopper, Matt?! I’m definitely enamored with little objects – I’m a bit of a klepto – and I find things along the way that I fancy to be mine. It’s my “treasure bag.”
TVLINE | Are there other nods to Ariel’s story? Is there a crab…?
There is a crab, but he’s not dancing round and adorable. It’s just a brief sort of tip of the hat. In fact, I explain to them that we don’t eat humans down below, so… it’s kind of horrifying to see seafood everywhere!
TVLINE | Emile de Ravin said that Belle has scenes with Ariel…. Is that more down the pike?
It’s not as far down the pike as you would imagine. Like I said, mermaids can swim between realms, so we do get to interact. Obviously when you’re a guest on a show, it’s your job to help the heroes along in their journey, and I really love the fact that Ariel gets to do that in a lot of ways.
TVLINE | When swimming between realms, can she bring someone along for the ride, if they hang on tight?
I don’t think that would be suggested! But the bag that you were asking about, it definitely helps in her journey.
TVLINE | Any costume issues?
I mean, thank god for Spanx! [Laughs] But Eduardo [Castro] is an incredible costume designer, so there were no issues. I did have some times where my back was hurting because I swam a lot with my legs bound… and I was in the real ocean quite a bit, on two different occasions. I really feel like I didn’t think through all of it! I was like, “You want me in the ocean, not the 100-degree water tank/giant Jacuzzi?” [Laughs]
TVLINE | Oh, and it can get chilly there in Vancouver.
It was so… cold. The day that I had to go into the ocean, Lee Arenberg (“Leroy/Grumpy”), who’s like a surfer dude and has been in all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, helped get me through that with some tips.
TVLINE | Jen Morrison was telling me how she had to sneak a sweater onto Emma in an upcoming episode, it was that cold out one day.
Just this past Monday, I was like, “Where did you get gloves, dude?” And Jen was like, “It’s magic — we can manifest things here.” I was like, “I wish I had known that a month ago!”
TVLINE | You and Jen go back a ways, right?
She’s one of my closest girlfriends, yeah. She was at my wedding, and at every big monumental moment in my life, and I think she’s so fantastic. One of the reasons I watched the [Once Upon a Time] pilot is because I watch everything that my girlfriends do, and I was like, “Whoa, this is spectacular.” I instantly became a fan. so I was excited to be able to do this!