Rachel Skarsten officially entered the world of capes and cowls with 2002’s TV series, “Birds of Prey”. At 16 years old, Skarsten soared as meta-human Dinah Lance, a young superhero-in-training. After a break from the business, the Canadian actress subsequently nabbed roles on various shows and movies, including “Lost Girl”, “Reign”, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Molly’s Game”. These days, she’s terrorizing Gotham City on “Batwoman” as the resident big bad, Alice. Skarsten calls the gig, “an incredible homecoming.”
“I’ve actually auditioned and tested for other shows within the Berlanti-Arrowverse,” Skarsten says during a phone conversation from British Columbia. “I suppose it was only a matter of time. I’m very happy to be back. Both the CW and Warner Brothers are truly wonderful homes to be a part of. They really cultivate a sense of family, from the top down.”
From day one, Skarsten strived to make Alice more than a Harley Quinn knockoff. Her beef with Batwoman, a/k/a Kate Kane, has been personal. Alice is Kate’s missing twin sister, Beth, long thought to be dead from a car accident. A horrific upbringing at the hands of the twisted August Cartwright left Beth slightly nuts. Dialing up, or down, that level of craziness proved to be one of Skarsten’s biggest challenges.
“When I did my initial audition, I was in Toronto and did it with a friend of mine,” explains Skarsten. “We did it once and he said, ‘Well, let’s try this and this.’ I liked that better. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought. I just did it. I don’t know what it says about me and that I’m quite comfortable fitting into the skin of Alice. It did feel quite natural.
“Then I get this job, and thought, ‘Oh my God. It’s not just two scenes I have to find that balance in. It’s an entire character,’” she continues. “Playing crazy is one of the more challenging things to do as an actor because you never want to take it too far, but you have to do it enough that it’s believable. I really did think about it a lot on how far I want to take it.” .
In this week’s episode, “Off With Her Head”, Alice relived her greatest childhood fears, including interactions with Cartwright’s mother, the Red Queen. After falling down that harrowing rabbit hole with Alice, surely audiences should feel more sympathetic towards her.
“I hope so,” Skarsten says. “That’s my intention with Alice all the time. I feel the most wonderfully played villains are those in which people see why they are doing what they are doing, and what made them into this monster. I think they are the most interesting villains to watch. When there can be an aspect of redemption for them, people see themselves in the villain, because we all want redemption for the things we’ve done. I always appreciate the opportunity to show Alice’s brokenness and the trauma from her past. Overall, it makes Alice more likeable and more relatable and therefor, more real.”
Cartwright excels at mind games. He knows how to push buttons and pushes Kate to cross a moral line… with disastrous results.
“Alice has always felt very justified in what she does because of where she came from,” Skarsten says. “Kate has always had this opinion that you could have made different choices, and you could have always been better, you can always be redeemed. I think Alice really wanted to prove to Kate that, ‘No, in fact, you are no better than me. Had you been in the situation I was in, you would have done the same things that I did.’ Alice has always looked for an equalizer with Kate, to bring Kate over to her side. In this episode, we see the fact that Kate does make the same decision that Alice would have. It’s quite vindicating for Alice. It’s probably a difficult change in identity for Kate. I think it’s affirming what Alice felt she always knew.
“This episode, and probably the episodes earlier, when Kate let Alice die, we are starting to see a different evolution in their relationship,” she adds. “I always felt that Kate was Alice’s weakness, and we’re going to start to see that relationship evolve a lot. It will definitely have a large impact on them going forward.”
On a regular basis, Alice plots, schemes and murders. She’s unpredictable, which makes her extremely dangerous. Even her ultimate endgame remains a mystery.
“That’s probably ever-evolving,” Skarsten offers. “What Alice’s plans were at the beginning of this season are definitely not Alice’s plans after this episode and are definitely not Alice’s plans in the episode we are currently filming. She’s driven by revenge and all the things that have happened.
“The problem with revenge is it is never truly satisfying,” she adds. “There is always another layer of it after one achieves what one thinks is their goal. I like to think what ultimately drives Alice is this unaddressed, undealt with grief and trauma underneath it all. Much like real life, when you don’t deal with pain, it often comes out as anger. Alice is a really good example of that.”
On “Lost Girl”, Skarsten portrayed Tamsin, a bisexual Valkyrie. That role cemented her ties to the LGBTQ community. It’s only grown stronger with “Batwoman”, in which the titular character is a lesbian.
“I’ve had such a wonderful experience overall with the LGBTQ fanbase,” Skarsten reports. “I feel grateful that they’ve been so receptive and accepting to me being a part of what I think is a wonderful movement of representation on television. I loved how ‘Lost Girl’ was a trailblazer in that. It wasn’t really about, ‘Here’s a gay character, and here’s their lover.’ It was just about, ‘You are who you are. You love who you love, and that’s how it is.’ And then all these other things happen. I loved that about ‘Lost Girl.’ I feel, in some ways, shows like ‘Batwoman’ are standing on the shoulders of those shows that came before. It’s exciting to now have the first gay female superhero. It’s rad, so hopefully all of that will continue.”
Skarsten may be up to no good on “Batwoman,” but in real life, she has a heart of gold. One charity Skarsten passionately supports is the Labelle Foundation, which helps foster rescue dogs and find their forever families.
“A friend of mine had sent me a post on Instagram from the Labelle Foundation and there was a Pitbull with all these puppies,” Skarsten explains. “They needed to find a foster for it. I posted on my Instagram and the Labelle Foundation sent me a message. I wrote them back and said, ‘If there’s anything you need, ever, let me know,’ not really thinking they would say anything back, but I meant it.
“Then I get this message back saying, ‘Well, we actually have another mom and puppies if you’d like to foster,’” she continues. “So, I thought, ‘Okay.’ A couple of hours later, this mom and her puppies showed up at my house. That was the beginning of my love affair with the Labelle Foundation.
“I’ve fostered, I don’t even know how many dogs with them now,” Skarsten concludes. “But it’s such a joy and what they do is so incredible.”