Photo: WB/CW Network.
Fans of the CW’s superhero drama Arrow know Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak, the nerdy IT wizard-turned-digital do-gooder who assists millionaire playboy/crime-fighting archer Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) with his extracurricular vigilantism. While her character's name might seemingly be pulled from a first draft of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Felicity has become a fan favorite since her debut early in the first season. And, frankly, she's the best reason to watch the show. (Aside from Amell’s shirtless domination of the salmon ladder.)
Arrow — which has given the network its biggest ratings boost since the debut of The Vampire Diaries in 2009 — returns tonight. If you haven’t seen it, know this: It’s basically the Christopher Nolan Batman series, writ small. Leading man Oliver Queen is the prodigal son of
Gotham Starling City. After being thought Lost in a tragic yachting accident (ahem), he returns to his hometown as a darkened Avenger Of The Night, complete with thematic costume (green hoodie plus quiver of trick arrows) and checklist of things to do, which mostly consists of crossing off people who've done him wrong. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the show is based on the DC comics character Green Arrow, who shot to fame in a series of influential comics that combined Dark Knight-style action with Robin Hood-flavored social justice.
For her part, Felicity Smoak was never part of that equation. But, when the creative, fan-pleasing minds behind Arrow took to mining DC comics lore to add additional layers and red herrings to the show’s mythology, the character — a footnote at best — became something else in the hands of actress Emily Bett Rickards. But, it wasn’t always meant to be, and Rickards wasn’t always destined for the screen. As her Twitter profile says, “I wanted to be an astronaut and then I got glasses.”
“There was a point in my life where I either wanted to be an astronaut, an actor, a veterinarian, or a pirate,” she says. “And, I thought 'pirate' was gonna happen for a really long time. I had the eyepatch, I had a fake parrot. I had, like, ships in bottles, and I would draw on maps and make my brother go find the treasure where the 'X' was." As far as being an astronaut with an eyepatch goes, "I just thought being in space would be really cool, but then you have to have 20/20 vision, which I don’t have, so there."
Instead, Rickard landed what was supposed to be a minor role on the CW series. “I think I was very lucky. Felicity came in at a point where the show needed that sort of light and that sort of chemistry, so I was lucky to be able to pick that up, fit that role, and fit with the show. As time goes on, I've heard many stories, but as far as I knew, I was being signed for two scenes — one day of acting. And, I was freaking out because it was so exciting.”
Those two scenes turned into a role as an unintended series regular. How it happened is a matter of geeky apocraphy, but as Rickard tells it, there were many factors at play: "Stephen was very complimentary on my first day working; he said he had a lot of fun when he talked to the producers and execs. And, then, when they showed the episode to journalists for the first look, everyone was sort of asking who Felicity was, and that sort of sparked some interest. I was just very lucky… and then there was this explosion of love and passion and relatability to her.”
Considering this is a TV show about a man who has spent the last five years learning how to survive as an archer on an island full of superpowered thugs, Felicity’s relatability is a crucial element. “There's nothing about Felicity that's very unrealistic,” says Rickard. “Stephen's character Oliver is very very strong. He's an elite athlete. And, she's very very smart, but I feel like that's something we can all relate to. She doesn't apologize for who she is. She's normal in that sense of the word. She's got an extreme IQ and she's a genius, but she's normal and she finds herself in these very high-stake situations. She's very vulnerable. She's just very relatable and honest.”
In the classic will-they-or-won’t–they fashion, her relationship with Amell’s heroic archer is the secret sauce to the show’s romantic tension, so much so that fans have portmanteaued their characters into "Olicity." Because the computer expert is tethered to the command center, whereas Amell’s Oliver is the man of action out on the town, tense scenes between the pair are slim and savored.
Rickard is grateful for the fan response to her obvious chemistry with Amell, even if things don't ultimately pan out for the fictional couple. "Any sort of dedicated response is a positive one in my personal opinion. The dedication sort of feeds this creative tsunami. I don't know, like, how it will work. We always sort of want our tortured love, and we also want our 'fixed' love at the same time, but once we get one, we want the other,” she says, laughing. “So, when it comes to the story, I don't know if it would work. Like, Oliver's very guarded, and is Felicity going to get hurt because of Oliver's personality? Or, is Oliver going to end up hurting himself more because he continually is?”
Photo: WB/CW Network.
It is these types of questions that send people to slash fanfic. But, that’s not Rickards' thing. Though she’s got a shelf full of comics, she’s more into YA. “I didn't know much about comics growing up. I really liked Superman but I wouldn't be able to like fangirl-out about it as hard as anyone I knew,” she says. "I read all the Harry Potters and like all the Eragons and went through all the Hunger Games.”
When I ask her what her strategy would be to survive in a post-apocalyptic scenario or, like the Arrow himself, on a dangerous deserted island, she asks if she can bring her dog.
She's quick with her response when I ask what super power she would like: “Shape-shifting. I could fly. I could become a lamp. I would not have to live on oxygen. I could go underwater and become a different animal or something. I would just find it very useful. I could do a heist or something. I could be in Ocean's 11 and be anyone I wanted.”
Of course, Rickards doesn't want to play tech-support sidekick forever. “I really want to do a comedy this year. Or, play a drug addict. One of the two. I know they're different, but comedy especially,” she says, “I went through this phase in 2008-10, when I was in class all the time, and we had to pick our own scenes. I would always pick Basketball Diaries and those sort of things. I had so much fun discovering these characters, and how their story arcs would go, and I've always wanted to do that. So, whatever I play next, the character just has to be really interesting. Like Orphan Black, Tatiana [Maslany] gets to play everything on that show, and if you're ever offered something gold like that you never turn that down.”
But, what if she could be any other character on the show? "I would be Roy Harper because the suit is amazing, " she says. "And, I'd get to kick some butt.”
That said, Rickards doesn’t have a lot of regrets about being one of the only people on the show without a superhero costume, but who shows up in a secret headquarters dressed to the nines anyway. “Every so often I'll get a shirt I've worn before or something like that. I have a favorite pair of shoes because some of them are really painful. So, if I get to wear the ones that aren't as painful, I like those (laughs). I'd be happy to have her in workout gear all the time. I've worn workout gear twice. That's all I wear [in real life].”
When I remark that her workplace — a superhero's secret HQ — doesn’t seem to require a solid shoe game or dress code, she agrees: “You would think she would have slippers kicking around. It's just her thing though. She feels really girly. And, you'll see in her flashback episode like, why she's kind of this person now. We did [her origin story]; it was amazing — it's episode five [of this season]. I hope you guys like it; I had a blast. You see her in her college years. We meet [her mom] in that episode: Charlotte Ross, such a dreamboat.”
As far as her character’s future goes (no spoilers), there’s more to come: “I am working more. I'm a little tired, but I like being tired. I am single. I have a dog."
"I date," she says, adding, "I'm just so busy all the time.”