John Barrowman juggles many balls, so to speak, from stage, film, television, books (which he writes with his sister, Carole), cosmetic lines and entertaining us endlessly on Twitter @Team_Barrowman.
So what is a fun guy like Barrowman doing playing a serious, humorless businessman like Malcolm Merlyn (a.k.a. The Dark Archer) and battling Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen on Arrow?
Plenty…and there’s more to come in the final episodes of the series’ first season.
But will Merlyn (and Barrowman) be back for Season 2? What does he think of his hunky co-stars Amell and Colton Haynes? And what’s up with his upcoming May 9th guest spot on Scandal?
We sat down with Barrowman last week in West Hollywood to get the answers…and we grabbed a few photos while we were at it, as you’ll see from our exclusive photo gallery!
TBL: Malcolm Merlyn wasn’t what I was expecting when you first started appearing on Arrow, just because of the roles you’ve played in the past. I expected to see that gleeful, mischievous John Barrowman come out. Has it been a challenge for you to keep that playful side in check?
JB: No, because there is a serious John Barrowman that is not really shown all the time. Before I came and sat down with you, I was having a conversation about one of my other businesses. I was being a bit of an ass on the telephone, and I know when to be that ass if that makes any sense. I would never be a dick about anything, but if it’s something that I know that the wool’s being pulled over my eyes, or something’s not going right, I’m going to stand up and I’m going to speak and back myself up.
So, to play Malcolm Merlyn was great is because all of those other characters have been very close to my personality and that’s the side that everybody sees, but they don’t get to see my business side. But I’m not mean like Malcolm. I’m not as ruthless as he is, but I do have a business head…if something’s not working, something’s going wrong, and if you were to blame, I would tell you. I’d say, ‘Right, you know you’re at fault. Let’s sort it out.’ So, there’s that aspect of it. Whereas Malcolm would just kill you. You’d be blood on the ground.
TBL: How is it for you to put on that Dark Archer outfit? To me, it seems like it would be like you’re a little kid playing.
JB: Claustrophobic. That mask – the gimp mask as I call it – I expect to be walking into a leather bar in the old meat packing district in New York City with that mask on.
TBL: You’d probably be very popular.
JB: We have two different [outfits]. We have a Velcro one, which is a full stay-on one for when I’m doing the action, and we have a magnetic one, which is what we call ‘the reveal.’ It comes off quickly. I’m claustrophobic. It’s awful to say that because it’s such a great looking outfit, but I always have to take the mask off.
TBL: You’ve been working with Stephen Amell for awhile now. Does he get less attractive as you get used to seeing him?
JB: No, he’s a very attractive young man and I will say that when he wears his Green Arrow outfit, it’s really tight, and he is, shall we say, it’s positioned very well and everything sticks out in all the right places…that outfit on him is just amazing, and he is an amazing guy. He’s got an amazing body.
It’s interesting because he came to talk to me about a few things and wanted my advice on stuff because he said, ‘You know, you’ve had that weight of a full show on your shoulders, so you know what it’s like.’ He said, ‘I admire what you’ve done,’ which I took as a real compliment, I was chuffed by it. So I would give him some advice. I think he’s handled it very well, and he’s the leader of the pack for this group. And he’s a damn handsome one at that.
TBL: Do your clothes come off in the upcoming Arrow episodes? We haven’t seen that yet.
JB: Not yet.
TBL: Is there pressure just knowing that could happen?
JB: Put it this way, I started training again, I started swimming, doing everything, and I have lost weight. I have lost weight since I started Arrow. I don’t think I’ll ever get back to a 32 waist because, things just, as you get older, expand anyway, but I’m 33 now, 33-34.
TBL: Coming up, do you share any scenes with Colton? Your tweets from you traveling together are very cute.
JB: We haven’t, and I think these are the other things that if I were to continue, I’d like to explore Malcolm’s relationship with the rest of the pack. Even with Emily’s character, Felicity, if there is a future, there’s going to be some run-in’s with that team. Knowing sci-fi, I can see where they’re going with this. They’re creating a league of superheroes type thing. That’s nothing that’s been told to me, I’m just totally guessing that as a fan. All I’ll say again is Malcolm Merlyn is the Lex Luther of this world.
Colton’s a great guy. He and I met on that first flight we had up to Vancouver…he said he was a fan and he watched Torchwood, and I thought how really sweet that this 24-year-old is a fan of mine. Like anybody in the cast, he’s not hard on the eyes.
TBL: He’s just so chiseled, it’s ridiculous.
JB: It’s amazing, isn’t it? He’s got amazing structure. So we come off of the flight and there are paparazzi there. He looks at me and says, ‘Should we pose?’ I’m like, ‘No, just follow my lead.’ He said, ‘What are you going to do?’ That’s when I just grabbed his hand and walked. He didn’t know what to do. He said, ‘That’s f***ing hysterical.’ I’m like, ‘That’s the kind of guy I am.’ He’s a great kid and we have a great time and he’s becoming a really good friend, which I think is really nice.
TBL: When you’re with somebody that young, is there advice given or does he ask?
JB: He asks some things. He’s got a good business manager and team around him, I guess, but I never give advice out because I don’t want to sound like the old man, which I’m not. I don’t want to give advice out unless I’m asked, but if I see someone making a mistake, they have to make that mistake. If I say to them, you know maybe you should have done that differently.
Stephen’s the same. Stephen’s done the same with me. He said, ‘What do you think I should do about that?’ I exactly tell him how I feel, and then he goes, ‘Okay,’ and then he makes his decision.
TBL: Will we see a different side of John Barrowman in Scandal, whatever that mysterious role might be?
JB: Put it this way, every role I do, I put a bit of my own personality into it. Like playing the bad guy, people go, ‘But you’re not a bad guy.’ No, but everybody’s got it in them, and that’s the great thing about doing characters on serial television and episodic television. You get to do things that you never really get to do. That’s the fun of it, so I’ll be getting to do stuff I’ve never really gotten to do before.
TBL: You have another Hollow Earth novel coming out this July in the US. How do you write with your sister? Do you sit together and write or do you each do parts?
JB: No, Carole does all the hard work. She actually does the physical writing. She comes to live with me for a month to three months at a time. Then we do the character building, the plot building, the structuring of the book, the outlining. We do even get down to the nitty-gritty of what car they’re driving, what jet ski they’re going to be riding. We do all that stuff three months or a month of information, however long it is. We visit all the places, look at the artwork.
She then takes all that information away and she sits for a year in her cubbyhole. I always joke that she goes back in the closet to write it. So she sits, and she does that hard work. I don’t bug her until she’s done unless she calls me at two o’clock in the morning, which is an every other night thing, and she’ll say, ‘I need to get them to this point, blah blah blah, and do this. What’s this?’ Then we’ll figure it out. I’ll be like, ‘Carol, it’s two o’clock in the morning for Christ’s sake,’ or I will e-mail her something and say, ‘I’ve just seen this picture.’
TBL: When you think of home, is it Palm Springs? I know you spend a lot of time there.
JB: Home is always where Scott and the dogs are, or where my mom and dad are. At the moment, it’s Palm Springs, but I have to go back to the UK for a little while. London is home also, but it’s really a difficult question to answer because we’re there, and we’re in different places all the time. At the moment, if I were to tell the truth, home is 3F on an airplane. That’s where my home is at the moment.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8pm on the CW. His Scandal episode airs May 9th on ABC. The novel Hollow Earth: Bone Quill will be released July 9th in the US.