Stephen Amell on ‘Arrow’
This week, “Arrow” officially kicks off on the CW and introduces Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, a man of privilege and wealth who survives for five years on a deserted island. Based upon DC Comics’ longtime superhero Green Arrow, the new series finds Oliver returning to civilization and adopting the costumed persona of Arrow to make a difference in the world.
When Amell met with the Television Critics Association to talk about “Arrow,” he had to get right back to set so there wasn’t much time for questions. Luckily we got to follow up with him at the DC Entertainment offices in Los Angeles. What follows is a combination of our two interviews with Stephen Amell.
CraveOnline: Does it wig you to see yourself predominantly featured in a show?
Stephen Amell: No, people keep asking me about that and like, “Are you nervous for the premiere?” I’m working so much that I don’t think about it at all. When I’m working, I’m working and I’m focused on that day’s work.
Then when I’m not working, this past Saturday was my first day off with a day off after it in I think almost a month and a half. When I get time off, my brain is just, that’s it. I sit. I veg. People will think that I’m upset or not happy but I’m just exhausted. I’m just zoned out.
CraveOnline: At Comic-Con you’d just finished the pilot and were days away from episode 2. What has surprised you about bringing this particular Oliver Queen to life?
Stephen Amell: The island stuff, the flashbacks have been really, really interesting. I did a season on “Hung” and then a bunch of episodes on “Private Practice” but this is my first opportunity to be the lead of a series but as we move through the episodes, there’s so much backstory and there’s so much information for me to play with in scenes, and I’m developing this odd sort of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man encyclopedic knowledge of the show because any time I’m having a conversation, I’m thinking, “Well, this conversation could go this way because this is what happened in 2 and this is what happened in 4 and this happened in 7.”
That makes it so fun for me as an actor so the things that have been interesting so far are A, having someone that knows my secret is a whole different element for the series and I think it’s made it much more interesting. And I’m pretty steely in the pilot. I’m pretty unflinching and we are finding these moments as we go along where I’m a lot more vulnerable, and that’s interesting because one of my favorite movies is Children of Men. I remember reading the review for Children of Men in the New York Times and the whole line was that Clive Owen plays the character without ego.
And I’m trying to play this character without ego. I’m trying to not worry about looking cool. I’m trying to give a really honest portrayal and we have a lot of scenes that are like that in the first eight episodes, and it seems to be happening more and more often and I enjoy that the most.
I think that we’re reaching a tipping point right now in terms of the relationship that he has with his family because it’s one thing to come back from the island after five years and hug everybody hello, but now I’ve been back for a couple of months and it’s not that simple anymore. You can only disappoint a family member so many times before they write you off, and I feel like we’re getting there. We’re on the way there.
CraveOnline: How do you approach the responsibility of being number one on the call sheet?
Stephen Amell: When I booked the show I was working on “Private Practice” and I spoke with four different people that had all been leads on shows and asked for a piece of advice. And I’ve been on shows with really good number ones and I’ve been on shows [that were] less than good.
It’s a different responsibility because I’m on set every day. I love our crew and I spend more time with them than I do with anybody else. So fostering that relationship has been great but when I got to Vancouver for the first time, I was there probably two weeks before everybody and I felt like it was my responsibility when everybody arrived, I’ve got to take this person to dinner. When we’re on set, I have to introduce them to the crew and I’ve got to learn everybody’s name.
There’s an ownership feeling that you have to take. I’m also pretty no nonsense. I’ve been trying to educate the crew a little bit because they’ll come up and sort of walk on egg shells around me. They’ll knock on my trailer door and they’ll go, “Hey, so when you’re ready, set’s ready for you.” And I’ll go, “Just tell me to go to set.” I feel like if I’m that way, then there’s no excuse for everybody else not to be. I mean, having the crew on your side is critical.
I remember doing a little student film where we had a guy that couldn’t pull focus. We ended up spending three times the amount of time shooting this thing as oppose to if the guy could’ve just pulled focus. It goes to show you that every single person on a crew is really important and I like being number one. It’s fun.
CraveOnline: Were you a graphic novel fan before you were cast?
Stephen Amell: No, I was a big wrestling fan growing up. That was my thing. I had the action figures and the magazines and everything like that. I read a little bit of Superman, Lobo, Spawn but I’ve been reintroduced to the world of comic books since being cast in the show. I was at Comic-Con, I watched Jim Lee sketch Batman. I’m really sort of in awe of this world. Being here, being at DC is cool. I’m a fan now.
CraveOnline: How hard is it to do archery on TV?
Stephen Amell: It’s easy because my archery coach, Patricia spent so long discussing form with me. Like the tennis ball sequence in the pilot, I’m not firing actual arrows. I’m grabbing at nothing and I’m drawing the bow and I’m firing nothing, so it was really important to have good form. Everything plays off that. I haven’t seen anything past the pilot in terms of the final visual effect of what the arrows will look like, but it seems like it’s going pretty well.
CraveOnline: Are you ever going to shoot real arrows?
Stephen Amell: I shoot a real arrow in episode 6. You can put blanks in a gun. Even if you have a rubber tipped arrow, if you fire it at somebody with any sort of significant draw weight, that will penetrate that person’s skin. I’m good at archery.
CraveOnline: What are the big “don’ts” of archery?
Stephen Amell: There's one main thing, is that when you are firing an arrow on screen, a lot of times it's CGI. So you're pulling nothing. So the main thing is, is that when you're not actually firing an arrow, there's a tendency to want to shoot your hand back when you release it.
And all you're supposed to do is basically, with your hand right here, just open it up and let it go, which lacks some of the panache that going like this [with your hands] has, but is technically correct. And if you think comic book fans are aggressive and interested, archery fans and enthusiasts are just as much so. So you want to please them as much as you want to please comic book fans.
CraveOnline: Was Parkour part of your training?
Stephen Amell: Yes, it was. I trained out of Reseda, California at a spot called Tempest Freerunning Academy, and that’s when the training became intensive, because it was all of these muscles that I didn't even know existed, let alone had used before.
And my coach, Paul Darnell, was actually the double for Henry Cavill in Superman, and he just had me doing things that I had never even considered immediately. So it was really fun too. We saw in the preview, did a Kong vault up on a rooftop, and that's sort of the essence of Parkour, so to get that into the pilot right away was really cool.
CraveOnline: How did you do those chin‑ups where you're moving the bar up each time? Did you have any help?
Stephen Amell: At Tempest Freerunning Academy, people train for "America Ninja Warrior," and those are called the salmon ladder, or sometimes they call them the dyno. And that's there at the facility, so they asked me if I could do it.
And we took a tape of it. We sent it to the producers. Greg [Berlanti] freaked out, as he always does, when he’s send new physical things that I'm doing, and then they put it into the show. Basically it's a chin‑up with a dance move, if that makes sense.
CraveOnline: You're playing variations on this character. I mean, there's the Oliver on the island. There's Oliver the jerk. There's Oliver the real guy. Could you talk a bit about the different faces of this character?
Stephen Amell: As an actor, it's really fun. When I looked at the pilot, I saw four different roles, and normally they break down in sort of day‑by‑day when we're shooting the episodes where I will have a day where it's sort of fake Oliver in the real world right now, and then there will be an island day, and there's an Arrow day and Laurel days.
And it's a really fun exercise. It keeps me on my toes, and that was what intrigued me most when I read the pilot, and I think that's saying a lot, because it's a superhero show, or at least an opportunity for me to play a superhero, so for me to see it first as a really interesting acting exercise says a lot about the quality of the writing and how great I thought the pilot was.
CraveOnline: Have you thought about what five years of isolation would do to a person? Do you have any personal experiences where you were isolated for a long time?
Stephen Amell: The closest thing that I would get to being with myself for an extended period of time would be driving from Toronto to California in a Smart car. I was crazy by the time I was in Missouri, let alone got to California. I was really hoping, after we finished the pilot and we see me arrive at the island, I had an idea of what I wanted the island to be.
And as has happened with the show, my vision and my ideal when I'm reading it syncs up really, really nicely with what Marc [Guggenheim] and Greg and Andrew [Kreisberg] already have put on the page. So one of the things that we're going to deal with with Oliver is that he's coming back from this island, and he clearly has posttraumatic stress disorder.
And that's a serious subject, and that's something that we're going to get into. All the talk of supervillains and potential nemeses for the Arrow, I think that the most imminent danger to Oliver right now is himself.
CraveOnline: Where are you filming those, and what kind of place is that like where you're doing those?
Stephen Amell: We filmed in Wycliffe Park just outside of Vancouver. It's very beautiful, but it is certainly not the island from "Lost." There are no plush beaches. It hurts when you fall on rocks, no matter how well you're trained to do it. And you can pretty much guarantee that regardless of what the weather was the day before in Vancouver, it's going to be 51 degrees and overcast when we're there.
We were in Vancouver, and it was 84 degrees every day. And then we were back on the island, and there was no distinguishable difference from when we were there in early April, except people were on the beach swimming. So I couldn't complain when I had to get in the water.