Malcolm Merlyn may not be Starling City’s greatest archer, but he’s certainly it’s deadliest. And as actor John Barrowman explained to CBR News, he appears to have more than arrows in his quiver with which to inflict some serious damage.
Barrowman, who played the nefarious business tycoon/master assassin throughout “Arrow’s” debut season, turning the longtime friend of Oliver Queen’s family into his bitterest enemy, has re-emerged in Season Three, immediately after the big reveal that Oliver’s sister Thea was actually Malcolm’s daughter — and he appears dedicated to hardening Thea herself into a potent weapon.
In a conversation with Comic Book Resources, Barrowman reveals that a long-term plan has always been in place for Malcolm’s return, shares his hand in developing the role as an even more subtle threat to Oliver and his inner circle, and launches his passionate campaign to get some high-quality Dark Archer action figures on fans’ shelves.
CBR News: What was the coolest part for you, to get the call and know that you were going to be such an integral part of “Arrow” again?
John Barrowman: Well, I hate to sound probably not excited — that sounds really bad! [Laughs] But I knew that he was going to be an integral part to the show for long term from the moment they asked me [to play Merlyn], because they told me he would be. I always knew I would always be a part of it, so I knew that I’d be in three to five to seven episodes. But when they asked me to be a regular, I was shocked because that was, in a way, meaning they want to do even more with him. So it was a big deal, and it was something — I was very excited about that. But I knew even if I wasn’t a regular, Malcolm was going to be involved until the end of the series.
What’s been most fun for you as far as this new dimension that you’ve gotten to play with his training and indoctrination of Thea?
What’s nice is that I know Andrew Kreisberg. I know Marc Guggenheim. I know the guys who are the producers, and they have been big fans of “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood,” so they knew I loved the genre. They listened to what kind of suggestions I had, talking about it and how I’d like things to go, and they’d take little bits of it. So what’s exciting for me is to see those things implemented into the scripts. And the way that Malcolm — what’s nice for me this time is, Malcolm is using different ways to manipulate people rather than just force and violence. That’s something I talked about and also they had spoken to me about. So it’s kind of a little bit like a collaboration. It’s really nice when the writers actually hear your suggestions and take them on board.
Most bad guys, if you ask them, would not tell you that they believe they’re a bad guy. Can you give me a sense of how Malcolm sees the world and how he thinks he’s doing the right thing?
Yes, Malcolm doesn’t see himself as a bad guy, obviously. He sees himself as a hero. He sees himself as being misunderstood and is quite upset — although he doesn’t show the upset — when people don’t see him as doing good or doing right. Obviously, he’s Malcolm here, and there’s Oliver doing his thing, and Oliver’s getting away with it and, in a sense, doing exactly what Malcolm is doing, and no one’s pissed off at him about it. So that’s what he gets upset about it. So there’s got to be — if I were to say that Malcolm has tried to kind of do what Oliver is doing, and he would like to be in his position, put it that way: Malcolm would like to be in Oliver’s position.
You’ve been sharing a lot of scenes with your TV daughter, Willa Holland. What’s been fun about working closely with her?
Well, Willa and I are both a little crazy, and on set we get distracted very easily — and that’s me being the adult. [Laughs] I have to rein it in sometimes with her. But she’s very good. And what’s really kind of cool is my niece and I were big fans of “The O.C.” and that was our show to connect with, so I watched Willa grow up on television, basically, and also with the other shows that she’s done. When I told my niece that Willa was going to be my daughter, she was like, [high pitched] “Oh my God! It’s so cool!” So it’s nice to develop that relationship with her on camera, because it is developing a father/daughter thing, and however unconventional it is or however hard it is for the audience to watch, Malcolm does love her. I think she’s a great girl to work with; she’s spunky and fun.
What can you reveal as far as the next episode and Malcolm’s involvement going forward?
Well, the proverbial shit is going to hit the fan in a bit. That’s one thing. You are going to see Malcolm confront or be confronted by people that you haven’t thought are going to confront him — Oh, I can’t tell you! That’s what’s so hard! It’s going to be a roller coaster ride, really. Malcolm’s involvement is going to be far greater and deeper than everybody expects.
You’ve had as about a diverse show business career as anybody could hope for. What’s been especially cool about this particular job?
What’s particularly cool about this is that I was asked to be on the show because of my past involvement in the genre. What’s really cool about this is that I’m also a huge fan of superheroes, comic books — DC and/or Marvel. I mean, behind me, there’s my Marvel and DC encyclopedias. So what’s really cool about this is also that I’ve been able to create a character like Merlyn, who existed, but no one had ever really played before. That’s really awesome.
How seriously did you take the physical stuff that you needed to get into the role, and is that still a process for you? Did you want to throw yourself into it and try to physically perfect the archery and the fighting skills?
I’ll do as much as they want me to do. That’s part of the job. If they want me to perfect the archery, they’ve got to send me to archery class! I know enough. I had archery in high school because, believe it or not, it was part of our curriculum in the Midwest. So I did do some of it, but Stephen [Amell] is, in real life, a much better archer. He can hit the bulls-eye, whereas I can hit the target. The physicality of it — I’ve done stunts. I’ve done all the action kind of stuff before, with “Torchwood” and “Doctor Who,” so that’s not something that’s new to me. But did I throw myself into all this stuff? If someone says, “Can we do this, blah, blah, blah?” I’m like, “Yeah, let’s do it. Give me a challenge. I’ll try it.” If not, then bring a stunt person in.
Being a fan of the comic book genre growing up, what were some of the highlights for you?
Well, believe it or not, I’m still into it. I have a vast collection of Mego action figures, from the original, the ones that came out from all the comic book heroes, from the Green Arrow to Shazam, Captain America, Thor — I’ve still got all of those! I hope they do a Merlyn one, a Merlyn figure, because as a kid, there I was playing with them, and now, as an adult, I have them in a collection. And here I am playing a character — this is going to sound weird — in the world that I used to play in as a child.
What’s front and center in your interests nowadays, in the genre world?
This is going to sound very egotistical, but I don’t give a shit! I’m very much into getting Malcolm Merlyn as an action figure. That’s really what I want. Because I’ve got three action figures out there of myself as Captain Jack from the “Doctor Who” world and “Torchwood” world. And I’ve got a 6-inch, a 15-inch, and what I really need is a 9-inch to play with. I do know in February, they’re coming out with a Dark Archer figure, but the hood’s up, so you can’t really see that it’s me. So what I want them to do is a Malcolm Merlyn figure in a business suit, but then also a Dark Archer with the hood down.
You’ve put a lot of thought into this!
Listen, I know exactly the doll company — it’s called Tonner Dolls, which make 15-inch, beautifully done figures. I would love for them to do an “Arrow” series of dolls. I think that would be awesome. They did the “Torchwood” stuff. I’ve got all of their heroes, Marvel and some of their DC hero ones that they’ve done. I did “La Cage Aux Folles” in London, and what they did was they took my Captain Jack doll, and they made a one-off Zaza character from “La Cage,” for me, the character I played, in an exact replica dress that I wore on stage and it was amazing. They’re really, really beautifully done, those dolls.
Tell me, what’s on your professional plate outside of “Arrow?’
My sister and I are now starting on our next series of books, which I have a meeting on Monday in Los Angeles coming up. We are meeting with some production companies in regards to a TV series that I’m involved in. It’s in the very early stages, but I know that The CW has said they are interested in it, and we’re meeting with people on Monday about that. I do every Christmas in Scotland and Glasgow. I’ve got that coming up, and I’ve got my concert tour next year. So there’s other things around that we’re still working around that have already been okayed and agreed upon prior to my contractual agreement with “Arrow.” So I’m still busy!
Finally, what are the sides of Malcolm that you haven’t gotten to play in him that you’re really looking forward to some scenes to delve into different sides of him?
I would like to delve — and I don’t know if this is going to happen — more into the emotional side. And I’d also like to delve into his past. That’s all I can say.
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