Although “Smallville” ended its 10-year on the CW last year, the network isn’t finished with television shows that focus on DC Comics heroes. “Arrow,” based on the story of DC’s Green Arrow, premieres October 10th on the CW. With a pilot directed by David Nutter and written by Marc Guggenheim, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, “Arrow” certainly has a lot to prove — but star Stephen Amell is confident in the pilot’s pedigree.
“I knew how versed our creative team was with the Green Arrow,” said Amell. “We have Andrew Kreisberg. We have Marc Guggenheim and Greg Berlanti. Most importantly for the pilot, we have David Nutter, who knows how to tell a story and who knows how to set up a series so that people want to see the second episode. That’s how I knew we did a good job because when we finished, the thing I wanted more than anything was to read the second script.”
Amell’s faith in the creative team is certainly justified. Both Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg have worked in comics before (Kreisberg actually wrote “Green Arrow/Black Canary” for more than a year) and have a number of television shows under their belts. According to Guggenheim, “Arrow” will be a superhero show that’s much more grounded in reality than previous installments like “Smallville.”
“Superpowers just don’t exist in our world,” Guggenheim explained. “It’s the world outside your window. Not just that, but the reaction that people have to him are as realistic as we can make them. For example, Green Arrow’s not going to run around calling himself the Green Arrow. He’s not going to say, ‘This is a job for Green Arrow’ because if you were a vigilante, you wouldn’t do that. It’ll be a while on the show before we settle on a consistent nickname. The cops have to name him something, the press name him something, but everyone will be using different names. They don’t all immediately go, ‘Oh, let’s all get together and agree he’s called Green Arrow.’ That’s not how it works. We’re throwing names out left and right. In episode three, I have a cop calling him ‘Hunger Games.'”
Nutter agreed about the realism of the world and noted that the world of “Arrow” is meant to parallel our own. “This is not an artificial world we’re living in. This is the real world today,” Nutter said. “In order to do that, whenever he puts on the hood and the cape, you have to be able to earn that. We all know shows that have gone and tried to do that in the last couple of years — comic book series that have tried to do that — and they’ve discounted the intelligence of the audience, saying ‘This is a comic book show, you’ll like it.’ We’re not depending on that as a device or having it as a weight around our neck.
“I think reality deals with good and bad. I also feel that what we didn’t want to do was the TV version of [the comic]. In the world today, the access is too great. Everyone’s seen just about everything,” Nutter continued. “I think you have to take the gloves off and tell the story as it should be told. I think that’s important, I think there are consequences to one’s actions.”
It follows, then, that Oliver Queen himself is also grounded in reality, and Guggenheim drew a comparison between Arrow and another caped vigilante. “I love the fact that like Batman, he’s a regular guy. He doesn’t have superpowers, he is a regular human being just like you and me — maybe with better abs,” he said. “I think that for me, it’s exciting to see a character who is that grounded but also a little dark. He’s a mystery. You always say part of the show is a crime show and crime shows have mysteries in them, but unlike ‘CSI’ where the mystery’s the case or who the killer is, [with ‘Arrow’] the mystery is Oliver Queen. You’ll hopefully tune in each week in part to see who this guy is and watch us peel the layers back on the character week-by-week. I think that’s part of the appeal, certainly part of the appeal for me as a writer writing that kind of character. It’s interesting to start with an enigma, then slowly over the season answer the question.”
This realism of character doesn’t leave much room for the more traditional elements of Green Arrow in the comic book world, such as his trademarked trick arrows — but Kreisberg asserts there’s a reason for it.
“There is a slight trick to one of the arrows you see in the pilot, but we’re trying to keep the show as realistic and as grounded as possible,” said Kreisberg. “You won’t be seeing any boxing glove arrow anytime soon. Since we’re seeing Oliver at the beginning of his career, a lot of that stuff will happen along the way. He’ll be devising arrows for specific things he needs. If he can reach into his quiver and pull out the exploding net arrow, it takes away some of that realism and we’re really coming at this from a grounded, realistic place. What’s funny about a lot of the trick arrows is that in the comics, they’re designed to be non-lethal and our character is lethal. He will take life if need be. His code of justice does not involve not taking a life — it’s making sure that justice is served. If that means killing, he’s willing and able to do that. Having arrows that emit stun gas doesn’t fit in with that darker version of Oliver Queen that we’re presenting.”
This darker version of Oliver Queen is someone Kreisberg hopes to paint as a multifaceted, darker version of his comic book counterpart. Like Guggenheim, he implied the real mystery will begin and end with Oliver’s character and a big part of that will be the audience questioning his actions as a vigilante.
“Oliver will sometimes question whether he’s doing the right thing. He spent five years on that island plotting his master plan to come back and rid Starling City of its criminal element, I think there’s a lot of things he wasn’t counting on — the emotional toll it was going to take on him, seeing his friends and family again; and actually going through with it,” said Kreisberg. “It’s very easy to be angry and cold and dark when you’re sitting in a cave or cell on an island in the South China Seas, but once you’re home again and you’re actually experiencing it, it takes on a very different bent. That’s part of the series, about Oliver feeling his way through what he’s doing, and everybody on the show — whether it’s Laurel, whether it’s Detective Lance, Oliver’s mother with her dark secrets — questioning whatever it is that they’re doing, if it’s right, if it’s just.”
Bringing Oliver to life is Amell, who Kreisberg and Nutter said did most of his own stunts.
“We’re lucky to have someone like Stephen who can really handle that stuff,” said Nutter. “We’re very fortunate.”
Kreisberg agreed, saying the show was “blessed beyond words” to have Amell onboard. “He’s game for anything. He would do every stunt — he’d be dead right now if we let him do half the things that he wanted to do,” said Kreisberg. “One of the things that makes the show so exciting is when you see Oliver [doing stunts], that’s Stephen. I think that helps ground you in a reality that makes it believable that you could do all of these things. As far as the Arrow is concerned, Stephen’s spent a lot of time getting proficient. I’ve seen him put an arrow in a target. He could probably do half this stuff.”
As for Amell himself, he’s staying grounded in the character and hopes the fans see the multifaceted side of his character and even go so far as to question Oliver’s actions as a vigilante.
“I would love it if there was a segment of the fan base that, when watching the show, thinks Oliver might not be the best guy, but what he’s doing is virtuous,” said Amell. “If we’re going to take a show and we’re going to ground it in reality, then it would be crazy and unrealistic to think that he could undertake such a big task and not leave collateral damage.”
Both Kreisberg and Guggenheim waxed eloquent about the merits of taking a superhero and putting it into a more realistic, darker setting, but it was Amell who revealed how much the writers enjoy the quieter moments of the series, identifying Kreisberg’s favorite scene from the pilot.
“You’d think, as a guy who wrote ‘Green Arrow,’ it’d be the first time he sees me in the suit or when I’m shooting arrows, training, becoming the superhero, but it was the family dinner scene,” Amell said. “It was the scene between Katie [Cassidy] and I where I have to make a decision on how close I can let her get to me. I think what you’re going to see in the show, you’re going to see real dynamics and real relationships that people can relate to. There are stakes because I don’t have superpowers. I think injuring someone, seeing them fail, is just as interesting as seeing them succeed. It can’t just be every week of ‘Save the Day.’ There has to be moments where it doesn’t work out for him. Otherwise, why do we care?”
Part of getting the audience to connect with Oliver will be his relationship with Dinah “Laurel” Lance, played by Katie Cassidy, who says her character has shouldered a great deal of responsibility.
“I think Laurel has had to deal with a lot in her life and dealing with Oliver disappearing, somebody else close to her disappearing, she’s sort of had to focus mainly on her work and her being a pro-bono lawyer, she obviously wants to help the underprivileged,” Cassidy said. “I almost feel like her relationship with her father, she has had to be there for him a lot growing up. I assume her mother was gone at an early age, so Laurel had to take on the role of her mother as a wife to her father. She’s had a lot to carry on her shoulders growing up and she’s still doing it. She wants to help everyone in any way that she can.”
Laurel’s relationship with Oliver is even more complicated, considering Cassidy’s statement that Laurel sees the best in everyone — including bad boy Oliver Queen.
“When he left, he was a bad boy, but I think she sees the potential in him and she loves him, she can’t help herself,” she said. “Although he’s continuously disappointed her and hurts her, she just keeps going back for more. It’s almost like a drug or something. You keep going back even though you’re going to get your heart broken.
“I think as the story goes on and as the show progresses, you’ll get a better sense and idea that there’s a lot of history between the two of them. Stephen and I sat down together when we first met and we developed a backstory for the two of them. You have to feel that and you have to feel a connection between these two… I think as long as we did the work that we’ve done, you really see that these two people really love each other. Oliver actually is a good person and a good guy. He’s protecting himself right now, coming back from the island and keeping people at arm’s length. I do think that through the relationship and through the show, you’ll get more information and see just how much of a history these two have.”
Although the history the two actors created between Laurel and Oliver was largely speculative according to Amell, he did mention some of the aspects of the relationship he and Cassidy came up with.
“It was always our thought that we had known each other for a really long time and before I go to the island, I’m a jerk. I’m immature, I’m selfish, I’m petulant — I’m a jerk. We discovered that she was probably always the person who called me on my you-know-what and said, ‘Hey, knock it off’ or ‘Really, Oliver? You should do this?’ She was always the person that grounded me. Again, I come back and I’m now the person theoretically that she always wanted me to be, but I can’t show her that yet.”
Although fans have to wait until fall to view the “Arrow” premiere, readers can get their hands on an “Arrow” 10-page preview comic via comiXology free of charge — and the story’s in canon. A physical copy was given out during CCI 2012, and exploring the show through other media is something the writers hoped they could do more of — maybe even in comic book form.
“We’ve absolutely talked about it at length with [DC Chief Creative Officer] Geoff Johns,” said Guggenheim. “Andrew and I are totally on board with that. The practical matter in television these days is that those things come possible with success. We would very much like to. I worked on a show called ‘Flash Forward’ and we made the decision early on that all the webisodes and all the meta-universe, everything would be canon. Andrew and I have sort of taken that same approach with ‘Arrow.’ Whatever we do to tie-in to the TV show, whatever we have the good fortune to do, will all be canon. We want to create a tapestry, but again, success makes these things possible.”
Kreisberg, a self-described huge genre fan, agreed that the success of the show would largely determine how much crossover potential “Arrow” has, whether it’s webisodes or comic books.
“We’ve spoken to DC Comics about, if the show does well, possibly doing a tie-in comic book a la ‘Smallville’ or whether they’re going to adjust the Green Arrow in the comic book to better reflect our version,” Kreisberg said. “We’re certainly open to doing webisodes if time, budget and money permits. We’re creating a character, but we’re also creating a world.”
Green Arrow is a big part of a larger universe, so it seems likely that other DC Universe characters will appear on the show, especially considering the reveal of a Deathstroke mask earlier this year — and they won’t all be villains that Oliver has to cross off his list.
“I think part of the evolution of the character we’re going to see on the series is somebody who is singleminded with the list, is someone who’s a vigilante and watch him transform from just being a vigilante to a hero,” said Kreisberg. “In a lot of ways, the list is very selfish and he’s going to discover that his actions are going to have consequences. Just by being this vigilante, he’s going to create more crime. There’s going to be an escalation. Things have happened in the five years since the list was created that have changed in the city, so he’s going to have to react to that. It won’t be every week, he crosses a name off the list. You’re going to see a lot of fun DC Universe characters appear in the show who aren’t necessarily on the list but are responding to his actions.”
“I just actually saw another costume that’s going to be on the show,” Amell teased, but refused to offer anything further. He did mention that sharp-eyed DC fans would be able to spot quite a few Easter Eggs in the pilot.
“By my count, there are either six or seven Easter Eggs in the pilot,” he said. “I haven’t seen anyone catch this one yet and it would have to be for real comic book enthusiasts, but we make a nod to Green Arrow’s debut in the comics.”
However, even with the nods to Oliver Queen’s comic book history, “Arrow” is most definitely its own take on the mythos and Kreisberg hopes fans will realize it’s possible to have more than one take on a character and still enjoy each version.
“One version doesn’t obviate another. You can love the Michael Keaton version [of Batman] and you can love the Adam West version and you can love the Christian Bale version, but they all have their place and they’re all fantastic,” he said. “In the same way there’s been a Green Arrow before on ‘Smallville’ and he’s existed on the ‘Justice League’ cartoon, we’re our own independent take on the character that’s different from what you’ve seen before.”
“Arrow” premieres October 10 on the CW.