In the “Public Enemy” episode of The CW series Arrow, an attack on the mayor’s office leaves Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) critically injured. As a result, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) is pleasantly surprised when her mother, Donna Smoak (Charlotte Ross), shows up at the hospital to offer her support.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Charlotte Ross talked about how humbled and grateful she is for the overwhelming fan response to her and her character, being both excited and nervous about joining the show, the natural chemistry between her and Emily Bett Rickards, what she loves and admires about her character, the fact that Donna has an opinion about whether Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) or Ray Palmer is a better choice for her daughter, and if she’s rooting for Donna to get some romance in her own life.
Collider: What’s it like to know that the fans of Arrow have so embraced you, as an actress, and your character so much that they’re campaigning pretty hard for you to be made a series regular on Season 4?
CHARLOTTE ROSS: I’m so humbled and I’m so grateful. I’ve been in this business for a long time now, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t take it for granted. To be honest, I think a lot has to do with the fact that I walked into the perfect storm. This show is so good, and it had its legs. Emily came on and started a small character that become so beloved that everybody wanted to know more about her and her background. So, before I even aired, they created #MamaSmoak. They were so loving and welcoming and I thought, “Oh, my god, Emily, what if I’m a killer? They don’t even know who I am. They have no idea!” We were giggling because the character is so fun, so not subtle, and such a fun dichotomy between her linear M.I.T. approach and me wanting her to find love. I’ve been on some shows, like Glee, where there’s been a lot of vocal Twitter, but I’ve never seen anything like this. This DC comic world is on a whole other level. I’m impressed by it, and I’m so grateful for it. The icing was that they were so welcoming of [my character], and I think a lot of that has to do with Emily and how they wrote the role. Every day, I’m blown away at the support and love that I get. I just want to say thank you so much to every single one of them, every day.
Because Felicity is such a beloved character, were you nervous when you started, as far as how people would receive you on the show?
ROSS: That’s a good question. I was really excited for the role, but I was nervous about playing her stereotypically. She was walking in a dress made for a two-year-old, and she’s very boisterous and very excited and jumping up and down, but on the same token, she’s very real and grounded and wants the best for her daughter. Because she’s a survivor and has had it rough, she’s got a real strong edge underneath it. They really wrote this multi-layered character and I thought, “I’m just not going to be afraid of what people think, and I’m not going to be afraid of going for it. As long as I’m truthful to who I think this woman is, I hope it works.” It was written so well, but sometimes when you do that, you can fail, miserably. So, I was nervous that maybe people wouldn’t like me, or they would think negatively, but the natural chemistry that Emily and I have, and how much fun we have working together, and how well our characters are written together, I think I lucked out. I really do. Honestly, this is one of the most fun roles I’ve ever had. I’ve had series leads, for so many years. With this, I’d only aired once [on Arrow], and the fans have been amazing. I’m lucky. I really am.
What brings Donna Smoak back into Felicity’s life, in this next episode, at a time when Felicity clearly could use some supposed from her mother?
ROSS: As you know, Donna doesn’t need to be invited. She’ll just come when she feels like it. So, it’s safe to say that she might be surprising her. As I’m in Vegas working the poker table, I’m watching the news, and there are a lot of things going on in Starling City. I just surprise her, all the time, so I come to town. Sometimes it’s hard to go for it when you’re falling in love. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees, and it can be a very scary thing. As her mom, I want to sit her down and say, “I want you to look me in the eye, and I want you to get real with me, not be confused, and tell me where your heart really lies. Wherever that is, you have to have no fear and go for it.” What’s interesting is that, the last time I was in town, she had nothing going on and I was dying for her to have things going on. Now, I pop into town and I’m just so excited that she’s got so much going on. But at the end of the day, I really want my daughter to find the love of her life, so I’m coming in and assessing the situation, and I have a strong opinion as to what she should do.
How would you describe Donna Smoak, as a mom now, compared to how she was when Felicity was growing up?
ROSS: That’s a good question. I am a single mom, in real life. I don’t want to start saying that I have a lot of parallels to Donna, at all, but there are a lot of things I love about her. But I am a single mom, so I certainly understand the whole through process. And I’m a single mom to one child, so I know what that world is like, wanting the best for your child and doing it relatively on your own. Donna had a hard time because her husband, it seems, left when Felicity was pretty young and they didn’t have a lot of money. As I said in the episode I was in, she worked 60-hour weeks, and I know a lot of single parents, men and women, that take two to three jobs to try to keep their head above water, put food on a table, and take care of their kid. I admire those people and respect those people, and that’s definitely what Donna had to do. That will make you grow up quick and get a strong work ethic. When those type of parents really put their child first, it says a lot about the character of that person, and I really believe that’s what Donna did. One of the reasons I love this character so much is because, at the end of the day, she’s imperfect, in many ways, but she just loves her daughter so much and wants the best for her. That’s really admirable.
What does Donna think of these two men in Felicity’s love, between Oliver Queen and Ray Palmer? Does she have an opinion about who the best match for her daughter is?
ROSS: As a matter of fact, she does! You can sit across from somebody and they can say, “I want A,” and you can look in their eyes and go, “I know you want B.” I can’t say what I end up saying, but it’s not about what Donna wants, at the end of the day. I really am trying to asses where I think, instinctually, she’s leaning towards and what she’s feeling. Even if she doesn’t say a word, it’s in her eyes. Sometimes you can’t hide that. And sometimes you can’t hide it from your mom, and certainly from a mom like Donna, who doesn’t keep her opinions to herself. So, from Felicity having no men in her life, to having such serious, real options in her life, I think Donna is delighted, on that note. But then, it’s about getting real. It’s interesting because I’m really close to Emily, in general. When we’re on set, I want to know what’s going on with her and her love life, and I give her advice and we laugh. And then, we go to set and I do the same thing as Donna.
People are rooting for Donna to get some romance of her own. The fans want to see her get together with Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), and John Barrowman has thrown Malcolm Merlyn’s hat into the ring. Would you like to see her find some romance with one of these characters, or is she better off with someone totally unrelated to Team Arrow?
ROSS: Oh, you’re so funny! Paul and I have giggled about it on set. We haven’t had a scene together, so it’s extraordinary that the fans have picked up this whole Smoak and Lance thing. Of course, we did that selfie that went crazy. I really am intrigued by it because, separate from the fact that he’s drop-dead gorgeous, he’s got a lot on his plate. He’s admitted that he hasn’t had sex in years, and he is looking for love. He seems quite serious. Of course, I’m not subtle. I think our different approaches to life and our different energies might be really fun to play. It’s the fans that have made me really think about it. Paul and I giggle when we think about it. Do I know for a fact that it’s happening? No. But Marc [Guggenheim], Andrew [Kreisberg], Greg [Berlanti] and the network certainly look at what the fans say and think and want a lot. Their opinion really matters. I think that it’s definitely something that everyone is thinking about and discussing.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.