- Associated Press - Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lana Parrilla, whose dual roles on the fantasy drama “Once Upon a Time” include the fearsome Evil Queen, wasn’t satisfied just knowing her character was evil.

“You can also see she’s a tortured soul,” Miss Parrilla said, “and I made a very conscious choice to reveal the pain underneath.”

While she prepped for her audition, she asked herself: What caused that pain?

“So I did a meditation, and I saw a lot of her past and tapped into it,” discovering in the process that “a major betrayal and the loss of someone she deeply loves are what caused the darkness to overtake her, and what caused her need to punish everyone in her life. She doesn’t want anyone to be happy, because her happiness was taken from her.”

Miss Parrilla shared her epiphany with the show’s co-creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, “and they had their own vision which was totally in line with mine. Maybe I tapped into their psyches.”

The ABC freshman hit, which airs at 8 p.m. Sundays, has a mind-bending premise. “Every time I try to pitch this show,” Miss Parrilla laughs, “it sounds like I’ve just smoked something really strong.”

In a nutshell: Thanks to the Evil Queen’s curse, a number of fairy-tale characters were transported to the contemporary village of Storybrooke, Maine, where they have forgotten their pasts as well-known figures and, now stranded in the artifice of real life, have been denied the prospect of a happy ending.

The hard-hearted mayor of Storybrooke is Regina, the other character played by Miss Parrilla. Also starring on the show are Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, Robert Carlyle, Jared Gilmore and Jennifer Morrison.

Miss Parrilla, a beautiful brunette with smoldering eyes and a lively, outgoing manner, counts “Once” as her seventh series, which also included short-termers “Miami Medical,” “Swingtown” and “Boomtown.”

Longevity isn’t a priority for her.

“When the script for ‘Once’ came my way,” she said, “I had the thought that maybe it will last only a season. But I was willing to take that risk. Even if it hadn’t gotten picked up as a series, I’m happy to have played this part.”

She should have said “parts.” She has had to master not one role, but two, “and in the beginning the challenge was finding their voices and how to make them different. I wanted the queen’s voice to have a deeper resonance and for her to have a freedom in her body — she’s fierce, she’s bold. Regina, I think, is much more calculated. She’s a politician. She has to keep her emotions in check.”

Even now, switching back and forth between the characters can be dizzying.

Literally: Playing the Evil Queen, Miss Parrilla performs in a cavernous studio in Vancouver, British Columbia, with few sets or props, instead dominated by a sprawling green screen.

“After 16 hours on a green-screen stage, your head is literally spinning,” she said with a laugh. “Most of the queen’s scenes take place in the [virtual] palace.

“No walls. No corridor. No fireplace. It’s huge, that stage, with nothing to hold onto.”

But it’s not as if she doesn’t love to play pretend. She always has, even as a child back in Brooklyn.

“I played lots of fantasy games,” recalled the 34-year-old actress. “I would create these worlds, and I would believe in them. So it’s not that different as an adult. I figure if I did it then, I can do it now. But I hadn’t had to use that part of my brain in a long time.”

Her active imagination was nurtured by her father, Sam Parrilla, a professional baseball player who had a bit of the comedian in him: While on the road (he played briefly for the Philadelphia Phillies and later became a scout), he created a character named Popito to speak to little Lana on the phone.

Lana, of course, never saw Popito, but pictured him as shy, with a stutter, and tiny, living under the couch as her father’s traveling companion.

“But he’s my oldest friend,” she said, almost as if she still believes in him.