Once Upon a Time’s Rumpelstiltskin is arguably broadcast TV’s most extreme character, a devilish, vindictive, childish wizard who offers to fulfill desperate wishes “for a price.” Actor Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, 28 Weeks Later) plays fairy tale land’s Rumple and his sober Storybrooke alter ego Mr. Gold, and put plenty of thought into the creation of both characters. Here, in a piece originally published as the show began its second season, he shares his process. For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012: Behind the Scenes coverage.
Origins: “I knew Rumpelstiltskin’s name but I didn’t know anything else about him,” Carlyle says. “Everyone thinks they know Rumpelstiltskin but they don’t really. The lines I was given to perform seemed to be begging to be taken as far from normality as possible. I thought, ‘The braver the [performance] better.’”
The voice: “There’s no way I could speak in my normal voice while looking so extraordinary and while having this bizarre stuff to say,” the actor reasoned. “I tried many different types of voices and the thing that I landed on was completely by chance, really, thanks to my son. He was wandering though the house making these high-pitched voices and sounds I thought, ‘Rumpelstiltskin has a child-like quality to him, he kind of enjoys gleefully tricking people.’”
The reasoning: “He’s 300 years old. He’s met so many people over the years that he’s been impressed and unimpressed by, he’s taken on their voices, he’s taken on their accents and their mannerisms. He’s layered so much he’s lost himself.” Once Upon showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis point out that every time we meet Rumple in fairy tale land he’s in a slightly different time period and so therefore Carlyle actually uses a slightly different voice every single time to show this gradual layering effect.
Less is more: “One of the things I spoke about with [Horowitz and Kitsis] is that we shouldn’t over-use this character. If you overuse something like Rumple, you begin to see how it works and it becomes less attractive. He’s the kind of character the audience should look forward to seeing, rather than hitting you with it week after week, I don’t think that would work.”
Mr. Gold: “I try to keep him absolutely neutral,” he says. “I almost do [Mr. Gold] in slow motion. It’s the exact opposite of what I’m doing with Rumpelstiltskin. He resonates calm. There’s not many times as an actor you get to play the opposite ends of the scale.”