EXCLUSIVE: ‘Once Upon a Time’ Star Lana Parrilla - “It’s a Great Time to Be a Latina in This Industry”

Lana Parrilla plays Mayor Regina Mills (and, oh yeah, the Evil Queen) in ABC’s Once Upon a Time – though meeting her, you’d probably think she was more suited for the role of sweet Snow White. We sat down with the Boricua star to get the scoop on the show, her favorite stories growing up and what it’s like being a Latina in the industry.

‘Once Upon a Time’ is such a popular show, and you play a great Evil Queen. What was the casting process like?

“I originally auditioned for another television show, for (the role of) a trauma surgeon. I had played a combat surgeon (before), so, I was pretty confident that I could nail it. (laughs) There was the first scene (audition) and then there was a long monologue for the second piece. And at the end of the long monologue, the casting director looked at me and said, ‘you have to play the evil queen in Once Upon a Time.’ And I just thought that was really bizarre because I was auditioning for something else (laughs) but just the title – Once Upon a Time – and the role of the evil queen peaked my interest. I read (the script) and fell in love with the project instantly. (When I auditioned) I read each scene once, and they said thank you very much and I walked out."

Just once? What were you thinking at that moment?

“I felt (the character) kind of in my body, so when I was walking out I felt tall and I felt very confident, but I didn’t know what the outcome would be. I ended up testing and getting the part and I was really, really excited about that.”

What were some of your favorite childhood stories growing up? 

“I loved Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The Boy Who Cried Wolf, that one really influenced me – ‘Don’t lie!’ They taught me some good lessons that I’ve carried with me. And I’m not a very good liar. Acting is different than lying in your personal life.” 

How so?

“It’s creative, it’s artistic, I’m portraying a role  -- I’m not using my talent and my skills to manipulate people in my personal life. I’m actually a really bad liar I don’t feel good about it, so I don’t do it. Obviously we all tell little white lies, but anything big I don’t think it’s worth it.”

What’s been your favorite scene to shoot or play?

“I think it goes back to the pilot because there was something so fresh and new about the characters. We were just getting to know them and there was something… our focus was different I think, there’s nothing like the first time – nothing like the pilot.”

What made you want to do this? What would you say to those who want to be an actor?

“I started doing this professionally about 15 years ago and I started studying 18 years ago, but this is something I knew I wanted to do at a very young age. I was approached by someone when I was twelve years old. I was with my aunt, and we were sitting at dinner and an agent came up to us and said, ‘if you’re ever interested in acting or modeling, here’s my card please call me.’ And I got so excited! And the minute the guy walked away she ripped (the card) up. And I just thought ‘Oh my god, there goes my dream.’ (laughs) And she goes ‘no, if this is something you want you can pursue it, you have to do the work to get there, it shouldn’t come so easily.’ And this is coming from an aunt who has been in the industry. But I would say to anyone, do the work. Study your craft. Don’t go into this completely blind. And don’t be discouraged. There’s always going to be someone who is prettier than you, better than you in some way, but everyone has that something that makes them different.”

What’s exciting about what you’re doing now?

“I think right now it’s a great time to be a Latina in this industry. There are new opportunities and I think we’re really starting to make a mark. I met Eva Longoria recently, and she was just the warmest person. And it’s really heartening to see all of these amazing women leading the way for others. I hope it’s a movement in diversity that will continue to grow and open up even more roles and more opportunities.”