Naveen Andrews gets his bad guy on in the role of Jafar in ABC’s new series “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” but this isn’t the Disney-esque villain of 1992’s animated feature “Aladdin.”
“I don’t really think of it as a Disney villain because it was part of the Arabian Knights 400 years ago, so it has a history that pre-dates Disney even,” Naveen told Access Hollywood on Wednesday, discussing his character who causes trouble for Wonderland’s Alice, her true love Cyrus (a genie), and everyone else in the magical place.
The new series, which premieres this Thursday at 8/7c on ABC, teams up Naveen with former “Lost” writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, who are executive producers on the series. During our chat with the actor, Naveen discussed how he came on board, his elaborate costumes and what viewers can expect from Jafar in the show.
AccessHollywood.com: Did you do research to play Jafar? Did you read a lot of books, or was it all on the page for you?
Naveen Andrews: I think what Adam and Eddie wanted to do was to create something that people weren’t really familiar with in the traditional sense, because, of course, you even say the word ‘Jafar’ and it conjures up images of the film that I showed both my children. My eldest, when he was growing up, [I] sat through that film I don’t know how many times with him. We’re all very familiar with that and we know what it means, so we wanted to go in a different direction and suggest something different — and hopefully, something that the audience hadn’t really seen before.
Access: Eddie and Adam, they love working with people that they’ve worked with before. Did they personally reach out to you about this? Were you just their first choice?
Naveen: You’d have to ask them about that, but I do know from both of them that they created this character and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could [get] someone like Naveen to do it.’ And then they realized, ‘Oh, but Naveen’s available,’ because at that time, it happened that I was, ‘cause I think when they first wrote it, I wasn’t. And, then I just went in to see them and it was 10 minutes basically. Of course, Eddie and Adam had written for ‘Lost,’ and [I was] familiar with their work, very familiar with it, just because they’d written one of my favorite episodes, I think from the fifth season, I think, where Sayid is made to take LSD with interesting results, and just because they’d written that episode, which obviously showed that they were quite willing to be daring and dangerous — you know, it’s network TV and they did that. I mean, ‘Lost’ kind of pushed things in many ways, but that’s just one of them, and the fact that it was them sort of made it even more intriguing because I knew that they weren’t going to be safe in terms of what they chose to put down [in regards to this] character.
Access: What do you think Jafar’s goal is this season?
Naveen: Like a lot of people, in society as we see it today, without, you know, trying to be too profound, most people are driven by power and acquisition of power, it seems. … That’s kind of ageless. It’s timeless, but it seems that almost from the beginning of time, people have been fascinated by exerting power, holding on to it and what it does to the people around them. People have been fascinated with it and Jafar is obviously one more of those beings, if you like. I mean they’re all around us today as you know.
Access: Speaking of power, Jafar’s clothes sort of scream power. He reminds me of a rock star — lots of hair, high collars, you’re even jumping on magic carpets. Did it feel a little rock star like to you?
Naveen: Well, I think the entire show, in order for it to work with a modern audience, has to have a contemporary edge. That has to be the case, especially in a piece which is drawing in such disparate elements, as you like. I mean, yes, it’s obviously not an overtly reverent homage to a 19th century classic if you’re bringing in elements from the Arabian nights. I mean, it’s quite outrageous and you’ve also got other strands from different fairytales being brought in to create this kind of synthesis. I mean, it shouldn’t work, but it does. It really does and I think that’s also what makes our show unique really, because we’re prepared to do that and somehow make it work. So in response to your original question, I think what this amounts to is that if we have this contemporary edge, we want to try and make it relevant to people who are living in the 21st century, if you like, if that’s not too ambitious.
“Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” premieres Thursday at 8/7c on ABC.
-- Jolie Lash