Brave was one of my favorite Disney films and Merida is one of my favorite Princesses. Hey, how can you not love a lady who kicks butt and saves her family? I was thrilled to hear that Merida would be appearing on ABC‘s Once Upon a Time this season. Merida‘s storyline has been fantastic, from teaming up with Mulan and Red to saving her brothers and leading her people to teaching Rumple to be a hero. I got a chance to chat with Amy Mason who plays the role about what it was like learning to use a bow and arrow, teaming up with some amazing women and what’s next for Merida. Wait until you hear what she said about the upcoming episode “Swan Song!”
Legion of Leia: I’d love to know how you got the role. I’d read that you hadn’t seen the film.
Amy Manson: No, I hadn’t! Not at all. And there was no rhyme or reason for me to know that it would have been Brave and that the character was Merida because they changed the name initially as well. They called her Evanna and said that she was going to be Rumplestiltskin’s mother. So there was nothing to lead to the fact that it could have been Merida from Brave, and that kind of storyline. So I just kind of plowed on and did what I wanted with the scenes, really. It was just kind of my interpretation, which was so different from the Brave one. But I guess I found the heart within the scenes which they actually loved. Then the second stage was trying to make these scenes kind of funny and energetic. They weren’t written that way, but they said, look, can you try that? We want to see that you can do that, too.
Legion of Leia: Tell us about learning to use the bow and arrow. I’d heard that you had very little time before making the Comic-Con promo. What was it like to learn that skill?
Amy Manson: Yeah, I loved it! I love the business that I’m in for the traveling aspect and the constantly learning. Literally adding a string to your bow in every job that I do. Last year the TV series I did was sword work, which was great. This time – I’d never picked up a bow and arrow in my life before! So it was just another challenge and you want to get it right. It’s kind of about repetition, isn’t it? That’s the only way to get it right. The first day I arrived I filmed a promo for Comic-Con. I had an bow and arrow in my hand and I had about an hour with the archer and he showed me a few pointers and we just shot it. We shot the promo and then I asked for a few other – I think I got about another two days with this archer, which was cool. You know, especially in the film, when she’s five years of age, her father gives her a bow. She’s a pro. Better than anyone else in her land. So I felt like I had to just pick up the bow and arrow and just practice and get the posture right and the rebound of the hand action when you let the arrow fly and things like that. I just had to be really meticulous.
Legion of Leia: One of the things I particularly like about the story and about the show in general is the amount of great women in it. What was it like working with all of them? Is that something that stood out to you?
Amy Manson: Yeah, I mean Ginnifer Goodwin, I’ve followed her career all my life, and when I was in drama school. I watched the first season five years ago. What she does with Snow White and the contrasting characters – she’s very small, but also very big as an actress. And it was wonderful to watch her mission and her saving her child and yeah, I guess I followed her story and the Emma Swan storyline. Her daughter. To see the similarities between mother and child, even when you didn’t – the audience knew they were mother and child, but they didn’t know in the TV series that it was mom and daughter. It was nice to watch the strength in those characters because they were family.
Legion of Leia: I particularly loved the training scenes between Merida and Mulan. What were those like to film?
Amy Manson: It was really awesome! Jamie [Chung], she just never holds back on set. She’s the first one on set and she’s like, okay let’s get this right! It was just her and I. There was nothing spared when I’m working with Jamie. She’s like, “Let’s just do this!” I guess it’s because she’s done a lot. She’s done a lot of film, hasn’t she? And it was a sword-wielding heroine, so I guess she’s had practice there. She really helped me through it as well. It’s nice when you’re able to talk with someone and you don’t let egos get in the way. There was none of that on set. It was lovely. It was quite a blessing, actually. There was no jealousy and no egos taking over. Everybody just throws themselves into it and then hopes that what comes out is kind of what the execs and the audience wants, really.
Legion of Leia: I’d love to know what you envision as Merida‘s happy ending.
Amy Manson: That’s a good question! Yes, Merida‘s happy ending – well, I guess, the thing is, it’s always about others with Merida. It’s about how to follow in her father’s footsteps. And she’s got the crown now, but it’s not about having the crown on her head. It’s about looking out for her people and her land. But I guess that’s a big tick off her list. I guess now it would be to find a partner. That would be great. There was something in the last scene between her and Macintosh, that nod. That respect, I guess. The respect that he gives to her in that final scene. That nod to say I respect you as a woman and you clearly can do this. I take my hat off to you and I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you initially. And I think that’s all Merida needs. I don’t think she’s a character to hold grudges. She just says it as it is, gets out and deals with it. That’s her spirit and what I love about her. So yeah, I guess having a partner.
Legion of Leia: She’d definitely need someone who respects that she’s ruling and she’s the one running things.
Amy Manson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s all for the good of the land and where she’s from. It isn’t for herself, and that’s the blessing of playing somebody like her.
Legion of Leia: I’m curious, since you’ve done a lot of genre work; Torchwood, Being Human – is that something you’re into?
Amy Manson: Yeah! I really do, I love throwing myself into swordplay or bow and arrow. I did a lot of gymnastics and I come from a very sporty background. And I love that challenge of what I do – I tend to pick things that let me travel and see the world. A lot of horse riding things I try and do because I’m not very good at it. Things I’m not good at I just love to try and do and practice and play as an actor on top of that, I guess. Funky. Funky characters, I get. I don’t know why. They’re always strong, hard women that have their flaws, but by the end of their journey, they’re champions – their soul and who and what they are and what they stand for.
Legion of Leia: Is there anything you can tease about the upcoming episode “Swan Song?”
Amy Manson: [laughs] What can I tease? Arthur doesn’t get his happy ending! Oh my god, that sounds so wrong, doesn’t it? Yeah, he’ll get what’s coming to him in this next episode. In episode 11.
Legion of Leia: Is there anything you can tease about Merida? She wasn’t in the promo …
Amy Manson: Oh, so Merida is responsible for him not getting his happy ending! She’s definitely in the episode. It’s all Merida! [laugh] I think she needs a new costume, actually!
Legion of Leia: Ooh, new costume! Are we going to see more of Merida after this episode? I mean, I know she has to go home and rule her people and all …
Amy Manson: Yes! Well, yeah, that was finalized a few weeks ago, which is good. I don’t know where or when, but me, personally, I hope that I may be going out, or that Merida goes on another voyage with Mulan and Ruby. And also, in one of the last episodes, the witch said that your friends will help you on a journey. So I kind of just hope as an actress, that I can go on a journey with these two girls because I just had so much fun on set.
Once Upon a Time “Swan Song” will air this Sunday, December 6 on ABC.