Villains in the Spotlight: Once Upon a Time’s Merrin Dungey and Victoria Smurfit at MCM London Comic Con


The story of Once Upon a Time is one of courageous heroes and mysterious fairytales, a mix of the modern world and the realm of stories. However, there is a darker side to every one of those stories – for there cannot be a hero without a villain to oppose them.

In the latest season of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, the focus has been on the villains, their motives, histories, and goals. Each season has had its notable antagonists – from Rumplestiltskin to the Evil Queen – but season four in particular has shifted the spotlight to the venerable Ursula the sea witch (Merrin Dungey), and Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit) herself.

Dungey and Smurfit were the stars not only of Once Upon a Time, but their own panel at MCM London Comic Con, during which they answered questions from the audience.

The two ladies are quite kind in real life, but acting on the set, they both said that it was fun to be bad, especially since they were portraying complex villains with unique backstories, who nonetheless are evil through and through. Dungey in particular was happy to play a capable and imposing African-American villain on television, and one member of the audience praised her also for her Ursula as a strong, plus-sized woman. Smurfit, on the other hand, found the role of Cruella imposing at first, seeing the iconic figure played by Glenn Close in the live-action 101 Dalmatians; she instead took inspiration from the animated films, trying to match up to that vision of Cruella.

When asked which other character in the show they’d like to play most, almost immediately they both answered “each other” and laughed, talking about how they got into character, indulging their darker sides.

In contrast to that, though, they talked about how it was like on and off the set when they weren’t filming, and said that it was full of raunchy banter. The man who drove them to the set, Smurfit mentioned, probably knows enough about them both now to easily blackmail them both if he wanted; there was never a dull moment between the two, and even when they were trudging about in the mud in high heels, it was still a great experience working on Once Upon a Time.

One scene in the latest season involves Ursula singing, and Dungey was asked if she herself provided that voice – perhaps in true Disney tradition from the time of The Little Mermaid, Ursula’s singing voice was instead provided by a professional, very skilled opera singer.

However, she also noted that she got a lot of attention as Ursula, especially considering that she was filming multiple television programmes at the same time as Once Upon a Time; one of these was Chasing Life, in which Dungey played the main character’s doctor. Many viewers tuned in for both shows, and a common joke amongst the cast of Chasing Life was saying, “Watch out – your doctor’s a squid!

Another question brought the topic back to Once Upon a Time, as Smurfit was asked what her ideal happy ending for Cruella would be. In her case, it would be Cruella making off with the devilishly handsome Rumplestilskin, in a pairing she lovingly calls “Crumpel.” According to Smurfit, at their wedding, Rumplestiltskin’s actual on-show love Belle would, of course, have to be a bridesmaid and watch the whole thing. She then let out a wicked laugh, easily getting back into the feel of being a villain.

The last question the pair got was a serious one, with a serious answer: Dungey was asked how to get into acting as a career and she answered by telling her story about how she started out. She explained that she got a lot of rejections, but stayed persistent, grew thicker skin, and became used to people turning her away. She learned that she wouldn’t get every role, even the ones she wanted very much, but she came to deal with that in her own way.

If they don’t want me, that’s fine,” Dungey told the audience, cool and confident. “Because [when auditioning] I did a great job.” That attitude, something Smurfit agreed with, is what brought her to where she is today.

After contemplating a potential Once Upon a Time spin-off, fantasising about a Queens of Darkness show, Dungey and Smurfit signed off, the panel over. They were happy, though, to stay behind and chat with the many people who came to see them, even as the rest of the convention was winding down for the day.


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