Legends of Tomorrow: The Evolution of Ray Palmer

Brandon Routh talks Ray Palmer's evolution from Arrow to Legends of Tomorrow season 5 and his imminent departure from the show.

Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer in Legends of Tomorrow Season 5

Brandon Routh has been a staple of the Arrowverse since 2015, when he was introduced as Ray Palmer during Arrow’s third season. It wasn’t long before Ray suited up as the Atom, and soon became a central figure in the wildest Arrow spinoff of them all, Legends of Tomorrow. Five years later, Routh’s portrayal has evolved considerably from the more traditionally heroic character who first appeared on Arrow into a nerdier, more enthusiastic (but no less heroic or competent) teammate who, in the spirit of the show, leans into quirkier and more comedic elements that have helped make Ray Palmer into such an essential part of the Legends of Tomorrow team. 

Routh was an integral part of this year’s momentous Arrowverse crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths, not just as Ray Palmer, but as the Superman of an alternate universe who joins the heroes to help battle the Anti-Monitor. We discussed his return as Superman and sharing screen time with himself as both Kal-El and Ray here. The below interview is taken from that same conversation, which took place in December, after Routh had already filmed his final scenes as Ray for Legends of Tomorrow season 5.

Den of Geek: Can you take us back to the very beginning and talk about how Ray was originally pitched to you and how you found the character from those early days of Arrow to the wilder days of Legends of Tomorrow?

Brandon Routh: I think Ray as originally conceived was more of a Tony Stark type and if you watch my first couple of episodes of Arrow, the dialogue, I am doing that. That’s what the writers and producers had set forth, and I was fine with that for the most part, but I wanted him to have a softer edge than Tony Stark. He could have a little bit of an ego and be excited about his products and business and all that stuff, but have a softer side, which in the first two, three episodes starts to shift. And then thankfully the writers followed and we were all working together to make that happen…He was the CEO of Palmer Tech, which made a big difference because he was the leader. He had to be the boss, he had to be the idea man. And he also had to lead his team of employees. 

Ad – content continues below

So in the transition to the Legends team, he was no longer the leader. He no longer had to be that version of Ray Palmer. He could be the Ray Palmer that knew every episode of Doctor Who, who played Dungeons and Dragons growing up. All of these things that he had kind of bottled up to be the CEO, were now able to come out. The boy scout, all of these things, which were a part of him he could now let loose because he didn’t have the responsibility of being a team leader. As the show has progressed in seasons and he’s still not tapped to be the leader, he can continue to do that and be more this other side of himself. I enjoy comedy and I just kept pushing the envelope. Audiences were responding and writers are responding and I just kept pushing the limit and they followed. And so we get to where we are today.

As Legends of Tomorrow went on, were you relieved to not have to wear that Atom suit quite as much?

Yes. I love the suit, and I love that aspect of the character. I definitely think the last couple of seasons, it’s been missing and even though it’s not always the most fun thing to be in and work long days in, I think it deserved to be present more in recent seasons. At the same time, given the budget that we’re given for doing this TV series, it’s not often enough to do the CG animation that the Atom deserves. So from the beginning it became apparent that this was going to be a lot more of kicking and punching and hand to hand combat, and that’s fun, but it’s hard to do in that suit. But the Atom is originally able to shrink. I was always pushing to have more of that, but we were limited by the budget, because we had all these other characters that had to have CGI and all kinds of others. So I would’ve liked a little bit more of it. I certainly would’ve appreciated more opportunity for cool miniaturization scenes, but it didn’t end up being able to work out that way. That being said, there were some really awesome moments that they were able to do. All the visual effects teams worked incredibly hard at and they look really awesome.

The Legends set seems like a pretty fun and crazy place to be. Do you have any particular favorite moments, behind the scenes moments, whether it’s stuff that made it to the screen or not? Because the energy between that cast is just so apparent to viewers.

It’s become that. It’s become a great place to be over the last few seasons. The first few seasons, we were finding our legs and the tone of the show, but certainly the last few seasons we’ve really jelled as a cast and relaxed and have a lot of fun on screen and off screen. They’re not often funny, but half the time we do a lot of puns between takes. We like to keep it lively and joke and chastise each other.

I ended up doing a lot of improv during scenes and at the end of scenes. That stuff doesn’t always make it, but it’s fun for us to see what does finally make it. Last season, [at the funeral of Hank Heywood], I asked Nick [Zano] “would it be funny if I kissed you on the cheek? You know, just like Caity [Lotz] does.” I said I might do it. He’s like, “okay.” So we’d do stuff like that and it ends up making it. The spit take that he does [in season 4 episode 12], it’s just all over my face. He said, “I might do this, and I said, “okay.” Well, I didn’t know if he was really going to do it. So it was great when he actually did it. It was a real reaction. Nick is one of my favorite people to work with. I’ll miss our characters and the fun stuff we got to do.

Ad – content continues below

We’re saying goodbye to Ray this season. When did you know that this was going to be Ray’s farewell with the Legends?

I think that was around May. I got a phone call.

You don’t sound too thrilled about that. You feel like there’s still more of Ray’s story to do?

It was not my decision, nor Courtney’s [Ford, who plays Nora Darhk, who is also departing as a series regular] decision. No one was really consulted too much about it. They were talking to us and we would’ve loved to have continued playing the characters, certainly through season five and into the next one, because we were just getting going. We just finally came together as a couple in our show, season four was arguably the best that we’ve had, and the most critically acclaimed. It’s because of the cast and the relationship that existed between those characters and that specific combination and magic of characters and relationships that we had on our show. We would have loved to have continued that.

I know you can’t say much about this, but broadly what can we expect from Ray’s final few episodes with the team?

What can I say that’s not saying too much? There were some very emotional moments. I think some of my best work. Maybe my best work on the show. A lot of raw emotion, by both myself and by Courtney, who just has always been outstanding as Nora. But she has a couple of episodes that are just outstanding, her best work on the show as well, and so funny. We have some fun stuff together, a lot of craziness. There are unique themed episodes that I think people are really going to enjoy. I think there’s maybe two of the best episodes that have ever been on the show are in season five. So I’m looking forward to audiences being able to see those.

Ad – content continues below

Legends of Tomorrow season 5 premieres on Jan. 21 at 9 pm on the CW.