The first season of Batwoman has been a wild ride and one of the biggest thrills has been watching Rachel Skarsten as Alice. We recently chatted with Skarsten ahead of this weekend’s season finale, and here’s what she shared about becoming Alice, whether Alice’s twin bond with Kate could ever hold her back, and how being cast on Batwoman was a full-circle moment from her early role on Birds of Prey.
The season finale of Batwoman airs this Sunday, May 17 at 8pm ET on Showcase in Canada or 8/7c on The CW in the US. Canadian viewers can also catch up on the first season from the beginning on STACKTV and the Global TV app.
I first saw you as Dinah Lance on The WB’s Birds of Prey so I got a real kick out of your casting on Batwoman. Did that feel like a full-circle moment for you?
Yes, it did. When I did that show, I was really young. I kind of fell into it. To be honest, it had never been in my master plan to book this big American network television show and move to LA. I did acting as an extracurricular activity and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was very much a child in an adult world.
After that show, I left acting and went to university, and everybody in the business told me that it was a huge mistake, that I was never going to reclaim this career. I was dogged and determined that I would. It was also really important that I go to school. I wanted to have that experience at the age where people have that experience. [Batwoman] was not only a homecoming to Warner Brothers and to DC, but also an incredible feeling of “I made it back.”
Birds of Prey was definitely ahead of its time. The larger TV audience wasn’t ready for a darker superhero story in 2002.
Dina [Meyer], Ashley [Scott] and I, to this day, joke that had Birds of Prey been on seven years later, it would still be on television. Arrow quite successfully did what Birds of Prey tried to do. It just wasn’t the right time for this darker, grittier show centred around these strong female characters. Arrow did that with the grittiness, and then Batwoman has done that and one-upped it with the female leads. Birds of Prey was a bit too soon, but I always think that things happen for a reason.
Batwoman is the darkest of the Arrowverse shows and has definitely made some bold narrative choices. Much of that darkness revolves around Alice. She’s so over the top and relentless but at the same time, we see these bits of humanity from her. Was the opportunity to explore that other side an appealing part of taking on this role?
First and foremost, you cannot come to Batman’s house and not play by his rules. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about the Batman universe — be it Batman himself or Batwoman or Batgirl — there is an inherent darkness to that world. All of those incarnations of the “Bat” struggle, and walk that very fine line of good and evil. It was very important to me that we did not shy away from that darkness not just in the material, but in the lighting, mood and tone of the show.
In terms of Alice, the other thing that was very important to me was if she was going to be over the top, she needed to be grounded and rooted in something. For example with her costume, I didn’t want it to be this over the top supervillain costume. I wanted it to look like she was Alice and was very recognizable from the comics but at the same time you could have a martini, go into Goodwill and come out with the same outfit. It was still grounded in reality, and on all levels of production, they have done such a beautiful job in helping me craft that.
You were given an opportunity this season to explore another side of your character: Beth. We got to see who Beth would be if she made it out of the car crash right away and never became Alice. Were you excited that you got to explore that storyline at an early point in the series rather than a couple of seasons down the road?
Absolutely. If you didn’t know those things about Alice, you would never root for her. Even reading the script I had this incredible empathy for Alice. It doesn’t justify what she did, but it makes it understandable. My mom used to say, “Hurt people hurt people.” That’s a perfect [description] of Alice. In seeing where she came from, it’s no wonder that she’s ended up where she is. But it also gives us the opportunity to think that there could be different or better for her. There might be part of who she was before still in her, and therefore, possible redemption. That makes the most interesting villain. I always want to play the villain that people root for despite the terrible things that they do because they see something of themselves in that villain.
Alice’s circle has opened up throughout this first season but these characters are more minions than teammates. Are any of those characters indispensable to her?
Alice doesn’t see anyone as a teammate, even Mouse. Other than her father and her sister, everyone is simply a means to an end. That’s not to say that she doesn’t enjoy their company or she wants to necessarily hurt all of them. But when it comes down to it, Alice is willing to sacrifice anything for her plan or her goals. She is essentially ruthless, but her Achilles’ heel is and will always continue to be her family.
I’ve really enjoyed the scenes where Alice/Beth and Kate have shared some more sisterly moments. While I don’t question Alice’s ruthlessness, I wonder if she would ever be able to hurt her sister.
Nothing is out of the realm of possibility for Alice, but what is Kate without Alice, and what is Alice without Kate? They’re not just a double edge of the same sword. They literally came from the same womb since they are twins. Is there any deeper, more personal, intimate genetic connection that you could have with another human being? No. That’s also what makes their relationship so interesting.
Was there a specific storyline or character reveal that surprised you this season?
Beth. No one told me I was going to play two characters. Another cast member told me, “You’re playing two characters.” We had done the photo shoot for the picture that was in Crisis on Infinite Earths so I knew that this Beth existed, but I didn’t think she was coming to our show. It was a huge surprise to me and probably one of the bigger challenges I’ve had. I’ve never played two characters in the same scene working off one another and I loved it. It was so much fun. Perhaps I’m glad I didn’t know about it because you don’t have a lot of time to be afraid of something when you [find out] you’re doing it tomorrow.
The season is ending a bit sooner than planned but I understand that some threads are tied up. What can you share about the finale?
Basically, Alice does two things: one that arguably changes her life forever and changes the game for her; and then another thing that is going to change everything for all the other characters. She ends one thing and starts another.
Images Courtesy of Showcase