Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Why Wonderland's creator is using American Horror Story as a template

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Mar 12, 2019, 1:00 PM EDT (Updated)

Forget the word spinoff. Those Once Upon a Time creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, are taking us down the rabbit hole once again, this time with their trippy new series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, which premieres tonight on ABC. However, their new show's first season will be a complete story by itself, and one that has little to do with their original Once.

“For us, our goal every day is to tell you a really interesting version of Alice in Wonderland that you haven't seen before,” said co-creator and executive producer Kitsis in an exclusive interview with Blastr. “Like always for us, we really want you to be able to be transported somewhere for that hour. That is always our goal.”

Kitsis and co-creator and executive producer Horowitz know a little something about transporting people via their television sets, thanks to their past work on Lost and their present fairy tale hit, Once Upon a Time.

While the original series had touched on Wonderland, and Once Upon a Time's Cora was the Queen of Hearts, there won't be a lot of crossover between the two shows.

“The story we felt hadn't been told yet was Alice's. She's such an iconic character that we just felt like we love the world of Wonderland. It just felt like, you know what, let's give it its own due,” said Kitsis.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland follows a young woman named Alice (Sophie Lowe) in Victorian England who tells her doctors a wild and fantastic story about her adventures in another world that involve an invisible cat, a hookah-smoking caterpillar and playing cards that talk. While Alice would like to put her memories behind her -- especially those of the handsome and mysterious genie name Cyrus (Peter Gadiot) that she loved and lost -- she believes the memories just might be true and that perhaps she's not insane after all. But just as she's about to suffer a horrible fate, the sardonic Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) and the irrepressible White Rabbit (John Lithgow) arrive to save her. Alice finds herself traveling down the rabbit hole to Wonderland once again, where nothing is impossible.

“At its core it's a romance between Alice and Cyrus. So it's her search for him. It's a romance but set in a really dark and surreal and trippy world of Wonderland. Like Once Upon a Time, we're going to see the present story of that search, but we're also going to flash back and see a lot about Alice and this genie and the other characters that we meet along the way, like the Red Queen and the Knave of Hearts,” he said.

As for the cast, "we think we have some fun, fresh faces nobody's seen.” They also have the voice of John Lithgow as the White Rabbit, and “Roger Daltrey reprises his role as the hookah-smoking caterpillar, so that was fun. [We're] not retelling Alice. We're telling our version of Alice, but along the way there will be iconic characters such as the White Rabbit and the hookah-smoking caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat. And then we're going to put our spin on characters like the Knave of Hearts or the Red Queen and Alice. And of course, the mashup quality, which is, there is a genie. And there will be much, much more mashing up on the way,” he said.

Taking on the role of Alice is Sophie Lowe. Kitsis said they “cannot wait to unleash her on the world. She has obviously been in some other stuff, but what we love about the way she brings Alice to life is the way … in Once Upon a Time, when you meet Snow White, the first thing she does is she takes Prince Charming's sword and shoves it in the Queen's face. It lets you know this is not the Snow White you know. I think what's great about this Alice is you see her in the insane asylum questioning her sanity, but then you'll see her in Wonderland and she is a formidable warrior in her own right. I think that what we love about her is that she really has this sense of strength, but yet vulnerability at the same time. And this hopefulness that just makes you immediately root for her. We think that we're doing an Alice that hopefully hasn't been seen before.”

So while we can look forward to a fresh new Alice adventuring through a surreal Wonderland which is independent of the original, Kitsis promises there will still be some treats for Once viewers should they tune in.

“If you've seen Once Upon a Time, you're definitely going to be rewarded. If you haven't, you can jump into this and not worry about it because you need no knowledge of Once Upon a Time to enjoy this. This really does have its own beginning, middle and end, and I think that when [you] see it, you'll see that it really lives on its own,” said Kitsis.

“I think the other thing we're excited about is we really are approaching this like a limited series in the sense that if you watch these episodes you are going to get a beginning, middle and end. We are off to tell an adventure with an ending, as opposed to 'here's the beginning of a five-year journey.'”

While they're presently headed into their third year on Once Upon a Time, they wanted to do something different with Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. They got their inspiration regarding how to tell the story from FX's American Horror Story, which tells a new horror story with new characters each season.

“For us, American Horror Story was kind of a template. We feel like it is a big story we're telling. [While working on Once Upon a Time,] we had all these other ideas about Wonderland, but there was no room for them. So we said, 'What if it was its own little adventure? Let's just tell that story.' … We love being able to have that freedom to really let the story go," said Kitsis.

While the story will go wherever it takes Kitsis and Horowitz, that story of Alice's search for Cyrus will end this season. And if Once Upon a Time in Wonderland gets a second season, it will be a completely different story in season two, a la American Horror Story.

“Television is changing, and I think that this fits in the new model of something that people can watch and get into and they don't have to be like, 'I better not have to wait six years for that answer!'” said Kitsis.

Here's a look at Once Upon a Time in Wonderland:

Are you ready to go down the rabbit hole with those Lost guys once again?