Victoria Smurfit Talks Taking On Cruella De Vil In ‘Once Upon A Time’

Victoria Smurfit films scenes as Cruella De Vil in ‘Once Upon a Time’ (ABC)

Just a few days into life in a new town and Victoria Smurfit’s Cruella De Vil is already on her way toward claiming Storybrooke’s “most glamorous” crown.

Draped in diamonds, her hands coated in red leather gloves, and strutting like a former supermodel in a vintage beaded gown and the key piece of her ensemble — the Disney villain’s trademark voluminous coat — Victoria’s Cruella is both devilish and divine on “Once Upon a Time.”

“It’s just got all the drama and the wealth and sort of the character’s denial of her ordinariness just built into one extraordinary coat,” Victoria told Access Hollywood of Cruella’s crowning costume piece.

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Complimenting her striking “Once” wardrobe is that dramatic two-toned hair, high, painted on eyebrows and steep cheekbones, and Victoria’s Cruella is now showing off the whole striking, high-fashion package, as well as her slightly minimized haughtiness (she’s trying to convince Regina and the gang she’s changed) as she motors from street to street in a Zimmer Golden Spirit. And Victoria is enjoying every minute in the classic automobile.

“I love driving it,” she told Access. “When I first got in, I took it fairly easy just getting used to the size because its nose is extremely long, and once I got my confidence up, I think I terrified poor Merrin [Dungey], who plays Ursula, several times because I screeched around corners. But it was great fun. I love, love, love that car. That car is a little bit of heaven.”

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While she had seen (some time ago) the 1996 live action version of “101 Dalmatians” with Glenn Close, an actress she calls her “idol,” to make her own version of the iconic Disney villain, Victoria took inspiration from the scripts and the 1960s animated film. In a new interview this week with Access, Victoria dished on bringing Cruella to life for “Once.” I know it’s a little back in time (since you made your debut last year), but when they offered you the part, what went through your head — because it’s Cruella De Vil?
Victoria Smurfit:
I got a phone call from my agent saying that ‘Once Upon a Time’ have offered me a role, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s incredible,’ and I said, ‘Who is it?’ and they said, ‘Someone called Sasha.’ I’m like, ‘Who’s Sasha?’ Actually, it wasn’t Sasha, and so I got on the phone with [executive producers] Adam [Horowitz] and Eddy [Kitsis] and they’re chatting, we’re having a lovely chat and I said, ‘I don’t want to be rude, but who am I playing?’ and they said, ‘Cruella de Vil,’ and I nearly fell off my [seat] because I had actually auditioned for Cruella for a Disney [project] and I hadn’t got it and I just loved her and to get the opportunity to play her was just crazy.

Access: What was it like when you saw yourself in full hair and makeup and the full outfit for the very first time?
You know, the first thing that happens is your hip throws out, your elbows [go] up. It’s always looking for the angles for Cruella because when you watch her in the cartoon, she’s very hunched and angular and slightly osteoporosis… and I love that juxtaposition between this weedy, angular looking woman in this extraordinary luxury and I love the fact that Cruella thinks she’s beautiful. I love that and I love the fact that once I got the wig and the makeup and everything was put together, suddenly… all of it absolutely worked in context because [when] you’re sitting in just a skull cap and the makeup is going on, it can be pretty frightening because you’re borderline man in drag, but then, when everything goes on, it was just a spectacular combination of departments that pulls it out of the bag. They really did. It made my job an awful lot easier.

Access: Eddy and Adam spoke about your character and said they wanted her to be more inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald than the one we were used to, but I feel like she’s definitely got an air of ‘Dynasty’ to her as well. What did you take inspiration from to put her together?
: From everything that was in front of me, which was the words on the page, the cartoon, the costumes, the makeup, the hair. I’m just trying to tie them all together, because obviously Adam and Eddy have created their own version, which is fascinating. They’re the kings of words and their sort of attention to detail and their ability to tie together all the storylines and the different characters is phenomenal, and at times I didn’t know where she was going or what was happening, so you give them sort of options on set to use in their edits, what was going to pan out [in the] future episodes. And so my inspiration was really what the teams gave me because I’m a big believer in, ‘Let the professionals do what they do’… and so that was sort of my jump off point. And also, they’d given her such extraordinarily fun lines and she’s obviously – she’s got this air of boredom, she’s seen it all, done it all, darling, which I adored, and that sort of faux glamour and ennui with life was just heaven to be able to tuck into.

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Access: At the end of the mid-seaosn premiere, Snow and David threaten Cruella and Ursula. Are they actually worried about this threat at all? It’s Snow and David and you are the evil, wicked women.
: I think you have to take every threat seriously, but you also have to be arrogant enough to think that you can combat anything as a villain, and remember, each of us have our individual magic powers. … But you don’t mess with Ginnifer Goodwin and you don’t mess with Josh Dallas and if they’re coming at you, you have to take them seriously. These are powerful heroes!

Access: What was it like having Adam and Eddy direct you? That must have been interesting to have the heads of the show, the writers, standing there in front of you?
It’s fantastic. It’s like being directed by the oracle. … Helga [Ungurait, one of the show’s producers, who is on set] is literally ‘Once Upon a Time’ Google. She’s incredible. She knows everything about everybody’s relationship and all the characters, way back to the pilot, because you get a script through and if you haven’t watched all of them or read all of them, you get to go, ‘Helga! Helga! How did this character relate to this character, and how do they know this about that?’ And she would be able to just — out of her Google mind — talk you through something from three series ago because she’s pretty extraordinary. And then, to suddenly have the oracle there was pretty extraordinary. So it was super comforting to know because when you come on to a show as huge as ‘Once Upon a Time,’ and a show that has the fantastical, the fairy tale, but also, the real world and reality, and CGI and [special effects], it’s a really interesting line to tread and that first day on set is terrifying as you try and find your levels within the scene, within the show. But to have the boys there meant that you knew you were super protected because they’re never gonna let you oversell it or undersell it, because when you turn up on set in a 60-pound white fur coat, 6-inch bright red heels and the black and white wig, you’ve gotta bring it. … But you don’t want to be too much and to have them there on set meant you were super comfortable knowing where you were and what you were doing in any given scene. And they’re funny. They’re really super funny.

Catch Victoria causing trouble as Cruella on “Once Upon a Time,” Sunday at 8/7c on ABC.

Jolie Lash

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