Malcolm Merlyn is a master strategist, effortlessly moving people around like pawns on a chess board. However, in “Arrow’s” fourth season, the dark archer and current R’as al Ghul has been off his game. Merlyn’s emotions have clouded his judgment, leading to some unpredictable behavior, including disclosing to Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) that Oliver (Stephen Amell) has a son and then nearly allowing his daughter Thea (Willa Holland) to perish. Merlyn’s unpredictable actions of late have made him more dangerous than ever.
Barrowman recently spoke with CBR News about Malcolm Merlyn’s bad behavior, his current feelings toward Oliver and Thea, dealing with Damien Darhk and what upcoming development gives him a “geek boner.”
CBR News: Despite some questionable actions, you have always maintained that Malcolm Merlyn is “a misunderstood hero.” Why does he deserve that title instead of “villain?”
John Barrowman: Malcolm has everyone’s best intentions at heart, although he might not go about what he does in the proper way. I would also argue that statement because everything that Malcolm Merlyn has done, if you go back and look at it, Oliver Queen has done it, too. Oliver has manipulated people. He’s held people hostage. He’s either killed or injured people to facilitate his own agenda or to help others. That’s exactly what Malcolm Merlyn does. However, Malcolm doesn’t have the team of people around him to make him think that it’s okay. So, that’s why I call him a misunderstood hero.
Malcolm considered Oliver a son. In what ways was Oliver cutting off Malcolm’s hand a turning point for them?
Oliver had an option at that point to get rid of Malcolm. But, it shows you Oliver has a conscience. Malcolm was ready to sacrifice himself right there and then for his cause, which would be for his daughter, and also for Oliver because it would take pressure off of him. Oliver then decided, “No, I’m going to do something else that is going to debilitate him for a while.” This isn’t written or part of the lore. This is my own theory as a fan, but it shows that Oliver doesn’t always see Malcolm as a bad guy and wants him around. Oliver continues to go to Malcolm for bits of advice and he knows if he is stuck, Malcolm would turn around to help him and the team.
That’s one thing that I’ve tried to get across with looks or eyes — or little things that I say or do to people — is that Malcolm actually does care about the team. He would still kill one of them, which he said to Laurel [Katie Cassidy]. She said, “Thanks for saving my life,” and Malcolm said, “But, I would still kill you.” There’s that agreement amongst all of them, that they would still kill one another if they had to in order to suffice their own cause.
Malcolm recently delivered a severe scolding to Thea. She seems sick and tired of his lies. Malcolm appeared fed up with her attitude and being so ungrateful. What is their relationship moving forward?
We just filmed something that moves it forward. I have to say, there were two big scenes in that episode and one of them was Malcolm saying, “I love you. Stay with me.” Then, the next scene was the same thing once again. I actually called the writers’ room and said, “Guys, if we want to move it forward, Malcolm has already proven his love. He got rid of his hand for this. He’s now moving into the Damien Darhk realm. He’s proven that he’s moving on, so why can’t he turn around to Thea and say in TV terms, ‘Shut your fucking mouth. If it wasn’t for me, you’d be…'” They were like, “Great idea.”
Then they put it in, so that’s why that scene exists. I’m so pleased they did it because everybody loved it. Everyone was like, “It’s about time he told her off. She’s behaving like a little spoiled brat.” I didn’t write any of the dialogue — that credit all goes to the writers’ room — but they took the suggestion and did it. That’s one of the great things about working on the show. But, the relationship going forward is Malcolm still loves Thea. Of course he does, but he’s very POed at her. That’s all I can say.
Malcolm revealed to Damien Darhk that Oliver has a son. Does Malcolm consider Damien a kindred spirit or is he simply a means to hurt Oliver?
Malcolm can’t figure Damien out at the moment. Malcolm has said this before: What he doesn’t know he fears. That’s why there’s a little in trepidation there. I said this in Season Three, that everything was done by manipulation, and then Malcolm is going to change and do everything based on emotion. Well, Malcolm now is doing things based on emotion and it’s backfiring on him. He got angry, he got upset, and went to Darhk and said, “Oliver has a son.” If you look at the footage, as soon as he said it — because it was said in my eyes — I’m like, “Did I just do what I did? Shit.” He’s learning himself, but he’s baiting Damien a little bit to see where he will take things and how far he will go.
Now that Damien has been stripped of his powers, what possible use could he serve for Malcolm?
I can’t tell you anything about that because things are going to happen. That’s all I can say. Remember Malcolm took some powder? Malcolm has other little things in his stash, but that has nothing to do with Damien. Just know that Malcolm doesn’t have a hand — Malcolm can’t use his bow, so Malcolm has to use Damien as a bow. That’s the way I look at it.
In the teaser trailer, Malcolm stated, “I’m going ahead with genesis.” What can you say about what that declaration entails?
[Laughter] I can’t tell you anything. Nope, nothing at all because I will get in trouble. I’m laughing because I’m having a geek boner. What I’ll say is you can expect big things from the show.
One of the mysteries posed this season is which beloved “Arrow” character is dead and buried in that grave. Should viewers be wondering how Malcolm Merlyn factors into that, if at all?
I’m saying nothing. You are going to have to watch. We all didn’t know until recently. The storyline took us to a certain point and then all of a sudden, it was right in front of us on the page. We were all like, “Wow.”
Were you even close to guessing? The cast must have been going crazy wondering.
I was completely wrong. I had a theory and I was completely wrong. I thought it was something to do with a shift in time. This is my own personal theory as a fan because we didn’t know and we were talking amongst ourselves. I said, “Remember when I talk the Flash and Oliver into seeing Vandal Savage? The Flash had just come through a time jump? When he comes to the grave, it could be an alternate reality.” That was my theory. Completely wrong. So wrong. Here’s me treating it like it’s an episode from “Doctor Who.” Someone said to me, “Why would it be that?” “Listen, I have experience in time travel. I know we can do this.”
Malcolm Merlyn has a history with Vandal Savage. Would you be open to guest-starring on “Legends of Tomorrow?”
Of course I would. If I were asked to make a guest-appearance, I would love to be on “Legends.” Not only for the fact that there would be a fan explosion with myself and Arthur [Darvill] on the same show, but with the time travel and movement through time, to pick up with a Malcolm Merlyn that is different to the present version would be interesting. That is just me talking, but what if Malcolm figures out a way through time and lands in the world of “Legends” and he’s completely different from who he is, meaning he’s either loonier or he’s not the evil, sinister Malcolm. He’s the nuts, freaky Malcolm. That’s my fantasy, but who knows if it will happen.
On top of “Arrow,” you are always juggling multiple projects. What else do you have on your plate?
There’s something coming in the pipeline we’ve agreed on, but have to work out a deal. It’s going to be promoting the geek fandom and world out there. That’s all I can say. It’s with a production company and a lot of my ideas are behind it, too. I’ve been asked to do something back in the U.K., which I can’t talk about. My sister and I have been asked to write something. Those are just a few teasers. There’s still a lot to come. My sister and I are also releasing our next series of YA books, where our characters are now in their mid-to-late teens. I’ve also been pitching a couple of TV shows to different companies and networks. We’re waiting to see if they bite.
“Arrow” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.