JoAnna Garcia Swisher is about to go under the sea, and on land, playing Ariel, aka The Little Mermaid, this Sunday on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”
On Wednesday morning, the “Reba” alum opened up to AccessHollywood.com about playing the character who fans have been clamoring to see on the fairytale show.
AccessHollywood.com: Tell me about your connection to this character. You had to have been a huge fan of the movie, ‘The Little Mermaid,’ right?
JoAnna Garcia Swisher: No doubt. Not only was I a huge fan of the movie, I was a huge fan of the show and [that’s] something that Eddy [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz, the show’s executive producers] knew from Day 1. And Jen Morrison [Emma Swan] is one of my dearest girlfriends, so I have watched the show religiously and was really excited about the idea of one day being able to do it and it just worked out that they brought Ariel in at a time where I was able to go and do it. It was really exciting.
Access: Were they always going to cast you as Ariel?
JoAnna: I had talked about doing the show in the first season —another character, and I think that it was always sort of out there that this is idea and when the time came that they figured out a way to bring Ariel into the story, it was just awesome that I was able to be able to do it. I was still pretty fresh off of having a baby. I was a little nervous, but it was a great moment.
Access: It seems like your husband (Nick Swisher) is really into this. The Tweeting you two are doing about this episode is hilarious. How into it is he?
JoAnna: He’s a very enthusiastic person in general, and also just pretty much excited about anything that excites me, which is very sweet, but he’s very into this idea. He loves long mermaid hair and tails. He fancies the idea of being married to a Disney princess, so I’m glad that I could finally come through for him (laughs).
Access: Prince Eric is really named ‘Prince Nick,’ for you.
JoAnna: Yes! Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it. Anybody that knows me, probably even people that don’t know me, know that he is pretty much the apple of my eye.
Access: I love to hear people talking glowingly about their spouses. Here’s someone else talking glowingly about you – Ginnifer Goodwin. I went on a set visit and this is what she said about you, she said Joanna brings ‘this layer of emotional intelligence to it that I didn’t really foresee that I found super impressive.’
JoAnna: That is so sweet. We had a pretty instant love affair when we met and there’s a connection that Ginny and I have that is I just, I feel really blessed. She’s actually probably… one of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with. I feel really lucky to have been a part of this with her and also too, it was my first job back after having a baby and I was really nervous about being in a seashell bikini post-baby and she just sort of held my hand and made me feel really special and loved and I felt very blessed to be her partner in this… not just for the fact that Snow and Ariel have a special bond, but just… actress to actress and girl to girl, it was very special.
Access: So Snow and Ariel come together because of a near fatal experience. What can you hint at about that particular incident?
JoAnna: Obviously Snow is on the run. She is being chased by her Evil Queen and I think that near death experiences happen all the time and it just so happens that Ariel — I was in the right place at the right time to help save her when she is trying to escape another moment of being captured by this queen.
Access: And apparently Snow repays the favor by helping Ariel find the love of her life, Prince Eric, and there’s a ball. What can you tell me about this ball?
JoAnna: It’s funny because I had to actually ballroom dance, which I think will probably be the comedic relief of the whole episode. But, by the magic television, I’m sure they edited it that I would be pretty graceful. But it’s a really beautiful storybook moment and that’s the one thing I really love, why I fell in love with the show, and why I think Eddy and Adam are so brilliant is they’ve managed to tug on your heartstrings with this incredible nostalgia that you have with all of these characters, but they’ve also been able to weave it in this modern way that just — it’s like exciting and you just can’t wait to see how these characters are connected. And it’s so cool that they all know each other and all this stuff. But the one thing that I really do love about my character is it is pretty true to the story — to the original story. This is a girl that lives under the sea, that has fallen madly in love with this beautiful prince and will go to the ends of the earth to be with him and… it’s a really romantic notion and I just loved the idea of it and so the ball, while it’s kind of fun and quirky and just really kind of out there, [it] is really romantic. It has that incredible storybook moment where their eyes meet and it’s instant.
Access: Will we get any Sebastian or Flounder or references to them [in the show]?
JoAnna: Yes, you do. References.
Access: Will you be singing at all?
JoAnna: No. They wanted the show to stay on the air (laughs). … That’s not one of my strong suits, but I think it won’t disappoint and I know that Ariel is such a special character to the incredible fans of ‘Once Upon a Time.’ And what I love about this is they have just honored her in the most perfect way.
Access: Tell me about Lana Parrilla as Ursula.
JoAnna: Ah! She’s so good!
Access: Is she the Evil Queen as Ursula or just Ursula?
JoAnna: She’s Ursula! Obviously, Lana, she’s an incredible actress, but it was so fun to watch her create this character and wanting so much to honor Ursula, but to also [wanting] to put her own spin on it. It was so cool to watch because she really loves the character of Ursula, so it was so cool to watch the whole process take place. It was really fun and she’s so fantastic… I’ve described her as ‘devilishly delicious.’
Access: Let me just conclude with this — is there a chance you could come back? Obviously the gang is in Neverland now and there were some evil mermaids in Neverland (at the start of the season).
JoAnna: Well, I do stick around for a minute. In fact, I just got back from Canada, so that’s probably all I should say. … It’s been really fun and it’s been a great experience.
“Once Upon a Time” airs Sunday at 8/7c on ABC.
-- Jolie Lash