Malcolm Merlyn has stuck to the shadows for most of "Arrow's" Season Three, but actor John Barrowman tells CBR News that the apparent death of Oliver Queen will shift the spotlight onto Starling City's masterfully manipulative Dark Archer.
And while it's unclear whether Ollie's death was Merlyn's ultimate goal, or if, in fact, he believed Ollie was the only one who had a chance to bring down the nefarious Ra's al Ghul, all the twisting, turning intrigue that follows has been nothing but a blast for the actor, admits Barrowman. "The bad guy's always the one who has a good time," he explained in a recent conversation with CBR. "I always said that this was going to be a completely different kind of season for Malcolm in the way that he's manipulating people with emotion rather than money and power."
CBR News: With Oliver Queen now presumably deceased, how does that big event amp things up with Malcolm?
John Barrowman: All I'll say is, it's a win/win situation for Malcolm. Did he send [Oliver] there knowing that he was going to get killed and it was able to further Malcolm's objective? Or, did he send him there thinking he was going to win, and it would still further his objective? That's why I say it's a win/win situation. But what's interesting is that as the episodes continue, there's one sequence where Malcolm goes to Diggle, Felicity, to Laurel and Roy, and he reveals that Oliver is dead. And you actually -- it gives away what his actual true feelings are. That's all I'll say.
You get to play with characters now that you haven't had a lot of time with?
Well, now, yes. That's also what's interesting about this series is things have turned 360, and we're kind of putting things on their head a little bit. There will be alliances formed that haven't been formed before. There will be enemies that are revealed that haven't been revealed before. There will also be relationships -- I say "relationships," but there's words that are going to come out of some people's mouths that people are going to go, "What?!"
It's an interesting time, because Malcolm is sort of a funhouse mirror version of Oliver. He's a little bit jealous that Oliver gets to be the hero, and he's seen as the villain.
Does this change that for him a little bit?
All I'm going to say on that one is, you're going to have to watch. Because, yes, you're right that Oliver is the hero. Malcolm wanted to be that hero, but things just went in a different direction. I think that Malcolm still sees himself as the hero. And to be blunt -- and again, I've always said this -- Oliver has done exactly what Malcolm is doing. Almost like a vigilante type thing. That's why, what's interesting with Oliver's character as it changes through the series is, he was The Vigilante. He was The Hood. Now, he's The Arrow. It's the same with Malcolm. Malcolm has always been Merlyn, but what's interesting is Malcolm -- I can't say "will never." It's just going to be interesting to see the dynamic, how things change.
What can you tease about the Thea relationship?
Again, you're going to hear things said between Thea and Malcolm that you haven't heard before. Malcolm -- obviously, we all have told little white lies to protect people. Malcolm, obviously, has told some white lies to protect Thea, and it will be interesting to see if those white lies are revealed, and how she reacts and responds to them.
What's it been like to watch Team Arrow working without the quarterback?
Stephen, obviously, is the leader of the gang. Oliver is the leader of the troop, and Stephen is the leader of our cast. It is interesting to see how peoples' dynamics are different. All I'll say in that aspect is, I'm the oldest in the group, and I'm probably not the most mature. [Laughs I'm the one who has a bit of a sense of humor. I've been doing this for 26 years, so I know what's going on, what it's about. It's interesting for me to see people who will let their hair down and who won't.
Tell me about the coolest thing you've been able to do stunt- or action-wise so far?
We have a great stunt team who do a lot of the heavy, really dangerous stuff for us, but we just filmed a sequence where it involved a helicopter, which was cool. That's all I'm going to say.
I love all the fight sequences, because when I'm doing them, James Bamford, who is our stunt coordinator, he lets Stephen and I do a lot of stuff by ourselves, because Stephen, obviously, has done a lot of fight training for the character. But also, I've had fight training in the past. Being a dancer, I treated it a lot like dance moves, and Bam's amazed by that. He's like, "I've never really thought about it as dancing. You've brought a whole new light to it for me, because you're able to do it, but treat it like a dance." So I just put that feeler out there for "Dancing With the Stars." I'm ready! [Laughs]
What are you lobbying the producers for?
I don't have to lobby for anything, because, for instance, the whole Thea-being-my-daughter was my husband's and my idea. We talked about that over lunch, because they wanted Oliver to be my son. That was the discussion, and we've decided that's too Darth Vader. My husband said, "Well, what about Thea?" -- and they were like, "Brilliant!" So they wrote a character, a doctor character in the show, named after my husband as an homage.
We do get to discuss things, and I know Andrew and Mark both have been fans of mine since "Dr. Who" and "Torchwood," so they listen to me. I love this genre. I know it. My sister and I have written a "Torchwood" novel. We have done three children's fantasy novels. We know about this stuff, so they love to hear about my opinion. I get to say things that I'd like to do, and sometimes they're put in.
As a writer and comic book fan, then, would you like to be more hands-on with the comic book series?
I am talking with my sister and have yet to meet with Geoff Johns, and also, I want to talk to Mark [Guggenheim] and Andrew [Kreisberg] because I would love to do a Merlyn comic written by myself, who plays Merlyn. I think that would be totally awesome because I know this man inside-out.
I would buy that!
You would? Put that out there then, because that's one of the meetings I have yet to have. And there's another idea I have, too.
Since they're building out this cool world with multiple shows, would you love to go and mess with the Flash a little bit?
Oh, yeah. What's great is, again, it's like the world I came from, of time travel with "Dr. Who" and "Torchwood," our paths all crossed. I would love to do that with "Flash" and all the other things that are about to pop up in the new season. Yes, it makes perfect sense that DC characters can go from one to the other and mix and blend because, you know what? Then our fan base gets a much better, greater variety of this world. They get to see more of this world that we're creating.
That's why I got on board in the beginning, when Andrew had a conversation with me on the telephone. Before the first series, he said, "I don't know if you really want to be involved with this, but we're creating this world of DC." And I'm like, "Andrew, you have got me. I don't care how. You have hooked me." Now, to create a whole new world again would be amazing.
Do you have your action figure yet?
Have you seen the prototype?
I have seen the prototype. First, it's me with a hood, and then there's going to be one that's revealed without a hood.
Do you have to do anything for it?
No, they probably will do that. I've done that all before with other action figures I have from "Dr. Who." But yeah, I'll do the 3D scan, of course. It's every kid's dream as an adult, to have an action figure!
At this point, what do you like best about Malcolm?
His ruthlessness. I tend not to smile very much with Malcolm, but when I do, you know you're in trouble. Malcolm's smile is the key to his viciousness whereas other characters I've played, the smile is the key to their heart. It's really interesting to be able to do because a lot of fans have said, "We love it when you smile, because we know you're going to be bad."
Should we ever expect him to show some real heart?
Yeah. There was a sequence I did when I was talking about my wife's death, and I turned to a window, away from the rest of the people in the room. They filmed it through the window, and that was one point where Malcolm showed heart. There was a little bit where you saw his eyes well up, and that was, for me, as an actor, where all the fans went, "You hooked us. Because we saw in your eyes that there was a past that has caused you to behave like this, and we felt sorry for you." And as a villain, you want them to feel sorry for you.
Genre fans are so passionate. Tell me, what's been a favorite interaction for you?
I love how the fan base has changed because, obviously, The CW network started out as a network just to appeal to young women, 18- to 25-year-old women. The more I've traveled around the world, for instance, when I'm doing signings, the amount of young Latino men who come up and say, "We love Arrow!" is a surprise, because you don't expect them to be watching The CW network. In London, I have a vast amount of Arabic men, young men come up, "We love you in Saudi Arabia." "We love you in the Emirates." Dubai, China, they love it! It's been interesting for me to see the audience change, which is great. It's becoming a wider, bigger audience, and we're pulling the men in, which is awesome.
The actual comic book character of Merlyn has been around for a long time, but was actually very vaguely defined for the bulk of his existence. What did you learn in your research into him?
I didn't like his hair. [Laughs The slicked back, pointy wingback. I didn't like that. When I first saw it, I liked his kind of sleekness about him, and there was a whole period in the comic books where he became ugly. He became kind of gory looking. I have all the old comic books. I have them myself, and what's really great is, I sent a "Flash" comic book with Merlyn on the cover of it to the boys to say, "Look, you can do this." But yeah, there wasn't a lot to read about Malcolm Merlyn. My DC Encyclopedia told me what I needed to know, but I developed a lot myself. I wanted to make him slightly different. I wanted his meanness, his ruthlessness, his magical, the magician side of him to still be there, but also, I wanted to give him a bit of a darker side, and also to enjoy his humor a little bit. Because you don't get the humor in the comic book. To know that Malcolm really enjoys what he's doing is a very big thing for me.
Well, I think it's going to stick around.
Trust me -- he's going to be around for a while.