‘Batwoman’: Rachel Skarsten Shares Her Take on Alice’s Traumatic Backstory
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Batwoman Season 1 Episode 5, “Mine is a Long and Sad Tale.”]
For almost a month, Batwoman fans have been wondering what kept Rachel Skarsten‘s Beth Kane, aka villainous, scene-stealing Alice, so far away from Gotham for so long following the car crash that presumably killed her and her mother when she was a child.
Having revealed herself to now-grown sister Kate (Ruby Rose) and father Jacob (Dougray Scott)—while also launching a reign of terror on the town—there were still so many questions: What drove her so mad? Why the fury at her own surviving family members? And again, where the hell was she all of those years Kate and Jacob thought she was dead?
Well, tonight we got some answers and they were grim. Part sister/hostage road trip, part flashback, the episode entitled “Mine is a Long and Sad Tale” revealed that young Beth’s tragic past was hijacked by a demented father who found her after the crash and forced her into captivity to provide his disfigured son Mouse with a friend. Through a course of equally unpleasant circumstances, Beth and Mouse were reunited by the end of the hour and while that may be good news for the two old companions, we cannot see this ending well for Gotham.
Here, Skarsten gives some more insight into what is to come and how Beth’s horrifying childhood will factor into Alice’s master plan for Kate and company.
So we finally get the truth about where Beth’s has been since the crash and instead of it being like “Oh, she was in a coma,” this is a very upsetting backstory.
Rachel Skarsten: Yes. And I think it’s interesting because there’s a little bit of a backstory in the comics, but it doesn’t really delve into it. And I like that Caroline [Dries, showrunner] created this whole backstory for Alice and what came out of this incredible trauma, really. It gives this whole different motivation for Alice and why she’e evil now, which I love. I talk so much about Alice being, you know, this sort of redeemable, or possibly redeemable, bad guy, which I really like to play. Even as an audience member or viewer myself, I like that in my bad guys. So I was very happy about this.
It feels like the game plan is to eventually rehab her, or at least get her to be an antihero who fits in on the good-guy side. Because otherwise, you would have been caught by now. Kate and her dad have both had multiple chances to catch her. been in positions to bring her to justice.
Yes. Either that or I’m just that good! [Laughs] I think it is this real catch-22 for the other characters because you know, we’ve all been in maybe not such an extreme of a situation where a family member, a loved one, is doing something very bad and you know, what do you do? Do you out them? Do you try and help them? You know, it’s, it’s a very difficult situation.
Yeah. Having Alice/Beth be the sister and the daughter really amps up the whole dynamic. This is shattering the entire Kane family. It really is the weirdest family drama you could imagine.
Yeah, it is! And The CW does those very well. My favorite family dramas have always been from them. People ask me about this character, “Is she like the Joker, like Harley Quinn?” And there are inspirations from both characters obviously, but I think when you add in the familial dynamic, it sort of complicates things more and adds layers to the motivation behind why she’s so bad. And for me, that completely changes who this character is and makes her actually quite individual.
Did you work at all with Ava Sleeth, the girl who plays young Beth?
We have one scene together in an upcoming episode. But we didn’t really act together. [Laughs] Our Director of Photography is brilliant and he did this—this is kind of of like a spoiler—he did this lighting effect where the camera doesn’t stop rolling, but you see me and then the lighting changes, it fades from you seeing her as a child to the future/present with me. So we shot it together but we didn’t actually interact. And the audience will think that we weren’t there at the same time. But it was really lovely. And it’s such a small world. The actress who plays my younger self…our mothers have a mutual friend who is very [close] with both of them, but they don’t know each other. Yeah! It was after the pilot that her mother put two and two together. And really, I wanted to watch what she did and study some of her little mannerisms. I even said to her, “You’re not really playing me. I’m playing you in the future.” I needed to mimic what she did.
Yeah, I guess you are what she grows up to be.
Ruby and I, we’d be laughing because they’re putting us to shame, the girls who play us. They’re like 12 and they’re so lively and up for everything.
OK, so clearly this guy keeps her basically this pet for his son, which is really very unsettling. And I feel like Mouse is going to stick around for a little bit.
Yes. For some time and I’m very happy about because the actor who plays Mouse, Sam Littlefield, is great. And it’s interesting because for the most part, up until now, I’ve played against people who are not insane. Kate has her moments…[Laughs]
But this guy makes you look actually kind of sane.
Exactly. And he came in and just really created this character that’s equally as crazy and yet so entirely unique from Alice. It’s been really fun to play off of him and he plays a very integral part in Alice’s master plan for what she wants to accomplish.
What kind of trouble can these two get in together?
They’re going to get into a lot of trouble using one another’s skills towards their aim, without ruining too much. But I also really like the relationship because in sort of crafting Alice, I wanted there to be this child-like quality. To get quite personal, I lost my father when I was little and when you have that sort of deep loss as a child, there is a part of you that sort of stays in that moment, at that age. So I wanted to amplify that for Alice twentyfold because she obviously had even greater trauma and had this sort of psychological break. I think with Mouse, you see it the most. This kind of inner child of hers come out in the way in which Sam has also chosen to interact with me. It’s just very different than anything we’ve seen in Alice. She started as this great big, bad guy, and then with Mouse, you se that child-like vulnerable person inside. It’s just a relationship that we haven’t seen.
Does Alice ever start to have a positive effect on Kate? Because she needs to lighten up a little bit.
[Laughs] Yes. It’s funny because I think that’s when Ruby is at her strongest. I love when she gets to crack a smile or joke, you know? There’s even in the scene we were filming last night where Ruby was joking that there’s this protective sort of instinct to Kate. Now Alice will say things and be so ridiculous and Kate will be like [rolling her eyes]. And I do think that as the season progresses, there’s moments of it, although overall, she’s going to go through a lot of heartache with Alice.
Did you have to endure the “Crisis” crossover filming schedule?
I’m not in it but my likeness appears in a very interesting way and there will be something that has huge ramifications that involve my character.
Well, I’m super-excited where Alice is headed because I find her, very much like The Penguin on Gotham, to have this real level of just poignancy.
Thank you! I use the example of Walter White and Breaking Bad: He’s doing these horrific things and my friends would be rooting for him. I’m like, “Oh my God!” You know? And I think that makes Alice the most interesting. You’re not rooting for her because you like her, you’re rooting for her, as with all of humanity hopefully, because you want to see the good in someone and you want to believe that they can be better…because that means that you yourself can be better. So I love that you said that.
Batwoman, Sundays, 8/7c, The CW