Stephen Amell is a star in every sense of the word. We’re not just saying that because he’s half-naked all over every billboard in Los Angeles — he’s also got the talent to back up the gratuitous shirtlessness, as well as an impressive degree of off-screen leading-man charisma.
As the titular lead on “Arrow,” Amell plays a few versions of Oliver Queen: the wealthy philandering playboy, the shipwrecked and traumatized fighter, the vigilante with a major vendetta… and, within all that, the woeful romantic, still hopelessly in love with Laurel (Katie Cassidy), the ex-girlfriend he left behind.
We caught up with Amell on a Sunday afternoon, in the middle of a day packed with press obligations. The following day, he’d appear on a morning panel in Los Angeles and be back on set in Vancouver by early afternoon. Because the story of “Arrow” is told mostly from Oliver’s perspective, it’s rare that Amell get so much as a few hours off. But you won’t hear him complaining.
So, in all seriousness… Do you have a life?
No. I don’t have a life. I have a show. I have a standing dinner date with cast members on Saturday night. If I ever have more than a twelve hour turnaround, I try to do something, but the short answer is no.
What does your schedule look like on filming days?
I’m in almost every scene in the second episode. I had a morning off once. I remember there was one scene, which was more than 1/8 of a page, or 2/8 of a page that I had off where I had a good solid 2 hour break… but I used that time to go over fight choreography for the following episode, and for a fitting.
And I assume you have to make time to work out for a million hours a day, because you’re constantly shirtless and flexing on the show.
I do peek at that on the schedule, and try to get in a workout. I like to give myself a nice run up to a shirtless scene. Physically, it really doesn’t make any difference. It’s about mentally feeling good about it.
Everybody’s talking about the scene in the pilot with the salmon ladder. What does that look like in a script? Does it just say, “Oliver, sweaty and shirtless, heaves himself up a salmon ladder in a warehouse”?
It never says that in the script. I remember in the Caddyshack script, the famous Bill Murray run-on impromptu speech about the Cinderella story? In the script it just says, “Carl tends to flowers.” So all that stuff, in the script it’s like, “Oliver in foundry, training.” Then we’ll start talking with JJ, our stunt coordinator, or BamBam, our fight choreographer — James Bamford — and they’ll be like, “All right, we want you to try this, this, this, and this.” For me, I always want some time to try that, because we haven’t had to use wires yet, we haven’t had to fake anything, and that’s important because that’s the tone of the show.
If you ever have to fake it, don’t tell me.
I won’t do that to you. I hope I won’t have to.
You must have a stunt guy, on a show like this. I’m sure you want to do all the stunt work yourself, but…
I do have a really good stunt guy. We barely used him for the second episode, but we used him a bit for the pilot. The insurance on the pilot was tougher, because it’s a pilot, so if there’s a production delay, it’s just dead. We had seventeen days to shoot that episode. Now, we have eight days [per episode], and a lot of the shots are more like steady cams and single shots, so it has to be me. There will be some times where it is my stunt double because of scheduling. I can’t be in two places at once. It’s never me saying, “When is my day over?” It’s more, “When do they legally have to get me off of the lot, based on when I have to be back the next day?” The first call is a big thing in the acting world, and in the union world. There needs to be a 12 hour period, and I need it. Although I mentally prepared myself for six day weeks, six-seven day weeks. It’s busy. It’s good, though. It’s definitely good.
There’s obviously going to be some comparison to “Smallville.” On that show, there was a lot of build-up to Clark Kent wearing the Superman suit. It wasn’t really a secret that Tom Welling wasn’t psyched about it, and ultimately it didn’t happen until the finale, ten years in, and it was CGI. You’re in the Arrow costume in Episode 1. Is wearing the suit a perk or an unpleasant part of the gig?
There are certainly days that are logistically tougher than others. Wearing the suit is cool because it means that I’m doing Arrow stuff, and Arrow stuff is cool. I prefer it to the island stuff, because for that, I’ve got to wear a wig. It’s always cold, it’s outside in Vancouver, and I know the island days are going to be physically demanding. I can’t lie. I do tend to circle days where it’s like, oh, we’re at the Queen mansion today. It’s gonna be nice. I know that I’m gonna be in regular clothes and not have the mask on and in a breathable outfit.
The costume isn’t particularly breathable?
It’ll keep you warm during winter, I’ll say that. It’s not winter right now.
You’ve been working really steadily in TV for the past few years, but this is the first thing you’ve done where you’re the lead, your face is on the posters. Are you feeling a lot of pressure?
I don’t feel any — I have to work so much right now that it is impossible for me to think past the next episode. And to even make that more micro, it’s impossible for me to think past day 1 of the next episode. It still hasn’t quite dawned on me that the show is actually gonna be on the air. It’s one thing to screen the pilot. Katie and I were in the Vancouver airport yesterday, and on the TV, a big promo for Arrow came on, and we were sitting next to a bunch of people who were watching it. I turn to them while it was going on and was like, “The show looks good, doesn’t it?” They looked at me like, “Who is this person?” I tried to give them a high five afterwards, and they were like, “What?” They did not make the connection. And at Comic Con all the time, I kept going up to people cuz they had the big Arrow bags, like “Nice bag.”
You fit in well at Comic-Con, with your t-shirt.
You like that? I was trying to represent DC.
Let’s talk about the character a little. Oliver has spent years marooned alone on an island, and now people expect him to just step back into his life, but he’s seen some things and knows some things now that he didn’t before. Unlike on “Smallville,” where Clark Kent avoided killing people at all costs, “Arrow” racks up a considerable body count right off the bat. Is that going to wear on him?
This is something that David Nutter has said, so I can repeat it. Oliver has PTSD, and we have not seen its full potential yet. It can’t be easy. I just saw the new “Dark Knight,” and it wasn’t as exciting as a movie, but I liked how damaged Christian Bale was as Batman. He never fixed his leg. He’s getting older.
He’s mortal. You see these things, and you can start to root for him a little bit. That stuff is gonna start to weigh on Oliver. He can’t do this by himself. He’s gonna have to lean on somebody soon, which he will.
His love story with Laurel is definitely off to a rocky start — or a rocky middle — seeing as he comes back to find out that she’s sleeping with his best friend.
Well, Laurel’s the love of his life. You know how they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder? Well, he had five years on an island with literally nothing to do but think about her, so I’d say that that’s a singular type of love. It’ll be interesting to see, because [their relationship will] grate on him, but he’s also kind of got to understand. He was dead. People were grieving.
And he betrayed her first… with her sister.
And he totally betrayed her. There’s nothing that she can do to him that would be worse than what he did to her.
Tune in to “Arrow” on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.