Stephen Amell reflects on his Arrow journey: 'I f—ing care a lot about it'
Stephen Amell's time under the hood is coming to an end. On Tuesday, Arrow returns for its eighth and final season, which takes his Oliver Queen, a.k.a. the Green Arrow, on the road as he tries to prevent the destruction of the multiverse in the forthcoming crossover "Crisis on Infinite Earths." Ahead of the final season premiere, EW is sharing the chat we had with Amell in July for our August Arrowverse cover story (please note that some of these quotes have appeared previously on EW.com).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you realize you were ready to hang up the hood and end your run on the show?
STEPHEN AMELL: So, we were most of the way through season 6 and I called up Greg [Berlanti], and I go, "I'm contracted through season 7, but I'd like [that] to be the end." And he's like, "Okay, take a second to think about this, and I'll call you back in a week, and we'll see." And he called me back in a week, and he goes, "How are you feeling?" And I go, "Okay, it's time." And he convinced me, because he's way smarter than I am, to come back for a limited run this year, and I think that it's really given the show an opportunity to go out on its own terms. I'm scared. I'm legitimately frightened about the end of it, and I'm very emotional and melancholy, but it's time.
What about the ending has you frightened?
I'm 38 years old, and I got this job when I was 30. I'd never had a job for more than a year. The fact that I've done this for the better part of a decade, and I'm not going to do it anymore, is a little frightening. But then I remember that I was able to move to L.A. in 2010 because my grandfather lent me $15,000 and I had no citizenship, I had nothing. So try to put your level of being frightened into a relative capacity.
Was there a specific moment in season 6 that led to this decision?
No, no, no, no, no. There wasn't a specific a moment when it came to the creative direction of the show. I've always loved it. There have been seasons that I've liked less than others. But it was just time to move on. My daughter is turning six in October, and she goes to school in L.A., and my wife and I want to raise her in Los Angeles. When it came time to do Arrow, I didn't really have any choice. They offered me the job, and if they had said to me, "Yeah, you can have the job, but you have to pay us $5,000 per episode just for you to be in the show." I would have been like, "Yeah, okay. Sure, I'll do that." So it's more about having time and opportunity now.
From talking to the producers, I know you were the first person to audition for this role. What do you remember about that experience?
So I went to a hockey game with my cousin Robbie [Amell] on a Saturday night, and he goes, "Have you gotten an audition for Arrow yet?" And I go, "No, what's Arrow?" He goes, "It's based on the Green Arrow." He goes, "Well, I read the pilot, and I pictured you the entire time that I was reading it." He's like, "I've got an audition, but I actually don't want to go, because you are going to get cast in this role." I went in [to audition], and David Nutter was there, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg. Greg was in his office, because he was like, "If you find someone interesting, let me know." And I went in, read, and Dave Nutter looked at me, and he goes, "Can you go outside for a couple minutes?" And I go, "Yeah, for sure." And I came back into the room, and there are 11 more people there, and they just had me read again….I got the job the following Tuesday morning.
In reading the pilot script, what did you initially connect with that made you want to do the show?
Have you ever worn a superhero suit?
Apart from on Halloween? No.
Well, it's f—ing awesome.
Yes, that's true.
And that was it. Hung got canceled, and I needed a job, and I thought the script was great. And Greg Berlanti at that point in time wasn't Greg Berlanti, but David Nutter was David Nutter. And he's one of the most kind, generous, thoughtful men that I've ever met. And he believed in me, and I believed in him. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
When it premiered, Arrow stood out from other superhero shows that had recently been on the air. Did it feel like you all were doing something new in season 1, or were you just focused on trying to get it done?
Just trying to get the work done. The first season was very, very difficult for me. Everything was going great. They wanted my character to be very stoic and disaffected, right? And then the show came out and got a great rating and was a smash hit, and then all of a sudden I had an acting coach, because all of a sudden now that the show was a hit, people wanted to have an opinion. We were on our own for the first nine, 10 episodes. That was very, very tough.
At the end of the first season, once I realized I was done, I flew back from Vancouver and I did The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Carol Burnett was the first guest. We went for dinner afterwards with my buddy and my wife, and he goes, "You're done, man. You're done with season 1." And I go, "Yeah, I am." And I got sick really bad. I got walking pneumonia. I was sick until the fourth episode of season 2.
Wait, seriously? How did you work?
I faked it until I made it.
What was it like adjusting to the physical demands of the role?
I loved it. I loved all of it. Doing a lot of the stuff that I did in the pilot was proof of concept for the series. I had to do it. In episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, I had to do it period, because photographically when you do stunts, they were able to film me doing it. They were able to shoot on my face, and if we didn't continue on in that manner, something would have been missing.
Do you remember when you realized the show was a hit?
People think that the height of the show is when it's premiering, when my torso is 90 ft. tall on Sunset Boulevard. That's not it. It actually compounds over the years, and people become really, really big fans because of the amount of content that you're pushing up, right? I didn't realize that the show was a giant hit until 2017, when I was on an island called Panarea, which was off the coast of Lipari, which is off the coast of Sicily. It's so small, there aren't even cars — golf carts, that's it. We walked into this restaurant that looked closed, and this woman walks out. We're like, "Are you guys open?" And she goes, "Si, Arrow." I'm like, are you f—ing kidding me?
At what point did you start to feel ownership of the character?
Well, I got it during episode 6, and then I got an acting coach after episode 9. That threw it off a little bit. Right around the midway point of the second season. If a director wants something from me specifically, I'm happy to give it to them, but they better come prepared because I know everything about the show. They're like, "Well, we want to Oliver to do this," and I'll be like, "Well, there's a problem with that. In episode 306…" And if they're prepared and they have a good reason, then I'll do what they want.
There are some actors who don't have that much knowledge about their shows. Did this come naturally to you, or did you actively work to become an expert on the show?
I just care a lot. Arrow was the most important thing in my entire life by a wide margin. And then I got married, and it became the co-most important thing in my entire life. Then my wife and I had [our daughter], and Arrow dropped to number three. But I f—ing care a lot about it. I really, really do. I think about it all the time.
For the first five seasons, we aired on Wednesday nights. On Wednesdays, whenever a new episode was airing, I don't care about ratings that much, but I would have a recurring dream that I was naked in bed, but the entire crew was waiting for me to get up, and they were all in my bedroom. This happened every f—ing time. I don't want to call it a nightmare, but it wasn't a nice dream. This happened because I really care. It extends beyond personal satisfaction. It extends to just other people, cast, and crew getting the opportunity to do something like this. This is not common. You know what I mean? We're going into our eighth season. This just doesn't happen.
I asked Beth Schwartz this when she took over as showrunner, but I'm curious to hear your answer, too. In your opinion, when do you think Arrow is at its best? Like, this is the platonic ideal of an Arrow episode?
523. I was mad that more people didn't die when the island blew up. Episode 220 when Susanna Thompson as Moira died, I love that episode. Episode 116, when Tommy finds out that I'm the Green Arrow. Episode 214 when I confront Laurel about drinking. Nick Copus directed that episode, and he went handheld. I'm very, very proud of that scene. I love 309. But when is it at its best?
It's at its best in season 2 when Sara reappears. I'm thinking as I read the script, "Okay, cool, she's coming back and the big reveal is going to happen when her dad Quentin [Paul Blackthorne] gets to see her again. That's probably not going to happen for a couple of episodes." Nope, [it happened in] act three. That's when Arrow is at its best. Greg used to say all the time, "You have a hit TV show until you don't, so don't save s—t."
One of the show's biggest surprises was, of course, Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity —
Yeah, you can't plan. They cast a girl in episode 3 that all of a sudden became the linchpin.
The Olicity of it all is such a big part of why people love the show. What do you think has drawn them to it?
Have you seen Emily act? That's what makes it work. She's supremely talented and awesome and carved out a space that no one anticipated. I don't know that show works if we don't randomly find her.
How are you feeling about entering this final season, at least as of now, without her?
Not great. I think Arrow as you know it effectively ended in 722. It's a different show in season 8. It's like we're playing our greatest hits. The premiere is the pilot. It's almost like episode 1 is an ode to season 1. Episode 2 is an ode to season 3.
How'd you feel when you started getting the scripts for Arrow's final season?
It was weird, actually, because Beth just had her first kiddo, and so the writers' room, instead of taking a break after the season ended, worked through. Her assistant sent me episode 801 two weeks after we wrapped. I didn't read it for four weeks because I needed some time to reset. I'm so excited about them. I just hope that we get to do all the things that we want to do. Don't leave anything in the quiver.
Arrow started out as this grounded and realistic show, but now we have Oliver running around with the Monitor. How does it feel to get to this point where it's like there aren't anymore rules?
It's fantastic, because I'm going to get to work with actors this year that I've never worked with before, that if we were grounded I'd never get to work with. I'm pumped we're going to get to do that this year.
What is the most important thing you'll take away from this experience?
I started the show dating a girl and I'm walking away from the show as a husband and as a father, and a way better actor. I don't mean for that to sound ostentatious, but I've got reps now. I'm very proud of how hard I've worked at being a good actor. That's not to say I'm not going to be s—t in something sometime. But I feel like walking away from the show, for me, there's no room that I can't go into, and there's no scenario where I will be intimidated because I've worked nonstop for eight years. And I love it.
The biggest thing I'll take away from doing the show is my kiddo really admires what I do. She comes to the set all the time, and I know that won't last forever, but she sits there in video village, and she wears her cans, and she calls action every once in a while. Honestly, that's the coolest thing.
What has it been like to watch Arrow give way to an entire universe?
It's been amazing. I'm so proud of Grant [Gustin] and Melissa [Benoist], and I really like that Caity [Lotz] has grown into the leader that she has. I'm pumped for Ruby [Rose]. It's great [that] you do a show and it births other shows.
When I spoke to Marc, he said he woke up that morning and wrote the final scene. Do you know how the show's going to end?
I do. He told me today, and I cried. I cried as he was telling me. There are a lot of hurdles to get over to make that final scene.
Arrow airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.