One of the things that sets the Arrowverse series Batwoman apart is its villain. Alice, played by Rachel Skarsten, has been fascinating and unpredictable since her introduction. Alice is as likely to kill someone as she is to save them, and as the long-lost twin sister of Batwoman’s alter-ego, Kate Kane, she’s been both an adversary and an ally to the superhero. Throughout the series, Skarsten has given a complex, nuanced performance, and as a result, Alice has quickly become a fan-favorite character.
With the season finale about to hit the small screen and Alice already confirmed to return for Season 2, Skarsten spoke to CBR about developing her unstable character, what we can expect from Alice next season, and whether she believes Alice can be redeemed.
CBR: How did you go about creating and building her character?
Rachel Skarsten: It’s funny because when I did the initial audition, I really had no idea who I was auditioning for. It was a different name. It was [an audition scene] that they just made up…. And they didn’t give me any context beyond she was to Batwoman what the Joker is to Batman. And so my first instinct was to not try to replicate anything that the brilliant actors who have played the Joker did. And I was just doing it with an actor friend of mine, and so we just kind of had fun, we did two takes [for an audition tape], we sent them off. And they liked it a lot.
And then I did work with [showrunner] Caroline [Dries] a bunch, and you know, we went larger and smaller. But one of the things I feel is Alice — I always feel characters find me, I don’t necessarily find them. And when I got the part, I was so excited and I was telling all of my friends and explaining Alice to them, and every one of them was like, “This part is perfect for you.” And I was so touched by that, but then at the same time I’m like, “She’s a psychopathic killer so that’s weird.”
But I think my main thing for Alice was that, to me, the craziest characters, or the craziest human beings, are the ones that have a facade of normalcy to them and can be very grounded and be perfectly, perfectly normal when you speak to them one minute, and then the next, they flip on you to a completely different tone, whether it be anger or sadness or happiness. And so you’re always just a little off-kilter. And the writers write that so beautifully to allow me to be able to do it. But that was, to me, sort of the crazy that I wanted to find in Alice, and hopefully, I’ve been able to do that.
Throughout the season, whether she wants to reconcile with them or she wants to kill them, Alice’s one consistent trait is this obsession with her family, especially with her twin sister, Kate. How do you keep that fresh and interesting?
I think the thing for Alice is it is always her central focus and obsession, but the overall goal changes. So, in the beginning, you know, she was obsessed with this idea of bringing Kate to be on-side with her and that they would be reunited… and they would run Gotham together. And she was obsessed with that. Well, then, of course, Kate leaves her in Arkham, and I felt at that point her obsession shifted, and she was still equally as obsessed with Kate but it became an obsession to destroy her. And so I haven’t felt that I’ve had to play the same tone in terms of how that obsession plays out for Alice, just the fact that it is, in fact, there.
You’ve also played Beth this season. What was it like to construct the good version of your character?
So, we get the scripts a few days before we start shooting and I typically try to read it the day before, because I like to stay focused on the script that we’re actually working on. And Cam[rus Johnson], who plays Luke [Fox], he reads them earlier. He called me and he was like, “They wrote Beth. It’s you, except a lot smarter because she’s an astrophysicist.” And I was like, “Thanks, dude.” But that was a real challenge for me and a real concern for me, because not only was I playing the two characters in the show, but I was actually going to have them be in a scene together. And to suspend reality enough for an audience when you’re acting against yourself, to make it believable that they are, in fact, two separate human beings, I’ve never done that before and I was very nervous about it.
So, obviously, my voice is pretty much my regular voice for Alice, so I knew I couldn’t rely on my voice to change it. The costumes were different, but that’s not enough. But one of the things in building out [Beth] that I worked on a lot was her physicality because I just feel so much of human interaction is nonverbal. And Lucille Ball is one of my all-time favorite actresses, I felt [she] did physicality so well, albeit in comedy, but it just adds, in my opinion, so many layers to a character. And so it was quite easy to have a very different physicality for Beth than for Alice, and I think it worked well, especially in that scene, differentiating them.
So, unfortunately, the season ended pretty unexpectedly. Were you disappointed to find out that you couldn’t play out the rest of the season as intended?
I think I sort of got the long end of the stick when it came to that because this [finale] episode has Alice up to so many interesting things. And even though it was not the intended cliffhanger of the season, this episode has hatched a fantastic cliffhanger at the end of it, so it almost lends itself quite nicely to being a season finale. And I was really excited to get to be a part of that.
There’s also another really big thing that happens to Alice, a really trajectory-altering decision that she makes aside from the cliffhanger. So, I mean, to be honest, it felt very much like a good candidate for a season finale for Alice. But, of course, I would have liked to see all the storylines finished in the way that Caroline had intended, because I’ve become quite a fan of Caroline’s imagination.
Can you tease anything we might be able to expect from Alice next season?
I can. …Obviously, we really delved into the backstory of what happened to Beth after the accident, and how she kind of went through her psychological break and when that break happens. So, she blowtorches the Queen of Hearts, and it stops there. But there’s still the whole backstory, which Caroline is going to delve into next season, for Alice with how did she actually become Alice, how did she become the leader of the Wonderland gang? It’s one thing to stand up to a grandma but it’s another thing to have the physical capabilities, the fighting capabilities that she does and all that.
And then also we teased it a little bit this season with Safiyah and Coryana, and we’re going to delve into that relationship for Alice. It’s really the only person, I think, that Alice is genuinely terrified of, so that’s going to be very interesting as well.
A lot of Arrowverse villains are around one season and then are done. Do you expect that you will be able to continue to appear on Batwoman long term?
…I think the best villains obviously have many layers to them and many possibilities, and Batwoman has done it so beautifully, I feel, for me. I’m really grateful. You know, my story doesn’t just revolve around promoting the hero’s story, it really is her own sort of story that’s being told as well. You never know as an actor how long that they’re going to keep you around. I do know that I’m going to be there for the second season, and how long they keep me after that is up to their discussion.
I don’t know. It’s hard to say because it’s also, in the comics, there’s different versions of [Alice]. In one version, I believe she dies, in another she becomes Red Alice and she sort of oscillates between being good and evil. And so it just really is how they choose. But to be honest, while I would love to stay on the show, I also am a big fan of playing a character that serves best the overall storyline. It’s one of the reasons I love The Walking Dead, for example, because they’re fearless and killing off people that their fans genuinely loved, and it raises the stakes of the show. And I felt we did that with Elizabeth [Anweis]’ character, Catherine Hamilton. And, it just makes every fight scene, every everything just this higher stakes game. So I’m open to whatever serves the show best…
Many fans still remember you as Dinah Lance on Birds of Prey. What has it meant to you to return to the DC Universe now in Batwoman?
It’s been a really lovely homecoming. You know, when I was on Birds of Prey, I wasn’t at all prepared for that experience. I just did acting for fun… and I was thrown into the very adult world. And I moved to Los Angeles from Toronto, I was away from my family, working long hours, and trying to do school and everything like that. And everyone was so lovely on that show, and I have some really great memories from that.
But when I left Birds of Prey, I wanted to go to university. And so I left, I went to school, and I remember so many people saying to me in the business, if you leave for four years and you don’t act anymore, if you want to come back, you’re never going to get to this point again. It’s going to be really hard to sort of get back to doing something like this.
And so it was sort of a personal victory, to come back to Warner Bros., to get to come back and work with the whole family at Warner Bros. and DC and have this sort of second chance to do it again. And it really is just a beautiful full-circle experience for me. And even more so because the head of Warner Bros., Peter Roth, is the same head of Warner Bros. that was there when I booked Birds of Prey. And it was so lovely to get to be back in that family because that’s really a really great family.
Many people were really excited to see Ashley Scott’s Huntress in this season’s Arrowverse crossover, “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Any chance that you know of that she or the other characters from Birds of Prey could guest on Batwoman, maybe as someone Alice knows?
I hope so. Ashley Scott, I will say she was like a big sister to me when I filmed Birds of Prey. I just feel compelled to tell everyone I speak to whoever brings up Ashley Scott what a sweetheart she is. I remember one instance where I liked this pair of pants which she was wearing — I mean, she was 25, I was 16, so she was the coolest thing that I’d ever met — and I came the next day and in my trailer were the same pair of pants in my size that she bought for me. That’s just the kind of person that she is.
So when she was going to come and be in “Crisis,” I really wanted her to be in Batwoman. She’s in Flash, but I did get the opportunity to hang out with her in Vancouver and it was like no time had passed at all, and it was so nice to be with her. So, yes, I am campaigning hard for her to come back. And Dina [Meyer] too, I love Dina as well.
Last question: In your opinion is Alice redeemable?
Yes, that is a good question. I don’t know. But the way that I have been playing her, so the way that I see her, is absolutely. Do I want her to be redeemed? No, because she’s so much more fun to play evil. But, of course. I think that’s what makes her so interesting. I think that’s what makes people root for her is that — of course, it’s taken to the extreme, the dark side of her — but we all have good and evil in us. And I think anytime we watch an evil character, and you see the possibility for redemption, you can relate to that and root for it because we root for that ourselves, you know? And so, 100% that is always how I see Alice and how I want to portray her.
Created by Caroline Dries and developed by Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, Batwoman stars Ruby Rose, Rachel Skarsten, Meagan Tandy, Camrus Johnson, Dougray Scott, Elizabeth Anweis and Nicole Kang. The series airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
In an exclusive interview, Batwoman's Rachel Skarsten talked to CBR about developing her character and what we can expect from Alice next season.