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Heather’s 2011 TV Goodness All-Stars: Once Upon a Time’s Robert Carlyle 

Photo Credit: ABC/Jack Rowand

I’m nothing if not intensely loyal when it comes to my Scots roots, so it should be no surprise that I seriously love Robert Carlyle. He came onto my radar as the super scary and unhinged Begbie in Trainspotting and then turned that performance on its ear with The Full Monty. He’s been awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and been a Bond villain.

He got his sci-fi cred on Stargate: Universe, which lucky for us and him (but sucky for the rest of the cast and crew) ended earlier this year, giving him the opportunity to play Rumpelstiltskin on ABC’s hit series, Once Upon a Time. And “play” is an understatement. Carlyle is positively gleeful and giddy as the fairy tale dealmaker and subdued as he suggests the underlying power of Storybrooke’s Mr. Gold.

There’s no doubt that Rumpelstiltskin is completely off his nut, but there’s a method to his madness and collection of debts and promises left and right that have shaped the core characters on the show. We don’t have a bead yet on what exactly is driving Rumpelstiltskin, or what drove him mad, but Carlyle has given him so many layers that even though we’re never quite sure what Rumpelstiltskin is really up to, it’s fun to watch and wonder.

Photo Credit: ABC/Jeff Petry

I love that the general population in both realms is terrified of him when, physically, there’s nothing to be wary of, but his intensity comes through anyway. He’s scary almost entirely on the power of suggestion of what he might do and can do if his deals aren’t honored–so much so that they built a bunker to contain him.

I love that as Rumpelstiltskin, Carlyle is demented, sing songy, layered in glittery makeup with a blown-out ‘do, and has different-colored eyes–sort of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Puck on crack. On the flip side, as the always-besuited Mr. Gold, Carlyle is restrained but just as powerful and fear-striking. I like that as part of the mindwipe, people just know that they should be afraid of him and take him seriously even though they’d be hard-pressed to produce a for instance if they didn’t.

I love that Carlyle is set to slightly simmer as Gold. It’s like he’s getting to play Jekyll and Hyde. What a gift to be given as an actor, and Carlyle is completely delivering on it. It’s such a joy to watch him having a ball spinning everyone into knots.

If you’d told me 15 years ago when Trainspotting hit that he’d be doing a family friendly (ish) TV show in the States, I wouldn’t have seen it. I’m so glad somebody did. I look forward to seeing more of Rumpelstiltskin’s story–how he came to be who he is and what his agenda is–and having Carlyle take us there. And hopefully, we’ll get Carlyle back at Comic-Con next summer, too, after previous appearances for SGU.

New episodes of Once Upon a Time return to ABC on Sunday, January 8th, at 8 pm ET, and subject to local listings, ABC is rerunning the first seven episodes beginning at 4 pm ET on New Year’s Day.

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