Taking on the role of a legendary royal is no easy task, so when Once Upon A Time star Joana Metrass landed the part of Guinevere, the queen consort of King Arthur, on the show’s current fifth season (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET on ABC), the Portuguese actress hit the books—and fairytales—hard. "I’d read a lot about Guinevere and the different interpretations of her,” Metrass told InStyle when she visited our New York City offices last week to discuss this season of the drama, which also stars Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison. “There are many different versions of the classic character, but there’s definitely a special twist to Guinevere on the show."
Part of that twist is to make the Queen of Camelot—who famously had an affair with her husband’s chief knight, Sir Lancelot—seem more down-to-earth and less like she’s straight out of a storybook. “Guinevere is a very strong woman,” said Metrass. “At the same time, she’s very loving, caring, and feminine—but she can also go out and hunt some monsters. I feel like she’s the modern woman who has to be a little bit of everything: The wife that goes to work and then comes home to her family.”
While her royal title may not make her the most relatable, Guinevere’s marriage is as modern as it gets. "She’s not at all behind the king,” said Metrass. “She leads the kingdom with him—and some people on the show even say that Guinevere is the real leader of Camelot.” To make the character feel even more realistic, Metrass looked to those she knows best for inspiration. “Rather than modeling her after any one real queen, I based Guinevere on real-life women that I admire,” she said. And the writers delve deep into the character’s backstory “to make her seem more human,” according to Metrass. “They show that there’s more to her than just being involved with a guy or being a horrible b—. There are reasons why things happen, and even though she may be the adulteress, she might not actually be the bad guy, after all.”
That’s something which viewers have already taken note of. “When you see this version of the story, you’re actually on her side,” said Metrass. “A lot of fans have said that she should be with Lancelot, because in this version of this story, she’s not judged the same way.” Her character’s relationship with Lancelot (Sinqua Walls) plays a key role in this season’s storyline—and in Metrass’s favorite scene to film so far. That would be when the characters are “searching for the Dark One’s dagger, and Lancelot is attacked by a monster,” said Metrass. "Instead of letting him die, Guinevere saves Lancelot by killing the monster.”
Whether she’s in the presence of the supernatural or not, it’s Guinevere's strength that Metrass loves most about her character. “My favorite thing about this show is that it changes the image of fairytales that little girls grow up with,” she said. “I love that It’s not at all about princesses who just want to find a prince and get married, and I'm proud to be a part of something that’s sending this message.”
But that doesn’t mean Metrass is giving up on the notion of storybook endings altogether. “I do believe in fairytales,” she said. “I just don’t think they have to be about marrying a guy.” She cites her own career path as proof of just that. "I’m living my own fairytale right now,” said Metrass. "Two years ago, I was watching this show in Portugal and not even dreaming of being here, and suddenly here I am. But this isn’t a fairytale—this is life."
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.