At WWE’s SummerSlam in 2015, “Arrow’s” leading man, Stephen Amell, entered the ring to go toe to toe with pro-wrestler Cody Rhodes, a.k.a. Stardust. Leading up to their tag team match (Amell had the superhero-esque Neville as his partner, while Stardust teamed with Wade Barrett) the two developed an “antagonistic” relationship that played out over Instagram, Twitter and several joint appearances on television.
Unfortunately, Rhodes crushed chances of the teased rematch when he left the WWE in early 2016 — but then again, never say never! In tonight’s episode of “Arrow,” “A Matter of Trust,” Rhodes portrays Derek Sampson, a drug dealer who unexpectedly gains a super-powered upgrade, an edge that could spell doom for the Green Arrow — and Amell.
Ahead of his CW debut, Rhodes spoke with CBR about his good-humored rivalry with Amell, the challenges for him in learning how to act under prosthetic makeup, what made him feel like a badass on “Arrow,” and why, at the end of the day, he really is a superior fighter to Amell.
CBR News: How did this part come about? Did you and Stephen have discussions way back when he joined you at SummerSlam, or has it just evolved over the months?
Cody Rhodes: Selfishly, in my mind, when we did the initial crossover, I always thought, “That would be cool if Stardust made his way to ‘Arrow.'” As time went by, Stephen and I became buds. I thought that ship had maybe sailed. Then, in a dramatic fashion, I left WWE. When that happened, I had more time on my hands. I decided, “Why not? Why not read for it? I’m not asking for anything.” I went through the proper channels. “Let’s go read. Let’s get in the room.”
I’m familiar with some of the producers, and obviously with Stephen. I read for various roles in Season 5, none of which are Derek Sampson. But what I did in the room gave them confidence enough to build Derek Sampson up in this third episode. That was the whole point. I went through the proper channels. I didn’t flat out say, “Hey, Stephen.” I ended up getting the call to be a villain of Star City. I’m a lifelong comic book fan. Years ago, I was reading [Mike Grell’s] “Longbow Hunters” and falling in love with the Green Arrow. This just made my day.
Besides portraying a villain, what excited you about the character breakdown?
For me, it was exciting because there’s this responsibility in terms of, “Okay, Sampson can’t just be this dumb wrestler.” There are “Arrow” fans — and fans of [executive producer] Greg Berlanti’s whole world — who are not aware of wrestling. The last thing I wanted to do is give them a stereotypical, dumb wrestler performance. The goal and the vision were to provide some nuance to this.
On the other hand, it was incredibly exciting to pick up where we left off [in the ring], because it’s a very physical episode. I’m no stuntman, but my experiences as a professional wrestler made it nice to plug back in. It’s a different world, but it feels like the interaction we had between Stardust and Arrow. It’s almost like we pick up where we left off.
Fans have been anticipating a rematch between Stardust and Stephen Amell. What can viewers expect to see in terms of the action between the two of you?
The fights, and what [stunt coordinator] James Bamford has created as the master of stunts in that world. It’s definitely not a one-off fist fight in a dark alley. Derek Sampson is endowed with an ability. As Oliver is building his new team with Mr. Terrific and Wild Dog, something else, other than Tobias Church, is being built up as well. This episode is packed with goodness.
Some prosthetic work is involved with Derek Sampson. What’s the deal with his face?
There’s the face and body. That’s kind of a trial by fire for a first-time actor, to go through four-and-a-half hours of makeup. I can’t imagine how [wrestler and “Guardians of the Galaxy” star] Dave Bautista feels when I look at what he’s done as Drax. You’ll see in the episode that, obviously, something goes wrong. Sampson starts off as a second-rate drug dealer and ends this episode in a much different, and much scarier, mindset and attitude. He’s endowed with an ability that, for a foolhardy, drug-dealing male, may be the worst ability to give them.
As Stardust, you wore some flashy costumes in the ring. How refreshing was it going into battle in civilian clothes on “Arrow?” Or were you hoping for your own snazzy, colorful threads?
I got a little scared, because the costume designers told me there were a couple of winks to the audience as far as the character Stardust and the wrestling. They said, “We’d like a couple of winks here in terms of wardrobe.” I’m thinking I was going to walk in and see the dang body suit that I would want to burn. I was terrified of it being too much. I’m coming to Star City as a character in the Arrowverse. The last thing I want to do is bring wrestling over just as wrestling. What they did was small flashes of color.
I love how you said “civilian clothes,” because there’s a Versace jacket — and I had three of them on set — that I put on. Nothing has ever made me feel more like a badass than this jacket. I tried to the ends of the Earth, other than going to Stephen directly, to see if I can take this jacket home. Seeing it in the pictures just makes me smile.
Fans have gotten a kick out of watching your rivalry with and Stephen. What’s been fun about it for you?
What’s been fun for me in terms of the rivalry and competitive nature between Stephen and myself is, it’s done some good work. Some might be familiar in terms of the charity we’ve done, some might not. We raised $300,000 for a hospice in Toronto, Emily’s House. We’ve worked on various charities with one another. That’s one of the things that I like so much about Stephen’s fame, is he’s taken that fame and done the number one thing anyone can do with recognition – and that’s help the less fortunate. He’s a great role model, especially at such a young age. To have such a business mind on him is something I really like about the interaction. As much as it’s a legitimate competitive element between him and I – whether it’s in the wrestling ring or on his set – there’s a lot of good that comes from it.
Deliver some smack talk. Who is ultimately the better fighter — you or Stephen?
I feel like I’m about to offend an entire country. In terms of who is the better fighter, the Canadians don’t even know how to throw a straight punch. Stephen once told me he would stop me by stomping on my foot and throat chopping me. Never in a fight, any time ever — whether it’s a competitive-mixed martial arts match or an entertaining pro-wrestling match or a bar fight — have you ever had the ability to step on a man’s foot and be able to throat chop them. I feel like one of these days, perhaps we’ll get to that point. We’ll boil over to the point where he tries for the old throat chop. From a fight standpoint, though, Stephen’s at a disadvantage… because he’s Canadian.
Starring Stephen Amell as the Emerald Archer, “Arrow” airs Wednesdays at 8 pm ET/PT on The CW. The series also stars Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, John Barrowman, Willa Holland and more.
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