Fans of “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” know actor John Barrowman as the ever-cheery Capt. Jack Harkness. But for his latest role, as Malcolm Merlyn on the hit CW series “Arrow,” Barrowman is putting his famous smile to more sinister use, playing the wealthy head of the mysterious Tempest group. Of course, in “Green Arrow” comic book mythology, Malcolm Merlyn becomes archvillain Merlyn, a whiz with the bow and arrow himself. Barrowman unequivocally declined to reveal whether his character will one day evolve into that famous foe, but in an interview with Hero Complex, he did discuss what’s in store for Wednesday night’s midseason finale of the show, his own archery skills and how he might commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who.”
HC: What can we expect from “Arrow’s” midseason finale?
JB: You can expect a lot of twists and a lot of turns that you’re not expecting from the show itself and also from Malcolm Merlyn. I have to be vague, because we’re not allowed to tell you what’s going on, but the fact is that also as a fan of the show, I wouldn’t want to be told. There will be jaw-dropping moments.
HC: Were you familiar with Green Arrow before joining this series?
JB: I was not a buyer of those comic books but I know the DC world. This is going to sound really nerdy, but I have a DC encyclopedia at my bedside so when I’m watching other films with DC characters, I can reference them.What was discussed with me when they asked if I wanted the role — which I have to say, when I heard the passion everybody had about it and [executive producer] Andrew [Kreisberg] spoke to me — it almost seemed like they were apologizing to me for asking me to do what they called a small role. And I turned around and said, “Guys, I am thrilled that you’re on the phone asking me this. Because I’m a fan of this world. And the fact is that the passion in your voice reminds me of the day I was asked to play Capt. Jack in ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Torchwood.’ If you have a passion behind it, I know it’s going to be good.” As soon as they told me about it, I went and looked at all the material on the Green Arrow, and … there’s a vagueness about it. But I think that’s good for us, because it allows us a little bit of artistic license to take a left turn when we need to.
HC: Have you been practicing your archery skills at all?
JB: I have no idea what you’re trying to lead into … I did archery when I was in high school. In our gym class we had two weeks of archery and I remember taking the bow and arrow and firing it up and across the street into a car parking lot. It was Bill Jacobs Chevrolet. And the next class after the archery class we heard over the speaker, “Mr. Barrowman, John Barrowman, please come to the principal’s office, please. The arrow you fired went through a convertible.” So I have had experience with archery.
HC: “Arrow” has done surprisingly well for the CW. What was your reaction when you got word that the show had been picked up for a full season?
JB: What I can say that’s different in American television … in Britain, they wouldn’t cancel something after a couple of episodes. In the States they would. They would just decide it’s not working, take it off and put something else in on the fall schedule. It’s about turnaround and getting those audience figures. In the UK, they’ll let a show build. One thing I think is great about the CW is that we came in gangbusters for them and as per normal, the ratings taper off a little bit, but still doing well and all of a sudden there’s another gangbuster moment and the ratings go up again. The CW has stuck by it. Once I found out the numbers were good, I immediately texted Stephen [Amell] to say congratulations and job well done. Stephen was so excited, that he tweeted it before it was even announced. That gives you an idea of the feeling we have as the actors when it happens, we are happy about it and ecstatic that our story gets to be told.
HC: And now there’s an opportunity to see your character take on a more prominent role on the series.
JB: I’d love to be a regular on the show just to continue the role. I love playing him and I want to explore his world even more.
HC: You didn’t have a lot of screen time early on. How do you create a fully realized character in a very small scene?
JB: I’m not someone who says, “Ohhhh, I have to find my motivation! Blah blah blah.” You know what? Say your lines and put some personality into it. Tell a story. The main thing we’re there to do is tell a story. I believe in television the main thing you need to do is play part of your personality. You’re not really playing a character. In everything I do, I find some of myself, or a lot of myself and put it into the role. With Malcolm, I’ve tried to give him a little bit of a sense of humor. I’ve tried to make him fun. I’ve tried to make him quirky and flirtatious in a way that’s not overt. I don’t want to get too heavy about it, but I put a lot of my own personality into it.
HC: Any plans to have Capt. Jack return for “Doctor Who’s” 50th anniversary?
JB: If there is, I haven’t been asked. I would love to if they ask me and I know that Andrew has already said to me if they want me in the 50th anniversary, he will give me the time off from “Arrow” to do it. But it’s not up to me. The fans keep asking me online and on Twitter. If I had an answer I would tell you, but it’s not up to me. Personally, as a fan of the show, I would be disappointed if Capt. Jack was not involved.
— Patrick Kevin Day
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