Named for an Italian master, veteran character actor Raphael Sbarge has worked for years in film and television and on stage in productions ranging from Shakespeare to “Star Trek: Voyager.” But it’s his turn as Dr. Archie Hopper — or, in fact, Jiminy Cricket — on ABC’s hit storybook drama “Once Upon a Time” that is bringing Sbarge, an avowed environmentalist, a new level of fame. The series, now in its second season, is all about reinventing characters from classic childhood tales and mythologies, and Sbarge’s Hopper is certainly no exception. Hero Complex contributor Jevon Phillips recently spoke by phone with Sbarge about life on the Vancouver set, how he’s enjoying his celebrity and what surprises are in store for the future.
HC: What’s it like filming in Vancouver?
RS: Aesthetically it makes a lot of sense because of all the forest and greenery. With the rainforest right outside of the city, the spectacular greenery and moss … you’d have to green screen all of that. But here, you can just sort of walk out into it.
HC: What drew you to the role?
RS: I came about it the old-fashioned way — I went in and auditioned. What happened was, not knowing much about the project, and having only read the script for the pilot, there was really just one scene in the pilot to read and interact with a young boy. Then they said that it was Jiminy Cricket. So I thought, ‘Oh. Do they want a voice match?’… No, no, no. They just want it real… ‘Keep it real’ is the moniker I’ve gone back to a lot. What they’ve done here is taken characters [we have all] grown up with, and sort of reinvigorated them and made them more dynamic.
HC: With the curse having been lifted and Jiminy Cricket’s memories returning, have you changed your approach to the character at all?
RS: Well, it’s sort of like … my parents are my parents, but it’s like if you found out one day that you’re adopted. I feel like it would completely flip your world in a way and make you look at every memory and experience and interaction through a new prism in a way. Yet, at the same time, you’re still the same person, just altered with new information. Obviously it creates new and interesting relationships, too… We’re also often in two worlds where we question which one is the real world. It’s a phantasmagoria of options that they’ve created. In lesser hands, this could’ve been done really badly.
HC: How much do you know what’s going to happen down the line?
RS: Two or three weeks ahead you sort of get an idea. I’ve been told that the writers room has white boards with all of these different stories that are going on at the same time. My sense is that things are in play until the last moment — until they lock the outline — at which point then I imagine that the studio and producers get their say… The simple answer is that the stories, along with the nuclear launch codes, are kept in a locked box and we get it on an as-needed basis right before a mission.
HC: Archie is the only person in Storybrooke whom the Evil Queen has confided in. Is there more of this to come? Fans are whispering …
RS: This was set up when we first came back [this season]. Everyone wanted to get out of town, but Charming helped turn us around. At that point, Archie made the decision to instead of run from the evil, confront it and see what he could do to reach out to her. Clearly he felt that there might be, if he approached her in a sensible and a clear way, a way to get some light in a crack in the door. He’s had some success with that in his sessions. She’s struggling with not using magic. What’s at stake for her is obviously Henry and her relationship to Henry. What I can say is that what you’ve seen in the doctor’s office — you will see more of it, and there will be more of an opportunity to engage in these conversations.
HC: There are a few fan sites out there specifically dedicated to Archie Hopper. Did you at all expect that when you started?
RS: You never know what to expect. Honestly, when I read the script I thought, “Oh, it’s great — but it’ll never work.” I’ve been in shows that looked great on the page, but when they screened it for us, the cast all just sat there and we were kind of slacked-jawed and were knocked out. Then there was the fear of, “Well, we think it’s good — but will it find its audience?” And then it did. It was a very big, very ambitious show that could’ve been a very big, very ambitious belly-flop. That said, I’ve been very touched by people that have reached out to me through Twitter and Facebook, etc. It’s one of the few good guy characters in a world full of bad guys. Jiminy Cricket, who is the holder of one’s conscience in Disney lore, in their telling, is a character that went through a lot. It was a really sad story, and he came out of something that was tortured and paid a terrible price. In that desire to do something right, because he did do some bad things, he becomes a man of conscience. He effectively has been on the other side of the street, so he’s not just a know-it-all… It’s really incredible that an American show like this can travel as it has. These archetypical characters and their hero’s journeys have so much translating power.
HC: How exciting is it to be a part of this — and how has the show’s success affected you?
RS: It’s incredible. I’ve been an actor for 40 years. We have enormous ups and downs. It’s great to be in a hit, but the fact that it’s a hit and it’s actually a good show, that’s what I’m most excited about. Everyone takes incredible pride in what they do. We feel like its lightning in a bottle — these kinds of things don’t come around very often. They say “magic is coming” — as far as I’m concerned, this is magic.
— Jevon Phillips
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