Reign's new queen Rachel Skarsten
Move over Mary – there's a new queen in town.
Introduced at the end of the second season, Canadian actress Rachel Skarsten's Queen Elizabeth I will be a major factor in Reign this time around, actively plotting the Queen of Scots' (Adelaide Kane) demise.
Part Norwegian, the 30-year-old Skarsten was previously best known for her work on supernatural drama Lost Girl and a small role in this year's Fifty Shades of Grey as Christian Grey's assistant Andrea.
Fairfax caught up with her recently by phone.
What is it like joining an established series?
I'm no stranger to joining a show in the third season, I joined Lost Girl at the same stage and that was a wonderful experience. I had no idea what to expect though and I felt the pressure of the part, but Adelaide was so welcoming. It wasn't five minutes after it was announced that I got the part that I got a message from her welcoming me to the show. That was so cool and that really set the tone. They really are like a little family here. I say this completely genuinely. I feel truly blessed to have been welcomed into their little crew and it has been seamless.
This season of Reign will be 22 episodes long. How do you pace yourself to work on something for that long?
It is a little daunting. I'm figuring that out as I go along because I've never been part of a project that's been longer than 13 episodes. You can definitely throw yourself into 13 episodes and just kill yourself for five months. But when you're looking at 10 months, it's a very different situation. I think it's just about getting as much sleep as you can and enjoying each and every moment, because when you do something for so long there can be a monotony regardless of what and how exciting it is. I've been through periods where I haven't worked and would have paid someone to give me a job – I think that's really helped me feel very grateful to have a job, even when I have a call time of 3.30am. My Mom laughs when I text at 4am saying "I love my job".
What about the costumes? How have you coped wearing 16th century outfits in 21st century Canada?
Don't forget, I also wear I wig. I'm sure I'll be grateful in the wintertime, but there were times I was thinking my face was literally melting off of my body. I was so hot with the corset and the dress and the petticoat, with a jacket over the top. That is very challenging, but I grew up in Toronto so I'm no stranger to the severity of the change in the weather and it's just part of the job. We have an amazing crew and the make-up and wardrobe people are so supportive and helpful. They have little fans and are doing whatever they can to make you more comfortable.
With Queen Elizabeth being both an historical figure and someone portrayed on screen so many times, how did you find a unique take on the character?
For my original audition, I saw an incredible vulnerability about her and played up on that. I think that really resonated with the writers. She is so profoundly known for her incredible strength of character – she was like a force of nature and arguably one of the greatest leaders of all time. To deconstruct her and show her vulnerable side, that's what everyone identifies with and that's the language we all speak as humans in any situation in life. Even when you're doing incredibly things, you can feel scared, overwhelmed and humbled. I've enjoyed playing that part of her.
And have you found your double degree in English Literature and Classical Studies handy for the role?
I know getting a degree in those subjects might to some people seem pointless in this day and age, but I've found it invaluable. That wealth of characters you are introduced to – I did whole courses on Shakespeare and Restoration Literature so I've absolutely drawn on that. Having said that, I believe everyone has a job for a reason and I think I trust that the writers do their thing and do it well. That's their piece and mine is to take what they have written and bring it to life.
On that note, how far ahead do you get the scripts on Reign?
We discussed the arc of Elizabeth before the season started and I have a general idea of where she is going, but we don't get the scripts until the day before. It's a little bit nuts and it's been a bit of an adjustment for me because of having to learn the accent and digest all of that dialogue. Normally, learning lines is fairly easy for me, but when you add an accent onto that it adds a complexity that I had not anticipated. I remember Megan Follows (her fellow Canadian and Reign actress) said to me that it will get easier, "you will get into a rhythm and familiarity with the character". That has been true and that was really great advice. However, much to the chagrin of all of my agents, I never studied accent, had a coach or went to school. It's funny because I actually value being educated in everything I do and take pride in that. But I really like the sort of off the cuffness of acting. While I deeply admire actors who deeply prepare, it's just not something I do. It is now a tradition that I will look at the lines the morning of the edition – it lends a freshness to what I do. Everytime I try to really study, people see it as being contrived. For me then, this scenario is perfect. It's like the wild west of acting. Get the script, jump into it and do it. I really am sort of set on fire by that.
So how long are you planning on sticking around on Reign then?
I always joke with Adelaide that it's "only a matter of time deary and it will be off with your head". I'm in it for the long haul. I remember saying to the show's co-creator (Laurie McCarthy) that this is the one job where I know that if I get killed off I must have really messed something up because I'm supposed to be the last person standing.
Reign begins streaming on Neon from October 14.