'Arrow': Emily Bett Rickards on Reinventing Felicity, Toxic Affairs and Superhero Suitors

"She has lost a little bit of transparency doing what she's doing"
Cate Cameron/The CW

How did Felicity Smoak come to be?

Arrow dives into that question with "The Origin of Felicity Smoak," an episode that reveals a shade of the MIT genius previously unseen, one of a much darker variety. Long in the works, the episode digs into Felicity's recent past — five years to be exact — after a cyber attack decimates Starling City in the present day. The twist? The attack was caused by code written by a younger (and goth-embracing) Felicity Smoak. That won't be the only issue plaguing the techie: She'll be confronted with a surprise visit by her mother, who has a knack for ill-timed entrances.

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Emily Bett Rickards talks to The Hollywood Reporter about Wednesday's origin story, how Felicity's devastating relationship shaped her future outlook on romance and theorizes why the tech wiz is surrounded by suitors of the superhero kind.

This week's Arrow is a big one for you because Felicity's backstory and family history is finally explored to a significant degree — plus, she has a new look! How surprised were you by how Felicity was five years ago compared to how she carries herself in the present day?

She definitely looks completely different. She's younger, she was finding herself but she was on the track where we see her now because we do see her find her true self. We see her very close to finding that and I think that — although different, although younger, although not as burdened with the things of Starling City — she's still the Felicity we love and the one we look to in the time of need and to do the right thing. This is where she learns that those are her qualities that she does like to stick by.

Felicity looks extremely different with her dark makeup and hair. Did you view it as a chance to reinvent her?

I really appreciated it. I like transforming and diving into different looks. It's interesting being the same character in a certain sense, just being their younger self. It's one thing for a character to choose to dress up to act as something else because they become someone else, but this is still her so I still had to find a balance of who was she and why does she become who she is. And that's what we get to see. Playing with the physical transformation is always a treat. The wig was super hot and itchy and heavy, but I have a lot of appreciation for actors who do that on the reg. 

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Felicity's look is also very similar to The Sandman's iteration of Death in the comics. Any significance there?

Well, I think we're sort of just nodding [to that character]. I don't know how close we're going to get to completing that comic-book fetish and dream in this particular episode. (Laughs.) But maybe in times to come? I don't know the plan as far as that goes. My comic-book intellect is not as broad as I would like it to be. I know what I know, but there's just so much! It's scary! (Laughs.)

Post by Arrow.

How does Felicity's romance with Cooper Seldon (Nolan Funk) inform how she approaches relationships in the present day?

It was a beautiful love. There was a deep love there, but there was a monumental difference between the two of them that she realizes. And we get to see her realize [that]. You get [blindsided] by somebody you love when you see that difference right before your eyes, when you're sort of like, "Oh! I didn't know that was there. Do I accept this? Do I not?" We get to see their relationship end devastatingly. She puts a chip on her shoulder and cuts a line down the left side of her body and that line is going to be there, although maybe it is covered up by two people whose futures don't necessarily go away although it might help over time.

What is Felicity's dynamic with her mother Donna (Charlotte Ross)?

It's really fun because she's unlike anyone else we've had on the show as a character. She's very different from Felicity; they're on either side of the spectrum in this particular case. But their genetic quality of where they are understandably related is in their ability to accept people and find a nurturing love for people and the good intentions that are taught but aren't necessarily always innate Felicity realizes that she's learned from her mother in this episode. I think that that is very important.

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Anything you can reveal about why Donna comes to Starling City?

Her mother just really, really missed her daughter and she doesn't have the grace to call Felicity to let her know that she was coming. Or didn't have the technical knowledge to do so. So that is sort of what happens. Mom shows up on your doorstep like, "Hey girl!" And Felicity's like, "This isn't the best time … It's never a good time!"

You were on The Flash last week and from the way things were left between Barry and Felicity, the door is still open for them. It's become increasingly apparent that Felicity has many prospects in the romance department, from Barry and Oliver to even Ray Palmer. Why do you think that is?

I don't know what it is that makes her [like that]! At the same time though, she's just a beautiful person. She's very genuine and she has good morals and she's not afraid to speak her mind — well, she is afraid to speak her mind but she's going to do it anyway, which I find very intriguing. Even though it's hard for her, she's going to do it, and that's one of her best qualities. And that's what she teaches me. I don't know! I think her intellect, her ability to work closely with those people so she gets close to them and gets to know them. Through that, she realizes these are good guys and then they're like "You're really, really smart!" and she's like "Yeah!" (Laughs.)

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With Felicity working alongside Ray at Queen Consolidated, how does their working relationship evolve as the season progresses?

They end up working more together and they end up taking on other projects together. He's transparent as far as Felicity can tell. I think that that's something Oliver never had with her because of his scars and his masks and the burden he carries of being the hero. With Ray, Felicity is just looking for transparency, whether she consciously knows it or not. I think she has lost a little bit of transparency doing what she's doing and she appreciates the way he's able to keep things light. If we put it in TV terms, in season one Felicity was always able to keep things light, but you end up losing that sometimes. I think he's a reminder of "It's supposed to be fun." You're supposed to help people and save the city and yes there are darker times, but make sure that you can turn on a night light every once and a while. 

One nugget you can share in terms of the anticipated The Flash-Arrow crossover?

You get two superheroes [the Arrow and The Flash] in one episode who might not necessarily have the same preparation, background, morals, personality. There's going to be a lot of butting heads, but they're forced to work together, so we'll see that [take shape].

Arrow airs 8 p.m. Wednesdays on The CW.

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