- Once Upon a Time -‘OUAT’ Star Lee Arenberg Reflects On The Romance Between Grumpy & Nova, And Why He Never Got That Happy Ending
Once Upon a Time is a series rooted in happy endings and second chances, inspiring viewers to dream of something better, even when it seems impossible. As Snow White — or as Storybrooke knows her, Mary Margaret Blanchard — says, “Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a powerful thing, but living with that kind of belief… that’s the most powerful thing of all. That’s hope.”
OUAT ran for seven seasons from 2011 until 2018 and featured countless fairytales that followed traditional and non-traditional plotlines, but there’s one storyline that has left Oncers, both fans and talent, craving more: the unfinished romance between Grumpy and Nova.
Because, what happened to the happy ending, to the hope, to the second chance between the dwarf and the fairy-to-be? The connection between the pair never played out on the series, and it’s time we got answers.
Lee Arenberg, who played Grumpy a.k.a. Dreamy a.k.a. Leroy, tells me over the phone that he doesn’t know exactly why his character’s love story didn’t reach a conclusion on the series, but he does reveal that he wept the first time he learned about the lovelorn dwarf’s backstory.
Arenberg, who was most recently seen on screen as Alviss in American Gods, and I unpacked even more of what might have been when we chatted.
Currently quarantining beachside in Ventura, Calif., with his family and gearing up for Creation Entertainment’s virtual convention celebrating Once, he was delighted to take a trip down memory lane to talk all-things Grumps.
A Rather “Dreamy” Beginning
As you’ll recall, the 14th episode of Season 1 was a standalone episode focused on Dreamy the dwarf, titled… “Dreamy.”
“Honestly, I read that fucking script and I cried. As an actor, I was like, ‘Fuck, that’s cool,’” Arenberg recalls of picking up that script.
In the episode, we learn that the titular dwarf, played by Arenberg, was born with a magical fairy dust that encourages him to dream of a life beyond just, you know, whistling while he works alongside his brothers Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, Doc, and Stealthy. (Thanks to OUAT for introducing us to another dwarf in the family.)
We see Dreamy use his trusty pickaxe (engraved with the name “Dreamy”) to mine for diamonds to grind into fairy dust, and we see him meet Nova the Fairy, played by Amy Acker, who teaches him what it feels like to fall for someone despite the notion that dwarves and fairies are supposedly incapable of love.
They decide to run away together, until the Blue Fairy and Dreamy’s foreman at the mine urge Dreamy to reconsider. If he doesn’t, Dreamy’s told, Nova will never reach her full potential as a fairy and earn her wings. Dreamy decides not to pursue Nova and returns to the mines heartbroken, with a pickaxe bearing his new name — “Grumpy.”
Not all hope is lost for the couple though, as Grumpy and Nova meet again in Storybrooke (still under the first curse) as Leroy, the self-proclaimed town drunk, and Astrid, now a nun. They have no memory of their former selves Dreamy and Nova, but they yet again find a connection — Leroy tries to help Astrid’s convent sell candles (he even goes the extra mile of standing on a roof and causing a town-wide blackout), and he also asks her to be his first passenger on his boat.
But once the curse is broken, viewers never see Grumpy nor Leroy, Nova nor Astrid together again.
“Did You Want Your Happy Ending?”
“I’ll never forget being up on that roof!” Arenberg tells me. “He was trying to get the girl, but we have to remember she’s a nun. It’s impractical and it’s wrong and everyone tells him no.”
Grumpy was never the sort to simply “fit in,” as Arenberg says, so the regret of bending to authority and letting Nova go was a pronounced pain he carried with him throughout the series. It’s what made Grumpy, grumpy. ”That’s the sense of regret, that’s that fucking anger right there that people can really carry with them,” he says.
Arenberg says fans ask him if he ever wanted Grumpy to get his happy ending, to which he responds that it wasn’t up to him — it was up to the writers.
But you can sense that he’s frustrated with how Grumpy handled the situation with Nova: “He had the opportunity when he was Dreamy to go with her and risk it, and instead he chickened out.”
“It’s one of those things where he just blew it,” Arenberg says.
But the fans… we just can’t let go of the idea of a Dreamy and Nova happy ending.
Melissa Ross, who is an admin for the “Once Upon a Time – Oncers United” Facebook group with over 20,000 members, tells me over email that the storyline she most wanted to see more of was “definitely between Nova and Dreamy,” she writes.
“They had this genuine innocent love for each other and the fact that he had to give her up and that it so drastically changed him was so heartfelt and emotional. There were so many questions the fans were left with and after just a single episode, our understanding of Grumpy and his character changed immensely,” Ross says.
Arenberg understands where the fans are coming from, and he has a lot of respect for the Oncers. “In so many ways, the success of the project is based on developing exactly this kind of fan base.”
Ross still wonders, as I’m sure many fans do: “Did Leroy and Astrid never find each other again once the curse was broken or did they simply decide to remain separated? Will they ever sail around the world together or are some things simply not meant to be?”
“In a show so filled with themes of love and hope, it’s very difficult to imagine that two people who truly loved each other were simply never allowed to be together,” Ross says.
Luckily, Arenberg has some answers.
Grumpy’s “Happy” Ending That You (Probably) Never Saw
Dreamy and Nova’s (and Leroy and Astrid’s) relationship was real (or, you know, real on TV) and closure for them was found… and filmed.
Their love story wasn’t wrapped up in the series proper, but Arenberg reveals that Nova and Dreamy did meet again once the curse in Storybrooke was broken — on the bonus features of the Season 1 DVD.
“In the extra scenes, there is a feature called Good Morning Storybrooke. It’s a take on a Good Morning America or a Today Show kind of thing. There’s a scene where they meet and basically she tells him that it couldn’t have worked because he didn’t listen to her.”
Nova appears in a segment as the town’s “Fairy Craftsmother,” now out of her nun’s habit, announcing a special contest winner that has won the chance to come on the show to fold a fitted sheet. Grumpy, who entered 611 times hoping for a second chance, is finally granted one.
Seeing each other for the first time, they kiss and remember everything. Grumpy pleads with Nova, but she tells him that it’s now too late. With tears in her eyes, she bids him farewell, accepting that “I do have to be a fairy, Dreamy.” Walking away for the last time, he tells her, “It’s Grumpy now.”
It’s a really bittersweet ending for the couple. Even though they loved each other once upon a time, their chance to come together again fell apart at the seams of those fitted sheets.
But perhaps their relationship stayed ill-fated because the real real world got in the way — Arenberg tells me that the producers behind the scenes knew that Acker had landed another show. “That was part of the issue, too. She was on Person of Interest for all that time.”
Originally joining Person of Interest as a guest star in its first season, she told attendees at a Comic-Con panel in Dallas that she was originally only supposed to be brought in for five episodes. “I don’t think they imagined I’d be around much longer than that,” she said. “I think I was set up to be the bad guy for Season 2.” But Acker joined the “Team Machine” family and stayed on the series all the way through Season 5 as genius hacker, Root. Storybrooke was left behind.
But… why was the Dreamy and Nova reunion withheld from the series itself, relegated to the DVD extras?
“I don’t know,” Arenberg says. “Maybe because they had bigger fish to fry, you know what I mean? I’m a supporting player, a recurring character,” he says, implying that the show’s creators perhaps wanted to focus on Snow White and Prince Charming finding each other again, instead.
Fan expert Barbara Meier, who is an admin for the “Once Upon a Time Addicts” Facebook group with over 23,000 members, tells me that the Dreamy and Nova storyline should have been developed more, “because they were adorable and their story had so many ways it could have been enriched,” she tells me.
Meier insists that one of the reasons the Once fans still care for supporting players like Grumpy is because the show “gave us such a unique perspective on people, expanding their characters beyond any way they’d ever been seen before.”
Arenberg appreciates how beloved Grumpy is. “The fans love that character,” he says. “Grumpy is one of the most popular characters. Everyone’s got a mom or dad or uncle or grandma or grandpa or a brother or sister that’s a Grumpy. So many people have that T-shirt!”
Happy Endings In The Future
Arenberg doesn’t want you to feel bad for old Grumpy, though; Grumpy learned his lesson (fight for love when you have the chance) and remember, eventually, he converts the romantic love he has in his heart for Nova to a familial love for Snow White and Emma Swan.
Grumpy goes on to become the town’s crazy uncle and de facto town crier, which… could be worse.
“If you think about it, he’s the luckiest guy,” Arenberg says. “He’s best friends with Belle, he’s pals with Red.” He jokes that Grumpy was punching way above his weight.
And you always know that Grumpy’s heart is in the right place. “I honestly just love the fact that he is who he is because of that pain,” Arenberg says of Dreamy’s transformation to Grumpy.
Arenberg learned from Grumpy’s experience with regret, and is using that knowledge to cope during the pandemic. “You’ve got to stay in the moment,” he says.
In a way, the pandemic comes across as a modern day curse to Arenberg. “It’s so funny because when corona first started, I got right on Twitter and was like, ‘The curse! It’s here!’” he says.
“Talking about that regret and lessons learned — we have to learn our lessons,” he says. Grumpy did. “I think it’s going to take some courage, but I do think there’s no question that we can do it.”
After all, living with that kind of belief… that’s the most powerful thing of all. That’s hope.