Geoff Johns Talks ARROW, Writing “Dead to Rights”, Ramifications of the Big Identity Reveal, and More

     February 27, 2013

arrow geoff johns

The CW drama series Arrow has really proven that it’s not afraid to go there.  With a hero who often has questionable behavior and villains who sometimes do the right thing, the show has been surprising, in the best way possible.  And as its getting closer to the Season 1 finale, the stakes are getting higher and higher, with things promising to get even darker, both with what Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) went through on the island and in his present.

During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, DC Comics’ Geoff Johns talked about writing Episode 16, “Dead to Rights,” how every single moment of the episode was plotted out before he sat down to write, his collaboration with director Glen Winter (who he also worked with on Smallville), the ramifications the big identity reveal will have in future episodes, that his favorites to write are the action-driven, emotionally-charged scenes, how much he loves the Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) island bromance, how much fun the villains are to write for, and what a celebration it is to already know that they’ll be back for Season 2.  Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.

Collider:  Congratulations, “Dead to Rights” was a fantastic episode!

Arrow stephen amellGEOFF JOHNS:  Good, I’m glad you enjoyed it!  I have to give major props to director Glen Winter and the cast ‘cause Glen really pulled it all together.  He just did a phenomenal job on the episode.

When you write such a jam-packed episode, do you feel like a kid in a candy store, or do you get nervous about fan reaction?

JOHNS:  You know, I have to be honest, as soon as I knew Glen was going to direct this, I had no fears on anything.  For me, I usually work on comics where it’s all about collaborating with the artist who takes the visuals off the script to the next level, and Glen is the same way.  As soon as I knew Glen was directing it, I had no fears.  It was still a challenge to write this script and balance everything out because there are so many reveals.  I was very happy with how it turned out ‘cause it feels like a very action-driven episode, but it’s got a lot of emotion in it. 

When you sat down at the black page or screen to write this episode, did you know all of the big moments and reveals that would be happening, or did some of them come out of where the story took you?

JOHNS:  I knew every single moment because we broke the whole story in the writer’s room before I went off to script it.  I knew every big flagpost was going to happen, and it was massive. 

Now that he’s wracked up a little group of them now, was there always a plan in place to reveal the Arrow identity to more character, throughout the season?

stephen amell ArrowJOHNS:  Yeah, for specific different reasons.  Revealing to Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) was by necessity.  He wanted to work with them, so he chose to do it.  But in this case, it’s something that was surprising to everybody.  When he revealed it to Diggle and Felicity, it wasn’t as surprising.  But, this moment took everybody by surprise, including the characters.  And the fall-out is very different.  With Diggle, it was like, “Okay, you’re out of your mind, but let’s do this.”  Felicity was like, “I’ll help how I can, but I don’t like how you’re going about this.”  But, they’re still with him.  I think Tommy (Colin Donnell) is going to have an extremely different viewpoint, and Oliver (Stephen Amell) is going to question whether or not he should have done it, in the first place.

How will the big reveal affect the friendship with Tommy and Oliver?

JOHNS:  The heartbeat of this episode was this friendship, and it’s a real friendship.  I think Tommy was as lost as Oliver was, when Oliver was on that island.  You see Oliver come back into Tommy’s life, and he starts to turn it around.  Tommy has a lot of pain and Oliver was always there for him, and then he disappeared.  Now, Oliver has come back into Tommy’s life, and for Tommy, it’s the greatest thing that could have ever happened to him, save for maybe the return of his mother.  You can clearly see how important Oliver is to Tommy, and this episode potentially threatens that.  Tommy is important to Oliver, too, but he hasn’t been able to be truthful with him.  He hasn’t been able to be himself with him anymore.  Things have changed, and he’s trying to help his friend, but there’s just so much mystery and secrets between the both.  Obviously, this episode will have a lot of fall-out on that.  We’ll see it in upcoming episodes.  

ArrowWhen you’re writing a show like this, where you have romance, action, character development and big story reveals, where do your strengths lie, as a writer?  Do you enjoy finding that balance?

JOHNS:  I love finding balance.  My favorite thing to do is action-driven, emotionally-charged scenes.  If it’s not just two people talking in a room, but it’s on the move and things are happening and it’s chaotic, and emotion comes from the characters and from the action, and the fall-out ultimately changes the character relationships, that exactly the kind of stuff I like writing.  I love to tackle that stuff.  It’s a challenge, but it’s much more fun than doing one or the other.  I think empty action leaves you very apathetic.  Talky scenes with people who are just stuck in one spot can be visually unstimulating.  I give all the credit to Glen Winter, but combining them both is the sweet spot for me.

What is it that you like about working with Glen Winter, as a director, and why do you think the partnership that you have has clicked so well?

Arrow katie cassidyJOHNS:  It grew organically when we first got hooked up together and we spent a lot of time on set.  We had challenges that we had to face and budget constraints and story changes that we thought of.  We just clicked together and, ever since then, whenever I’ve been paired with him – and I’ve been lucky that this is now the third time we’ve done an episode of television together – I just feel like I’ve got such a great partner at my side.  We have a really open relationship, on a creative level, and I trust him implicitly.  He always elevates the work.  He always makes the page come alive, in a way that’s more than I could have ever hoped.  It’s just creative chemistry, I guess.

How much fun is it to concurrently develop two separate stories on the show, with what happened on the island and what’s happening in the present, and how exciting has it been to see viewers responding to both of those stories equally?

JOHNS:  Oh, it’s great!  I think everybody is very happy with the reaction to the island story and the present-day story, and the fact that the island story helps inform and contrast the journey is going through right now, just makes the show feel all the richer.  There’s an extra layer to the show and to the character.  Seeing Oliver on that island, he’s so different.  It’s fun to see him, day by day, grow into the character he is now, and then seeing the character he is now actually grow into another character.  Oliver is at a point in his life where he’s trying to have a life and have some relationships outside of his life as Green Arrow.

Did you have any idea how much of a bromance the relationship between Oliver and Slade (Manu Bennett) would turn into?

ArrowJOHNS:  No, but I love it!  They’re great!  And the fact that we know who Slade is and who he becomes, and that ultimately Green Arrow and Deathstroke are two very important and very different characters, in the greater world at large, at the end of it all, is a lot of fun to watch.

This episode also saw the return of China White (Kelly Hu) and Deadshot (Michael Rowe).  How much fun are the villains to write for, and is it always a balance to make sure they don’t ever overshadow your hero?

JOHNS:  There is because villains are very fun to write, Deadshot in particular.  I find him a fascinating character.  I’ve written him in the comics quite a bit, and to write him in this version is great fun as well.  But, the villains always have to have a point of view and they have to be as human as the heroes.  Sometimes the line between villain and hero is very blurred.  Look at Slade and Oliver, and even look at Malcolm.  Malcolm thinks he’s doing the right thing, and maybe he is, on some level, but the consequences of what he wants to do, which hasn’t been quite revealed yet, are pretty massive.  But, I think his end goal is altruistic and also informed by the death of his wife, so you can understand it and certainly understand him.  The characters that have greys are the more interesting characters.  The hero who sometimes crosses the line and the villain who sometimes doesn’t are just much more interesting. 

ArrowDid getting the early Season 2 renewal, before this season is even done, allow everyone to breathe a sigh of relief, or is it just business as usual, as far as the plan for the series goes?

JOHNS:  It’s more of a celebration.  Everyone wants the show to do well, so that everyone can keep working on it ‘cause it’s a lot of fun to work on.  Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg are fantastic producers and showrunners, and they lead a very, very positive, fun, creative environment to work in and to work with.  So, to be able to keep doing that, and working with such a great cast and crew, and create a show that’s this much fun to work on, it’s more of a celebration than a sigh of relief.  Everybody has stuck to the story.  The season is playing out exactly like they wanted it to play out.  I’m excited for people to see the last several episodes because they’re going to be pretty surprised by what happens.

Is there anything you can say to tease where things are headed, for the rest of this season, with the story and characters?

JOHNS:  It’s going to get darker before it gets brighter.  That’s about all I can say.

Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.