“The most compelling thing about a role for an actor is a duality,” the new ABC drama’s voice actor tells TheWrap
“Everybody is dying to know what’s going to happen, what is the mystery in this rabbit,” John Lithgow, the voice behind the smartly dressed White Rabbit in “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” told TheWrap.
For good reason. With the help of its Disney connections, ABC has re-invented Lewis Carroll’s famous “Alice” stories for its new Thursday drama. And like the network’s “Once Upon a Time,” there’s of course a twist.
Alice (Sophie Lowe) isn’t a kid anymore, and she’s not a victim. All the other wondrous characters are back, but dark happenings in Wonderland have similarly made them all tougher, edgier creatures trying to survive under the rule of the Red Queen (Emma Rigby) — including the notoriously late White Rabbit, voiced by Lithgow.
“He is a mysterious character,” Lithgow, 67, said. “There’s something going on with this rabbit. These people are extremely good storytellers. There are a lot of surprises, things that you don’t expect. That’s what makes it so fun to play the part.”
TheWrap spoke with the Emmy winner about playing the role, what to expect and how the White Rabbit compares to his character on Showtime’s “Dexter,” The Trinity Killer.
How does playing the White Rabbit compare to “Dexter’s” Trinity Killer?
I’ve always felt that the most compelling thing about a role for an actor is a duality, more than one thing going on, a conflicted personality, someone who has secrets that they cannot reveal or secrets that get doled out in bites. That’s the kind of thing you look for and that’s the rabbit all over.
He’s not to be trusted. He’s unpredictable. In my own mind, he’s well intentioned and has a good heart but I thought that of the Trinity Killer, too.
On the next episode, Alice tries to figure out who she can really trust. Will the White Rabbit’s secrets be discovered or is that a much longer story arc?
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy hearing you speculate. That’s exactly what they want. The first episode, they planted the seeds of mystery. They’re trying to pique your curiosity. And we did it.
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In a crazy way, I feel like this is kind of like the ‘Dexter’ experience where there was a culture of secrecy surrounding everything. We couldn’t tell anybody anything. I think that’s a new thing with television and I think it’s a delightful thing. It just keeps people speculating.
You’ve been in some pretty talented TV shows casts before with “Third Rock From the Sun” and “Dexter.” Don’t you miss being around the other cast members?
I do miss them. I have never met these people before. They’ve gone and found this fantastic cast of characters, these actors from England, whom I have never seen before. In preparation for these interviews, I went online and Googled the other actors.
Usually when you do a job, you get to know actors, you hang out and have lunch. Making movies and TV, 70, 80 percent of your time is spent waiting and hanging out. I actually miss that and I can tell these are wonderful people to work with and I may never meet them.
I feel very lucky to be part of this ensemble and not have to show up on-set. I have to show up in a sound studio but these people are working hours a day in Vancouver and I may do maybe an hour on a soundstage in midtown Manhattan. I feel like the cat who ate the cream. I do miss the whole camaraderie, the whole community of being part of an ensemble.
Are the producers capturing your physicality while you’re recording for the animators?
Yes, they do and I act my head off in front of that microphone. I’m very aware that what the animators really need is that extremely lively and animated voice. That’s my contribution to this role is the vocal life of the rabbit.
They like your facial expressions as sort of a reference point, but what they’re really listening for is a very lively and dramatic voice. So I try to give them as much as I can. In fact, there have been moments where I’ve just made a track of just sounds [makes random sounds], so they could just use that whenever they want [laughs].
“Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” airs Thursdays at 8/7c. Visit ABC.com for more on the new series.