Sean Maher is ready to explode.
On Wednesday night, the “Firefly” actor joins The CW’s “Arrow’s” ever-growing rogues gallery as Mark Scheffer, or as he’s known to DC Comics readers, Shrapnel, a villain intent on bringing mass destruction and change to Starling City. Of course, Maher will do all that and more when he guest stars in “Blast Radius,” which airs January 15.
CBR News spoke with the man known to Brownncoats as Simon Tam, and Maher opened up about the freedom and fun of portraying more villainous characters, tweaking the super-powered member of comic’s Suicide Squad for the live-action world of “Arrow” and his interest in returning to Starling City for an encore performance as Shrapnel. Plus, the actor gives a hint at his next DC Entertainment gig, which involves voicing Dick Grayson in an unnamed animated project.
CBR News: You explored your dark side in the recent movie “Much Ado About Nothing” — was that something you had so much fun with that you decided to do so once again for “Arrow?”
Sean Maher: Yes and no. I didn’t really know what was going on with “Arrow.” When I met — they are so secretive about it, obviously, because of the storylines. I thought I was reading for a character named Mark. In short, he was villainous, but I didn’t know he was Shrapnel. They didn’t tell me that until I got up to Vancouver.
But yeah, ever since I’ve done “Much Ado,” I thank Joss Whedon every day for seeing me as Don John and giving me the opportunity to portray that. The villain is so much fun, and I had never done it before. I had auditioned for it time and time again, and I never got cast as the villain. They are very complex characters and very rich. The first thing I did with Don John was empathize. To just play me is no fun. You have to figure out what’s going on and why are they this way? He was just so calculating and so earnestly genuine to your face, while he’s basically screwing you over behind the scenes. That was a lot of fun for me, so of course I’m having a ball.
When you found out you were playing Shrapnel, did you turn to the DC comics to get a better understanding of the character?
I worked with [“Arrow” Producer] Andrew Kreisberg years ago on a pilot called “Halley’s Comet,” and we’ve just remained dear friends. I flew up and I was in the studio doing costume fittings and I bumped into him. He’s like, “We’re so thrilled you’re here,” and I’m like, “I’m so thrilled, too!” He’s like, “You know you’re Shrapnel.” I was like, “What?”
I truly didn’t understand who Shrapnel or the Suicide Squad were. That was all news to me. I had very limited knowledge of Shrapnel, but Andrew was amazing and forthcoming with a ton of information and pictures and the comics and all that stuff. He was the one who enlightened me.
What was your sense of who Shrapnel was from the script?
What I loved about him, and what I connected to most, is he believes what he is doing is right. He’s a hardcore patriot and he believes he is doing what he is doing for the good of his country. When I go to the empathy, especially with the villains — there’s a reason why he does what he does. He’s not just mean to be mean. There’s something about him that is incredibly righteous in his ways. He truly believes he is doing what he is doing for the greater good.
Is the episode title, “Blast Radius,” reflective of his powers on the show?
What can I say? He blows stuff up. He’s a genius with explosives. He has a way with blowing things up.
Obviously, this Shrapnel is not going to be a metallic menace like in the comic books, but does he sport a colorful costume?
There wasn’t so much of a shift in costume, but it is in line with the whole tone of the show. I didn’t really have a huge transformation in terms of getting into superhuman mode. They did some stuff with my makeup that gave me a more maniacal feel in contrast to when I’m just Mark. Mark is seemingly sweet and gentle and bookish and owns a souvenir shop. Then, when you see Shrapnel, it’s not a transformation in terms of wardrobe as much as a little bit of makeup.
Seeing that slugfests aren’t uncommon on “Arrow,” how physical was this role?
We did a little hand-to-hand, but this episode was big on stunts and hardcore explosives. It was kind of fun — I hate to admit that!
Do you enjoy the fight sequences and stunt work? It’s been a while since you’ve done that.
Yeah, I always love that stuff. I love stunts. I always beg, beg, beg, beg as far as insurance will allow, to do my own stuff. I think I’m really good at it and it looks better when the actual actor does it. I’m happy to step in as long as they’re comfortable. Sure, you end up with some bruises, you may be a little sore the next day, but I really enjoy doing my own stunts. In Serenity, when I got shot, they weren’t going to do that long shot with the squib and me flying backwards. I was like, “No, I want to do it. I have to do it.” And it’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
Since Arrow doesn’t kill anymore, Shrapnel stands a good chance of surviving his time in Starling City. How would you like to see Shrapnel return?
Gosh, I don’t know. That’s the beauty of the show; they leave it so open-ended. I’d like to return with a vengeance and a distinct plan in mind. He’s incredibly calculating, and — pun intended — I think he’s going to return with a big bang.
What was it like working with Stephen Amell?
Stephen is fantastic. [He’s the ] sweetest guy in the world and a new dad. I’m a father of two children, and I met him when his kid was 10 days old. When I found he had a baby, I was like, “Oh, my gosh. How are you sleeping? How’s he doing? Is he pooping? Is he eating? What’s he doing?”
He’s an amazing guy and has an extremely strong physical presence, but he’s one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever worked with. I really enjoyed the whole set-up there. It’s a wonderfully warm environment. That’s always the energy set forth by the #1 on the call sheet, which is Stephen. He’s very excited about the craft and about the storytelling.
Having been a “hero” on “Warehouse 13” and a villain on “Arrow,” can you imagine a place for yourself in one of the DC or Marvel movies?
I would love any of them, really. Yeah, I’ve been finding my place in the DC Universe. I’m doing DC animated features. I’ve been doing the voice of Dick Grayson. It’s funny, because I’m like, “Here I am in the DC comic book world and my dear friend [Joss Whedon], who I love so much, is the king of the Marvel world.”
I love the comic book and sci-fi genre. For me, as an actor, they allow you to step into the world of imagination because it supersedes reality. It’s so much fun. I’m just going to say goodbye to reality, right, and step into this world where things don’t actually exist in my everyday life. To just play in the world of imagination is so much fun. Anytime I can do that, I’m grateful.