Arrow star David Ramsey thinks Oliver and Diggle need to 'shed some tears'
Warning: This post contains spoilers from the latest episode of Arrow. Read at your own risk!
We just met another member of the Diggle family on Arrow.
In Monday’s episode, aptly titled “Spartan,” Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Diggle’s (David Ramsey) latest encounter with the Ninth Circle forced them to seek out the help of General Stewart (Ernie Hudson), a four-star general for the DoD who just happened to be Diggle’s estranged stepfather. It’d been years since the two men had seen each other because Diggle has always blamed him for the death of his father, who served under the general and died in action. However, by the end of the hour, Diggle and General Stewart managed to work through their issues, especially once Diggle learned that the general actually wasn’t responsible for his father’s death but let Diggle blame him anyway because he believed everybody needs to believe their father is a hero.
Unsurprisingly, Ramsey had a great time shooting this episode because of its focus on Diggle and his relationship with his father. “Any time you get to sink your teeth into writing that’s essentially about your character, that’s always fun,” Ramsey tells EW. “Ernie Hudson! Just working with Ernie was fantastic. I can’t think of who else could have played Diggle’s father and a four-star general. It was just great. The Easter egg of General Stewart is fantastic. I think that’s going to get fans going. It’s always fun to play with that whole thing. And it was just a lot of nuance, right? Diggle is dealing with issues from when he was 12, 13, 14 years old. Seeing someone as powerful as John Diggle deal with these things — he’s been as rational as an adolescent — is always fun. It was interesting to sink my teeth my into that.”
With both Emily Bett Rickards’ departure and Arrow‘s final season on the horizon, Ramsey hopes Diggle and Oliver get a similar moment where they hash out their differences once and for all, especially after the big fight they had last season.
“Personally, [I want] the heart-to-heart of really laying out there how different these guys are and now saying, ‘To hell with all that. Let’s go bust some ass and fight some crime’ over a drink,” says Ramsey. “I think the fight that they had still lingers in the air someplace even though they’ve made up. He just left A.R.G.U.S. He was away for a long time and it was because of this whole break-up and differences between these two guys. So, I think it’s worth some place in the storytelling of saying, ‘Let’s say this out loud. Let’s clink our glasses, and then throw it to bed and move past it finally.'”
Below, EW speaks to Ramsey about working with Hudson, his hopes for the final season, and how he thinks Felicity’s impending departure will affect Oliver and Diggle. Read on below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I imagine you probably came up with your own backstory for Diggle’s upbringing and relationship with his parents years ago. How closely did what you imagine sync up with what ended up being the case in this episode?
DAVID RAMSEY: The way I kind of saw Diggle is exactly the way that he came out on the page. We talked about this, me and [showrunner Beth Schwartz], to some extent, and I think it was important that Diggle approach this and he needed help. He needs Oliver’s help in seeing the reality of who his father really is, who his stepfather really is. My idea was that Diggle should deal with these issues of childhood trauma. First of all, I think we nailed that, and I also think that’s just life. We’re all just dealing with a lot of things that happened to us in our childhood. I think that’s just one more thing that makes Diggle relatable.
I think Diggle is one of the more relatable characters. He’s just a regular guy from the inner city that joined the military, unlike Oliver and Felicity, who are super exceptional. That’s one of the things that helps Diggle resonate with people, because he’s just a normal guy. This lends itself, again, to that sort of characterization: this is a guy who is just dealing with childhood issues like everybody else. Not extreme childhood issues of someone killing themselves on a raft boat (Oliver Queen) and their father being who he is. Regular childhood issues like adoption [and] as soon as your father or mother left, here’s a new guy in the house.
What was your most memorable scene with Ernie in this episode?
Ernie and I worked on a little short [film] many, many, many years ago. There wasn’t much going on. I met him there, we worked together, and it was just fantastic. The scene at the elevator when we both had that final moment was really the time when it was just like, “Ernie, you’re giving me so much!”
The mark of a great actor, everyone says, is just the ability to listen. He’s throwing underhanded pitches at me just emotionally and able to just reach inside of me and pull [something out]. When he says to Diggle, “If your father could see you now,” just the delivery of that line really hit home for me, and Ernie just emoted it so well having to do the turnaround of being insulted by Diggle for the past day and a half. The elevator scene is where I really appreciated having such a seasoned actor and his ability to listen and deliver. I was privileged, and it made my job easier because it was easier to emote.
Do you think we’ll meet Diggle’s mom before the show ends?
You guys found out when I found out that he had a mother. Yes, without a doubt. I think we’ll come to some conclusion as to what the first steps of this relationship between him and his stepfather mean to John Diggle.
I’ve been rewatching Arrow and one of the main differences that comes up for Oliver and Diggle is how they approach family. It’s been said time and time again that Oliver has a blind spot when it comes family and always gives them the benefit of the doubt. Diggle, on the other hand, is the opposite. In season 4, he was initially wary of Andy and reluctant to let him back in his life. Did finding out about Diggle’s relationship with his stepfather retroactively help make that distinction between these two men clearer for you?
Not only did it make it clearer, I think you have other examples of that as well. That’s part and parcel of who John Diggle is. This gives us a good piece of exactly what you said, why he didn’t exactly accept Andy with open arms at first. Ultimately, he did and it was a mistake, and led to Black Canary’s death, among other things. But his father dying and feeling as if his stepfather was responsible, that now-stepfather being in the house and not feeling a connection to him, feeling the fact that he’s a foreigner in this house and he’s responsible for his father’s death, I think all of that kind of formed who John Diggle is and you see that with how he responded to his brother.
So, yes, it’s another clear distinction between him and Oliver, among other leadership differences and philosophical differences that these two men have. That came to a head also last season. I think the two guys — and we’ll even be exploring that even deeper next season because we only have 10 episodes. The relationship between Oliver and Diggle will be explored even deeper next season and that’s just how these two guys have to put their differences aside. It’s something we’re going to get into more next season.
After seven seasons, is there something you and Stephen haven’t done on screen together that you’re dying to do?
There are times in the past you’ve seen these guys have a drink together in the restaurant together. Being able to see that type of thing again with some levity, with “Okay, we’ve grown. Yeah, we’re freaking different. It is crazy. Look at all this stuff we’ve been through. Look at the things we’ve accomplished. Now, let’s go kick some butt.” For this storytelling, it’s worth you seeing these guys actually shed some tears and not in anger, but in actual real understanding and compassion for each other. It’s been seven seasons, and I think these guys have earned it. I don’t think we’ve had that. We’ve had tears, but we’ve had it in anger, in fighting. We’ve had the handshakes afterwards, but there’s still something a bit hollow in that. We need something where you see these two guys really lay it on the line and then go out and save the city together — obviously now in the absence of Felicity, which I think lends itself even more to that being said because they don’t have Felicity’s genius to help them, so they need each other than they ever had before.
How did directing an episode of the show affect how you approached it from an acting perspective?
When you do a show that’s 22, 23 episodes long, it’s easy to get into a procedural type of atmosphere. Everyone fights against that — the actors, the directors, the DPs, the writers — because it’s just the nature of having a season that long, particularly season after season after season. When I got the opportunity to direct this season, and I began prep, it was probably the most revitalized or energized I felt since season 3, and that really is the truth. Not to say I don’t feel energized every season. But I was directly involved with the storytelling of every character. I was directly involved with what I thought about every color of wardrobe or set design.
So how did it change my approach? I don’t think Stephen has this issue because Stephen is the lead of the show and he has to see every piece of the storytelling, but sometimes as an actor when you’re just doing one character, you get into this procedural thing. So, it has made me look at the bigger story, the bigger arc of the season. It’s making me now look at the next 10 episodes as a 10-part mini-series. How big can we make each episode? How do we take the gloves off of the storytelling? I’m not a writer on the show, but directing has made me look at it in a much larger view than just John Diggle. That’s energizing and exciting. Hopefully, fingers crossed, I get to direct next season and be part of that storytelling.
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
We have 10 episodes next year and I’m really, really looking forward to just taking the gloves off in terms of the storytelling. What’s happening with John Diggle’s stepfather? What does OTA mean after we lose the T and me and Oliver have to move on past that? What does that all mean? I’m really looking forward to the final 10 episodes because I believe those will give an energy that we haven’t seen on the show in a long time.
Arrow airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on The CW.