Rachel Skarsten – Reign
By: Michelle Rose Micor
Q) What initially drew you to the role of Elizabeth?
A) I mean, I think anyone would be crazy not to be drawn to the opportunity to play a character like Elizabeth. She’s this formidable powerhouse of her time that it would be like turning down playing Coco Chanel or Michelle Obama or something. She’s just so brilliant and it was also a really attractive option for me because I had just come off of a show, Lost Girl, where I played a valkeryie. It’s such a different vibe, she had this incredible humor to her and she was very clumsy and sort of brash. I was really concerned about jumping into something that was similar because I didn’t just want to play Tamsin again. So, getting the opportunity to play Queen Elizabeth, doing a period piece and having an accent – these are all things that are just so vastly different from Lost Girl and I love that.
Then I had the opportunity to talk to the creator and I actually watched all forty-three episodes of the show before the episode that I was on. [laughs] People would call me and I’d be like, “Can’t talk! Watching Reign, bye!” I actually shot myself in the foot doing this because then I became a fan of the show and I had to go work with these people and it was sort of embarrassing. I’m like, “Hey! I’m a big fan!”
Q) We know Queen Elizabeth is this big iconic role and she’s kind of been present during the first two seasons without actually seeing her. How did that play into your preparation for the role?
A) It’s funny because as I was watching the show, I sort of started to get a little bit nervous because they mention Elizabeth so many times. “Queen Elizabeth did this!” or “Elizabeth did that!” and I’d get nervous because they were talking about me. It was sort of like my dream come true because this is the first time I’ve ever played a real person that has existed. And as an English Literature major, I got to research and read on all this stuff and then I proudly waltzed into Laurie McCarthy’s office and said, “I read six books so far on Elizabeth, Elizabeth relationships and Mary!” and Laurie sort of smiled at me and said, “Well don’t get too attached to that.” [laughs]. So, that was sort of my preparation shot to hell in a hand basket ,but watching the show and getting the general vibe for it were all things that I did. Then, of course, I had to.
I hadn’t done an English accent before. I walked into the audition sort of winging it and I suppose it was good enough, but I did want to get it perfect. I went in and met with a lovely accent coach and she helped me to perfect it.
Q) Already knowing Elizabeth’s earlier experiences, especially with her family, how do you think that’s going to impact her way of ruling? She comes off so stoic and very aggressive, almost passive aggressive in a way.
A) Totally. The thing I like about Laurie and what the writers have done is that, first off we’re seeing Elizabeth very early on in her rule. So, she’s probably in her early 20’s. While she is definitely the Queen, obviously Mary (Adelaide Kane), Mary being married to the King of France and being a Catholic is very threatening to her rule. She’s struggling having all these men who are much older than her on her council, not taking her seriously as a leader. So, we get to see those struggles and her vulnerability in that. And, of course, we have sort of her famed love story with Robert Dudley, the whole were they or weren’t they.
We get to see Elizabeth as a young girl who is in love. Honestly now that I’m 30, I can safely say that when I was in my early 20’s, I was certifiably insane. It was this really difficult time of not being a child anymore but not yet fully being an adult. And so you have these moments of beautiful maturity and clarity and then you have contrasting moments that follow up those mature moments with being impetuous and wild and wanting freedom, but without having the responsibility that comes with that freedom. I think they perfectly show that and we have that dichotomy in Elizabeth and I love playing that.
Q) From all the previews we’ve seen so far Elizabeth just has this look about her, very dominant and stoic. Will we get to see a softer side to her down the road?
A) Oh, of course! I love playing the bad girl. I think those girls are so much more complex, interesting, juicy and fun. But those characters are only redeemable if you see their vulnerabilities as well. So, we will absolutely see her weaknesses and moments where she’s sad, lonely and sort of desperate. We didn’t see that in the trailer, but trust me when I say I’ve cried plenty thus far on this season [laughs].
Q) What can viewers expect between the Catherine and Elizabeth dynamic?
A) Oh man, Megan Follows, growing up in Canada she was obviously a very big deal and then watching her on the show before having met her – At the risk of losing some of my friends on Reign, she is definitely my favorite character. Getting to work with her was difficult to maintain focus because, as an actress, you’re sort of watching her and thinking, “Oh my goodness, she did that this way. That’s so cool I have to remember that!” and then you have to remind yourself to be present in the scene.
I love the dynamic between Elizabeth and Catherine because Elizabeth obviously grows up without a mother and Catherine is a sort of motherly figure, but Catherine also is a very dangerous adversary for Elizabeth. Especially the first episode, you meet Elizabeth and you sort of see how that relationship unfolds. I think it’s interesting for Catherine too because she’s never met another woman who really is on another playing field as her, if not has a one up on her, but is also just a girl. It was very fun to play that with Megan.
Q) Historically, we know that Elizabeth doesn’t die. How does that make you feel?
A) It’s kind of great as an actress because it’s like unless I totally tank this part, I’m not going to get killed off the show! [laughs]. Adelaide and I joke about it! I’m like, “It’s only a matter of time!” but it’s been a lot of fun so far and you never know what can happen!
Q) You’re right they’ve definitely thrown in a bit of the supernatural side so anything can really happen! I want to shift gears a bit to the Lost Girl because I know that last half of the final season aired earlier last month in Canada. I know that Tamsin’s character is so confident and has that naturalistic instinct to protect her friends, especially Bo. Were there any traits of Tamsin’s that you brought over to Elizabeth?
A) I think that every time an actress plays a character you bring parts of your own personality. You just sort of personify certain parts and exaggerate certain parts of your personality and maybe hide others. I think that’s part of what makes a portrayal real.
Even on set, on Reign, they’ll say to me, “Okay Rachel you can’t roll your eyes like that. Elizabeth would never do that.” [laughs] And even some of the previews that came out [for Reign] all over Twitter there were people saying, “Oh there’s that Tamsin glare!” I think that as different as they are as women, I find myself sort of attracted to these characters of women who are incredibly strong and powerful. I’ve been so lucky to get to play women like that. But, like us all, we have a fatal flaw that tends to be our Achilles heel and sort of our underbelly and so both of those characters had that. Ironically or maybe not, but love is sort of the one thing they’re searching for but also seems to have alluded them because of the positions they’re in.
Q) I can see that. Tamsin’s really had a great storyline and her character development the entire time that she’s been on the show has just been incredible. Tamsin just went from this kick ass, I don’t care about anyone attitude to being almost at the beck and call of Bo.
A) Yeah I know [laughs].
Q) What are your hopes for Tamsin as the show comes to a close?
A) I sat down with the amazing Michael Grassi, who is the head writer of the show and he sort of said to me, “What do you want for the last season? What do you want for Tamsin?” I think Tamsin has always been searching for love, family and acceptance, a place to call her own. I wanted to see her go after that completely and either at the end be completely ruined for it or to find that contentment that she’s been looking for. Somehow Michael ended up managing to give me both of those things in a firework display ending. I absolutely love how he ended the character of Tamsin. I thought it was so brilliant and did so much justice to that character. I think everyone is going to be very happy.
Q) I hope so! It literally broke my heart last season!
A) Yes, well there’s more heartbreak, but there’s also very good things. I just cried! I cry all the time now apparently.
Q) Oh I remember the first time Tamsin cried on Lost Girland I just remember thinking, “Crap…Something bad is about to happen.”
A) [laughs] Yeah, that means the world is ending!
Q) Are you Team Lauren or Team Tamsin?
A) Ultimately, I really like Lauren (Zoie Palmer) for Bo. t’s been sort of a long-standing romance and truthfully I don’t know that Bo (Anna Silk) loves Tamsin back in the way that Tamsin loves her. So as much as I am inclined to say Team Tamsin, I think I’ll have to go with Team Lauren. Or just Lauren and Tamsin, they’ve got a whole cop-doc thing going on, forget Bo!
Q) If you could describe the season opener of Reign in one word and the final season of Lost Girl in one word, what would it be?
A) I suppose just beginning and end. For me, Reign is a new beginning, a whole new character and a whole new adventure that I’m so excited to embark on. But at the same time I’m very sad about the ending of another character that I’ve inhabited for three years.
There’s a quote that I put up on Instagram that said, “And suddenly you know…It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings.” I love that quote. With Tamsin,, I’m very satisfied with the way that I left her and therefore can be excited with how I started Elizabeth.
Q) What have you taken away from your experience on Lost Girl?
A) Apart from just the real friendships with Anna [Silk], Zoie, Paul [Amos], Kris [Holden-Reid], Ksenia – all of them who I still text at least one of them everyday, we get together whenever we’re all in Toronto or Los Angeles. The thing I feel that I really, really took away from it were the incredible fans. I had no concept of what I was getting myself into and how loyal these fans would be. They will follow you anywhere and support anything that you do. My heart has literally burst open with people’s generosity to my brother’s charity and how they’ve donated and jumped on board.
It’s been this extremely humbling, beautiful honor to have such amazing fans. I mean the whole show of Lost Girl has been fueled by the fans. I think above and beyond anything that is what I took and still benefit from. I am very grateful.