Legends of Tomorrow exit interview: Brandon Routh reflects on his Arrowverse journey
After five years, Routh's journey as Ray Palmer comes to an end in this Tuesday's episode, "Romeo v. Juliet: Dawn of Justness." In the hour, Ray embarks on his last mission with the team — a wild adventure with William Shakespeare — before he and his wife Nora Darhk (Courtney Ford, who is also departing the show) leave the Waverider.
When Routh read the script for the first time, he felt “a mix of emotions, as [with] everything that has happened this last season,” he told EW in an interview last week. “[There were] some nice really moments, a lot of bittersweet moments, and a couple things that I knew were going to be hard to do when I read it and were indeed hard to film.”
Routh continued: “The hardest moments were the first scene with Ray and Nora deciding to leave, and then the exit with Ray and Nate saying goodbye, and Ray saying goodbye to Gideon was actually very emotional for me, also.”
The showrunners informed Routh and Ford that this would be their last season before production on season 5 began, and the real-life married couple wrapped on the show in October. Even with some distance from the series, Routh is still working through his feelings about his departure, which became apparent during a recent appearance on Michael Rosenbaum’s Inside of You podcast where he said his exit “was not well-handled.” When EW spoke to Routh last Thursday, he clarified what he meant by that, explaining that it came down to a communication issue.
“I just think that with my journey with the show and the time I spent in the Arrowverse, and what I’ve received from fans as the positive messaging and role model and spirit and energy that Ray Palmer has been able to share with the world, everybody wants that back, everybody feels they deserve communication and deserves to be a partner," said Routh. "And when you’re not made a partner, when you give that much time to relationship, it hurts. We’re in Hollywood and it’s the Wild West and everyone makes all those comments about it being a rough place, and that’s the truth. I’m an optimist at heart, so I’m always shooting myself in my own foot by hoping for the best in people and in the people I work with. When that doesn’t come from the top down [the showrunners], it has an effect on you and so it made what could’ve been a happy, positive exit, the opposite."
That being said, there was one thing that helped soften the blow of his unexpected departure: suiting up as Superman once again in the Arrowverse’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover.
“It was an amazing experience and honestly without [crossover executive producer] Marc Guggenheim approaching me to do that — You know Marc was crucial in bringing me into the Arrowverse in the first place — for him to give me this gift and this opportunity, it made all the difference. I honestly don’t know what would’ve happened to season 5 of Legends of Tomorrow if that hadn’t been offered," said Routh. "I’m eternally grateful to everyone who allowed that to happen because truly, personally, even before I filmed the first day, the whole process of the suit fitting and the photoshoot and knowing it was happening and the training, the wound that I had from how my first turn as Superman ended was healed and pretty magical. I’m grateful to the fans who also responded in kind. It was partially their response to the first reveal of the suit, that they were excited to see it, was validation. I’m only Superman if they see Superman."
Last September, EW had a longer conversation with Routh about his time in the Arrowverse as Ray Palmer for Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Arrowverse, which you can read below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After playing Ray on Arrow in season 3, what made the idea of playing him on Legends of Tomorrow appealing?
BRANDON ROUTH: Well, I'd had so much fun with Ray on Arrow [that] it only made sense to continue. I wasn't finished. I wasn't ready to be done exploring him. With Arrow, the show is Arrow. I had always had some nice scenes in every episode I was in, but it wasn’t always a lot of work. The opportunity to be on Legends meant his storyline would come to the forefront a little more and would have more focus, so I was excited about that. I took on the role of Ray just kind of seeing what the first three episodes were gonna be like, how they were gonna write them, how I was gonna enjoy my time there, and ultimately had a great time and decided that this is something I could continue doing for a while longer.
Ray, Sara, and Mick changed a bit in the transition from their original shows to Legends. What was it like having to play a tweaked version of this character on Legends?
Yeah, it was a lot of fun. The first couple episodes were very exploratory in many ways —What’s the level of humor? Because they would give Ray a few jokes because that’s what he did on Arrow. As the season progressed, the jokes became bigger and I became more comfortable, and I became a little bit broader as we explored what the show could be and how much it could hold.
As Ray was no longer needing to be the CEO, the leader of the ship, he was got to relax a little bit, so his nerdy side came out and his humorous side, because he didn’t have to be the one in charge. If he was Captain Palmer of the ship, I don’t think it would’ve been as big of a change from Ray Palmer on Arrow to what it is now. But he kind of got to be a little bit of a chameleon and shift his energy a little bit.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think back to season 1?
I remember in the first episode, the whole sequence of filming with Dom [Purcell] and Wentworth [Miller], both outside and inside the mansion. That was a lot of fun as we’re trying to sneak into the house and hiding behind a bush. Some of the comedic elements started to percolate there and the relationship between those characters. Then inside when we’re trapped in the cage once the alarm goes off, the one-on-one conversation that Ray and Leonard have about stealing and doing the right thing. It was the first touch for Ray of him questioning his good guy status, or understanding that other people have a different path that they travel, a different life experience, and just because people make bad decisions every once in awhile doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad people; there’s a grey area. And that’s kind of the over-arching theme for Ray throughout all of his seasons — him learning to have a balance between light and dark, between good and bad, and breaking the rules and following the rules. Captain Cold and Heat Wave have been crucial in helping him on that journey.
When you were shooting that scene, did you realize how pivotal it would be for Ray’s character?
I don’t think that was Ray’s takeaway in the moment, but it was my takeaway as an actor seeing what the journey could be and kind of understanding where there was potential for growth for him and how he could bond with these characters and they could be an unlikely team. [That] was in this odd pairing that seemed to not make sense but could make sense.
Odd pairings are at the heart of Legends. What have been some of your favorite ones?
I've always liked a lot of the scenes in the first season with Leonard and Mick. I think Mick in the prison and that whole exchange when Mick was getting tortured in the prison cell is some really cool stuff. As we've gone further in seasons, Mick and I haven't had as much to do — just kind of short, little quips. We haven't re-investigated that relationship much lately.
Then I liked the Constantine pairing from last season — just again speaking about opposites and their different view points on life and what they can teach each other. Obviously, Nate and Ray, is a likely pairing, so that's been fun. And comedically to work off of Nick Zano is fantastic. We have so much fun improvising and adding to scenes and creating the bromance that was on the page but, you know, stepping up a notch wherever we see there's opportunity for that.
Lastly, obviously Nora has been a very good pairing. Speaking of opposites again, you know, where the journey started with Mick and Leonard, it’s really culminated in Ray's experience with Nora and seeing that he can shift someone who has this terrible path, and help in some way guide her to a different viewpoint of life. She's also helped him understand through great tragedy can a very powerful, passionate person also, who has a different way to truth but sees the world in a different way than Ray that's very enlightening to him. [He has learned] there's more than one way to be a hero.
How much improvisation is there on the show?
It just depends on the scene. It's not Curb Your Enthusiasm by any means. It's all there on the page. But there are times usually at that the end of a scene or sometimes in the middle, an exchange just feels like there's a little room for some kind of physicality or a little joke that usually comes out of relationship to the other character. We’re definitely not rewriting scenes. There are just little bits of jokes and pieces here and there that tend to pop in as we’re playing and investigating a scene during rehearsal time, and sometimes even on the day. That’s what’s fun about working [on the show]. Things can change and shift as you’re filming it. That’s what makes the experience so exciting because you have to continue listening to the [other] actors and stay alive in the scene.
For instance, there’s little moments like at Nate’s dad’s funeral [in last season], the little kiss on the cheek moment was an improv. You know, Ray’s feeling so bad about Nate thinking Nora killed his dad, which isn’t the truth but he’s just kind of consumed by it and for his friends, he just automatically does what Sara Lance does. It was just in the moment thing for me. I told Nick, “I’m gonna try this and see if it works.” And it did.
Looking beyond season 1, what’s been the most memorable day on set?
My favorite episode was the Camelot episode [in season 2] and being able to sword fight Damien Darhk, which was a lot of fun. But I also really enjoyed [season 3’s] “Phone Home”— the episode when we’re in the lab and the agents are singing “Good Morning” and we’re exiting with the Dominator, and I improvised just doing a little dance on the way out. That day was fun and full of some of those moments that happens when you’re working with other actors, like working with the young Ray Palmer and the other artists who are dancing and singing.
I know the showrunners view the Waverider as this place for people to come, find themselves, and grow and evolve. Do you think the past 5 years has also helped you grow as an actor?
Absolutely. I've had a lot of growth. Some of that's due to just life experience and much of it has to do with the show. I’ve definitely become a more skilled comedic actor. My ability to do that and improv on the show, and the freedom that they've given me to do that — whether it ends up on the episode is one thing, or just on the cutting room floor — but that opportunity, has been great for me.
Being able to play a character for so long and follow the journey that Ray is on is near and dear to my heart, too — finding the balance of light and dark in my life. I’m very similar to Ray in many ways, so his journey is my journey and vice-versa in many ways. Being able to find that balance has been a big part of that. I’ve also been a father for the past 7 years, and five of those years has been the character. I’ve grown just having that experience and having a son.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This post has been updated.
Legends of Tomorrow airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.