Arrow Actress Emily Bett Rickards Pushes Boundaries in Art and Business
Emily shares about her recent play, love for the art of theatre and lessons learned throughout her time in television
It’s summer in Vancouver, BC, and Emily has just come off the heels of an intense theatre production schedule. The actress spent a mere two and a half weeks rehearsing and breathing life into a new character for performance on a local theatre stage. Despite her hectic schedule, Emily spoke with an air of calm and collectedness. And it’s no wonder. Since rising to international fame on the hit TV show Arrow, the 27 year-old Vancouver native has kept a pace that would be dizzying for most.
Best known for playing Felicity Smoak on Arrow, Emily has also appeared in successful spin-offs like The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. She’s garnered recognition for her work through a handful of awards and nominations, even appearing in the Oscar nominated feature film, Brooklyn. The actress seems unstoppable and certainly has more than one thing to brag about.
But in speaking to her, you’d never know it. Because beyond acknowledging the accolades and fandom surrounding her success, Emily is quick to express gratitude. Beneath her seemingly superhuman characteristics our conversation revealed a thoughtful and confident young artist with a passion for acting and fierce determination to define her own success.
Beginnings of a career in television
Emily started acting young, participating in both musical theatre and voice troupes growing up. Her propensity to stand out from the pack picked up in high school when she decided to graduate grade 12 a year early and enrol in acting classes in downtown Vancouver.
“My parents threw me into performance arts as a kid because I was reciting everything I ever heard,” she laughs. “I loved playing dress-up and never had the same answer about who I wanted to be when I grew up! I wanted to try on every hat and experience every story, which is still very much the same for me today. I find this is a common trait for a lot of actors. ”
Emily took the acting essentials program in Vancouver straight out of high school and trained for months with an acting coach to get things started. After auditioning for a few years and continuing acting classes, Emily landed her first few movie gigs. In 2012 Arrow hit, and things started to take off.
“I initially went in to the show as a guest star booked with only one episode, but ended up with a recurring role. The character became essential to the story as it evolved down the road and I’m really grateful I get to be a part of it for the past few years.”
Getting lead roles in TV and theatre
Becoming Felicity Smoak thrust Emily into the world of superheroes, super fans and a period of all-immersive acting through a deep connection to her character. “I am fortunate that Felicity’s character is so relatable and that there are pieces of her that I love. Even since my first episode I loved her honesty and artistic tendencies. She’s willing to help others if they are honest, models bravery and carries no spite or negativity. I find it really refreshing and I’m glad that people connect with her character.”
Emily has enjoyed a 6 year tenure on Arrow. Appearing to excited fans at ComicCon and being immortalized into an action figure are all just part of the job. But despite filling large shoes as a fan favourite both on or offscreen, she keeps her success in perspective as just one piece of her story as an actress.
“It’s a beautiful thing to live in the moment and enjoy it right now. I won’t get to live the experience again and I try to remind myself of that a lot. Everything will always pass with time,” she muses.
It’s taking this larger perspective that makes room for other passions and projects beyond Arrow. One of Emily’s most recent projects was starring in a play, Reborning, on stage at The Annex theatre in late July 2018. The play is a dark comedy and follows her character Kelly around a plot centred on the real-life phenomenon of reborn dolls: life-like infant dolls created for therapeutic reasons.
“I was really looking forward to the project, it’s been in the works for over a year. It’s a fairly short dark comedy about two people trying to figure out how to deal with grief, loss and where identity has gone. Sometimes as people we self-inflict ourselves to avoid change. That’s what my character is doing, but she’s quite funny and smart at the same time. I really feel for her because it’s so relatable.”
After spending so many years on set in front of film cameras Emily is excited to be jumping back into theatre. Between television and the live stage, Emily has a special love for the organic and unedited nature of theatre.
“I really love the medium and the full body aspect of exposing someone’s world. While I love film and TV, there’s something to be said about fully living a character on stage. A light might fall, and you have to just carry on with the story because you are living it out. No edits, no filters for what the audience sees. It’s wonderful to have the space to bring a character to life in the way you imagine and work through that at each show to uncover new realizations about the character and story.”
Crushing barriers and setting boundaries
Look at Emily’s career and it’s fair to say she’s learned a thing or two about what it takes to make it in the industry. And how to navigate stumbling blocks. When we talked about what elements make a successful actress, Emily had some pointed advice.
“Ask, where does my personal judgement and ego get involved with this character? Be honest with where you are in your day. If you wake up tired or sick, your character might be sick that day. You have to use your vessel for what it is. It’s really about learning to let go and bring your truth to the character for them to come through all the way.”
Emily also offered up a mantra that one of her acting coaches would recite, "every character wakes up just trying to have a good day. By starting with this mindset, you can better relate to the character and help create a space for them to emerge.”
When it comes to overcoming obstacles, Emily was open about her struggles, past and present. Apart from the obvious perks, a unique set of challenges go along with working in television. “After being in TV for so long, I’ve come to recognize how important it is to understand the business side in addition to honing your craft. TV is a big business. This is not a bad thing, but it is a bad thing if you don’t connect with the work you’re doing and the inspiration for your art gets lost. Without understanding the business side, you will most likely end up sacrificing your art. And when that happens, you’ll feel it. You’ll go home at the end of the day and not feel good about your work.”
Another key piece of advice? Learn to set boundaries early on. And stick to them.
“You have to know where your boundaries are. If you are not honest about those boundaries and let people move them once, they will be easier to move the next time. You can easily get further and further away from where you want to be.”
Actor or not, this is a golden rule to live by. Emily’s words on setting boundaries are astute and seem to pour out from a wealth of experience. “If you don’t stand up for your own art, it will be the first thing to go. No one else will look out for that except you. People can be afraid to be difficult because we want things to go smoothly. But being difficult and protecting your own art is not the same thing. That is probably one of the most important things I’ve learned, and am still learning.”
Beyond acting and west coast living
When Emily is not buzzing about between rehearsals, filming and travelling for work, she’s most likely hanging around in Vancouver or LA. When asked what she does to find inspiration or recharge, Emily’s response was like talking to an old friend.
“I love movies or other art that really moves the viewer to think or act differently. I loved watching Love, Simon, what a sweet movie! For a while I was diving into everything Carey Mulligan. And I’ve always liked raunchy comedies. The ones that push boundaries and make us look back on our choices to consider where we are as a society.”
Apart from that, Emily loves travel and adventure on foot or bike like a true west-coaster. “I have a dog and will work out a lot or get out to the mountains when I’m home in Vancouver. I love exploring and am also often planning my next trip. I really want to get to Japan. I’ve booked a ticket three times and have had to cancel each time. Hopefully this is my year!”
Emily will be returning on season 7 of Arrow, coming out in Fall 2018!