Interview by Gareth Hughes
Raphael Sbarge is no stranger to showbusiness. Born into a theatrical family, his mother was a costume designer and his father a painter, writer and filmmaker. Unsurprisingly, Raphael was named after the renowned Italian artist. His big break came at the age of just 4, working on several episodes of a relatively new kids TV show called "Sesame Street" for PBS.
Much like the painter, Raphael went on to mold his craft and has appeared in numerous TV, Film and Broadway roles, starring opposite the likes of Frank Langella, Faye Dunaway, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise and Annette Bening. Once Upon A Fan were excited to chat with the veteran actor recently about his impressive career and all things Once Upon A Time...
Coming from a theatrical family must have influenced your life a lot at different stages. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood, your early career and what prompted you to enter the acting profession?
Yes, it did indeed. I can say, most assuredly, that I was the proverbial “born in a trunk” actor. My mother and father met at Yale Drama School, my father a playwright, my mother a costume designer. I have vivid memories as a child of hanging back stage with the actors, and sewing buttons, aging costumes (that was fun, got to play in dirt!) and then, just because I was around, did my very first play at 7. It wasn’t until the ripe old age of 12 that I decided to be an actor— and my mother gave me free reign to follow my own lead. We were living in NYC and I was able to use both my bike and my school bus pass to get to auditions.
What was it like to be part of such an iconic show like Sesame Street at such a young age?
Of course, it was just a new show, and who would ever think that it would be around 40 years later... But, it was a blast! I was living on the lower east side of New York at the time, and they were looking for kids (it was the first year of Sesame Street) and I guess I was at the right place at the right time. I did about 5-6 episodes, and then they offered me a contract. At the time, my mother decided for me, that she didn’t want to be a stage mother (her career was exploding as a NYC theatrical costume designer) and she also felt that at 4, I was too young to “make my own choice.” So, she opted out for me, and I have to say, now as a parent, I think she did exactly the right thing.
Your resume is pretty diverse. You have done TV and Film, Broadway and a range of voiceover projects such as your involvement in the video game series “Mass Effect”. Do you feel most at home on stage or screen?
I have to say that the stage is always where I feel most alive— with my parents out of the theater, my time as a kid there, and all the joys that doing a play bring me, I love that most. But, every actor loves the opportunity to move between mediums. It is deeply satisfying to work in various venues.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Hightlights.... Hmm... Easy to say that Once is a high light, for sure. As well, Ah Wilderness on Broadway with Jason Robards, and Colleen Dewhurst. Risky Business. Gee whiz. There are many others... Honestly, I am incredibly grateful to have had a long, and varied career. I consider myself one lucky guy.
How did you become involved in Once Upon A Time? Did you audition for the part or was it a role they already had in mind for you specifically? What was your initial reaction when you read the pilot?
Yes! I auditioned. And, I found out from them later that they had a very difficult time finding someone to play to role. I went in, met them, we read a little, and then the part just kind of came to me. As to the pilot, when I read it, I was amazed at how extraordinary it was to have a show so willing to go outside of the typical legal/medical route, that used characters we knew and loved with such an extraordinary new turn, and did it with a very ambitious demand for visual effects and just the right tone.
Honestly I thought, “Ok, great script, but it will never work— it will never translate from the page to the screen.” But, when we came to the screening of the pilot, months later ( we were all invited to a private screening), it knocked all of us out! Couldn’t believe how good it was and it frankly surpassed what I had imagined. Took my breath away.
The fan community for Once just keeps expanding at an incredible pace. Are you surprised by just how quickly the show has taken off around the world?
I am! Kind of mind boggling. I get notes on twitter from all over the world— just got one yesterday from, “Your new fans in Russia!” This is after notes from about 15 other countries. They have done something quite extraordinary: create a show that doesn’t just speak to Americans, but to the hearts and imagination of people all over the world.
Do you have a particular episode or scene from Once Upon A Time that really stands out for you as your favorite?
If its not too self serving, I did like the Jiminy episode quite a lot... Ha! But, the finale was incredible. I loved the Pinocchio episode, the Evil Queen episode where we meet her mother... But, honestly, there are so many. Its hard to list them all. Its an amazing show, with a very high bar that they set for themselves. I am, truly, a fan of Once Upon A Time.
Do you have any funny stories or bloopers from the OUAT set you would care to share with us?
Well, there is the day we shot the elevator sequence, and I had to hang with a harness at 3am, for what seemed like an eternity. The harness is put under your clothes, and you slip into it like a pair of very, very tight pants and body suit. Let’s just say that when the wire is taught, certain areas get a lot of unwanted attention. And, frankiy, I was glad that I had my two children already. Wasn’t sure if all of me was going to make it out alive... And in one piece.
We are aware that a lot of scenes in season one involving Archie/Jiminy were cut due to time considerations. This was quite frustrating to fans who felt your character could have been used more. Can you tell us anything about some of the scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor?
Yes. Its true. But I was in good company: some episodes were 20 minutes over— with a full episode coming in at 43 minutes— that is an entire half of a second episode! So, many folks got cut or trimmed. But, I am told that many of the scenes have been replaced in the new DVD release. Needless to say, I have been deluged with requests via Twitter and FB, as well as at conventions for more of Archie. I, of course, smile and nod. But, there are greater forces at work, and they make the decisions. To that end however, they have told me directly how much the character means to them as well, and said, directly, that they have big plans ahead.
Were you surprised when you learned that the curse would be broken in the season one finale? I think a lot of fans assumed breaking the curse was the end game of the show. Can you give us any idea of the new direction that the show will take this season?
Adam Kitsis and Eddie Horowitz (the shows creators) have a way of always keeping us guessing. And, yes! We were all AMAZED that the curse was broken by the end of year one. My humble opinion is that they were very smart to do so, because no one saw it coming... Keeps us on our toes, as an audience. As well, the finale blew the roof off, I thought. Really astonishing, surprising, exciting. As to where the show goes... Well, simply put: magic is coming to Story Brook. As well, a ton of new characters— Capt. Hook, Mulan, Sleeping Beauty. I think we can safely say, hold on to your hats, it going to be a wild ride!
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Eddy and Adam. They talked about characters like Archie having a tough time dealing with their fairy tale memories again in season two. Archie has spent a long time helping others in Storybrooke and now he has to face the realities of what he did to Gepetto’s parents again. What emotional and psychological conflicts may arise as a result of this? Do you think Archie may have a tough time adjusting?
I love the conflict, of course— makes for good fun for the acting department. But, needless to say, Archie is trying to make sense of the huge change, and it has not always been an easy transition to do so. As well, so many other folks are looking to reevaluate their choices... So, with things as they are now, I feel like there is some job security ahead for this guy as a therapist, in a town which has been turned on its head. As well, it will be so interesting to see when Archie has his own “Crisis of Conscience”-- as yet, not on the radar, but will be a facinating when Eddie and Adam get to visit that.
We still don’t know much about Archie’s life in Storybrooke? Would you like to see Archie get a romantic interest this season?
I get this question A LOT. And, yes. I think that would be marvelous to do so. Everyone has there thought - I’ve heard everyone from Red to Blue, to some one new... But, Archie does have some “undiscovered country” out there for sure, as far as his life outside the office. Seems that many people are asking that, and intrigued.
You are a huge supporter of environmental issues and the founder of “Green Wish”. Can you tell us more about what you do and how people can help?
I am. It is a passion project. And, one that keeps me quite busy, actually. Green Wish is a grass-roots non-profit that raises money for other non-profits in the environmental arena. We are expanding around the US, into new cities where Green Wish unites the community-to-help-community. You can find out more at www.greenwish.com. And if the fans would like to either donate or get involved, there are ways to find out more on our web site.
Can you tell us about any other future projects you have in the pipeline?
Yes: I am doing more work for Mass Effect (video game), I am working on a new show for David Kelly called Monday Mornings (for TNT in US) and I am executive producing a new show for the internet with noted environmentalist Ed Begley jr. documenting the building of his Platinum LEED certified home in Los Angeles, called On Begley Street. We are in post production, but more can be found at www.onbegleystreet.com
You seem to really enjoy conventions such as Comic-Con and Dragon-Con. Any chance we may see you make an appearance at the UK Happily Ever After convention that Massive Events is planning next year for fans of Once & Grimm?
I would love to be there! I have not been contacted by those convention organizers yet, but would absolutely do my very best to be there! I was at the MCM Con in May, and had a blast.
What are your long term hopes and fears for your character as we enter season two of Once Upon A Time?
I think you touched on several hopes— but, I look forward to knowing more about this kind, passionate, gentle man, who cares deeply about what he does, and tries to always do the right thing. I look forward to him and Henry expanding their relationship. I look forward to knowing more about his love life. And, I will be interested to see when his faith gets tested...
Finally, what would you like to say to all the fans who have supported the show and are reading this interview?
I am so grateful for all the kind notes and messages I have received from fans. I feel truly blessed for this amazing experience. And, I want to say thank you, for all the enthusiasm you have expressed about both Jiminy/Archie, and your passion to see more of him in the show.
Huge thanks to Raphael for taking time out to answer our questions.
You can follow Raphael directly on Twitter