Photo: Stacey LaBerge
Fresh from wrapping Season 6 of Once Upon A Time in Vancouver and admist packing for her trip to Europe for fan conventions, or in her words “a Justin Beiber world tour with Lana (Parilla) and Emilie (de Ravin) – Rebecca Mader took the time to chat with JossBecause.com. For those of you wondering, the answer is yes. Rebecca is just as down-to-earth, hilarious, and sweet as you’re imagining.
Growing up in Cambridge, England, Rebecca began her career modelling in New York City. It was a matter of time before she began her on-screen career appearing on daytime soap operas All My Children, One Life to Live, and Guiding Light. She soon after landed her big break when she was cast on ABC’s Lost as Charlotte Lewis and transitioned into film starring alongside Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and Ewan McGregor in The Men Who Stares at Goats.
A few years ago I discovered Rebecca on a little show (you may have heard of it) called Once Upon A Time. Not only is her character Zelena, The Wicked Witch of the West so complex and entertaining but the impact the character and Rebecca has made on the thousands of viewers is unbelievable. Rebecca’s fan base has her back, and for every reason should. She’s undeniably charismatic, real, and reversed her status as most hated character to fan favorite (*cough* Robin/Marian/Regina love triangle).
Photo: Craig Clarke
What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to be an actress. I didn’t know it was going to happen; because how do you get in the business when you live in a village outside Cambridge, England? I remember I was watching TV when I was a little girl and thinking “I can do that! I can be in a commercial” but I thought “how can I do that?”. I’ve always been in drama classes since I was little and I always had a big personality and I loved to make people laugh.
Who inspires you the most?
There’s not one person specifically that I really admire. I tend to look up to amazing women I respect. I worked with Meryl Streep in 2006 and I definitely learned a lot from her. She handles everything with so much grace, kindness, and she treats everyone the same. She was the biggest star in the movie and she would speak to the PA the same as she would to the director. I’ve always been like that as a person and that’s a big thing in my industry.
There’s a sort of hierarchy; people get treated differently based on their job title and I have a real issue with that. So I always make sure I speak to everybody and give everybody the same respect, attention, and love that I can when I’m working.
You’ve inspired so many younger viewers; how do you feel when people say you’ve changed their lives?
It’s crazy. Meeting the fans and hearing their stories has changed my life. As much as they approach me and say ‘you have no idea how much you’ve changed my life, how the show has changed my life, how your character, how your approach to your character has affected me…’ it blows my mind. It’s incredibly overwhelming and I’m very moved. It’s an emotional experience for me, to meet the fans.
I think just as much as I’ve changed them, I equally feel that they’ve changed me just the same.
I’m really glad I went down that road of doing these fan conventions because having that connection with young people is really special and it gives a lot of gravitas and meaning to the work that we do. It’s so easy to get sucked into this world of getting my coffee, driving to work, oh it’s snowing, I’m so tired – you get stuck in the grind. But then you listen to these kids stories and hear them and think “this is so much bigger than just me going to work”. It’s been really rewarding for me.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
There are two quotes that are very famous and have really resonated with me. A friend told me once when I was going through something incredibly difficult “this too shall pass”. It’s a quote I would buy on a magnet and stick on my fridge. It’s something I’ve shared with my fans because it’s helped me a lot. It’s important to gain that perspective of whatever you’re currently in, it absolutely cannot last forever. I think people forget that when you’re really on your knees in a dire situation.
The other one is what a friend said to me when I was going through a breakup. She said “you know Rebecca, people come into your life for a reason whether it be a season or a lifetime. It doesn’t have to be everything. Each person doesn’t have to stay forever”. I never thought of it like that. When you meet a friend or fall in love you think that’s it. You’re going to hang on to that person forever. But people come into our lives to teach us something and it doesn’t necessarily have to be for happily ever after.
What’s the worst advice you’ve received?
For most actors, artists or musicians it isn’t great all the time. There have been moments in my past where I used to be a model and I tried to get an acting agent. People would say “well it might not work out” or “you’re not naturally thin”, “maybe get a real job”. I’ve had a lot of haters along the way trying to bring me down, jealous of my successor they pretend to be invested in me and say “have a Plan B”. Having a Plan B is the worst advice I’ve ever received.
I truly believe having a Plan B is a fear-based decision. Because I didn’t go to college I wasn’t able to get a degree in anything that could be my Plan B, and I’m sort of grateful for that otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here and having this conversation with you. It gives you that drive; you think “I better make it because I have no fucking clue what else I’m going to do. I have to succeed in this”.
What advice do you have for someone going for their dreams?
Once you know what your passion is and you figure it out, sticking to that and going for it is really the only key to success. There’s so many times I could’ve given up. So many times I was in thousands of dollars worth of debt, didn’t have money for food, went to bed hungry. It would’ve been so easy to say ‘alright, you win Universe’, and I never did.
Plan B’s aren’t for me and ‘never give up’ is my motto in life.
What do people assume about your career that isn’t true?
I think people assume that because I’m in the public eye things must be so easy – how many yachts have you got? *laughs* You must be rolling around in hundred-dollar bills! The minute people get ‘some level of success’ people assume that, and it’s not the case. Things can be great, or they can be crap the next day. You can be on a show, and it can get cancelled. There’s no level of certainty in this career.
I have a love/hate relationship. On one hand it’s really stressful, but on the other hand, I’m never bored!
Photo: Stacey LaBerge
What’s your dream role? What sort of roles do you want to tackle after Once Upon A Time?
There’s a few things I’d like to do. I’d like to do more movies because I’ve been on television for a long time. I also absolutely adore television just as a fan. I watch everything!
I would love to be on a Netflix show or a streaming show like Amazon or Hulu because different rules apply. You have a bit more freedom creatively than you would on network television. I would love to do a meaty, juicy, hardcore Netflix show where I can swear, and go to the dark side. That would be super fun, something a little more grown up.
Joss: You would be so good for that!
I know! Something really gritty and adult would be sexy and fun. But on the flip side I’d like to do something completely different and do something like The Big Bang Theory, or like a modern-day Friends. I’m a huge fan of comedy, one of my favorite things to do in the world is make people feel good and make people laugh. I would love to be given the opportunity to do that for a living.
I play this mean, villainous, psycho sort of human and that’s so not me! I’m an idiot! I’m silly, I’m funny, I’m very different from the characters I play. It’s so funny I always end up playing the bad one, and I’m like ‘why? I’m a delight!’ *laughs*.
If you could go back and give your 19 year-old self advice what would it be?
Don’t waste time stressing out about things you can’t control. As you grow up you try to have control over a situation and there’s only so much you control. You can control how you show up, and be prepared for life, but you can’t control the outcome and you absolutely cannot control other people.
The biggest lesson I’ve had to learn by myself is how to surrender the things you can’t control and go with the flow. Otherwise you’re living in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear. In my 20s, that’s something I’ve always struggled with.
I’m not an alcoholic, but one thing I love is that prayer in AA:
Give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
I think so many people can waste so much time stressing about things they have no control over.
If you could give Zelena any ending, what would it be?
I’ve definitely thought about what I think would make her happy. I think her story isn’t told yet. She’s only had one boyfriend her entire life! She has not lived – I lived – but she has a lot less life experience than me. I think Zelena is a little more emotionally immature, although Regina is the younger sister, I think in this dynamic it’s the other way around; she’s way more grown up. Zelena’s in the corner saying “it’s not fair!” *laughs* It’s like Zelena come on, shut up, get it together.
I think it would be nice for her to be a part of the family, The Charmings have been way more accepting of Zelena than she deserves; she tried to kill everyone and even strangled Henry.
It would be nice for Zelena to learn to love herself. She definitely needs to book a session with Archie, and she needs a job.
Joss: I don’t think any of them have jobs *laughs*
Mary Margaret is a part-time teacher. I don’t know what any else of them are doing quite frankly, they’re just constantly trying not to die every week.
But once Zelena starts to work on herself, she can find someone to share her life with and maybe find a new daddy for baby Robyn and finally be apart of a family.
How do you want people to remember you?
Oh my God am I going to die?
Joss: In a non-morbid way!
*laughs* I just watched Grey’s Anatomy so that’s exactly where my brain went!
I want to be remembered for all the things I’ve said in this interview. I want my life to be my legacy; even when I was broken and didn’t know if I was going to get back up.
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