Emily Bett Rickards was only supposed to appear on The CW’s DC Entertainment drama “Arrow” for a quick scene. Now, her portrayal of Felicity Smoak has resulted in a truly fan-favorite character original to the series.
Originally planned as a one-off computer hacker character in the superhero show’s first season, Rickards’ flighty, funny take on Smoak caught the interest of both producers and viewers as she went from recurring player to regular cast member by aiding Oliver Queen’s vigilante in his fight for Starling City with equal parts skills and snark. Often the moral compass of the trio at the show’s core, Felicity has an even greater role as Season 2 has gotten underway, as she now divides her screen time between aiding the Arrow in the field and acting as Queen’s personal assistant in his attempt to put his company back together.
CBR News spoke with Rickards about her improbable journey from one-shot gig to fan favorite character. The actress discussed the experience of her promotion from the inside, dished on the ways she and Felicity are the same and shared a tease of how she’ll bring elements from Black Canary to the League of Assassins together in “Crucible,” tonight’s new episode.
CBR News: Emily, there’s a lot happening so far in the second season of “Arrow,” but let’s start by looking back. It was about this time last season that the character of Felicity was introduced into the show, and I’ve heard the producers talk about how they fell in love with your performance which led to you becoming a series regular. What was that growth like from your point of view?
Emily Bett Rickards: Looking back on it, it was just a whirlwind at first, and it’s still a dream come true. It was episode three of Season 1 where I went and auditioned for the part. It was a “possibly recurring” role, but possible doesn’t end up happening a whole lot — or ever. [Laughs] So when I got a recurring role, I was really excited and just crying and happy. I got to keep coming back, and I cannot express to you how much I’ve been able to learn working on the show and growing with Felicity. I’ve never been able to grow with a character for this long — across two seasons!
What’s been so fun for me is that I never expected it. The word “regular” wasn’t even in my vocabulary, so recurring more than two times was wild enough. I got to grow with the audience, so every time I stepped back on the set, I was stepping back on, not knowing what was coming next. It was really fun when I finally got to go the table read in episode eight of Season 1. It really has just been like a dream.
What’s Season 2 been like, knowing how things were going to go as a fully-fledged cast member? Did it change how you approached the character?
Yeah, I think it changed. I am doing all I can with the new material. I’m learning all I can with this team, and I’m getting to know Felicity and talk to the writers a bit more. Knowing her well and seeing how she reacts in certain situations is really interesting. There are times in this season when I look at the scripts and go, “That’s exactly what she would say.” The writers are so brilliant, and they’re so fast. We’re very lucky that we get scripts two or three days before we have to start rehearsing. I read scenes at the table reads where everyone can read as their characters, and it’s just really interesting to see how things get put on paper and how characters interact with each other.
Felicity has two core components to her personality. She is very bubbly and gets to deliver all sorts of wry one-liners, but she also is the hacker super-genius of the Arrow crew. Do either of these map to your personality? Are you secretly terrible with computers in real life?
Well, I’m not terrible. [Laughs] I did grow up when computers were being used in school — even though in elementary school they were fairly new — so I’m not like my mom. But I’m also not fantastic with them. I definitely can’t break into traffic lights and hack into systems. I’ve got Apple TV, but I can’t figure out iCloud.
Felicity is really focused, and I think that focus can be overpowering. The whole bubbly/awkward thing is a product of the focus. I don’t think they’re parts on their own. She’s so dialed into what she’s doing that when she has to speak, she’s not thinking clearly about what’s coming out. Like when she says, “It feels good having you inside me,” she realizes immediately what she just did and gets back to the task at hand. I really don’t filter what I say. I don’t like the term “no filter,” but I sometimes speak without thinking. My grandma always used to say that to me as a kid. “Think before you speak!” I have a lot of friends I hang out with as a big group, and that’s become one big joke. I relate to Felicity in that.
It seems like you’re doing more and more stunt work this year. How has that been for you? Do you have any experience with that kind of thing?
It’s cool. A lot of my stunt work is, honestly, like falling onto pads that look like concrete. I sometimes wish the audience could see how we do the stunts, because our stunt doubles are so amazing, it’s unreal. I’ve done a lot of sports and grew up doing gymnastics and every sport imaginable, really, so I’m pretty confident in my body, and it’s not that big of a deal. Knowing how to fall on your neck without hurting it when you’re only falling two feet isn’t that intense. [Laughs]
I’ve had some bruises, though. I’m really proud of what I get to do and happy that I’m acting, so when I have a pain in my neck the next day that no one can tell but me, I just walk around going, “Yeah, I was up until four in the morning last night doing stunts. No big deal.” It’s all new stuff to do, and I’m having a lot of fun with it.
In terms of the story coming up, there are a ton of threads from the comics working through this season: the League of Assassins, Black Canary, Brother Blood and so on. I get the impression that in this week’s episode, those pieces start to come together a bit, and Felicity provides the glue for that.
I think there is a way that Felicity provides the info for Oliver to explain who these new characters all are. She does the research and breaks into files and computers to find out who everyone is that’s coming into Starling. With her being the glue, she pieces everything together and reiterates to Diggle and Oliver what she’s found. Sometimes she tells them all about how she found it, which they really don’t want to know as much as what she found out. [Laughs]
If there was one thing you really want for Felicity, be it a love interest, a chance to do a roundhouse kick or some other element you want to get in the ears of the writers to put into the show, what would that be?
I’ve made it really clear that I want to see something from Felicity that doesn’t have to do with either vigilante-ing or Queen Consolidated. I want her to have something independent of all that, because that takes up a lot of her life and she’s always preaching to Oliver and Diggle that you have to have more to your life. They’ve gone on dates, and we’ve gotten to meet their families. That’s the sort of thing I want to do. I really want to see more of who Felicity is, which could be anything from seeing her apartment to her going to a kickboxing class. It could be seeing her family or just her going out and getting a cat. We just need to see something we don’t know already about her.
“Arrow’s” latest episode debuts tonight at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific on The CW.