Q&A With the Cast of Arrow

The “Arrow: Bullseye” panel in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom on Sunday at 1PM started with a high energy level. The audience applauded as the actors were introduced, but the last, John Barrowman, leaped onto the stage with his arms held out and his biceps flexed, drawing laughter and cheers. He joined fellow cast members Manu Bennett, Seth Gabel, Kelly Hu, and Janina Gavankar.

The moderator asked Barrowman how the show’s producers approached him for his role on the show. He explained that he was taking a break at home in Palm Springs when his agent called. Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti, who write for the series, were also on the phone. Kreisberg remembered Barrowman’s portrayal of Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who and said they wanted him for the role of Malcolm Merlyn on Arrow. The idea of playing a pivotal character but not being in every episode, and thus having time off, was very appealing.

The moderator noted that Gavankar, who plays Detective Hall, had played other police officers. With a wry smile, Gavankar said that a strong, ethnic female generally plays one of three types of roles: police officer, FBI agent, or lesbian.

“You forgot prostitute,” Hu interjected, pointing to herself.

Asked about the transition from being “half naked with the gladiators” to portraying the “less cardboard” Slade Wilson, Bennett said he didn’t know who the character was when he was first cast. He flew to Vancouver, Canada, for filming thinking he was portraying someone else. His agent phoned him while he was in line for a work visa at the airport and told him he was playing Slade Wilson. Bennett had never heard of the character, but the gate agent said, “Deathstroke? He’s the badass of the comics world.” That was the first Bennett heard of the character.

In Vancouver to film with lead actor Stephen Amell, Bennett was advised not to channel Crixus, his gladiator character from Spartacus. He replied, “I have clothes on, so the evolution has begun.”

Gavankar interjected that Amell, who cancelled his Dragon Con appearance at the last minute, had texted her that he was very sorry to miss the con and did only because something important had come up. Barrowman added that Amell was sincerely sorry not to be there, but he was filming.

The moderator described Gabel as having played two understated characters on Fringe, in contrast to his over-the-top Arrow character, Count Vertigo. Gabel joked that he’d gotten “all those repressed feelings” out. Having played a spoiled brat in Dirty Sexy Money, he said, taught him to take risks. He didn’t know the world of Arrow when he was cast but was told the count was a Joker type. When filming began, he tried several different readings. The final version, he thinks, is less intense but more sickening and bloodier. Gavankar suggested that the count has very high self-esteem, and Gabel concurred saying, “He loves himself.”

Invited to tell embarrassing stories about the absent Amell, Barrowman said his costar was not easy to embarrass. Barrowman added that he keeps the DC universe encyclopedia beside the bed while his new husband, Scott, has the Marvel encyclopedia on his nightstand. After looking up the world and his potential character, Barrowman joked, he agreed on condition he have a scene with Amell in which Amell was shirtless. The scene after Barrowman’s character unmasked Arrow featured Amell chained and shirtless. “That’s your gift,” the producer said.

Barrowman asked Bennett to help him reenact the scene. As Bennett stood with his wrists crossed above his head, someone in the audience called out, “I believe he was shirtless.” Bennett grinned and mimed taking off his shirt but didn’t follow through. Barrowman walked up to him and pretended to twist his nipples. As the audience groaned and laughed, Barrowman added that he’d taunted Amell, “Can’t get me!”

Gabel told his wife that being cast with Amell meant he needed a trainer. “I’ve never worked out so much,” he said.

The moderator interjected that Barrowman and his husband, Scott, had married two weeks earlier but had forgone a honeymoon in favor of hitting the convention circuit. On the moderator’s suggestion, the audience to shouted their congratulations to John and Scott.

Returning to the topic of Amell, Gavankar noted that he is very strong. During a recent love scene, he lifted her “like I was nothing, and I loved it.”

Barrowman said he and Amell talked about the responsibility of a lead to keep things moving and the energy and morale high. He described Amell as a “genuinely nice guy” who cares about everyone, from the people who sweep the set to the ones behind the camera to the ones in front of it.

The moderator opened the program to audience questions. One attendee asked Barrowman how much preparation he had done for the Dark Archer part of his role. Barrowman said he took archery in high school and was able to shoot across the street from the school but said he had a crash course in archery for his role. Paying tribute to the on-set archer, he added that she takes care of everyone.

Asked what he thought on first seeing Amell, Barrowman said his reaction matched Gabel’s in regards to needing a trainer. Even though he mostly wears suits, he wanted them to fit well and look good. He wryly noted that Amell is in his twenties while Barrowman is 46 and so has a “bit of a middle-age problem.” Having been a fit series lead when he was younger, he said he’d “been there, done that, and now it’s time to sit back, have the beer, and eat the food.”

One questioner wanted to know what the actors’ favorite roles had been. Hu said she loves action roles. Her favorite days involve no dialogue but she let her “beat up boys,” so she picked her role in X-2, Lady Deathstrike. Gabel cited one of his first big roles, Adrian on Nip/Tuck. The character slept with his mother and kissed boys and girls. Playing the role opened his eyes to the fact that he could take some risks.

Gavankar said playing Papi on The L Word, a “thuggish” character, taught her she had it within herself to play “this strange, swaggy person.” Barrowman said he enjoyed being a bad guy on Arrow but the role of Captain Jack Harkness changed his life, putting him on television worldwide. Smiling, Bennett chose Crixus.

An audience member noted that Ra’s al Ghul will appear on Arrow as a villain next season and asked whether al Ghul’s Lazarus pit, which can bring the dead back to life, will appear on the show. If so, he inquired, would Barrowman’s character return? Barrowman said there will be flashbacks with Merlyn but he doesn’t know whether the character will actually return.

Asked how playing so many dynamic female roles felt, Hu replied, “I think I owe you money right now.” She feels blessed to have played so many such characters, in person or as a voice actor. She also has worked on Phineas and Ferb and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

One attendee asked the actors to identify the favorite part of their jobs. Gabel named taking risks. Gavankar said she enjoyed working with such wildly talented people. Barrowman mentioned living his childhood dream and knowing “you guys” enjoyed it. Bennett seconded him, saying that the ability to connect with fans is the final part of the circle, and Hu added that the fans make it all worthwhile.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.