Arrowverse's David Ramsey talks Diggle's 'cosmic' destiny and directing Superman & Lois
The actor shares the secret his character is hiding from his fellow heroes.
This season, the Arrow actor, who helped launch the CW's shared superhero universe, is returning as a director and guest star, reprising the role of John Diggle across most of showrunner Greg Berlanti's series: Superman & Lois, Supergirl, The Flash, Batwoman, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow. According to Ramsey, this has been in the works since November 2019 — but then the pandemic happened, and not even the combined forces of Superman, Supergirl, and the Legends could stop that.
The last time we saw Ramsey's Diggle was in the January 2020 series finale of Arrow. Following "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and the death of his best friend Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), he was bound for Metropolis with his family when a meteor carrying a shining green object crash-landed right outside his home — a nod to the prevailing theory/wish that Diggle would eventually become the Green Lantern John Stewart. When Diggle reappears in the Arrowverse, he's still struggling with the contents of this box and the consequences of refusing whatever was in it.
Before we catch Ramsey on screen, though, we'll see the episode of Superman & Lois he directed that airs Tuesday night (he will also guest star as John Diggle in a later episode). Written by Jai Jamison, "Man of Steel" is one of the most important episodes of the season because it dives into The Stranger/Captain Luthor's (Wolé Parks) backstory. Ramsey thinks his talents as an actor-director were well suited for this pivotal hour.
"I think part of what I brought — particularly with Wolé and [actress] Bitsie [Tulloch], because they have some pretty heavy lifting in the episode — was [telling the actors], 'Whatever your choices are, do it. Try it again. Dig into that, or pull back from that,'" says Ramsey, pointing out that Superman & Lois is more performance-oriented than the other Arrowverse shows. "I think one of my talents as an actor-director was to allow the technical experts in the visual and special effects departments to be there without interfering with these heavy moments Wolé had in this episode."
He continues, "Aside from that, there's a bit of Arrow action I think I brought to the fight scene. I kind of pat myself on the back for it because of my experience on Arrow, which was an action-heavy show."
Below, EW chats with Ramsey about Diggle's ongoing struggles with the mysterious green box, experimenting on Legends, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did it feel to return to Vancouver to the Arrowverse after a year and a half away?
DAVID RAMSEY: Well, 2020 disappeared for everyone, and the offer [to return] came from Greg Berlanti in late November 2019. This was supposed to begin in 2020 but didn't start until January 2021. After the two-week quarantine you have to do when you go to Canada on a work permit, I delved right into it, and it felt great. Legends was the first one out the gate. It was great in that as an actor you're seeing [your costars] Caity Lotz, Jes [Macallan], Dominic [Purcell], and all the people you know over at Legends, for example, but I had on a different hat. A week or so before I even saw the actors, I'm prepping as a director for the show. It's a different feeling. You're in the same city, but you're looking at this thing from a different vantage point.
It's funny you mentioned Legends of Tomorrow first because I just spoke with Nick Zano, who said he told you on your first day, "Legends is SNL compared to Arrow." How did you handle working on a show with a lighter, goofier tone?
It's funny because there was a lot of talk about Superman & Lois [being different], and deservedly so. It's the new show. It has a different pacing, a different tone within the Arrowverse. It's also, I think, the most inevitable progression of the Arrowverse shows. [It's] where all of these shows have to go. Ultimately, I think it's at the pinnacle.
But Legends is one of these shows, and I've said this before, that's indulgent. "What do you want to do? What different types of stuff do you as an artist want to bring to the show?" It was really fun. The actors are having a great time. Production's having a great time. You as a director, you're like, "Let's try this!" and everyone supports it. That's not to say they don't support your choices on the other shows — they do. It's just that every show has a tone and you don't do certain things. On Legends? You do 'em.
What were you allowed to do that really surprised you?
A couple things. There was a nice shot where we use Steadicam that's a transition through the floor of the Waverider and then we come up on another deck, and we see the character, which is a singing cowboy. We see him both times as we come up through the floor. You don't really do those types of transitions on Legends. [They said], "Do it."
There's another snap zoom I did, which is just a technical term. I shoot [a character] in the head and then we see, through the hole in their head, the guy that shot them on the other side. And we just snap-zoom between the two. It's shots like that you don't really do on Legends, and they're like, "Fine, let's do it. Let's bring some of that Arrow stuff to it. Just make it fun."
How did it feel to step back into John Diggle's shoes after such a long time away? Did it take a while for you to find the character?
Yes and no. It was like putting on older shoes. It wasn't that difficult to get into character. What was difficult was taking off the [director's] hat, because I'm acting now and not thinking about where the camera is. I'm not thinking about how things cut together, about the bigger script at large. I'm just thinking of my moment and where this fits into the script. That adjustment was a bit more difficult. Playing John Diggle, a beloved character, was just fantastic. Coming back to the Arrowverse with this character has been a blast.
Where do we find Diggle when he returns to all these shows? What is he dealing with?
He was on his way to Metropolis and was intercepted by a glowing green box. Whatever was in that box, he refused its invitation. There are consequences for that. This is the very preliminary story of telling what those consequences are.
We find John Diggle as a co-leader in ARGUS with his wife. He's going to Gotham, Smallville, and National City as an ARUGS leader. That's his day job. But he's hearing voices; he has debilitating headaches. And he's hiding them from the other members of the Arrowverse shows, who he's helping as an ARGUS member. So he's coming there with a purpose, but he's also hiding something. The more we tell the story, the more we begin to hear what these voices are, particularly on The Flash.
Diggle enlisted in the army twice and stepped up as the Green Arrow when Oliver couldn't — he doesn't seem like the type of guy to refuse a call to action. What does that say about what he's refusing?
I would challenge that notion. John Diggle is everything you mention, but he's also a man post-crisis who has gotten the daughter back he lost during "Flashpoint." He got his wife back, who was abducted by the Monitor, and he lost his best friend to the Spectre and Monitor. This man has gotten another lease on life.
So I would position that he has always been one of the most grounded, most family-oriented [characters] in the Arrowverse. The last thing he'd want to do is accept becoming an intergalactic policeman, for example. But I would also say his destiny is ultimately cosmic. So I think this is the correct step in telling the story of how he gets to that destiny, the right move to make. I don't think he would've readily accepted it. When he was intercepted by this glowing green box, he just kissed his wife and kids goodbye and said, "I'll meet you in Metropolis."
There was some heavy lifting. It was very ambitious. Azie wrote a brilliant, beautiful episode that does talk at great length about racial discrimination and begins a conversation among friends of different races who are really trying to understand each other but who don't always have the language. It doesn't try to find the answers, but it begins the conversation. The other heavy lifting is John Diggle coming in and helping the full-fledged destiny of [Tesfai's character] Kelly Olsen becoming the Guardian. So the episode is trying to accomplish a couple things.
It was fantastic to be able to go into the show and have [showrunners Robert Rovner and Jessica Queller] allow me, Azie, and J. [Holtham], the other writer, to really hone a script and have them say, "We're here to assist." It was a great atmosphere, like Superman & Lois and [writer-producer] Todd Helbing doing the same thing, to have a director come in and find the right tone in the script. Unlike Superman & Lois, Supergirl was trying to accomplish a lot of things in that episode. I think they did.
Superman & Lois airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.