As “Arrow” approaches its season finale, it’s clear Oliver Queen is going to need a lot of help. With Sebastian Blood in control of Starling City as its mayor, Slade Wilson overrunning the city with an army of Mirakuru-empowered Deathstroke soldiers, Thea Queen in grave danger and Team Arrow slimming down its membership by the minute, Oliver is in a desperate situation. Desperate enough that he’ll accept aid from just about anybody — including his Season One nemesis, Malcolm Merlyn.
Played by “Torchwood’s” John Barrowman, Merlyn was responsible for the giant earthquake that engulfed the Glades in “Arrow’s” first season finale, appearing only briefly in season two to reveal that his demise had been exaggerated — and that he’s the biological father of Thea Queen. Now, the stage is set for the character’s more substantial return — and with the recent death of Moira Queen at the hands of Deathstroke, Merlyn’s not too happy.
Barrowman spoke with CBR News about Malcom’s return to “Arrow,” his inevitable interaction with Thea Queen, his connection to the “Arrow”-verse’s League of Assassins and more.
CBR News: During his last “Arrow” appearance, Malcolm Merlyn dropped the bombshell that Thea is his daughter. In what ways did that revelation add another layer to the character for you?
John Barrowman: For me, Malcolm has known all along. It’s why he’s always wanted to have that connection with the Queen family. It’s why he’s always kept Moira, no matter if she was vicious or evil or bad to him, he’s always allowed her to do it and stood up to her. He’s liked the relationship they’ve had because of the past and him knowing that she’s the mother of his child. It added a whole new layer.
It makes him more protective of how he is going to treat and be with Thea, because of having lost Tommy. When Tommy died, Malcolm did not realize that Tommy was going to become a hero in a sense. The one thing Malcolm doesn’t have control over is people’s emotions; he thinks he can control them in other ways. What he’s going to do now — this is John, the actor, talking — I think he’s going to look at Thea, see her at her lowest and the point where she’s the most vulnerable. He’s going to try to get her emotionally, rather than just physically, and then save her and help her.
This isn’t your first shot at a larger-than-life character. What’s been fun about playing Malcolm this season?
What I love about Malcolm, and maybe this is a little ego rub for me, but I don’t care — I always speak honestly. I have somehow been given a gift by the writers of a character who is a bad guy, who I’ve been able to play in a way of putting in a little bit of personality into him, that people have attached to. And they like him. They don’t want to get rid of him. He’s a bigger-than-life bad guy character that I’ve never played before, and people have taken to him. They understand him and get him. In a very funny way, they forgive him for what he does.
Why has Malcolm returned to Starling City in tonight’s episode, “Streets of Fire?”
To save his daughter. That’s all I’ll say.
So, he’s not out for blood or revenge after Moira’s death?
He is devastated by Moira’s death. Moira basically saying to Malcolm, “I’m going to fucking get you!” He loved that. He adored that. She’s the bad woman he wants next to his side, for them to be the power bad couple. Malcolm is gutted by her loss, but you will not experience any of that emotional turmoil in these few episodes. It’s all focused on Thea.
It’s hard to imagine Thea and Malcolm simply hugging it out. How would you sum up their reunion?
Their reunion is going to be like any teenage daughter and father who haven’t seen each other for a very long time — and then multiply it by a thousand. It’s going to be the most heated reunion you’ve ever seen.
In the promo pics, Malcolm looks like he’s ready to go to war. What was it like, slipping back into the Dark Archer costume?
As the actor? That costume is the most claustrophobic ever. I am claustrophobic, so I’m like, “Jesus Christ! Could you guys make this anymore claustrophobic where I have to talk in this mask?” But as a look, it’s fricking awesome. It’s an amazing costume. What’s really amazing is seeing people at conventions! At Comic Con, they dress as the Dark Archer. It was thrilling. So the costume is visually stunning, but it’s a bitch to wear.
Sara Lance recruits Talia and the League of Assassins as reinforcements. Considering Malcolm pissed the League off, what does their presence mean to him?
It means he has to watch his back. He’s got to look over his shoulder. He has got to be prepared, so when he does come back… Do not doubt that Malcolm Merlyn has not been watching what is going on. You can’t come into a situation and not be prepared. He’s up for a fight.
There are a lot of skilled fighters on this series — Arrow, Black Canary, Deathstroke, Helena, Diggle and Nyssa, to name a few. Where does Malcolm rank among them?
I love that you are asking me this! [Laughs] He’s not superhuman. He’s just learned an awful lot along the way. He uses not only his physicality, but his brain. That’s what gives him the edge over the others. In Malcolm’s mind, the others fight with their physiques. Therefore, he’s able to do things that they are not. I would say, talking as Merlyn, that I am scores above the rest of them.
Many viewers are hoping for a Dark Archer/Deathstroke confrontation.
Well, from your mouth to whoever is the god of Starling City!
You’ve become part of the “Arrow” family at this point. Do you feel you’re done with the “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” universes?
I’m never going to say never. Who knew they were to bring “Doctor Who” back 10 years ago? We never know what’s going to happen. Liz Sladen, who we call the matriarch of our ship and who is no longer with us, once said to me, “John, I never knew when I was playing Sarah Jane 30 or 40 years ago that I would be back playing Sarah Jane again.” You never say never in the world of “Doctor Who.”
It’s not my decision. It’s Russell Davies’ decision. It’s the BBC’s decision. I know the BBC gets inundated by emails and requests to bring “Torchwood” or Captain Jack back. If I’m ever asked, I would do it at the drop of a hat. Captain Jack is a character who changed television history in the sense of the kind of hero he was. He also changed my life, and changed a lot other people’s lives, because he was the first openly sexual character on television, who fell in love with who he fell in love with.
Even now, a 7-year-old boy came up to me in Glasgow. He actually thought I was Captain Jack, but he thought Captain Jack was up in Scotland to film a game show. That, to me, is a thrill. The run has kind of calmed on Jack, but he’s still liked all over the world. And I love that.
Can you share anything more with us about Malcolm’s role in this season’s final arc?
Honestly, no. This is how I’ll describe it. Anybody who is a fan of the show — I’m over here in London, and I was just in Glasgow, Scotland yesterday. I have people coming up to me, who are big fans of “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood,” and are now fans of “Arrow.” They’re like, “Tell me what’s going to happen.” I’m like, “Guys, all I can tell you is that when you get to that final episode, you’re going to look at your television and go, ‘What??? Bring it back! Bring it back!'” Everything is going to be chucked up in the air. It’s like someone has taken a trampoline and bounced everybody off of it. You are not going to know what’s going to happen.