“ARROW” IS a certified hit, of course, but just how does the superhero show do it?
Midway through its second season, the CW show — based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, naturally — continues winning over fans with a combination of attention to detail, respect for source material, and a cast that has made converts of even the toughest experts among the comic-book nerdoscenti..
Leading “Arrow’s” flight to success has been Canadian actor Stephen Amell, who stars as Oliver Queen/the Green Arrow (though he’s known on the show simply as the Arrow as of now). When asked how “Arrow” has been able to win over the fanboy base (a must when trying to develop a comic-book adaptation), Amell says the reason is simple.
“The short answer is, I think they can tell we give a [expletive],” Amell told Comic Riffs by phone. “To put it bluntly, they can tell that we care. They can tell that we’re protective over the script.”
Green Arrow, Amell continues, “has been around since 1941. I would never have really imagined that there would be a stand-alone Green Arrow series. [Comic book fans] are incredibly protective — they’re incredibly difficult to please — but once you get on their good side, they become your fiercest defenders, and that’s where we are now.”
Amell’s character was far from a hero when the show debuted. But the show has swiftly taken the Arrow from a war-paint-wearing vigilante who used lethal force when necessary, to a man who vows to no longer take lives — and who sees his superhero persona as someone who can bring positive influence and inspiration to Starling City, where “Arrow” is set.
The Green Arrow’s home is called Star City in the comics, but fanboys didn’t make a big deal of the slight name change. One thing they did make a major fuss over, though, was Amell’s lack of a real mask on the show. A mask finally debuted this season to good buzz, but it was an intentionally slow process, with the producers wanting Oliver Queen to earn that moment.
“I did like the slow build-up” to putting on the mask, Amell tells us. “Once the mask was introduced, it was just on, and now it’s just a part of the uniform.
“I like the fact that it looks like it’s been there the entire time,” he continues. “It looks like it fits in with everything else, and I like the fact that I can now, in our world, face people and speak to them, as opposed to having to turn my head away and look like I’m stealing something. It opens up a lot more doors for me playing the character.”
Another door that opened on “Arrow” was the introduction of Deathstroke — a moment that many fans had been awaiting ever since the character of Slade Wilson was introduced during Season 1.
Deathstroke and Oliver were allies who had a brotherlike bond when they met — and it was a slow, sometimes sad process that led to Deathstroke (portrayed by Manu Bennett) being revealed as the villain who is pulling the strings in all the evil moments of Season 2. But fans of the comics knew the transition had to come, and that a showdown between Deathstroke and Oliver, whenever it happens, will be a massive moment for “Arrow.”
“In the Green Arrow universe, [Deathstroke] is the archnemesis. He is number one,” Amell says. “Manu Bennett has just done a wonderful job encapsulating Slade Wilson, and when [an Arrow and Deathstroke battle] happens — and I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but when that moment happens — I hope the fans will enjoy it as much as I will.”
But it’s not just all about archery, hoodies, masks and bad guys for Amell on the show. Yes, there is plenty of action — befitting a superhero show — but Amell says he must employ his craft as an actor, too.
“Arrow” is almost two shows in one, as it continually goes back in time to when Oliver was stranded on a mysterious island for five years (when he had very few superhero skills) — and then shifts to the present day, when he’s a fully trained hero. Amell enjoys the challenge of continually having to switch to different versions of the same character.
“It’s one of the things actually that works to my advantage, because I’m constantly having to check in on the character. When I go back to the island, I have to say to myself: OK, we are 18 months into this five-year odyssey — what will he have learned? At what stage of development is he,” says Amell, referring to portraying Oliver during different stages of his development as a person and a hero.
“We are about to explore the island in one of our island-centric episodes, like we did the first season, and our thinking was: Oliver is, in terms of his skill level, is about 30 or 40 percent of the way there,” Amell says. “So that’s interesting. It’s a fun technique. And it keeps me alive and thinking as an actor, because every time I have to switch back and forth, I have to ... make sure that I’m not just blending the two [island Oliver and superhero Oliver] together.”
Amell says his life has become a lot “noisier” thanks to “Arrow,” and not just because of the on-set explosions.
Plus, because he has only so much time to work out given “Arrow’s” schedule demands — and because of requests for his time when not filming — Amell does whatever he can to stay in shape, including trying new things.
“I’m working a lot. I’m trying to be as involved in the stunt sequences as time and insurance will permit,” he says. “I’ve actually taken yoga this year, which I’ve really been enjoying. It keeps me in shape, it keeps me lean, but it also lets me rest my brain a little bit.
“There’s a lot of ‘noise’ in job like this,” he continues. “There’s a lot of people who need your attention. These aren’t problems — they’re just a reality of the position. Yoga allows me to get back to my center.”
Amell also works on his social-media presence. He has nearly 1-million followers on Facebook, and he live-tweets when “Arrow” is airing, does question-and-answer sessions via video and highly encourages the use of funny, fan-made memes.
“My brain is so full with the show, that I really do enjoy — once I learn my lines and once we’re getting into a scene — just toggling through my Facebook page and seeing things that people write,” Amell said. “It really doesn’t take that much time to keep up a real interesting relationship with your fan base.
“As much as I enjoy doing it, I’m also cognizant of the fact that it’s 2014, and I feel like it’s my job. I think that any actor that is not being active and sincere on social media is missing the boat. It’s not 1960. It’s not even 2010. It’s 2014, and you have to connect with the fans in a real way.”
Amell also appreciates how relatively uncommon it is for a caped-hero show to make it big on TV.
“The history of superhero shows on television is not rich with success,” Amell said. “I want the show to go down, and be remembered, as maybe the show that changed momentum, that got it right.
“I want it to be the best superhero comic book show of all time. I want it to be at the top of the list.”
Follow David Betancourt on Twitter: @aDCfanboy