When he was announced as a guest star on The CW’s hit superhero drama “Arrow,” John Barrowman’s role was known only as the “well-dressed man” of Starling City. But the inclusion of the fan favorite actor in any part was enough to pique the interest of viewers who followed Barrowman’s portrayal of Captain Jack Harkness on “Torchwood” and “Doctor Who.”
But even the most dedicated Barrowman fan already prepared to see the usually debonair on screen hero turned mystery bad guy was surprised when the actor’s full role was revealed in a recent “Arrow” episode. The actor is playing non other than Malcolm Merlyn -Â father to Colin Donnell’s Tommy Merlyn, best friend to series lead Oliver Queen. The revelation not only complicated the show’s narrative as the elder Merlyn cut his rich son off from his inheritance, but it also started fan theorizing on which of the father-son combo may turn into the Merlyn of DC Comics “Green Arrow” series which inspired the show. In the funnybooks, Merlyn is an black clad archer often viewed as Green Arrow’s arch enemy.
Tonight at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific, “Arrow’s” mid-season finale debuts on the network, and the episode titled “Year’s End” promises not only a turning point for many of the series long-simmering plot lines, it has also teased a debut for a dark archer to confront Arrow’s rein as Starling City’s vigilante. Could this archer be the fame Merlyn of the comics? And if so, which Merlyn family member will take up the hood?
To help search for some answers, CBR News spoke to Barrowman about his role on the series. Below, the actor explains how he was ready for the twist of his character from day one, why playing a villain is as much fun as Captain Jack at this point in his career, what impact his newfound role will have on the rest of the cast and wether or not he’ll stick around the rest of the season for a chance at DC Universe action figure glory.
CBR News: John, when you were announced as a cast member of “Arrow,” your character came with a certain amount of mysteriousness built in. Now we’ve seen him revealed as Tommy Merlyn’s father Malcolm, but when you came in, what was it like to play someone steeped in shadow? I feel like that must be different from someone like Captain Jack who was so strongly defined from moment one.
John Barrowman: Well, I have to be honest with you in that aspect that I knew what was going on before I came in. I had a conversation with Andrew [Kreisberg], the producers and the creative team prior to shooting. They called me to woo me! I was at my house in Palm Springs, and they said, “We’ve got this part” and explained the whole arc up to the part where I’d be revealed as Tommy’s father. With the passion they had in their voice, I felt like they were kind of apologizing to me that they were coming to me with such a small part. And I said to them, “It’s not the size of the part. It’s the ruckus that it causes.” And I said, “The passion you have in your voice and what you’re saying has totally enthralled me.” It reminded me of the days when I was asked to be in “Doctor Who” and thought I’d only be in a few episodes. I just love this genre. I’m a fan of this. I’m a fan of DC Comics and science fiction. It’s my world.
So to be asked to do this was glorious in the first place, but when I did come in, I knew where they were taking it. So it wasn’t difficult to play things that were one scene in the back of a limousine in an episode or one scene in Moira’s bedroom after she’d been injured. I knew where this was all going, so in the back of my head I was playing this kind of stuff. And I think it worked because it added to the gravitas of that reveal when you found out I was his father and why I was involved with this family in the first place. I’d love to say that it was difficult and hard and a challenge. It was a challenge to do little bits and bobs, but it wasn’t difficult because I already knew what would happen.
The reveal was a fun moment because you got to do it by fencing and pulling off your mask. Had you any experience fencing like that before?
Well, when I was in “Torchwood” and “Doctor Who” I did all of my own stunts except falling off of buildings. And I did all my own driving stuff. But it’s a bit different in the States because of all the union regulations and rules. So I would like to say…aw, now I’ve got to let my secret out of the bag! I didn’t do the fencing, but don’t tell anybody! [Laughs] I would love to have had the time to do it, but I had to finish that scene and catch a flight back to the UK to finish something over here. I was in and out, so to speak. But I’ve done most of my fight sequences from “Torchwood.” I love that kind of challenge, and I love to do it so long as it’s not rushed. So let’s hope some more opportunities will come in the future.
This week, the mid-season finale for “Arrow” is coming, and the tease The CW has put out for this episode shows a new archer in black. Anyone who reads the comics is going to associate that move with the Merlyn name. What can you say about Malcolm’s role moving forward and how he might impact this new costumed character?
Having had that confrontation with Tommy and telling him off because I think he’s a waste of time, I feel that Malcolm would actually have loved to have Oliver as a son. So you’ll get to see Tommy and Malcolm’s relationships develop further from that point. There’s something that comes in between Tommy and Malcolm. I won’t say what it is, but they try to smooth over the waters only to have something get in the way. The relationship that develops means that there’s going to be a jaw-dropping moment for one of the characters within this world. You’ll get to see me step out a bit more with some of the other members of the cast. And this build of where it’s going? Trust me, it’s worth it. [Laughs] I don’t want to spoil anything!
It seems like you’re having fun playing the villain in this. Is that something you wanted to do? Get away from being the square-jawed hero?
Well, I’d like to a square-jawed villain! [Laughter] The way I look at Malcolm Merlyn is that he is a hero to himself. He’s a hero who’s ruthless. He is trying to protect his company, his world, his investment. And how he goes about it is that he looks at Oliver and the Arrow as someone who’s being a bit ruthless himself -Â he’s snapping necks and shooting people. Why is that any different than what I do in the business world? So there is a bit of a rivalry going on there. But it is nice for me to play a bad guy, because, as you say, when I was younger I always played the ingenue or the romantic male lead, and then I played the troubled hero in “Torchwood.” But this is a thrill. I’m having a blast. And I’ve said to them, rather than always being a recurring role I would love this part to build and build until I become somebody who is a series regular. That’s my goal as John Barrowman, the person who’s business is being an actor and an entertainer.
I was going to ask, how long are you planning on sticking around as it stands?
I am signed for the rest of the series. That’s all I’ll say.
Overall, since you are a fan of the comics world and material, what are your hopes for Malcolm as a character long term? Are you looking to getting an action figure out there and some extended media opportunities?
Listen, one of the biggest thrills of my career was when I was asked to help design my action figure here in the UK. I have a 15 inch, a 12 inch and a six inch. Ideally, I prefer the 12 inch. [Laughs] I’m proud of all the stuff I do. As I said, I’m a fanboy for this world. I’ve got a “DC Encyclopedia” next to my bed along with a Marvel one. I’ve got sci-fi books and also all my action figures on my desk in my office. So yes, if this leads to “Well Dressed Man Malcolm Merlyn” action figures, bring it on! The little boy that I was when I was a kid played with all these action figures – the DC and Marvel characters. So for me to become one of them? Hallelujah!
“Arrow’s” mid-season finale premier’s tonight at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific on The CW.