Arrow Season 6: Unmasking the Secrets of Vigilante
We talked to Arrow’s Johann Urb about the hero’s journey, Vigilante’s moral ambiguity, and what might be next.
For two seasons now on Arrow, a fellow vigilante has dogged Oliver Queen. As villains like Prometheus and the Bratva have come and gone (and come back again), the antagonist known as Vigilante has been there, an extra wrench in Team Arrow’s plans. With the revelation that the Vigilante is really Vincent Sobel, Dinah’s former partner in life and on the force, the character has only become more mysterious and moved closer to the heart of the action.
Den of Geek spoke with Johann Urb, the actor who brings Vigilante/Vincent Sobel to life, about what sets Arrow apart from other superhero properties, what him forget to act, and whether Vigilante will cross a line he can’t come back from.
A few things you may not know about Johann: he’s originally from Estonia, he has extensive martial arts training, and he understands why you were disappointed when Vigilante didn’t turn out to be a certain long-dead fan favorite character.
Vince and Dinah have had one of the more interesting and tumultuous relationship’s this season, zigzagging back and forth between tentative trust and outright anger. Even though we hadn’t spent much time with Vince before he was revealed as Vigilante, his connection to Dinah is so strong and thoughtfully evoked on screen that we easily see the years they spent together, and the mark it leaves every time Vince lets Dinah down.
What can we expect to see from Dinah and Vince? “In this upcoming episode you see more of that [connection] and you see more of our past, flashbacks to our history,” teased Urb.
From the very first scene, Dinah has been such a compelling character. But she’s also an incredibly private person, so other than a few details about Vincent’s assumed death, we haven’t learned much about her past. Flashbacks, especially ones involving Vince, could be a great opportunity to learn more about her work as a cop as well as her personal life, and perhaps see more of the softer side that we’ve only caught glimpses of so far.
What about the connection between Dinah and Vince? How does it fit into his character overall? While Johann wouldn’t spill any state secrets, he did tell us, “I think that the love is really strong, and the connection is really strong, and really that’s one of the major pulls for me in the character, as an actor, why I’m in allegiance with anyone, really. The love is what drives it for me.”
That on-screen chemistry is based in a great working relationship between the actors themselves. “With Juliana,” said Urb, “we just have a really beautiful friendship. We really like each other a lot so it’s been easy to connect and bring that connection to the screen.”
Now that we have so many superhero shows and movies to choose from, it can be hard to remember what a breath of fresh air Arrow was when it first aired. As Johann says, “A lot of the superhero stuff is really black and white. That’s fantasy, more than the grey area, which is where we all live. I think people make mistakes. People oscillate between being good and bad.” That sort of character work is what drew an audience to the show in the first place. That kind of depth is a huge draw for actors like Johann.
Sounds like somebody is hoping for a Vigilante redemption arc, and I can’t say I blame him. But whichever way Vigilante’s story eventually goes, it will certainly be grounded in his relationships, like all the best story arcs are on Arrow.
I was really, really surprised how well it was done and how interesting it was and how you really, really care about the people. A lot of times, with action shows and superhero shows, that can be kind of not important or not as well played, but the relationships are so rich and so interesting that it’s been a lot of fun to watch the show and to really explore that side. You know that’s what makes people care. That’s what makes me care.
It’s not hard to imagine a world in which Vigilante is a sympathetic character, or even a hero. If this show were called Vigilante instead of Arrow, we would see context that makes sense of his otherwise-questionable decisions, and then Oliver Queen would be the privileged guy who sought political power after running his business into the ground, in the wake of a terror attack his family orchestrated.
That would make the Green Arrow a brutal vigilante who picks and chooses who he saves, when to use lethal force, how often he feels like following the law, and when he feels like assisting a shadowy government agency that infringes on the civil rights of US citizens.
Between working with Cayden James and helping Curtis, Rene and Dinah, these days Vigilante gives us as many reasons to be suspicious as to trust him. Even so, his unpredictable allegiances and spotty moral record make him all the more fascinating to watch.
Johann shared: “I really love shows and movies where [moral ambiguity] is happening. Because I feel like nothing in the world is black and white…It’s really fun to play a character that isn’t one-dimensional, who has a lot of room to sort of play in both realms. It’s like a hero’s journey, where you go through the darkness to the light, or vice versa. It’s just more fun.”
Of course there is such a thing as taking it to far, which Vigilante could very well do—or be made to do, by Cayden James. Choosing to work with Cayden James in the first place doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, although Elena, Felicity, and the rest of Team Arrow are guilty of that as well.
“Yes, there’s a red line,” said Urb. “I think there’s certain things that Vigilante could do that would definitely feel like betrayal, and could be so deep that there’s no turning back, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Dinah has already been betrayed by Vincent, and I wonder if she could stand to go through that again. If anyone were to get seriously hurt because she trusted Vincent, especially anyone from either of the Teams Formerly Known as Arrow, I don’t think Dinah could forgive herself, let alone Vincent.
Aside from the complex character work, Arrow allows Johann to show off his martial arts training.
I’ve done martial arts for most of my life, and it’s nice to be able to put a lot of your skills and your training into practice. And the cast and the crew and the stunt guys and coordinators and everyone is so good and so professional. It’s such a well-oiled machine that you just kinda fit right in and do what you do and they make you look good.
There’s one other important relationship in Vigilante’s life: Johann’s frequent scene partner and genre legend, Michael Emerson. When asked about working with Michael, Johann immediately laughed. “Oh my god, you know sometimes, when I’m in a scene with him – I try not to do it in my close-ups – but I just watch him. He’s so good and he’s so interesting. You know sometimes I forget to actually act. I hope I haven’t messed him up or anything, but he can handle it. He’s one of the most interesting actors I’ve ever had a chance to work with. I’m like in awe of him.”
Vincent is a metahuman, one of the few that has been featured on Arrow. But so far, we’ve really only seen his healing ability – could there be other metahuman powers that have yet to be revealed? “Well, that remains to be seen, won’t it? Let’s find out.” That sounds like a definite maybe to me.
“Sneaky, sneaky,” he chided. Just taking our cues from Vigilante himself!
One thing that’s no secret is how much Johann enjoys working on Arrow, particularly with this cast and crew. In spite of how long the main cast has worked together, Urb says that, “everyone is so welcoming and wonderful. They really made me feel so at home. Again, I’ve had one of my favorite experiences [working on Arrow]. Those guys have done a great job welcoming people who are new.”
So the cast and crew were welcoming – but what about the fans?
“When it was first revealed who Vigilante was, I think there was some disappointment because fans wanted him to be somebody that died on the show who was one of the main characters at some point and have him come back. Which I totally understand, having watched all the episodes now.”
There were certainly plenty of fan theories, and given how much everyone on Arrow loved working with Colin Donnell, it makes sense that people got excited about his return. Luckily, Colin made a brief return during Crisis on Earth-X, and fans seem to have warmed to Vince (and Johann) in the meantime, particularly as his character becomes more complicated and his motives less straightforward than we first assumed.
“I think that most likely, people are warming up to Vigilante now, and starting to like him more. Especially now that he might be a good guy. I’m excited to see what the fans will say now.”