John Barrowman Talks ARROW, the Fun of Playing Malcolm Merlyn, Appearing in Future Crossover Episodes, and More

     January 20, 2015


With Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) presumed dead, after the face-off between he and Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) in the Arrow winter finale, there’s no telling where Team Arrow will go next or how they’ll fare without him.  What is clear is that fans of the show will have to wait a bit before learning his true fate because no one is revealing anything.

While at The CW portion of the TCA Winter Press Tour, actor John Barrowman, whose love for all things geek is infectious, spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how much fun it is to play the villainous Malcolm Merlyn, why Malcolm thinks he’s a hero, why he carefully picks the times that he’ll help Team Arrow, that a lot of stuff that’s happening is Malcolm’s doing, how Team Arrow feels about Malcolm delivering the news about Oliver, that Ra’s al Ghul is the one person who makes Malcolm nervous, and why it makes perfect sense for him to do future crossover episodes.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

arrow-season-3-stephen-amell-john-barrowmanCollider:  How much fun has it been to play a character who could do good if he wanted to, but is clearly having more fun not?

JOHN BARROWMAN:  As a kid, I used to play with Mego action figures, DC figures and Marvel figures.  I’m a fan of comic books.  I’m a nerd.  I’m a geek.  I’m all that stuff.  To be playing one of the iconic DC villains is incredible.  It’s like turning a soda water into a vodka soda.  It’s adding that kick to it.  Malcolm could be good.  He wanted to be the hero.  I think Malcolm still sees himself as a hero.  I don’t think he thinks what he’s doing is wrong, which is what makes him interesting to the audience.  But also, there’s a heart down there somewhere.  What’s interesting is that when Malcolm does reveal things to people, it’s to the audience.  It’s never to other characters, really.  So, the audience is in on Malcolm’s secret.  That’s what I think they really like about him.  They’re getting the secret, where the characters are not.

If every villain is the hero of their own story, in what way does Malcolm Merlyn see himself as the hero?

BARROWMAN:  Every day, he is heroic.  Although he isn’t seen in every episode, Malcolm sits back and watches what’s going on and steps in when he’s needed, to save Thea from the Mirakuru, or to help Oliver when he’s in a fight.  I can’t give anything away, but he steps in quite a bit, coming up.  So, every day, he is heroic.  He is the watcher and the keeper of everybody.  He’s watching over Oliver.  He’s watching over the hero, himself.  So, of course, he sees himself as the hero, every day.

If he’s watching everything, why does he only pick the times that he does to step in and help?

arrow-john-barrowmanBARROWMAN:  Because he wants other people to grow.  What’s really funny is that I am the oldest in the cast, and I do that with everybody else.  People will discuss stuff or want to talk to me about things, and then I let them make their own decision.  It’s exactly the same with Merlyn.  He sees something happen, but then decides not to help because they need to fall flat on their face and get their ass kicked, in order to survive, so he lets it happen.  It’s art mirroring life, and life mirroring art.  It’s really weird.  Except I don’t go out and kill people.  He chooses the moments where he knows that the people that he’s going in to help would risk death.  There’s that heart down there.  He actually does care for people, in his own sinister, cynical, twisted way.

Every time we learn a little bit about Malcolm Merlyn, he sees just as mysterious as he was, before whatever it was we learned.  You’ve always said that you know a bit more than the audience does, but is that still the case?

BARROWMAN:  Yes.  I’m not left in the dark.  I know what’s coming.  I know the words that are going to be said between characters that are going to be like punches to the face of the audience.  I know the alliances that are going to be formed.  I know the break-ups that are going to happen.  Malcolm is not the one who instigates all of it, but Malcolm is the magician.  He is the one who is in control, once removed.  So, a lot of stuff that is happening is Malcolm’s doing.

arrow-the-climb-matt-nable-stephen-amellTeam Arrow believes Oliver Queen is dead, but the show is called Arrow, so he has to return, at some point.  Does Malcolm believe that Oliver is dead, or does he know that things may not be what they seem?

BARROWMAN:  Without giving anything away, Malcolm sent Oliver off to fight Ra’s to die, and Malcolm sent Oliver off to fight Ra’s to win.  If Oliver dies, Malcolm gets his objective.  If Oliver wins, Malcolm gets his objective.  It’s a win-win situation for Malcolm.  He knew what he was doing.  But what you will find out coming up, when Malcolm goes to Diggle, Felicity, Roy and Laurel to reveal that Oliver is dead, in that sequence, you finally discover how he feels about Oliver and what the truth is.

When Malcolm delivers the news to Team Arrow, is he aware that they could kill the messenger?

BARROWMAN:  He’s not worried about that, at all.  In every situation, up to this point, with anyone in that room that he’s had a confrontation with, they’re afraid of him and he knows that.  He could win.  The only one who could give him a run for his money is Oliver.  But as we’ve seen in the past, Malcolm has faked his death.  Malcolm has beaten Oliver.  So, he’s not worried about that.  They’re more fearful of him being in their zone, then he is of being in their zone.  He’s in total control.

What was it like to film that scene and be there for their reaction?

arrow-the-brave-and-the-bold-stephen-amellBARROWMAN:  Oh, it was great!  Their reaction was incredible.  Their reaction is awesome, particularly Dig’s reaction.  He just looked at me, and if a look could kill, he would have killed me with his look, alone.  That gag plays a lot, in the second half of the season.  That’s all I’ll say.  It’s quite funny.  Felicity says, “We are actually talking to him?!”  Roy wants to fight me, but is afraid to because he knows I could kick his ass.  I go in to try to help things, but I come up to a total wall of aggression.  It’s awesome.

Does Ra’s al Ghul truly make Malcolm as nervous as he seems to be about him?

BARROWMAN:  The one person Malcolm fears is Ra’s, a little bit.  That’s why he went off and did all the things on his own.  He felt that he would not be able to do what he needed to do, if Ra’s was his be-all, end-all.  It’s not the first time he’s been hunted.  He’s been running and keeping himself protected for years.  But, it’s at the point where the shit is hitting the fan.  Nyssa is around, and there are assassins out there that are ready to kill.  This is the first time there’s an element of fear in Malcolm because of Ra’s.  But, he’s not afraid to stand up to him.

Is Malcolm’s priority to protect Thea?

arrow-john-barrowmanBARROWMAN:  Malcolm is training Thea to protect herself because, if he is not there, she needs to be able to do that.  Malcolm is not afraid of death.

Because the cross-over episodes for Arrow and The Flash were so successful, there are bound to be more, in the future.  Is there anyone that you’d love to see Malcolm either work with or go up against?

BARROWMAN:  I am not saying anything!  But I went to a convention just for comics and I searched through Flash comics, and I found a Flash comic with Malcolm Merlyn on the cover.  I immediately bought the two copies that were there, and I kept one for myself and gave one to the writers’ room.  It was a totally subtle hint.  And there are other things, down the line, that are hopefully going to happen.  I would love to do the cross-overs.  It makes perfect sense.

Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.

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