Once Upon a Time Cleo Fox

Once Upon a Time Casts Heroes Reborn Baddie as Emma's Badass Mentor

ABC’s Once Upon a Time will flash back an uncharted period in Emma Swan’s past, with the help of Heroes Reborn actress Rya Kihlstedt.

TVLine has learned exclusively that Kihlstedt will guest-star in Season 5, Episode 20 — titled “Firebird” and written by Jane Espenson — as Cleo, a bail bondsperson and no-nonsense woman who has pulled herself out of a rough early life and trusts her instincts above all else. The character is described as having “a tough exterior hides a strong nurturing side that isn’t often given a chance to come out.”

If that sounds a lot like a certain Savior when we first met her, that is because Cleo was a mentor of sorts to pre-Storybrooke Emma and thus embodies what she might have been had a storybook-toting tyke named Henry not come knocking.

“We are going to get a period in time in Emma’s life we’ve never explored before, which is before she became a bail bondsperson,” Once co-creator Eddy Kitsis told TVLine at the 100th-episode party. “And it’s about time!”

Kihlstedt’s previous TV credits also include arcs on Nashville and Dexter.

ABC’s Once Upon a Time resumes Season 5 on Sunday, March 6.

Want more scoop on Once, or for any other show? Email insideline@tvline.com and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Shauna says:

    Talk about a misleading headline! But I really can’t wait for this! We know absolutely nothing about Emma after prison. Damn you Once Upon A Time you reel me back in again!

  2. MissEllys says:

    The title of this article is silly…it’s clear she’s not playing future Emma but someone from Emma’s past. I would also like to meet the Swans.

  3. Zach says:

    Really misleading headline… I thought TVLine was better than clickbait.

  4. Dean says:

    So she’s Emma’s Qui-gon?

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      Basically, yes! And thank you for reading past the 140th character. +225 TVLine Power User Points for you! (no cash value)

  5. Desi says:

    No kidding it’s about time! We’ve had MORE than enough of certain other characters’ histories. Maybe I’ll actually watch this episode.

    • Jake says:

      They are too late in giving Emma a backstory or story for that matter. But I agree, I’ll watch this one.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      This is very welcome news, so in the spirit of that, I have tweaked the headline for what I will call “better clarity.”

      (For those who tuned in late, the headline originally, cheekily and arguably accurately described the character as ‘Future Emma.’)

  6. Lysh says:

    I’m gonna echo the rest of the crowd with WOW misleading title. I was like…wtf? And had to click on it. Kudos.
    Sounds exciting though. I’m excited to see that part of Emma’s life!

  7. Jake says:

    wtf is the title. And damn ouat, I gave up totally on that disaster, maybe I’ll just watch this ep.

  8. Kate says:

    So she’s not gonna be future Emma, she will be an important person from Emma’s past and a look at what Emma may have become had Henry not come into her life. LOL! TVLine, read your own stories before making the headlines.

  9. Lena says:

    “And it’s about damn time” you said it boss kitsis.

  10. Chet says:

    I miss kickass Emma who cared about Henry. I suppose she’s gone for good.

    • Denny says:

      Cared only about Henry, you mean?

      • T.M. says:

        Emma use to care so much about everyone. I miss the girl who gave a pep talk to Cinderella. Hook kinda sucked all the personality out of her now she is just plot device that JMo works her butt off to sell.

        • Denny says:

          Emma still care about everyone when other people are in need, it’s the way she is, good and kind and strong. But now she has a family, stable friendships and a boyfriend and a town always under attack.

          And maybe JMo like what Emma has become now. Just my opinion.

  11. Azerty says:

    I wish the original title would be true, it is time that Once fulfill its Lost legacy and introduce flashforward. Flashback don’t bring anything anymore! (ok maybe this one about Emma’s past will but no more Enchanted Forest please!)

  12. Kendall says:

    I’m so happy about this I can’t wait!!!

  13. Lynn says:

    Well this seems interesting.But honestly, I felt so trolled in the dark swan arc, I don’t think I trust ouat esp when it comes to Emma Swan.
    There was no darkswan in the “darkswan” arc, it was all hook, hook and hook some more..I mean even the ep titled “swan song” begin with the kind of man hook wanted to be…just brutal.
    Initially seeing Jmo, who did great as DS, was the best part tough that the narrative was all about hook, disappointing.
    It’s not that I dislike Emma/Hook, but I am an Emma Swan fan first, and ouat just gave us the clear message – this show is not for Emma fans; only Emma/Hook “shippers” (whatever these guys call themselves) and other “shippers” + the villain brigade lovers are welcome… I got that, signing off ouat.

    • Adam says:

      Hook was in the spotlight of episodes 8,10 and 11 only. In NO way recent seasons has been ALL about Hook, is it? Maybe that big twist broke your expectations for a 100% Dark Emma

  14. Chase says:

    So 100th ep is Regina- skippable; and they have hired some other pirate for Hook’s past, how many ‘past’ eps is Hook going to get again, btw, this one too, totally skippable.
    And now after 5 damn seasons they are giving us Emma’s backstory – a story that isn’t about Rumple’s son or have a forced icequeen aka Ingrid shoved in between – interesting but not interested.

  15. XRanger says:

    They gave a middle finger to all Emma fans in 5a, not sure what difference would this make, meh I’ll tune in for this though.

    Nice clickbait though Matt.

  16. XRanger says:

    Yup they buggered off Emma fans, not sure why they’d stick for this but I suppose a few will make the exception

  17. XRanger says:

    ^^ My above comment was a reply to Desi’s this comment – / They really are. If the premiere/100th ep
    is as terrible as all the reviews say it is, I
    see no reason why an Emma fan would
    continue to watch this half-season and
    even get to this episode. /

  18. News says:


    Just hope this Emma centric pass bechdel, I hate Emma being a character that exist only for Hook.

  19. ushosi.b says:

    I’m a CS shipper, Emma fan, and Hook fan, but honestly, I do see the point in these people’s comments… the show is becoming too much of cheesy romance and the character growth of both has reached an all time low… I want the badass Emma Swan who takes nonsense from no one back, not an excited teenager living in a rosy day dream of a relationship…
    Not intended to offend anyone. Each person is entitled to their own opinions.

    • Adam says:

      Is Emma acting like a hormonal teen? NO. You just want that badass, independent, but insecure and pessimistic Emma Swan.