Arrow sent quite a few actors to Dragon Con in Atlanta this year. We spoke to Paul Blackthorne (Quentin Lance), Caity Lotz (Sarah Lance), and Katrina Law (Nyssa al Ghul) at a press conference about their on-set experiences and their characters going into Arrow Season 3.
Paul Blackthorne, Caity Lotz, and Katrina Law had a lot to say about the development of their roles in Arrow, all the way from the audition process to the how the comics influence their performances and the show’s remarkable stunt work. We joined some other reporters in Atlanta during Dragon Con to get their take on Arrow, which has its season three premiere this week.
Paul, how do you feel about Quentin Lance going from detective to beat cop and then becoming captain at the start of Season 3 of Arrow? And can you tell us more about Lance as captain in Season 3?
Paul: Well you know I can’t really tell you much or I’d get shot otherwise. I mean, an arrow would just come flying through the room and that’d be the end of my interview.
The glory of having a season or 2 or 3 or more is that you get to develop these characters in interesting ways. And obviously the way these writers write, they do it so well, that it reflects the depth of the given characters and the storylines. Therefore, from the acting point of view, you sort of pick up the ball and go, “Oh, I’ve got a nice ball to play with.” (That was a good analogy, wasn’t it?)
It was interesting because in the second season, although he took a hit personally and was demoted and humiliated in a way, in his heart he knew he had really done the right thing because he could see that this guy was doing good by the city. And now in season 3 there’s a slightly different shift in the dynamic between not just Lance and Arrow but Arrow and the Starling City police department in general.
Caity, can you tell us about your audition process? Did you know she was going to be the Black Canary?
Caity: I did not know! I auditioned for a character named Lisa, and the sides were about, like, the Arrow killed her brother because her brother was selling Vertigo or something like that. And I remember I really liked it because the character was so strong. She was there to give the Arrow shit; it wasn’t like she was this weak whatever. She was a very strong character even just from the audition sides.
So I auditioned, and it went well – actually, it went bad, and I thought I wasn’t going to get it and they said I wasn’t going to get it. They said, “You’re not the CW type, sorry.” And then they were like, “Oh sorry, never mind, we’re flying Stephen Amell in to do a chemistry read with you,” so they flew Stephen into L.A. We did a read together, and then after that it was still a long process. I mean, it was a big part, an important part; they wanted to make sure they got someone that fit. And then after I booked it is when they told me that it was going to be Sarah Lance and that it was going to be Canary.
Paul: Oh so that was just a bit of old shrouding just so you wouldn’t walk out there and give the whole storyline away, right?
Caity: Well, I had a meeting where they told me everything – they spilled the beans! And literally, maybe it was that same day, it was Comic Con weekend, it leaked that I was playing Sarah Lance and then the CW leaked that I was the Canary, so all the secrets leaked. But it was still fun.
Paul: Can I ask a question? [to Katrina] How was your audition process? What were you offered?
Caity: We did chemistry reads, I remember.
Katrina: Right! So when I was called in I think my character’s name was Greta or or Jen, and I was doing this really intense, smitten and spiteful lover of Oliver. And they said, “You’re going to be doing a chemistry read.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.” And then they were like, “Okay, so you’re going to do this chemistry read with a girl that’s on the show; her name is Caity.” And I was like, “W-what? Okay, so where are my new sides?” And they were like, “No, no, we want you to use the same sides.” And I was like…
Paul: “What’s going on?”
Katrina: “Okay, but do you want me to – because this one I’m like very heavily interested in Oliver. Do you want me to change it so that now she’s more like my sister?” It’s like, “No, just do it exactly the same.” “Okay, is my character going to be a lesbian?” “We can’t tell you that.” “Okay, because it would really help out in my read and my choices if I knew whether I should treat this woman I’m reading with as a sister or a lover because there is a difference!” And they’re like, “We can’t tell you that. Just read it exactly the same.”
And then, of course, I walk in and here’s this “Caity” that I’ve never seen – no, actually I watched her parkour, and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, she’s just so badass! It’s awesome!” So I walked in and I’m like, “Okay, this is weird,” and I think there’s this moment where we just stared at each other. It was kind of like, “Okay, let’s do this.” And we didn’t really have a chance to work together or prepare or anything, so I think we were both just trying to act as – I don’t even know, it was such an odd audition.
Caity: It was like, “Okay, we’re lesbian lovers now, perfect.”
Katrina: And also because she’s shorter than I am, and I’m not used to that. It was like all these weird dynamics that I had to switch and adjust to, and then I was offered the part, and then I didn’t find out – until TV Guide announced it – what part I was. Because we were going online trying to guess who my character might be, and I was like, “Oh, maybe Lady Shiva or something like that” because the way it read, you know what I mean? And then I found out it was Nyssa al Ghul, and it was really cool because her character – she’s only been in the comics for 19 episodes, so there was a lot they could do with her character so that was really exciting. But that was my audition process.
How do you think Lance feels about Sarah’s relationship with Nyssa?
Caity: Do you approve of me?
Paul: You mean my daughter’s choice of partner in life? Lance is a bit of a grumpy old fellow, let’s face it, but I think even for him that moment – although it was a bit of a challenge for him to acknowledge the situation – I think he said later in that episode “As long as you’re happy, I don’t care what it is. And if that’s how you’re happy then fine.” And isn’t that just the way it should be?
What’s it like being able to go to the comic books for inspiration for your characters?
Caity: I think it can be a little bit of pressure if you let it. I was talking to a girl today, and she was saying she grew up on the Black Canary comics, and she loved the Black Canary and how much it meant to her. And when she said that the way I portrayed it was exactly how she envisioned it was such a compliment!
Because the show is for the fans, and so you want to be true and bring everything you can from it. But at the same time you have to do something original and do your own thing. So I think you just have to take the pressure off and just dive into it as best you can, deep as you can, putting yourself into it.
Katrina: I think I felt the opposite with Nyssa because she’s only been in 19 comics, she’s really an unexplored character, so I feel like between myself and the writers, we were free to take her anywhere we wanted, giving her an accent that’s kind of from nowhere, having her be a lesbian, doing anything we wanted. And it was a lot of pressure knowing that I wasn’t playing Talia, because Talia’s been played and done and has been portrayed by so many people.
People have so many opinions about who’s done it right and who’s done it injustice, so for me I’m just going to like, “I can do what I want,” and I’m kind of setting the standard with this character. So for me, I love it. [to Paul] How about you? How do you feel about your paunch?
Paul: The paunch, yes, the Lance paunch. Apparently he has a paunch in the comic books, and I wasn’t interested in that too much. I’m really not a very authentic actor at all. Of course, there’s the mythology that has very much been created in the comic book, but to me it’s really what the television producers are going to do.
I tend to just sort of zero in on the producers and say, “Guys, what’s your interpretation of this?” Because for me, personally, I would probably just get a bit confused if I start going through the comic book world, and my brain can only take so much. And I can just roll around in this ignorance beautifully because of course that’s what Lance does! Lance hasn’t got a clue! He’s just wondering why everyone is dressed like this. It’s like, “Why can’t you just wear normal clothes?”
What’s it like playing characters with such massive story arcs, not necessarily being all good or all bad?
Caity: Any time you have more layers, more complexity, it’s more interesting, it’s more challenging – it’s more fun! In life, nobody’s just good or evil. There’s an Oscar Wilde quote, what is it? “It’s not about being good or bad; it’s about being charming or tedious.” And I think with these characters, you get to delve into so many different areas and mix and blend. And they can dip their toes into evil but then sometimes it’s charming and you like it, and other times it’s not.
Paul: The medium of television gives you a chance to explore that. You take a film or a play, it’s going to be a three-act structure, and obviously certain characters are there to perform certain roles and functions within that story. But with this ongoing television format that you can have seasons, 3, 4, 5, 6, whatever, there’s so much to explore. And like you were saying, not everyone in life is definitively good or bad at any one time all the way through, and with this, you get to see that reflected really, and how human beings can be just downright peculiar, not necessarily good or bad. That is what’s kind of interesting about the television thing, don’t you think?
Katrina: I love what the writers do on this show. A lot of times in movies, you always know who the hero is, and they always try to do good – they might have one little mess-up here or there. Or the same thing with the villains, they just come in and from the moment they step in, you know who the bad guy is. And I think the beautiful thing that the producers and writers on this show do is make everybody really human and real and give them very human motivations, and a lot of times it is love or jealousy or anger or betrayal that motivates them, as it does in real life.
Paul: I’m obsessed with Katrina’s character, because it’s “Oh, she’s bad,” and then it’s like, “Maybe she’s alright. No, she’s bad. But I don’t know maybe she’s okay.” And you know it’s fascinating; it’s great writing, you know? And then what you bring to it; you know it’s a real treat being in a situation like this as actors. We’re very fortunate because we’re obviously in a realm of great writing and producing and just this mythology. You just kind of turn the pages and like, “Goodness me, this is an interesting week’s work ahead.”
Katrina: One of my favorite characters for that is actually the Canary character because the writers do do such a great job of giving her so many circumstances that if you were to just judge her character by that one thing, like sleeping with Oliver, your sister’s boyfriend. Normally, that would define you as definitively bad throughout the entire series, but because she does so many other things and they made the other things just as important or more important than that one act, she’s suddenly redeemed. They do such a great job with her character, just giving her all these nuances.
And when you watch television I feel like a lot of people want to instantly judge and instantly go, “You’re good! You’re bad! You’re white! You’re black! You’re this! You’re that!” And it’s hard with any of these characters to put them into any kind of box, and I think that’s the beauty of Arrow.
How have the strong female characters you’ve played in this series differed from those you’ve played in other series?
Katrina: Nyssa’s probably my favorite character that I’ve ever done, and I compare her a lot to my character on Spartacus, which was Mira. And I love Mira, and she was such a tragic figure in that she loved a man that she wanted; she wanted freedom, but at the end of the day she never really got anything that she wanted. She’s constantly fighting for it. And I just remember, as an actor, just begging for more from my character to move beyond and to be able to fight for something more than a man, or fight for something bigger.
And one of the great things about my Arrow character is that she is! She’s about her own personal agenda, and she’s about love, and she’s about the League of Assassins and overall goals and morals of that, and it just feels bigger and epic instead of so focused.
What’s your experience with the stunt work on the show?
Paul: Well, I do all my own stunts! Oh yes, I ran across the room once! It was awesome, and I do it all myself!
Caity: The stunt team is ridiculous! What they’re able to achieve on an episodic show – I mean it’s feature film stuff that they’re doing with very little time, and it’s really insane what they do. There’s so much of it that I’m like, “Oh, I want to do it!” And then I’m like, “Okay wait, no, maybe not. Atlin, you go ahead.” They’re ridiculous.
Paul: When one of the mirakuru gentlemen came bursting into the police department at one stage, it was like, “Oh, goodness me, who are these men?” They had a couple of stunts lined up where I was going to get thrown across the room and then one guy was going to get pushed across the room and all the rest of it. So there’s a rig set up on the wall, the cops here, the rope, and the guy’s going to push him there, and you’re like, “Okay, so he’s just going to go slamming against the wall,” but no, he doesn’t go slamming against the wall backwards, he spins clockwise upside down and lands upside down against the wall.
It’s like, of course you couldn’t just make it a straightforward slam against the wall, he’s got to spin around several times and then land upside down, planted against the wall. They constantly do that! Every time you see these stunt sequences, you kind of read it, and you think, “Oh that’s probably going to be that,” but every time they just up it and up it and up it. They’re just always surprising you.
Katrina: Yeah, James Bamford – he’s a legend! It’s like he’s running a military when he runs his crew. Because they’ll be sitting around, you know, doing whatever they do, and all of a sudden he’ll be like, “Alright guys, it’s up,” and then they all get up, they nail it, whatever fifty-step sequence that they all do, all at the same time, and then they sit down and go back to doing whatever. And then Atlin, the girl who doubles us, she used to do Cirque de Soleil – she’s amazing! She’s the one who does all of the silk falls and all that other stuff. And then she wears that tank top, and her muscles are just like – BAM! Yeah, so you can double me… and her ass is smaller than mine, so it’s a good thing. It makes me look good!
Paul: Maybe I’ll use her as a stunt double.
Is there anything you guys geek out about in your personal lives?
Katrina: Pictures of baby animals. I just found this one thing where it’s like a duck slide, and the ducks run up, and it’s like a little slide, and they just keep running up! I can watch that thing on repeat for hours!
Paul: I like trees; I’m obsessed with trees. Literally, trees are amazing. I just stare at trees, and I am a tree-hugger. You walk around Stanley Park [in Vancouver] and you suddenly go, “Have you seen that tree?” And there were like trees the width of this room just in Stanley Park!
I’m sorry, but I do secretly hug them in the dark. I mean you hold onto a tree, and all that energy that’s coming out of the ground and producing that, and then all that photosynthesis and everything that’s going on – anyway, that’s my geek thing.
Caity: I had that whole time to think of something – I don’t know. I really don’t know. Internet memes? You know the photos where they write on the top and the bottom? Baking, I really like baking. I like reading. [I’m reading] The Way of the Superior Man. I geek out on books; yeah, that’s a good one. Every man should read that book, by the way.
Arrow begins on the CW this week! Tune in on Wednesdays at 8pm EST.