As trailers and teasers hit the Internet, the buzz surrounding “Arrow” continues to grow, as fans are slowly brought deeper and deeper into the world of Oliver Queen. On Sunday morning at Fan Expo Canada, eager fans lined up for CTV Presents: “Arrow,” a presentation for the new show airing in October on CTV in Canada and The CW in the United States. Actors Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen), Katie Cassidy (Dinah “Laurel” Lance), Colin Donnell (Tommy Merlyn) and Willa Holland (Thea Queen) took to the stage for a question and answer period after a screening of the pilot episode, ultimately answering the most burning questions on the minds of those attending. During the course of the panel, it was announced DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns is writing an episode of the show and John Barrowman of “Torchwood” fame joining the show’s cast was discussed.
Convention center security was tight, as was crowd control, and both Fan Expo and Warner Brothers security warned audience members multiple times not to record anything during the screening. Even premium pass holders who had been lined up since their arrival earlier that day found themselves scrambling for seats once the hall opened.
While Amell’s on-screen costumed persona is never referred to as Green Arrow, the actor readily told the audience post-screening, “I can tell you this: Whether the color ‘green’ is directly referenced or not, the legacy of the character has been respected. But the color ‘green’ certainly is referenced a lot.”
The pilot opens as a bearded and disheveled Oliver Queen runs through a dense terrain, desperate to light his locator on fire by use of a flaming arrow. Throughout the episode, Queen’s background is explored through flashbacks, jumping back and forth between the young billionaire’s time on an island in the North China sea and his return home as the sole survivor of an accident that took the life of his father and a crew of men whose purpose remains a mystery.
Upon his arrival home, Queen is a changed man. Hardened by the island and events that occurred prior to being shipwrecked, he experiences difficulty reconnecting with his family. It’s not long before he sets up his own version of a Batcave inside a closed-down factory belonging to his father’s company, Queen Industries.
The show is designed for every episode to fill in some of the gaps in Queen’s life with flashbacks to the island where his personal change began. This inevitably brings up comparisons to “Lost,” which is referenced outright in the pilot. Amell said he wishes his island scenes were filmed on a tropical island like J.J. Abrams’ series. “It’s terrible,” Amell said of shooting his shipwrecked scenes. “It’s dirty. It’s cold. It’s always 50 degrees when we’re shooting regardless of the fact that it’s summer.
“The idea is … the moment we start the series is the moment after my climactic experience on the island,” Amell continued, discussing the show’s storytelling structure. “Until that moment, we go back to the island in a linear way. It doesn’t always relate to what’s happening to me in the present a la ‘Lost,’ but that will happen along the way.”
With plenty of reference to arrows, archery and Amell wielding his namesake weaponry within the pilot’s first few minutes, a close study of the sport was required, with instructor Patricia Gonzales tutoring the actor. “She made me watch a forty-five minute video on archery that’s done improperly in film and television and video before she even let me pick up the bow,” he said. “She immediately said that as enthusiastic as comic book fans were going to be, archery fans were going to be just as enthusiastic, so don’t have bad form.”
Amell said this is particularly important because, in order to prevent accidents from occurring during shoots, “when I grab and pull back, there’s nothing there. It’s all CGI, so the form has to be good.”
Audience members asked about the potential relationship between “Arrow” and “Smallville,” while some wondered if the show would have any connection to the short-lived “Birds of Prey” television series, citing Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance character.
“I don’t really have a problem with the comparisons to ‘Smallville,'” Amell said. “Any comparison would be welcome to a show that aired for ten seasons. But you guys saw the pilot. It’s different. It’s not that it’s better or worse — it’s just different.”
As the lead in “Arrow,” Amell said he’s really proud to have such an amazing cast around him. “My favorite scene was the dinner scene, actually,” Amell said, underscoring his point. “Dinner scenes take a long time to cover because you shoot the master scene and individual scenes later. To watch Colin and Willa and Katie do their thing and all their stuff before I did mine — I just looked around and I was really happy with the cast.”
Another aspect of the series Amell is enthusiastic about is the manner in which it embraces DC Comics lore and characters. “What I love is, already in the show we’ve referenced Speedy, we’ve reference Katie’s character, we have Deadshot coming in.”
“We have a lot of what we’re referring to as Easter eggs,” Cassidy agreed.
Deathstroke’s mask is prominently featured in the pilot, and Amell said fans should look forward to the Huntress making an appearance as well. “The only people who love comic books more than you guys are the guys who write this show. They love it.”
The show is action packed, with viewers seeing Arrow take down a few bad guys in the pilot. However, Amell lamented not being allowed to tackle more of his own stunts. “I always want to do the fighting, which I do most of, but there are some moves they won’t let me do,” Amell said, citing the series’ regular production schedule which means the show’s actors have less time for things like fight choreography.
“We had 17 days to shoot the pilot, but we only have 9 days to shoot each episode,” Amell said. “That has forced us to be a little bit more practical and a little bit more grounded, but I think that lends itself to the series.”
Willa Holland, who play’s Oliver’s younger sister — and possibly the eventual Speedy to her big brother’s Arrow — Thea Queen, said her the entire experience has been awesome. “I read the script and I was like, ‘Oh yeah! Let’s so do this,'” Holland said. “I normally do play kind of a rambunctious teenager, to say the least, but this one has another level.”
Colin Donnell, who plays Tommy Merlyn, Queen’s best friend turned worst enemy, said he was also blown away by the script when he first read it. “I saw Stephen was doing it and I was like, ‘Alright, that’s fun.’ Then I saw Steve’s abs and I was like, ‘That’s not fun,'” Donnell joked.
“It’s an awesome group of people, and we have so much fun and the characters are so much fun to play,” he continued. “Not having known much about the Green Arrow universe, just diving into it has been so much fun. It’s like opening up an entire world.”
Donnell said after reading “Green Arrow: Year One” and “Infinite Crisis,” he is really excited to see where his character might go in the future.
Prior to reading the pilot’s script, Cassidy said she had an idea about what to expect but was blown away by the actual writing. When she found out Amell was attached to play Queen, she thought he was perfect for the part, saying he would strengthen her portrayal of Laurel. “I thought where they were taking these characters was very intriguing,” Cassidy said.
Asked about plans to develop Laurel Lance’s character into Black Canary, the cast admitted they are kept in the dark about such developments until the last possible minute. In fact, they’re often so far in the dark, they don’t even know what characters announced additions to the cast have signed on to play. “We came early yesterday and went to harass John Barrowman,” Amell said as Donnell laughed beside him. “He’s going to be on the show, but I have no idea what he’s going to do!”
“Arrow” premieres October 10 on the CW