It takes guts to go up against a werewolf. And if that werewolf happens to be a cop who is not above showing a little fang to get his way? No small thing. Such was Rachel Skarsten’s introduction to the leather-panted, lust-fuelled, good versus evil world of Lost Girl, the fantasy series that has become a major hit for Showcase and, more recently, the U.S. network Syfy. Called in to audition for the part of Tamsin, a new feather-ruffling character in Season 3, the 27-year-old Toronto native had to spar – verbally, at least – with Kris Holden-Ried, who plays the aforementioned lycanthrope detective Dyson. (In Lost Girl, humans share space with an unholy host of mythical creatures, most of whom look a lot like regular people – though more stylishly dressed.)
Given the show’s reputation for fearless, butt-kicking female characters, Skarsten went all in. “I came right up to Kris’s face and he forgot his lines,” she says. “We had to stop.” She thought she’d blown her chance. Producer Jay Firestone knew she’d nailed it. It can be tough to join a popular show midstream, especially one as packed with sexy beasts as Lost Girl. But Skarsten rules the moment she appears onscreen. Tamsin is, like Dyson, a cop straddling both the human and monster worlds. Not much for manners, she doesn’t walk into a room; she strides – and always with a slight, menacing smirk, as if she’s just waiting for an excuse to rip out a throat or two.
It’s a commanding performance, and even more remarkable coming from an actor who wasn’t always so hot on showbiz. As a kid, Skarsten preferred music (the cello), ballet (she danced for years with the Royal Academy in England) and hockey (cue the butt-kicking attitude). The acting thing started after she sang on a televised tribute to her father – who died of cancer when she was nine – on the Christian talk show 100 Huntley Street.
An agent caught her performance and offered to represent her. That led, at 17, to a starring role on Birds of Prey, a sequel to the Batman saga featuring a group of young superheroes.
When that show was cancelled after one season, Skarsten returned to Canada and went to university, having decided that the life of an L.A. actor wasn’t for her – not yet, anyway. She gave it another shot after graduation, thinking it would be easy. It wasn’t. But having to struggle for parts forced Skarsten’s hand. She finally committed.
Since then, Skarsten has been very, very busy. In addition to Lost Girl, she is a regular on The L.A. Complex, a soapy Melrose Place-light about Canadian actors trying to make it in Hollywood, and has a small role on the new Beauty and the Beast reboot. She’s particularly grateful for the troublemaking Tamsin, who’s nothing like the arm-candy roles that are usually offered to pretty, young actresses. (Skarsten would know.) “It’s so rare to be able to play a character who is the captain of her own destiny,” Skarsten says. She doesn’t even mind the 4 a.m. calls to the set – she takes that old chestnut about doing what you love and loving what you do to heart. Managing to overwhelm a handsome werewolf in the process is just icing.
The new season of Lost Girl premieres January 6.
(Photo: Tim Leyes)