“I do think we are in the golden age of television.”
It is not easy being a new father, a husband, and playing the iconic role of Robin Hood on ABC’s smash hit Once Upon a Time. And, yet, Sean Maguire seems to handle everything with grace and poignancy. When I spoke to him about the show’s upcoming (and potentially final) fifth season, he had just suffered multiple travel setbacks and was exhausted from his shoot, and yet treated me as if I were the first interview he has ever done about the show. His excitement was palpable, even over the phone as he stood in an airport terminal waiting on his very delayed flight back to Los Angeles. Guff was able to chat with Maguire about the upcoming season and his passion was infectious as he talked about how season 5 will bring the fairy tale soap opera show into dark territory that audiences will never see coming.
What is it like working on Once Upon A Time as opposed to something like Meet the Spartans?
Sean Maguire: Well, this job is a wonderful job for a number of reasons. Mainly the people. The cast mates, the crew, the writers, they’re all just lovely. And at this point in my career having a job where you love the people you work with is almost more important to me than the content. Because I don’t know about you, but you get to the point where you’re sick of dealing with dickheads. We’re like a family, so it’s a nice work environment.
The second bit is getting to play Robin Hood on a show that is seen around the world is a very special thing for me. It’s been quite a life change for me and my life and my newborn son, but all the of the changes have been positive.
What was it like stepping into an iconic role like Robin Hood?
SM: I never take any role with the idea that I’m going to base it on something that someone else has done before me. I am far more concerned with capturing what the writers have written for my character. I’m sure Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is very different from Ashton Kutcher’s Steve Jobs and that doesn’t mean Steve Jobs is a different person, just that they’re different. A million people have played Robin Hood before me, and they’ve all brought their different flares to it. We’re seeing him this time around more as a father, as a lover and as a partner.
Did you watch any of the original Robin Hood films in order to prepare for your role on Once Upon a Time?
SM: No, no, I try not to do too much of that when preparing for the role. I liked the idea of this Robin Hood because on a TV show you’re able to pull back so many layers of a character and really make them fleshed out. No one has seen a Robin Hood like this before, which is the nice thing about television as opposed to film. I play him as a leader, as a new father, and as a lover and leader. You just need to find the bravery in yourself that they picked you to play the part, so it takes some balls to just show up to set and do your thing, but that is what I try and do.
What is a typical day of filming like?
SM: It varies day to day! Sometimes we have call at 5 am so we get to set, eat breakfast, sit in makeup and block out a scene, then we can spend anywhere from four hours to twelve hours to shoot a scene. This season has been fun because we’re working as an ensemble more often than not. Those are the trickier scenes to film because we have to shoot it from so many angles in order to get close ups on the, let’s say, six characters in a scene. Long, long days, but that’s why you want a cast that feels like your family…for those moments of downtime.
What can you tell us about your character’s arc and growth this season?
SM: I can’t tell you a lot, lest I be shot or fired for telling you. I can tell you that we’re going to break new ground this season. It’ll be unlike anything we’ve done on the show before and it gets very, very dark. I think we’re all excited and nervous to see where this takes us.
How would you describe your character in three words?
SM: A good guy.
What do you relate to in your character?
SM: I’m also a new dad and Robin Hood is a father as well. He’s loved and lost, and I can definitely relate to that. He has some notoriety and I’ve had some experience with that; not saying I’m as well known as that character, but yeah. He also is just trying to find his way and I think that is something we can all relate to. He tries to lead his men honorable and these are all characteristics I find appealing and would like to think I embody myself.
What drew you to this character?
SM: I think if you ask any actor this, they’ll give you a flowery answer that they really loved the directors or the scripts, but I’m not a huge movie star. When you’re huge and well-known you can be a little more picky with your roles, but for me it was like, “Who wouldn’t want a chance to play Robin Hood?” Plus, I needed a job. It just turned out that this job actually ended up being an incredible one. Once Upon a Time is one of the biggest shows in the world so I needed a job but was so lucky with the one I found.
Recap for our readers what happened in your character in season 4.
SM: Well, Robin Hood fell in love with the Evil Queen and she fell in love with him and they were all set to have a wonderful life of evil magic in the woods. Then Robin Hood’s wife came back from the dead so, he being an honorable man, decided to return to the mother of his child. Then she got frozen and went back and had a tryst with the Evil Queen. Basically we discover that the sister of the Evil Queen’s sister has killed my wife and has been pretending to be her, so my character has been tricked. Basically if you go and watch any Spanish soap opera it’s like that, only with magic.
Do you think we’re in the age of television where we’re invested way more in flawed characters than righteous ones?
SM: You know, I do think we are in the golden age of television. You have Tony Soprano who was really the first anti-hero who was terrible and yet we still wanted to be okay. I think network television has finally come to realize that it can be adult. We don’t need to have formulaic good guys as the leads anymore. We can show characters as complex, flawed and very human.
In a way it is incredible, every actor looks for a role that they can show complexity with and the TV executives are finally starting to understand that these are the types of characters people want to see. You have this show, Once Upon a Time, and we’re spinning these characters in a way that you never saw with the Brother’s Grimm stories and that in itself is pretty incredible.
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8/7c, only on ABC.