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Performers Of The Month - April Winner: Outstanding Actress - Emily Bett Rickards
Characters sometimes don’t do what writers want them to do. There is an understanding amongst television writers that characters sometimes write themselves. It sounds absurd, but that’s exactly what happens. Occasionally it’s that when a writer starts to write they get inspired. Other times it’s because the performer hired brings out something in the character the writers didn’t originally anticipate. Suddenly the character is doing what it wants on its own terms and the writers are just along for the ride. It’s rare, but when it does happen it is because of the performer. This happens more often with recurring characters whose portrayer just clicks into the role and with the cast prompting the writers to build up the role. It’s exceptionally rare for a character that was only meant as a quick one off to get that sort of chance.
Arrow’s case, that’s exactly what happened. They hired Emily Bett Rickards to play Felicity Smoak in a single episode and she clicked with the part so well that the writers were inspired to keep writing for her. Likely before the writers even realized what was happening the character had made herself indispensable. Again, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen, not with a one-off, yet Rickards went in and gave the part everything. Through her hard work, Felicity suddenly became integral to the Arrow story. To have an actress be able to pull off such an insurmountable act as this speaks volumes of her talent. The character became an instant fan favorite because of Rickards incredible charisma and immense talent. All of this makes it not at all surprising that she is SpoilerTV’s April Performer of the Month as the Most Outstanding Actress primarily for the episode Dangerous Liaisons (5x19).
From Felicity’s first moments on the screen, it was obvious that there was something about this character. She was almost instantaneously more than just a background guest star. Emily Bett Rickards walked into that first scene and owned the character. While the writers wrote the words that made Felicity what she is today it was Rickards who gave them the reason to fight to make Felicity more. It’s quite impressive just how much Felicity has grown and changed since her early days. Every actor takes some level of responsibility for the character they portray, but Rickards takes it to a much higher level. Her dedication to this character and the show quite literally created Felicity. It’s because of all her hard work that Felicity would go from a Queen Industries computer tech to the master computer genius for Team Arrow. She would also go on to carry Felicity into a fan favorite relationship with Oliver (Stephen Amell).
In the world of sci-fi, action, fantasy and superhero shows it’s so easy for the significant other of a character to become nothing more than an accessory to that character. It’s sad, but it happens in a large number of genre shows. Felicity is not that, she is not defined just by her relationship with Oliver. It didn’t define her when the characters were a couple and it didn’t define her after they broke up. It was always simply just a part of Felicity’s story that she had been with Oliver. A large bit of responsibility for that falls to Rickards. From day one she has made sure that the bond between these characters was there. Even before Amell started playing towards it, she was playing the attraction. That allowed the writers to organically develop a relationship parallel to developing who Felicity was as a character before they united in a union. As a result, There are two separate lines that run through this character and because of Rickards acting prowess the writers can intertwine and separate those lines at will without losing the core of who Felicity is. It’s so easy to look at a character coupling and think that each character is nothing without the other. That’s just not true in all cases and in the case of the best-executed relationships it isn’t the truth. No person or character should ever be defined solely based on a relationship. The
Arrow writers along with the performers have a deep understanding of that. And, in terms of Felicity, all of the origins circle right back to the performer herself. Felicity exists, is who she is, and has the multifaceted personality that she does because of the exceptional performer that portrays her. Emily Bett Rickards is the X factor that made a seemingly impossible origin story for a character a reality. She changed the game, changed the framework of the show and made people sit up and take notice. Performers cast in recurring parts or as just a one-off should take note of her. Even if a part is a mere couple lines if a performer gives everything they have to those few lines then who knows what may happen.
Rickards knows her character so well that in addition to her complicated relationship with Oliver, she’s expertly guided Felicity as she’s tackled the tough topic of paralysis and navigated a dark, dangerous path that would carry her straight into the situation she had to confront in Dangerous Liaisons. She did all this in such a way that has kept the audience constantly engaged and invested in her character.
This episode was Felicity’s journey. Yes, Oliver had some terrific moments and Amell shined, but this episode belongs to Emily Bett Rickards. She carried it firmly on her shoulders and took viewers on one hell of a ride. Felicity has been a character prone to just being stuck with the typical series regular characters. She gets out and about, but most of her stuff is with familiar characters. This episode took her completely out of her normal environment and stuck her back into her hacking days. Prior flashbacks showed who Felicity once was when she was a young hacker, and here many of those same qualities returned. Perhaps for Felicity, it was just like riding a bike to work with an underground hacking group. What she has been doing for Team Arrow hasn’t been all that far removed from that. Except for the big difference here is that for Team Arrow she knows she’s working towards good while with Helix that was far less obvious. She was conflicted throughout, that part was always obvious, but she was committed to the cause of Helix as long as they helped her get what she wanted. Through all of this Rickards never missed a beat or failed to deliver an emotionally powerful performance. She was on point for every second of this Felicity-heavy episode. She’s always a reliable performer who excels at all she does, but this episode was a true tour de force for her and she did not disappoint.
Felicity was confronted with an incredibly tough situation. In order to help stop Chase aka Prometheus, she had to put everything on the line, her life, and her friendships as she fought to try and do what she felt was right for everyone. The ultimate irony of this story is that Felicity had ostracized Oliver for doing the very same thing. Without realizing it she was doing exactly what he had done for nearly the same reasons as he had done them. Rickards poured this intensity in her eyes throughout this episode that has rarely been seen from Felicity before. Throughout the episode, Rickards beautifully conveyed so much, but she used her eyes like a finely tuned weapon. From anger to fear to frustration, it was all in her eyes. The way she held her body and the way she spoke with such firm conviction sold every heart wrenching, heartbreaking, tense moment of the episode. Her acting choices showed that inside there was a swirling hurricane of pain and conflict. At times she seemed aware of the shady path she was walking down while others she completely ignored the obvious danger signs in front of her. In the end, it would work out for her, she would get the information she was after, but the cost was quite steep. She had to essentially betray the very people she was trying to protect in order to, ironically, protect them. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is, as it’s the same excuse Oliver has used time and time again.
This fact wasn’t lost on Oliver, he tried to reason with Felicity. These two characters had several interactions over comms, but only three face-to-face encounters. The first being at the penthouse, one being at the ARGUS black site, and the other the big epic ending, and each of those scenes perfectly played off of each other to show the overarching story of the episode. It was him trying to save her and her thinking she was saving him and everyone else. This episode relied heavily on the immense chemistry that Amell and Rickards have developed over their five years working together. They have an easy shorthand with each other that allows their scenes to always feel organic. Even when the characters aren’t in agreement, as in this episode, they still have a profound connection that comes almost entirely from the performers. These two created the relationship for their characters long before the writers started actually building it into the framework of the series. No matter what these characters go through and how separated they seem they will always come back together because they are forever bonded by their performers. That’s what makes scenes like were in this episode all the more poignant. The odds were exceptionally high that they would reunite sooner than later, but to get to that point they had to deal with a lot of issues that they’ve been just sweeping under the rug. This wasn’t the episode for that, the heart-to-hearts and emotional stuff would come in the following episode, but this one set up everything that was to come and laid the groundwork for all the big moments that would occur in May.
This episode tore the two characters in opposite directions and at one point had them literally standing on different sides of the fight, Oliver with his team and Felicity with Helix. Felicity heard what Oliver told her at the penthouse, but had to pick what she felt was the greater good over what he begged of her. In her mind, he wasn’t supporting her, and he would later basically confirm that. That led them to stand on opposite sides of a deadly laser defense, one that Felicity used against him, and they would come to end the episode desperately trying to understand why each did what they did. This was very much an episode about exploring where each character stands morally and if there is any path for them to get back on the same page following the same journey. This troubled dynamic gave Rickards so much to work off of. She got to show off Felicity’s brilliant strategic side as well as her emotionally driven side. Make no mistake, most of her actions in this episode were driven by emotion. It was the desire for vengeance and justice that sent her down the very same path that Oliver himself was desperately trying to escape.
While her scenes opposite Stephen Amell were poignant and important for what was to come, she brought just as much to her scenes without him. In this episode, Emily Bett Rickards shared the screen more with recurring guest star Kacey Rohl who played Alena than she did Amell or any of the other regular performers. It goes to show that two performers don’t have to work together for years to have a terrific rapport. Rickards forged a fun connection with Rohl that allowed their characters to have an interesting back and forth. Near the end of the episode where Alena is explaining that Helix is cutting Felicity off, it was clearly sad and disappointing for both characters. Felicity was angry, but more so at Oliver than Alena because it was Oliver’s intervention that caused her to lose her connection to Helix. There was a tightness in her jaw right after she realized she was being shut out because of Oliver that would then again appear in the final scene of the episode where she is laying into Oliver for not trusting her. It was an interesting carry through between the scenes and that little moment of frustration in the Alena scene was clearly for Oliver since in the rest of the scene Felicity seemed reserved and almost sad to be losing a friend and a group of fellow hackers that she related to. Rickards is an expert at this. Some performers plot out every small action while others let the flow of the moment guide their performance. Who knows where Rickards falls into that spectrum, but whatever her technique is it works. She has a flow and energy that is infectious and easily draws viewers in.
It’s not just her performing that keeps her audience engaged with her. Much like many other winners of this feature, she chooses to take time from her own day to interact with her fans. She engages with them on social media and partakes in various video chats and such. In this era of social media dominance, she has an immense understanding of what it takes to keep the audience interested. She also cares and gives back whenever she can. Performers like her, the ones that go above and beyond what they are contractually obligated to, are the ones that leave the biggest impact. They don’t stop caring about their work and their fans just because they aren’t on set filming. This level of care and compassion is what sets these elite performers in an exclusive club all their own.
Dangerous Liaisons was all about Felicity’s journey. She dominated the episode and did so much in it and throughout the month of April that it is impossible to discuss all of Emily Bett Rickards exceptional work in a single article. Take to the comments to discuss the immense number or noteworthy performances that couldn’t be covered here.
PLEASE READ: Please keep comments on topic and just discussing the performances of the winner.
Special thanks to Donna Cromeans, freelance editor/proofreader (@DJRiter on Twitter) for editing this article.
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