“This is the chance for me to define or redefine this character for a whole new generation, at the ripe old age of 51” smiles Robert Carlyle about his role as mythical fairytale character Rumplestiltskin on ABC’s hit fantasy series “Once Upon a Time.” “Everyone knows the name, but that’s pretty much all we know … He’s in everyone’s mind and everyone’s imagination; we all know this name from our childhood. But who is he? What is he about?”
Best known for film work in such critically acclaimed classics “Trainspotting” and “The Full Monty,” Carlyle is now happily tearing up the small screen as Rumplestiltskin, enjoying a complete change of pace from the more somber work that litters his resume over the last 20 years.
“Once Upon a Time” tells the story of two parallel worlds; the mythical fairytale setting of the Enchanted Forest, and the modern day setting of small-town America. Actors play dual roles as the show flits back and forth between the two parallel worlds, reintroducing audiences to fabled characters that most of us know from our childhood. In the Enchanted Forest, Carlyle plays classic fairytale character Rumplestitlskin, while in small-town Storybrooke, Maine, he plays the mysterious Mr. Gold.
The writers “have given me an awful lot of freedom with this part to go in and do what I want to do” says Carlyle. “Every Rumplestiltskin scene that I do is like a little jigsaw [puzzle]. It takes an awful lot of preparation for every one of these scenes, but as soon as I’m on, I love it and I don’t want it to end.”
Carlyle compares the process of bringing the Rumplestiltskin character to life as a form of commedia del’arte, as the intricate makeup, hair and costumes allow him to become the fabled Brothers Grimm fairytale character and primary antagonist on the show. “The makeup is kind of like a mask” says Carlyle, who, when physically transformed into Rumplestiltskin, gets “the same feeling that I had doing mask workshops 20 years ago way back at drama school; it is exactly the feeling that I am looking for, because I don’t care about what people think; [as] when you put the mask on, everything just goes away.”
Carlyle will be on the Emmy ballot in the Best Drama Actor category at this year’s Emmys. Asked about what his likely episode submission would be if he was nominated, Carlyle immediately narrows in on “Skin Deep,” which Carlyle likes to call “At home with Rumple” and which essentially reboots the classic “Beauty and the Beast” tale by recasting Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin as the Beast opposite “Lost” alum Emilie de Ravin as Belle.
“You really see everything. You see all the bits that have been missing about Rumplestiltskin over the previous 11 episodes” enthuses Carlyle, who credits the episode’s writer Jane Espenson with giving his character a real showcase to let loose in. “You see the sadness in the man, you can see the fact that he’s intensely lonely,” Carlyle says, adding that the episode “gave him a tremendous platform to express myself” and “in terms of my entire career, that’s the best 42 minutes of TV I’ve ever been involved in.”