Barrowman, Garber, and Noble: Giants of Stage and Screen

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Photo by JBPHOTOGRAPHYLTD
Photo by JBPHOTOGRAPHYLTD

What do John Barrowman, Victor Garber, and John Noble have in common? Besides appearances in the Arrowverse—the shared fictional universe of Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow—wicked quick wit that makes for a fun panel, and good ole’ song and dance chops, they all were on hand Friday afternoon in Hyatt Centennial II-III for the “Arrowverse Cast: Heroes and Villains Summit.” Sadly, Brandon Routh, who has played Ray Palmer/Atom on all three shows, could not join.

Barrowman, a Dragon Con staple, turned up wearing shirt of himself wearing the infamous Tardis dress from Cons past. He was, as the shirt declared, fabulous, and gleeful in reliving his turn as the villain Malcolm Merlyn, and his early years on the stage. John Noble—known in the sci-fi world for many roles, including as Walter Bishop on Fringe—talked about appearing as himself in the Arrowverse as well as voicing Mallus. Victor Garber, a first-time Dragon Con guest known for Alias and as Dr. Martin Stein, primarily on Legends, never missed a beat in playing off Barrowman’s often flamboyant jibes.

“When would I ever, at this age and stage in life, get to do this?” Garber asked rhetorically when talking about why he jumped at the chance to play a superhero. He also talked about Alias and the bond he shared with Jennifer Garner, who said she couldn’t watch him walk. It cracked her up, so they often had to film him standing still. Alias, Garber said, was “unique and special” because it was about “a family that happened to be spies” and “it’s always about the relationships, the family dynamic.”

Noble had fun describing the improv he did when filming the Legends episode titled “Guest Starring John Noble,” which involved surprising the camera men with a chicken-head puppet reciting his lines, which did not make the final cut. Upon hearing about the “prank,” Barrowman—a known prankster—quipped, “I think we should work together. That’s the kind of sh!t I do.” Indeed, he then talked about pranking his cast mates, or rather catching people off guard by doing something wild on a final take.

When asked who in the Arrowverse they would love to come back as, Barrowman declared “Victor’s other half!” but played against Robbie Amell (who was Ronnie Raymond/Firestorm on The Flash).

“That’s very, very painful. Hurtful,” Garber chimed.

“Not if you cough,” Barrowman shot back.

“Is this what happens at Dragon Con?” Garber asked the audience, feigning shock as Barrowman led the audience in a collective shouting of the mantra “What happens at Dragon Con, stays at Dragon Con.”

On a more serious note, Barrowman said he would like to come back as Felicity, while Garber would return as his character. “I miss doing the show,” he said. “And I miss doing that character.” He admitted, however, that he can’t follow the plot and never knows where they are in the story or even, what set he was on during the crossover episode, or why he is in the story sometimes as the time travel aspect makes it hard to know whether he’s alive or dead. “It was hard to do, frankly,” he said of his character’s ultimate death. “Very, very emotional for me to leave the show.”

When asked about the reveal that Merlyn was Thea Queen’s father on Arrow, Barrowman described the moment his husband—Scott Gill—actually hatched the idea, instead of making him Oliver Queen’s father, which felt “very Darth Vader.” He would not, however, divulge the details of his photo op session attire, saying only that the look was created specifically for Dragon Con.

All three men talked about the benefits, and drawbacks, of working on episodic shows, including cycling through multiple, and sometimes “green,” directors who want to reinvent the wheel or don’t trust in the actors’ ability to live in the characters they’ve been embodying for years.

“And, thank God, many women are starting to direct,” John Noble added. “About time.”

John Barrowman, sheepishly, admitted, “I’ve bumped heads with directors before.”

“Here’s the thing,” Garber added, “Some directors are really good. Some aren’t.” And, he doesn’t have a problem correcting the bad ones, who are bound to listen to an actor of his gravitas and caliber, especially when he has the respect of the crew and cast behind him.

When asked about playing alternate, or multiple versions, of their characters. Noble said he loved it. “It’s challenging as hell,” but has great rewards.

Barrowman loved going through the different versions of Merlyn and talked about the variance in Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who to Torchwood. Garber joked that he’s “always the same” before getting serious. “The writing is the secret to anything.”

Noble continued on a serious note, saying that while he wasn’t initially a science fiction fan, the process, from Shakespeare to Sci-fi, is the same. Find the character, empathize—even with the ones you, on a personal level, find vile—and “play the hell out of it.”

All three men are also accomplished, and well-known, stage actors, which made it a no-brainer for Barrowman and Garber to participate in the musical episode of the Arrowverse. “If you don’t work me in,” Barrowman, who did theatre for 18 years (and describes himself as a mover, not a dancer) before TV, told the powers-that-be, “I’ll be upset. And you’d be stupid.” He also enjoyed ribbing actor Darren Criss for messing up the dance sequences.

During Barrowman’s performance in the play The Fix, directed by Sam Mendes and which netted him an Olivier Award nomination, he was told to “do something really outrageous,” which is a dangerous request when dealing with John Barrowman. He had learn while researching the role that heroin addicts sometimes shoot up in their crotch when they can’t find vein. So, that’s what he did, which Mendes loved. He was told not to do it next performance.

Garber, who appeared in the film version of Godspell and recently in Hello, Dolly! with Bernadette Peters on Broadway, said he’s always asked to sing, but that he needs a lot of rehearsal. The stage has brought him pure joy and also pure terror, which is what he felt when playing Macbeth, which he called “life changing” and thrilling.

The essence, Noble said, is the same—whether it’s TV or stage or film—for finding a character, but that he loves the speed of TV and that it was most challenging, as a father, to get into a vulnerable state to play a man in The Return of the King who was prepared to kill his sons.

Lucky for us, though, that Noble, Barrowman, and Garber can do it all: film, TV, and theatre. Drama, comedy, and action. It maximizes the chances, and times, we get to enjoy their many talents.

About the author

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occasional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except Game of Thrones because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled--such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.

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