The penultimate episode of The CW series Arrow, entitled “Streets of Fire,” will see Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) rallying his team as Slade Wilson’s (Manu Bennett) soldiers attack the city, and Thea (Willa Holland) comes face-to-face with her father, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). Meanwhile, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) gets a call from S.T.A.R. Labs with game-changing news that will hopefully help Roy Harper (Colton Haynes). And if you survive the roller coaster ride, there is still the Season 2 finale on May 14th.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor John Barrowman talked about how he played a part in Malcolm Merlyn turning out to be Thea Queen’s father, that he knew his character would continue to be a villain throughout Season 1 and 2, just how calculated his return is, why Malcolm is desperate for family, what he’s enjoyed about working with Willa Holland, in this capacity, how he used to watch her on The O.C., that he thinks Malcolm is too selfish to sacrifice himself for someone else, and how he’s unsure about whether he’ll be back for Season 3. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
JOHN BARROWMAN: Well, I’ve gotta be honest with you, it was partially my doing. Andrew Kreisberg and I had a lunch one afternoon, and my husband, Scott, was sitting with us. They were discussing the future, way back in the first season, of Malcolm, what he was going to be doing and what would happen. They were discussing different aspects, and my husband said, “Why don’t you make him Thea’s father?” And I just lit up. Andrew looked at us and said, “You guys do like this genre, don’t you?,” and I said, “Yeah, of course!” I’m a total comic book fiend. DC and Marvel, you name it, I’m into it. With the sci-fi background I have, all of these twists and turns are great. It’s like a saga. So, that’s how it started. And then, Andrew went back with the writers. There was talk of doing something else, but then they went back to it. And Andrew always says, “I credit Scott, your husband.” So, I knew about it. I would never normally interfere with what the writers are doing because they’re there to do that job, and I’m there to do what’s on screen and bring it to life. I never, ever will question what they’ve written because it’s just not my job to do that, unless I’m one of the writers myself. But when you’re asked something, you obviously speak up. Also, it made sense because it meant that I would be coming back then. I was procuring myself a job.
How many times have you thought that Malcolm was actually dead and wouldn’t be returning to the show, or did you always know that he would continue to find a life somehow?
BARROWMAN: During Season 1, Andrew had said to me, “Malcolm Merlyn will be one of the stable villains.” So for me, that meant that I would be popping up. For Season 1 and Season 2, I knew that I would be coming in and out. With things that happened in Season 1 or Season 2, if he got shot or killed, I knew something was going to be up. For Season 3, it’s up in the air. Who knows what’s gonna happen?
How can you tease the return of Malcolm Merlyn and the part he’s going to play in the story that’s left, this season?
BARROWMAN: I don’t want to give anything away because I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. If you look at it like a card game, he’s a man who’s got a poker face, and he’s got an eye on the card game and he knows exactly what hand to play. And he will play his best hand, right when you least expect it.
Would you say that his return is pretty calculated? Was he lurking in the shadows, until he knew he’d have an in with Thea?
BARROWMAN: I’ve gotta tell you honestly that we don’t know that backstory yet. That’s something that was never discussed and hasn’t been discussed. But personally, as John Barrowman, as the fan, and as the guy who’s on screen with the character, I have to create something and yes, of course, I see him lurking in the background and waiting for the right moment. Anybody who is going to manipulate a situation and take advantage of it is not going to just pop up and go, “Oh, what’s happening?” You know exactly what’s happening. Malcolm might have lost control for a little bit, with everything up in the air and going nuts with starling City, but he still would have had his eye on the piece of the puzzle that he wants. He’s not a dumb-dumb. He knows what’s going on. He knows who’s in there, up against Oli.
BARROWMAN: I think he’s desperate to have the family around him that he’s lost. He’s a control freak, so he’s desperate to be in control with that stuff. If you go way back to Season 1, there were little ways that I would play things, like when Tommy was still alive and I went to his birthday party to hand him a present and he wouldn’t take it. The first person that I toss the present to is Oli, with a wink and a smirk. In my eyes, as Malcolm, Oli is the son that he always wanted. For Malcolm, that revelation, when he pulled the hood off and Oli was the Arrow, was a massive shake-up for Malcolm. Here’s this kid that he really felt compassion for, but all of a sudden, now he has to do something to him. It’s those things that he has to deal with. He’s desperately seeking that control, that calm, and that all-over power. Also, Malcolm thinks he’s actually doing right. That’s the way I see it. The best anti-heroes are the guys who think they’re the heroes themselves. He’s a character who’s searching. He’s soul searching. He knows who he is, but he’s searching for the people around him and what he needs.
Your characters really only passed by each other before, but now there’s a definite shift in the dynamic between Malcolm and Thea. What’s it been like to work with Willa Holland, in this capacity?
BARROWMAN: I used to watch Willa on The O.C., as an avid fan, when my niece was growing up. That was our show that we would connect with and watch together. Ironically, we were both watching it for the same reason – for the hot guys in it. But, Willa is this amazing presence. She’s a wonderful young actress. It’s funny ‘cause she’s also got a really out there sense of humor, just like me. When she and I are on set together, we’ve actually said to each other, “We’re gonna have to rein this in and keep it under control.” The camera stops and we’re just nuts. I love to have a good time, but I love getting the work done, and she’s the same way. We’re known to have a bit of fun. The fact that our characters had never crossed is what made it even more surprising, when it was revealed that I was her father. It’s like, “Oh, my god!,” because you just never thought.
In Episode 21, there was a line in the show that said, “The essence of heroism is to die so others can live.” Is there someone that you think Malcolm Merlyn would die and be a hero for? Do you think he could have that love for Thea?
BARROWMAN: I don’t know. That’s a really good question, and I don’t have the answer because I haven’t thought that far into it. But, Malcolm is selfish. I don’t think Malcolm would give his life for that. That’s John Barrowman’s personal view. I don’t think he would. I think he would be selfish. But, that would be his fall. That would be the thing that would tip him over the edge.
The good news about him not being willing to sacrifice himself is that at least he’d be around for Season 3!
BARROWMAN: From your mouth to whoever’s ears!
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.