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Rachel Skarsten on Her Recent Royal Transformation

The actress takes on the role of Queen Elizabeth I on the CW’s Reign

When Reign returns to the CW on October 9th for its third season, the historical series—which centers on Mary, Queen of Scots’ time in France—will be adding a new queen to its mix. Fifty Shades of Grey alum Rachel Skarsten is joining the show as Queen Elizabeth I. Here, the Canadian former hockey champ—seriously, she was the goalie for the Leaside Wildcats—opens up about binge-watching, the art of pranking and how hockey helped her in Hollywood. 

So, you’re going to be Queen Elizabeth! How did that happen? 

The process of booking Reign took place during pilot season, I had two auditions on one day. Honestly, my main concern was not looking like a complete knob with my British accent, because I have never done one before. I left the building and didn’t really give it another thought other than just, Whew, I didn’t completely mess it up! And then, a little time passed and I got the phone call. 

How did you manage to learn the accent?

Actually, long before I ever auditioned for Reign, I had been completely enthralled and obsessed with Cate Blanchett’s performance as Elizabeth in both of those films that she did. When I first started filming, I would watch clips of her and would try to mimic her. For the actual audition, it was straight up YouTube. But now, Reign is lovely enough to have two dialect coaches. It also helps that 50 percent of the cast is actually British.

So, what intrigued you about the character?

Queen Elizabeth is such an iconic character. To have the real honor of playing someone who is just so complex and so brilliant and so well known has been such an exciting new challenge for me. It was kind of a homecoming for me too, since I had been on The CW with my first show ever when I was 16 years old.  

What type of research did you need to do to prepare for this kind of historical role? 

I immediately went to the bookstore and bought all these books on Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s relationship with Mary. I did sort of all my own research. And then, of course, they cast me and right away said could you come in and be the teaser for the last episode of our second season, which we are filming in two weeks. I thought, Oh my goodness! I need to watch all these episodes! There were 43 episodes. And I was like, OK, I’m just going to do this! My friends would literally call me and I would be like, ‘I can’t talk to you right now. I’m watching Reign.’

What is your favorite part about playing Queen Elizabeth so far? 

I love how they have written her because there is sort of this dichotomy of vulnerability and being quite ruthless, which is always very fun to play. Just superficially speaking, my absolute favorite part of this character is the transformation I get to make. I have this beautiful red wig. The costumes are so stunningly beautiful. The designer, Meredith, is just an absolute genius. I love how it’s sort of pulled from current runway and then mixed with vintage. Every time they call and say they need to bring me in for a fitting, it’s like Christmas. 

I heard about a certain prank war happening on set. Can you tell me more about it? 

I burnt myself on a hair curler in the makeup trailer by accident and it formed this scab. Toby Regbo, who plays Francis, was originally really grossed out by this scab. Growing up with a brother, if my brother was ever grossed out by something then I wanted to make him eat it. So, Rose Williams, who plays Princess Claude, and I decided to take photos of it and got them printed out in the production office. We lured him out of his trailer and just put photos of it all around his trailer. He was so mad at me, but it was totally worth having him not talk to me for an entire day. Toby would love to think that he could retaliate. But Rose and I are the supreme queens when it comes to pranking.  So, he knew better. 

Dance and hockey were a huge part of your life. Do you miss being a part of a team at all?

I always say hockey saved me, because [acting is a] business where the whole focus was on being skinny and not strong, and a business that sort of pitted woman against each other. Hockey is the opposite of that—you worked together and you all had your place on that team. In the right situation, you can have that in this job as well. I think this show is actually a pretty good example of that. It’s a little bit different; you don’t get to body check anyone into the boards in the show.