One of the subtle joys of Legends of Tomorrow (a show famous for its subtlety) is how when watching the actors inhabit their characters, it seems like everyone is good friends and enjoying everyone else’s company. The same is true for the rest of the Arrowverse – these casts have been working together for years. So to step in to Crisis on Infinite Earths now, as Arrow is ending and universes are dying left and right, must be a challenge for any actor. “It’s a little daunting at first, just the idea of stepping into something that’s so well established, but I kind of had that same experience on Supernatural when I came on,” Osric Chau says about his new role as Ryan Choi, the Atom, for the big, universe-shattering Crisis crossover. “Everyone was so warm and welcoming and it wasn’t, it didn’t really take that long before I felt like it was the second home for me.”
Like the rest of the world, Chau does not have access to a time machine, and thus cannot devote his life to devouring peak TV, so he came to the Arrowverse late. That seems to have actually worked to his benefit. Stepping into Crisis on Infinite Earths let him streamline how he absorbed the series, and he started with Crisis’ predecessors. “I watched the crossover episodes from previous seasons. And it was a tone of its own, kind of a mishmash of all of them,” he says. “And so I kind of figured that, it would be its own thing and sure enough, it kind of is because you have every show working on every episode”
The most impressive thing about these CW crossovers has been how by balancing each show’s tone and ongoing stories against their clear, deep love of the source material, they end up with something unlike what any other show has accomplished before as their final product. It’s a very different thing to experience it being made, though. There are planning challenges that don’t exist anywhere else. “We’d be shooting The Flash on the Arrow set with the Legends crew, with hair and makeup from all over. You kind of have everyone working on every episode,” Chau says. “So it was kind of cool to see that at the same time, just from a logistical standpoint, I just started producing and I was just, I couldn’t even wrap my mind behind the logistics around it.”
With such a crowded cast and such an established mythology, it is a big ask for an actor to dive deep into a character like Ryan Choi when there are literally five other shows worth of cast and crew all battling for face time. The trick, he learned, was to make the most of his time as soon as he came on the screen. “I was talking to Caity Lotz from Legends, and she had just finished directing her episode. She’s like, ‘Yeah, the art of acting fast it’s kind of important because if you take those beats and you run out of time, sometimes they’ll just cut out the entire thing.’” he says.
Crises usually mean big things for Atoms. In the original comics Crisis on Infinite Earths, Ray Palmer and Al Pratt (the original, Superman/Flex Mentallo Atom from the golden age) were part of the Monitor’s strike teams on alternate Earths. Ryan Choi and Ray Palmer saved untold thousands of people at the end of Final Crisisat the last second, opening a portal between Earth-1 and Earth-51 as OMACS were swarming Checkmate headquarters. And Ryan’s introduction as a character came as a direct result of Infinite Crisis, donning the missing Professor Palmer’s belt and heading off to explore the newly reformed multiverse with a group of legacy heroes who, like him, would have originated on Earth-8 (the legacy hero universe) had the multiverse not been destroyed by the first Crisis.
Landing the role of Ryan is a particularly odd bit of kismet for Osric Chau. Years ago, before an Arrowverse had even been conceived, he pitched an Atom show to the CW. “I put together a pitch deck, because I thought Ryan Choi, Ivy University…this could be such an incredible show,” he says. “At the time, they had already been developing, I think Legends. And so they were like, ‘oh, we’re developing something with the Atoms. We can’t look at it.'”
That didn’t keep him from gushing over the character to one of its creators, beloved comics treasure Gail Simone. “I had seen that Gail was at a Comic-Con that I was at, so I went over and said hi and we chatted a bit,” he says. “I told her how much I love the comic and the fact that there was an Asian superhero at all just made my life. And right away she was like, ‘Oh my God, you could totally be Ryan.’” Simone remembered their talk. “When she heard the news, she just messaged me, and it warmed my heart to hear how happy it made her, because it was just this thing we had talked about briefly seven years ago.”
It remains to be seen how much of the comics Atom dynamics make it onto the screen. In the comics, Ryan is a scientist first, swashbuckling adventurer later. This is a contrast with comics Ray, who is just as likely to be found jamming a sword into a (relatively) giant paramecium as he is actually teaching his classes. Which is a pretty big contrast with his television counterpart, who just wants to be nerd friends with everyone. And based on Vandal Savage’s reaction to Ray in Hell in last season’s Legends of Tomorrow, he’s pretty good at it.
Besides getting the chance to play a big hero himself, probably the biggest highlight for Chau is seeing what his predecessor is doing. Brandon Routh plays Ray Palmer on Legends of Tomorrow, but in Crisis, he gets to play a variation on a role he had a long time ago. “He puts on that suit and…he looks like Superman,” says Chau of Routh’s new old role, Kingdom Come Superman. “And when he slips on that suit, it’s so hard not to stare. He just has this glow about him…It’s like you’re staring at a statue. It’s crazy.”
It remains to be seen whether Chau will get to join the Arrowverse family full time. They likely already have him measured for his Legends of Tomorrow puppet costume, but he’s got other irons in the fire in the meantime. “I’m putting together my first possibly my directorial debut of a feature film that I just wrote in the time that I shot Crisis,” Chau says. “Obviously if something happens with Legends or Flash or any of the other shows, I’ll gladly hop into it. But thankfully for me, I have plenty of things that I can set my sights on.”
Crisis on Infinite Earths runs through the CW DC TV shows through January.
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