Stephen Amell :: Ripped and ready as the Green Arrow
When checking out "Arrow," the new CW series based on the comic book superhero that premieres Wednesday, you may get distracted by a marvel that is as impressive as anything else on the slickly produced series: star Stephen Amell’s ripped-up physique.
On the series, Amell plays Oliver Queen, the billionaire alter-ego of the crime-fighting Green Arrow, whose exploits have been chronicled as in the DC comic franchise for some 70 years. The premise has the billionaire playboy Queen returning to civilization after being stranded on an island for five years to pursue the life of a vigilante crime fighter. He does so by creating the Green Arrow, who sees himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, using archery as a means of crime-fighting.
But, when you’re done marveling at the impressive pecs, abs, arms and maybe even (if it’s your thing) the jagged scars his character, Oliver Queen, has on his torso, you’ll realize that nobody’s body gets that perfect just for the hell of it. Thankfully, besides being terrific eye candy, Amell is a solid actor who also brings everything he’s got to the many fight scenes on the new series.
"For the fight training it’s all been James Banford," Amell said of his training with the series’ highly-regarded fight coordinator. "I learned the basics and then he sort of walks me through the fight. The thing that James says that’s sort of great is he always makes sure that tension is attached to the move."
And while Amell enjoys doing as much of the fighting himself, he understands the responsibility when shooting the intense action scenes. "Unfortunately, there are instances where I don’t get enough time to prep, in which case Simon Burnett, who is my very, very, very capable stunt-double will do the lion’s share of the work, not because I can’t, but just because of logistics and because of safety. Because the person that you’re fighting has to know that you know everything that’s going on, and it would be irresponsible if I stepped in there."
But Amell lights up when talking about some of the action sequences he does get to be a part of. "The other thing that I really enjoy is that as technical as the fight scenes go, we have a fight scene in an earlier episode that is just simply, it’s just brutal. It’s just very violent and there’s not a huge spectrum of moves. It’s just fists and elbows repeatedly. And it’s not pretty, which is one of the things I like."
One of the most stunning physical moments of the pilot that is not a fight sequence is when a shirtless Amell climbs up ladder with a freestanding bar that he must maneuver into each rung by his strength and dexterity. How exactly did he master the technique?
"At Tempest Freerunning Academy," Amell said, "people train for ’America Ninja Warrior,’ and those are called the salmon ladder, or sometimes they call them the dyno. And that’s there at this facility so they asked me if I could do it. And we took a tape of it. We sent it to the producers. Greg [Berlanti, the out Executive Producer] freaked out, as he always does, when he’s sent new physical things that I’m doing, and then they put it into the show. Basically it’s a chin up with a dance move, if that makes sense."
Others paled by comparison
Now that Amell has shared his experience with the physical demands of the show, was it merely his body and athleticism that got him the lead in the series based on the Green Arrow comic books? Not exactly. As Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg explained at this summer’s Television Critics Association Press Tour, "it was actually pretty easy to find Arrow because Stephen was the very first person who came in and auditioned. Our wonderful casting director, David Rapaport, had us see Stephen and said the day we started was a Wednesday, and he said, ’This guy will not be around on Thursday. Meet him now.’ And after we met Stephen and he auditioned, everyone else just paled by comparison. Usually when you go into the studio or the network, you bring multiple choices and we didn’t do that. Every step of the way was Stephen, Stephen, Stephen, because not just physically, but talent-wise, emotionally, he was always Oliver Queen to us."
As for how closely the show will adhere to the comic books, Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim stated, "we are definitely taking a lot of inspiration from the comics, most specifically Green Arrow: Year One and Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. But it’s really a point of inspiration that sets up our world. We have already taken a fair number of liberties with the character. For example, in the comics, both of his parents are dead. We keep Oliver’s mother alive. Oliver didn’t have any siblings. We gave him a sister. One of the nice things about Green Arrow is unlike Batman or Spider Man or Superman where everyone knows about Batman’s parents dying or Krypton blowing up or getting bit by a radioactive spider, Green Arrow has an origin that is subject to a lot of interpretation. In fact, it’s been interpreted and reinterpreted in the comics over many, many years. So there’s not as much canon that’s precious, so we can play around. We always start with the comic as our source of inspiration."
Amell is finding great challenges in the acting of such a layered character since the show spends time with Queen in flashback on the island where he lived alone (supposedly dead) for five years as well as the Queen of today, who returns with a strong sense of justice as the Arrow. "As an actor, it’s really fun," he said, smiling. "When I looked at the pilot, I saw four different roles, and normally they break down in sort of day by day when we’re shooting the episodes where I will have a day where it’s just it’s sort of fake Oliver in the real world right now, and then there will be an island day, and there’s an Arrow day and Laurel days."
A fun exercise
Instead of being daunted by so many different facets of the same character, Amell took what appears to be a sense of joy. "It’s a really fun exercise. It keeps me on my toes, and that was what intrigued me most when I read the pilot, and I think that’s saying a lot, because it’s a superhero show, or at least an opportunity for me to play a superhero, so for me to see it first as a really interesting acting exercise says a lot about the quality of the writing and how great I thought the pilot was."
Despite the superhero elements of the show, Berlanti saw an opportunity to bring a family dynamic into the show, which makes sense given his track record with series like ’Brothers and Sisters’ and ’Everwood.’ Berlanti said, "I try to contribute to the family stuff and to the action stuff and to, you know I think, you know, you get a group of writers together, and everybody we have a pretty nonhierarchical staff. That’s the way I like to do things, where everybody has a real kind of open forum to say their best ideas and discuss things. And you try and put a great group of writers together to do that. And then out the other end comes a story, and you shape and mold it. And then you have network executives and studio executives who kind of help you shape it along the way."
As for gay characters, Berlanti has stated that he hopes to have at least one such character be a part of "Arrow" by the end of the first season. With out actor John Barrowman coming on board in a mysterious role that has been heavily guarded, one can hope that Barrowman might just be one who brings a gay flare to the role. In fact, all Amell could say of Barrowman’s character was, "he’s well-dressed. He’s a very well-spoken, well-respected businessman in Starling City. I so want to tell you his character [but] no, I can’t." (Barrowman first appears on the series on the October 30th episode and will appear in several episodes).
With a gorgeous lead star who has no problem stripping down when necessary (see the show’s poster as an example), it sounds as though the writers realize there also needs to be a sense of depth in the series, which Amell can also deliver. But with other high concept shows like NBC’s "Revolution" and ABC’s "Last Resort" premiering this fall, "Arrow" is perhaps a step ahead since it arrives with a devout comic book following.
And, as long as Amell keeps that ripped up body on display for us, we should see "Arrow" stick around for a long time.
"Arrow" airs Wednesday at 8pm (EST) on the CW.
Watch this extended preview of the series: