Rachel Skarsten had the ideal childhood being immersed in the multicultural city of northern Toronto. While her mother Mary Aileen grew up in India and her father Stan Skarsten was raised in Norway, she and her brother Jonathan are first-generation Canadian. She kick-started her artistic journey as a dancer at the Royal Academy of Dance for 12 years. She even delved into sports and excelled at competitive hockey. She then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting; she began landing roles on television and in film. When she turned 18, she decided to move back to Canada to finish high school and pursue an undergraduate degree in English literature and classical studies at Queen’s University. Although Skarsten felt it was detrimental to leave the entertainment industry for 4 years, she was able to figure out who she was and make mistakes while not being under the microscope of Hollywood. “A lot of the girls and guys I worked with weren’t given the opportunity to just be a child. I saw a lot of them struggle. Going to university was that safe space where I was surrounded by peers that were my own age and we were kind of all doing it together. I think I kind of came out of that with a much stronger resolve,” she says.
Life after college was a challenge for the aspiring actress. She moved back to Los Angeles and thought Hollywood would embrace her with open arms – but it was the exact opposite. “I must have really wanted to do this because I was literally living in my car at one point. I was babysitting like it was the career of the century, cleaning houses, and doing all this crazy stuff in service of this dream. It gave me ownership over that dream. I actually am so grateful for that,” the 34-year-old actress recalls.
Fast-forward to 2019, Skarsten is starring alongside Ruby Rose in the trailblazing CW series Batwoman, which has garnered a lot of attention for being the first live-action superhero series to have an LGBTQ lead. She is portraying the villainous Alice, and feels at home to be part of a show in the DC Universe. “I’ve definitely had to spend more time with Alice in preparation because she was all over the place. Within a full paragraph of dialogue, she’ll be quoting Alice in Wonderland, and then she will be throwing someone off a building. She’s crazy – but also with this undertone of real humanity,” she describes.
In addition, Skarsten is an avid animal lover. As a kid, her mother fostered dogs which inspired her as an adult to do the same. She has partnered with the Labelle Foundation which rescues abandoned, stray, and special-needs animals. “The first three dogs I adopted were senior citizens. When you adopt a senior dog, you know that you’re not going to have them for as long, but it’s sort of this responsibility that you take on to give them the very best, golden years possible,” she explains.
Along with her animal activism, Skarsten is a passionate environmentalist: She became an ambassador for SeaLegacy, whose mission is to create healthy and abundant oceans. It has been a dream come true for her to work alongside co-founder Paul Nicklen, and this opportunity also led her to a project with Lonely Whale. Both of these organizations try to make change happen with government and legislation. “I’ve been given this amazing platform to really get other people excited about things and using their voice to implement change. I think it’s also really wonderful on a micro level to teach change because sometimes, it can get discouraging when you’re doing it on such a large stage,” says Skarsten, who hopes to continue this work along with creating art and starting a company that will make vegan, plastic-free jackets.
Writer: Dylan Worcel
Photographer: Catherine Asanov (@catherineasanov)
Stylist: Neal St Onge
Hair: Anthony Holguin
Makeup: Amy Strozzi
Videographer: Mason Kim
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Diablo Restaurant + Cantina (@diablotacola - www.diablotacos.com) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)