The Marvel Life

The Marvel Life: Raphael Sbarge

The star from Once Upon a Time and Mass Effect discusses his charity work, collection of Jack Kirby comics and much more!

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By Blake Garris

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with star of ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” Raphael Sbarge at DragonCon in Atlanta. He spoke about his Marvel comic collection, the show and much more!

Raphael Sbarge

Marvel.com: You’ve had this great career where you’ve had a smattering of nerd-specific roles. Is there anything specific fans freak out over when they see you at conventions?

Raphael Sbarge: I guess I give them a fruit salad kind of thing [Laughs]. Sometimes they go, “Oh my god, you were in ‘Risky Business?’” It’s weird. Right now, the two things that people are really excited about are “Once Upon a Time” and “Mass Effect.” It’s this epic game with a really intense community of folks that live and die for it. It’s incredible to be a part of. “Star Trek,” “Prison Break;” it’s a weird thing. It’s not intentional. Your career is just going to zigzag the way it zigzags. There’s no choosing this stuff, right?

Marvel.com: Do you do a lot of conventions? Have you been to San Diego Comic-Con?

Raphael Sbarge: I did do San Diego. BioWare brought me down a couple of years ago and I went down to do some charity signings for just a day this past year. I have done more conventions recently for a couple of reasons, mostly just to get in touch with the fans. But I’m also a founder of a non-profit called Green Wish. All of the profit here from DragonCon goes to Green Wish so that’s been my way to give back. It makes me feel good and doesn’t make me feel like I’m here going, “Look at me!” It feels like I’m here for some higher purpose.

Marvel.com: How do fans donate to Green Wish?

Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen art by Mike Del Mundo

Raphael Sbarge: You can go to the www.greenwish.com and that will tell you about Green Wish. Green Wish is simply a non-profit that raises money for other non-profits. There’s so much need out there. You can pick up a newspaper any day and read about the declining bee population or the amount of chemicals in the air, water and earth. It’s easy to get to apathy and think, “Oh screw it. It’s all going to hell.” Green Wish sets up chapters around the country in various cities. Those chapters are given the infrastructure so that a bunch of concerned citizens can set up their own chapters; they can then literally identify local non-profits. Those are the smaller ones that don’t have the big shiny buildings in downtown London; the nonprofits that are doing shovel-ready work right there in the community that really matter. All the money then goes right back into the community, so its community helping community. It stays right there. You get to feel good about the fact that it’s not going out who knows where or to big salaries. 90 cents on the dollar goes there. I take no salary on this. I do it because it’s something that I feel passionate about. What’s really cool is these chapters are opening all over the country and there are discussions about going internationally with it as well. Anyway, the money that I’ve been getting from these cons [has] been going towards supporting Green Wish. It seems like a good thing.

Marvel.com: How many chapters are there right now?

Raphael Sbarge: There are five chapters right now and about four or five in discussion. It’s cool. In addition to that I’ve produced this show, which is about to premiere; it’s called “On Begley’s Street.” Ed Begley, who is also the face of Green Wish arguably, other than Al Gore, may be the face of the environmental movement—except Ed’s actually funny. [Ed] is building a platinum LEED certified home which basically, for people who don’t know, is a home that’s off the grid. It actually generates energy—homes being one of the most energy inefficient things that we have. What he did was he bought a house and thought he could remodel it. He realized that he couldn’t and had to take it apart. He didn’t just throw it in the landfill; he took it apart board by board. Habitat for Humanity came and took some things. They recycled every piece of lumber and sent it down to Mexico to be used in a chapel there. We made a series about it and it’s going to premiere. It’s called “On Begley’s Street” on Evox Television, which is an online broadcast network. The proceeds of the show are also going to Green Wish. The word is about to get out in a big way. It’s 33 million homes because they’re going across a lot of different platforms [such as] Roku, Apple TV, Samsung and Xbox.

Raphael Sbarge on ABC's Once Upon a Time

Marvel.com: Can you explain the general premise of “Once Upon a Time” for fans that may not be familiar with it?

Raphael Sbarge: “Once Upon a Time,” if you were to explain it and you didn’t know what it was, you would think you’re getting a cavity because it seems so sickly sweet—but it’s not. The concept is essentially that they’ve taken these characters that we already know: Prince Charming, Jiminy Cricket, the Evil Queen, Snow White and they have reinvented stories for them. They’ll put them in these worlds, two worlds, and now more worlds. But just for simplicity’s sake, these two worlds. They’re dealing with their various identities. They have a real world identity Jiminy Cricket, who I play, is a therapist but he’s also a cricket. So let your conscience be your guide. There are a lot of clever ways that they’ve sort of aligned these things. For those of you who read the book “Wicked” or saw the musical for example, in that story the way they sort of redefined the Wizard of Oz, and then were able to tell new stories around it, and then you can’t go back to watch Wizard of Oz again because it’s so clever. That’s what they’ve done. The writers, Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, are from “LOST” so they have a great pedigree; they’re great storytellers. What’s been so engaging about the show is that the stories are so well told. And that people who like Disney and people who don’t like Disney, people who might be a little more Marvel let’s say, have actually found themselves liking it because it’s cool and at times we’re edgy as well.

Marvel.com: We just released the original graphic novel ONCE UPON A TIME: SHADOW OF THE QUEEN.

Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen art by Mike Del Mundo

Raphael Sbarge: I think I heard about that. That makes a lot of sense that they would do that. Obviously Disney now owns everything, including Star Wars and Marvel. It’s the enormous empire. There [are] a lot of jokes we make about how C-3PO is going to come into “Once Upon a Time,” but he’s not [Laughs]. It’s funny. What they’ve done, in a television landscape that has a lot of cops and robbers and “body of the week” or “disease of the week” or “hospital of the week” is that they’ve taken an idea and thrown a regular sort of franchise sort of concept of doing a show on television into a whole different orbit. They’ve gotten this enormous fan base. What’s also been interesting about it is two things: one, it’s got this enormous demographic. My kids—my daughter was 10 when she started watching it and my son was eight—they love it. My mother who is 83 loves it. It’s got this huge demographic because it appeals to both. In addition to that, what’s been interesting is that it travels really well. What I mean by that is that it’s been able to go to other countries in ways that American entertainment doesn’t always work. I get tweets from Croatia, Yugoslavia, Germany, Russia, Australia, France and South America. People are crazy about the show. Somehow these fairy tales have a lot of poignancy and power and make people feel really engaged, or that they know these characters already and already have a relationship and are so interested in finding out more.

Marvel.com: Have you ever wanted to play a Marvel character?

Raphael Sbarge: Yeah, of course! I have a comic book collection from when I was a kid. I’ve got lots of old Marvel comics. I kinda carry it around now as an adult. It was really important to me as a kid, of course. I’d love to. Obviously, with Marvel expanding into TV franchises and everything else that’s really cool as well.

Marvel.com: Is there a single comic that you love or cherish the most in that collection?

Fantastic Four #1 by Jack Kirby

Raphael Sbarge: You know, the ones that I loved were Spider-Man and I really loved my X-Men comics. The Fantastic Four was another one where I have the whole series going back to early numbers. I always loved the ones [from] Jack Kirby, the artist. His comics were fantastic. He did a little bit of everything. He did a lot of the early numbers of books and started things and then handed them off.

Marvel.com: You have original Jack Kirby comics?

Raphael Sbarge: Yeah, some of them. They’re not signed by him but I collected them in the early to mid-70’s.

Marvel.com: Those are probably worth a pretty penny, I assume.

Raphael Sbarge: Yeah, I hired someone at some point to organize them for me and put them in plastic, so they’re well kept. I’m keeping them for my kids one day.

Marvel.com: With “Mass Effect,” what was it like working on that property?

Raphael Sbarge: I guess the simplest thing to say would be that it took me by surprise. I didn’t understand how enormous it was. People ask “How did you get [the role]?” and I auditioned for it. I went in and they picked me. I had worked for BioWare before doing “Star Wars: Republic Commandos” and “Knights of the Old Republic.” I played Carth Onasi in that, which is also a popular character, and Scorch in “Republic Commando.” So they knew me, but what they did for this game was clearly something different. When they first came in, they said to all the actors, “We don’t want to do just a screaming game, we want to do something more like an episode of ‘24.’ Something more filmic; something more real. So we’re going to create faces that are more like real faces.”

Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen art by Mike Del Mundo

In doing that, they gave actors a wonderful opportunity to really step in and bring performances. And what’s interesting to me is that they created really complex relationships in the writing. In doing that, I’ve been told that “Mass Effect” is one of the first video games that really brought women in in a big way, because of these relationships and this particular character that I played, Kaiden Alenko, was a huge romantic interest for the lead character Shepherd for men and women. They were also able to evolve a way where you could do same-sex romances as well for various characters. But particularly the Kaiden Alenko character was a loyal, stand-up guy who also has this romantic side. The fellow who is the face model, Luciano Costa, is a staggeringly handsome fellow. He lives in Los Angeles and we went to lunch together. Great guy. Anyway, the fact is that it went from this little idea to this enormous, enormous community. At these conventions, “Once Upon a Time” is big. When I was in London recently, and in certain cities, it can really be 70/30 “Mass Effect.” The gaming community is enormous. The amount of N7 jackets that people wear, which is a reference to the game. It’s just huge—the passion and the commitment. Again, because the writing created a relationship where people really have emotional ties to these characters, when I meet them at the table they’re shaking and crying. “You have no idea how much this character means to me.”

In game two, there is a letter written. Kaiden kind of steps out of “Mass Effect” for a bit and takes a back seat. But there was a letter that was written and never read. So some fans wrote and said, “Would you mind reading this letter?” So I recorded the letter and slipped it out. The letter found its way out very quickly, and I didn’t know how BioWare would respond to it but they saw it very quickly and they got behind it. It went completely viral. I started getting cards and e-mails from all over the world. These incredible and long statements of how much it meant to them and this one woman, she said that she had to sneak out to the gas station to listen to it and squeal because she had to leave her husband at home. She had this romance with this character. Another woman had written me and said that her son had recently committed suicide and that the game had been the only way that she could make it through because she could live in this world and being in that alternate reality was the only way she could keep herself together and how much it meant to her. These games have a lot of palliative effects and also really powerfully connect to their fans. And to be with a company like BioWare, which is essentially the kind of AAA player, I’m really grateful. It’s an amazing experience.

Once Upon a Time: Shadow of the Queen art by Mike Del Mundo

Marvel.com: What about your kids? Have they played the game?

Raphael Sbarge: I think they really liked “Once Upon a Time.” It’s funny because friends of theirs will go, “Oh my god, your dad!” and they’ll go, “So? What?” [Laughs]. To them, it’s just what I do. There’s a funny story, a couple of years ago when I dropped my son off at a preschool. The preschool teacher said—my son’s name is Jango—she said, “Jango, your dad looks familiar. What does he do?” and he said, “Um, he auditions” [Laughs]. Because that’s what actors do. He always saw me going to auditions. “Oh, honey, I have to go out for an audition” [Laughs].

Marvel.com: How can fans reach you?

Raphael Sbarge: Folks can find me at @RaphaelSbarge which is my verified account on Twitter. There is my Facebook fan page, of course. GreenWish.com is where you can find out more about it if you’re interested in starting a chapter or you’re interested in donating, there’s a donate now button there. There’s a huge educational component to Green Wish which I won’t get into now. You you can go to www.onbegleystreet.com and on Twitter you can find me and I’ll have updates about that. Then, in terms of what’s coming up, I just did a pilot for Stephen Bochco on TNT, called “Murder in the First.” I’ll know within the next week or so. Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson are in it and Tom Felton from Harry Potter. I’ve got my fingers, eyes and toes crossed. We’ll hear soon. I hear encouraging things. I’ll know more about that very soon.

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