Though he has been a part of the Arrowverse since 2014, Brandon Routh’s Ray “Atom” Palmer hasn’t revealed very much about his past — until now. In “Phone Home,” the latest episode of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, the team will travel back in time to the 1980s to save young Ray from being killed by a Dominator. When they arrive in Ivy Town in 1988, they discover young Ray has befriended a baby Dominator, and they need to reunite the Dominator with his mother before things take a murderous turn.
Speaking to CBR, Routh weighed in on the Ray-centric episode and recalled what it was like to relive the ’80s for a little while. He described how the episode will show a new side of Ray and why this personal mission will show newcomer Zari’s softer side. He also offered some insight into Ray’s family life and more.
CBR: You’ve been a part of the Arrowverse since Arrow Season 3, but this is the first time we’ve really delved into Ray’s childhood. Were you excited to tackle his backstory?
Brandon Routh: Yeah! It was definitely cool to add more layers to Ray and understand him better and let the audience see that, and then also get to visit the ’80s, which is a fun time period for us.
What was your favorite part about filming the show in the ’80s?
Ah, just everything! I mean, a lot of my childhood was in the ’80s, so it was fun to reflect that and also bring all the movies that we were not spoofing, but endearingly bringing into our show and referencing. It was great fun. We got to have a faux Halloween before it was Halloween, which is also great. They made up this whole cul-de-sac with Halloween decorations on all the houses and it was kind of like an early Halloween celebration. It was fun!
How does the Halloween setting impact the episode?
At the end, we have Halloween, and the Legends are able to kind of be out and visible and just pretend that they’re in Halloween costumes. [laughs] So that’s kind of a fun bit that happens at the end, and also young Ray does his best at creating an Atom costume, which is pretty fun to have young Ray and adult Ray in an atom suit.
What was it like to work with a younger actor, who is effectively trying to play a younger version of you?
Yeah, he was great! Jack [Fisher] did a fantastic job working with us and he had a lot of stuff to do. It was long days for him and a lot of emotional stuff, a lot of crying and being chased by the bad guys and working with a green screen and he really did a great job and I’m excited to see the episode. I think he brings a lot of charm as a young Ray to the character.
Ray has always been one of the most upbeat, happy-go-lucky members of the team. Will we get to see another side of him in this episode?
We do a little bit! Ray gets a little bit judgmental and worried about himself. He sees young Ray not acting how adult Ray remembers him acting. [laughs] And there is a reason for that! It’s because he’s harboring the baby Dominator, so he’s kind of doing things out of character, which Ray then kind of understands but is worried about and is concerned for young Ray’s safety, obviously, because his life is tied in with young Ray’s life. He becomes a little more harsh than maybe he would want to with young Ray and speaking to him and Zari is there effectively to help calm adult Ray down and help the situation.
Zari’s first mission with the Legends is unusually personal. How does that impact her relationship with Ray?
Yeah, I mean, she’s really helpful in balancing Ray’s anxiety and then worry about himself and his young self and the Dominator possibly killing young Ray and then maybe he’s making a bad decision by trying to help the baby Dominator and Zari’s there to kind of play referee and calm adult Ray down and say, “You know what? Just calm down. He’s just a young you version” and she helps keep the peace a little bit and help adult Ray realize he’s being a little too harsh with young Ray and she’s very comforting and caring for young Ray and adds a lot of heart to the episode.
How does this episode impact the way the rest of the team sees Ray?
I think maybe they understand when they see him being bullied a little bit. They understand him a little bit more, that he has had some challenges and struggles as well. You know, if you see somebody who is all happy-go-lucky all the time, you don’t necessarily expected them to have had bad times or challenges in their life, so it balances his character out a little bit more, possibly, to know that everybody has good and bad challenges in their life.
Will we learn anything more about Ray’s brother Sydney?
I don’t think we learn that much, except that he wasn’t the best older brother to Ray, which we already knew. [laughs]
What does that look like?
I don’t think it’s a big part of the episode. I think it’s just that Sydney’s friends, who Ray thinks are his friends as well, are not really Ray’s friends. They’re kind of making fun of him and bullying him a little bit, but Ray doesn’t necessarily realize that when he’s a young kid or tries to deny that that’s happening and thinks they’re just, you know, having fun, it’s all a joke, but they’re actually really kind of bullying Ray.
In the trailer for the episode, it looks like Ray’s mom might be getting mighty cozy with Nate. What can you tell us about that?
Yeah! Ray’s mom, I guess, is maybe not having the best time with Ray’s dad or something’s going on, which we don’t really talk about in the episode! [laughs] Well, there’s a reason for that actually, now that I remember… There’s a reason why she’s kind of after Nate, because she’s kind of not in her right mind. But that being said, Ray’s mom was a pretty lady, and you can’t necessarily blame Nate — although you can, because we’re buddies, so you know… He’s also sad because he’s having trouble with Amaya. So it’s understandable, but still! Come on, dude! It’s my mom!
The Dominators are back! How are they different this time around?
Well, we’ve got a baby Dominator, which is a much cuter version of a Dominator alien. [laughs] It’s kind of the central part of the episode, as young Ray is trying to save him and protect him, and then we have to unite him with his mama Dominator, so we have to balance saving the baby without being eaten or taken over — dominated — by the adult Dominators too much.
Is Ray ready for love again in Season 3?
I think that Ray is always kind of ready for love! They’ve had a long time to resolve his feelings about Kendra, and I think — even when that happened, when she broke up with him — he already knew going in that relationship was always going to be strained, because of her attachment to the many lifetimes with Hawkman. So I think Ray is pretty good at rationalizing that and understanding what was happening there. So Ray is always ready and open for love. If he does have a love interest, it’d certainly be great if there wasn’t a third wheel attached.
As you’ve mentioned, Ray gets the opportunity to speak with his younger self. If you had that opportunity, what would you say to your younger self?
Well, I think it’s the cliché thing, but it’s because it’s so true, that — if you’re having a hard time — life does get better and it’s easier to make friends as an adult a lot of the time, because kids are so cruel and just trying to understand themselves and figure each other out. It takes time for kids to learn how to be sociable and kind to each other, so I think that’s an important message and just honoring what it is that you love to do and just follow that and don’t worry about what anybody else thinks about it. Just follow the things that you’re passionate about and put your effort and your love into that.
How would you describe the episode in three words?
’80s love fest.
Airing Tuesdays at 9 pm EST/PT on The CW, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow stars Victor Garber as Martin Stein, Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter, Dominic Purcell as Mick Rory/Heat Wave, Caity Lotz as Sara Lance/White Canary, Franz Drameh as Jefferson “Jax” Jackson/Firestorm, Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer/Atom, Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Amaya Jiwe/Vixen, and Nick Zano as Nate Heywood/Steel.
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