David Ramsey reveals what inspired the Legends of Tomorrow episode he directed
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Sunday's episode of Legends of Tomorrow, "Stressed Western."
The Arrow vet helmed Sunday's episode, "Stressed Western," which took the time-traveling heroes to the Old West in search of an alien. That extraterrestrial turned out to be a gigantic worm-like monster that feeds off human anger, which made the mission even more complicated because it meant the Legends had to keep their emotions in check. Of course, they failed on that count thanks to a ton of simmering drama, which culminated in the typically chill Nate (Nick Zano) having an emotional outburst that lured the monster right to him. Luckily, Spooner (Lisseth Chez) used her alien empath powers to save Nate's life, and the entire town.
Directing the episode amid harsh weather conditions and COVID-19 protocols gave Ramsey a newfound appreciation for the idiosyncratic superhero show. "I'd just look at Legends as I was on it and I was just like, 'Oh my goodness, this is Deadpool every week. You can do whatever you want!'" the actor and director tells EW. "I think just the greatness that Legends has been with the financial limitations that it's had, but it still manages every week to put out this show that's completely irreverent [is worthy of praise]. But it's the characters. I think that's what makes it so rich."
Below, Ramsey — who also guest-starred as Bass Reeves — breaks down the intricate episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Legends is unlike the other Arrowverse shows. What jumped out at you when you read this script for the first time?
DAVID RAMSEY: At first I think it was the fact that you're doing a Western, and the Coen Brothers [influence] just kind of jumped out to me. But then the challenge becomes, how do you kind of embrace the spectacle which is on the page and also continue the story of these relationships [between the characters]? It's the first time Sara [Caity Lotz] comes back, and we find out what exactly she is.
Did you go back and watch Coen Brothers movies to inspire your approach to the episode?
I'm always a Coen Brothers fan. How could you not be? Yeah. I mean, look, there are couple of shots that I guess are ripped right from [them]. I mean, you do that. That's no small secret. That's what directors do. We see great shots and [wonder], "Okay, how can I make that my own?"
Which shots in "Stressed Western" did you borrow from them?
The shot when they arrive [at the saloon], and [Zari and Behrad] are looking up at the sign of rules. There's this kind of [sense] you're looking down at them, and there's nothing behind them, when the reality is they're in a room full of people, but it just kind of isolates them. That's very Coen Brothers. There's a shot that's kind of a snap zoom when we see through Sara's head as she's shot. We kind of see the heavy behind her through the hole in her head. And then we kind of snap-zoom it back to her, obviously a Coen Brothers shot. And then there's just kind of small details that obviously all directors do, but it's kind of Coen Brothers inspired: It's just you've got the close-ups of the belt, the looking up at Sara in slow-mo [as she's] putting the gun into her holster. The episode was very, very stylized.
This episode featured a lot of callbacks to previous Legends episodes, especially with Nate promising a "classic Legends romp." How much research on the show did you do?
Well, I hope that most directors that come to the show would try to watch as many as they could. I wasn't on top of Legends as much as I could have been during my Arrow time. You're so caught up in what you're doing, and you're shooting 22 episodes, you're watching your show, you're doing publicity, and how many [Greg] Berlanti shows were there? So to keep up with all of them was nearly impossible. But when I got the assignment to direct, I went back and watched them all. And I think I even said in another interview, I just never realized how much fun Legends was. And it really took another step even as shooting it. It's really super-irreverent, and you can do whatever you want.
Nick told me that you had to overcome several obstacles while directing. What made this episode so challenging?
We shot in a place called Jamestown, right outside Vancouver, in the middle of January. Now shooting in Vancouver in the middle of January is enough just by itself. This is kind of our resident Old West exterior space that productions use in Vancouver. It was snowing and raining a mix of sleet, snow. We had horses, we had carriages, we had actors and extras.
This was also, clearly, during COVID — I mean, COVID is still going on. So the protocols were very much intact. This was the first episode back where we had a background of more than 10 people or 15 people. So there's a big dance number, a hoedown [inside]. And you're dealing with 30, 40 extras or background, more than you have before, so there's tons of protocols. It has to be sensitive to that. And you have actors and staff and crew who tried to abide by this and also still tell the story. So COVID has brought us into a brave new world, and this was the first episode where Legends was really dealing with that, just kind of from a logistical point of view. So I was handed that task. So I think between the two things, just as an episodic director, it was a bit challenging. But it's not unlike what I think a lot of directors are just kind of experiencing in this, again, this brave new COVID world.
The episode climaxes with Nate letting out all his pent-up emotions and frustrations. What conversations did you have with Nick about that scene?
I think the show has done some groundwork just throughout the episodes with Nate, and Nick earned this moment. I think it was really Nick's moment to just kind of shine. So the conversation was just, "You've earned this." And he's, as Sara was gone, was kind of the de facto leader in some respects. He kind of held it together. He's always the guy who knows exactly what the mission is about. And so I was just like, "Hey, embrace this, take the stage. Just own it." With the better actors and actresses [who are] doing a show that's in its sixth season, you just give them adjectives, and they're tuned in. Nick's totally tuned in. He totally gets it. And you just kind of have to fine-tune it and pull it back or make it go a little further, just minor notes. But it was very, very simple.
And it's great when you're working with the folks on Legends too, because as a director you have your own ideas, you're doing the blocking and the prep for a week or whatever, and they have these great ideas which make it all better. And as an actor, it's great to just let the actors do their job, particularly when they're as good as Nick.
What ideas did the cast pitch you?
Nick's idea of just kind of being in the center of the ring and just kind of addressing everyone was totally his idea. I had something completely different. I thought that we would do this in cuts: He would be here, then he will appear over at the panel talking to Tala and Behrad, and then he'd be over at the table talking to someone else. And that happened, but that whole rant where he's kind of talking in the middle of the room, and kind of begins to make his way to the front and things start falling? All his idea. All that was Nick. So it really changed it. And when I found out that, "Wait, we can make the pictures fall. We can make things shake" — the set design, the art direction on this show I think is so underrated — it just enhanced Nick's choice to kind of walk through the scene, because we have the pictures falling and things kind of shaking, and it just kind of elevates the scene.
Legends of Tomorrow airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.
Led by White Canary, a band of superhero misfits defend the time stream with an assortment of wacky threats in the fourth Arrowverse series.