Were you a DC or Marvel fan growing up?
So, I never really chose a side between Marvel or DC, but actually – kind of oddly – Prince broke me into the DC world. You remember, he did the original soundtrack of the Batman movie – the Tim Burton and Michael Keaton version. I was a huge Prince fan – I went to a Prince concert when I was three years old, so Batman was one of my favorite movies growing up. I would go to sleep listening to the Batman soundtrack.
I remember two comics that were always at the top of the pile in my room – A Death in the Family and The Killing Joke. The Joker was always kind of a big character for me. I think he’s become more and more disturbing over the years since Heath Ledger and Jared Leto’s versions, but back then it was really cool – I got to wear purple and cool makeup, and laugh a lot. So Batman was my gateway into DC, and since then I’ve just been enjoying this whole ride – you know, all the new shows, all the new movies, it’s never been more popular and readily available to consume.
How much did you know about Billy Malone going into auditions?
That’s an interesting question – I didn’t actually audition for Billy Malone. Every once in a while you go out for one character, but the producers will see you and think “he’s not right for that character,” but then another character will come along [that you are right for] – and that’s what happened to me. My first audition was for Legends of Tomorrow, and that got me an audition for Arrow, which got me to Billy. I really didn’t know much at all of Billy – but I guess whatever I was bringing to that room sort of captured his essence or what they were looking for. So… yeah, I really lucked out, and I’ve been having so much fun.
Let’s talk a little about Felicity. To start, do you know – or will we see – any backstory for how she and Billy met?
At this point, I don’t know whether the producers or writers are planning to go into the backstory. (That’s not me just saying that, I really don’t know). Sometimes they keep the actors in the dark a little bit just so we don’t accidentally slip up – as we’ve been known to do. (laughs)
But part of the job of being an actor is getting to fill in the blank space. You get the lines of the script, then you get to fill in the world around it, so Emily and I kind of got to come up with our own backstory for it. Neither of us really think our characters were like, big “Tinder” users. (laughs) What I think most likely happened is that after Dig and Thea had left… Team Arrow was short-handed, so Felicity just had to spend a lot more time at the SCPD headquarters. Since Billy was a detective there, I think their paths started crossing a lot. It probably started with some light-hearted flirting, some coffee – clearly, Billy likes his coffee; he’s drinking it most of the time.
I know this isn’t a super smooth interview transition, but… as I’m sure you’ve realized, the Arrow fandom is a pretty vocal group. Were you prepared for any of that ahead of time?
Sure, and you know, it’s a great thing – I mean, obviously, if you have a show and no one is engaged, and no one is talking about it, then you’re doing something wrong. So clearly Arrow is onto something big, and the fans of the show are definitely letting us all know. For those of us who grew up watching shows without any ability to do that – because aside from writing letters to the actors, there was no real way to talk about the shows, or characters, or throw out questions. There was just no way. Now it’s so instantaneous; it’s a cool evolution now – one eye on the TV and one on the phone.
Did awareness of that aspect change your approach to Billy, or make you feel differently about it?
It didn’t change how I approached the role; I had a pretty solid feel for who Billy was, I mean you gotta go through some pretty intense training, and commit to seeing harsh acts as a detective… I don’t think Billy would be entirely phased by it.
And I understand it; it is very real to fans, the Olicity relationship. I was tweeting some tongue-in-cheek type of things about the two relationships at first as a joke, but I realized… it’s not super funny to some of the fans. And I get it now. As I’ve gotten more involved in the show, it’s starting to feel like an actual world that exists with real-world consequences. I’m starting to take it more seriously, but I think Billy – now with this serial killer, he’s got enough on his plate – but he’s in love; you can’t stop a man in love.
And now he knows all about Felicity’s connections to Arrow.
Yeah, how about that episode last week? (laughs) It was the big moment, waiting to see if he’d stick around, if he’d freak out…
I think we were all pretty surprised with how well he took that.
(laughs) Yeah, I was definitely happy to read that. It was one of those moments – when I read the script, you know, you have these thoughts about what you think your character would say – and it matched perfectly. And that’s how you know they [the Arrow team] are just amazing writers; they’ve fleshed out these characters so well and so consistently, it makes the actors’ jobs a lot easier.
And obviously working with Emily is so much fun, so the more I get to work with her, the better.
And maybe eventually you’ll win over some of the fans. (laughs)
Yeah, maybe, once they see that Billy’s really got Star City’s best interests at heart, and Felicity’s best interests at heart. Although, his name still isn’t Oliver Queen and he’s not the Green Arrow – which, I know, is a big hurdle to get over.
Of course, there’s that minor drawback. And speaking of Oliver Queen, we found out recently that Oliver and Billy are going to work together. Is there anything you can tell us about what that’s going to be like?
Well… obviously, they’re two tough, ambitious men. They’ve got a serial killer on their hands, crime is horrible, drugs are coming into the city – but at the end of the day there’s still a girl that they both have strong feelings about, so I think the “alpha” in both of them is very much alive. To say it won’t be awkward or uncomfortable between the two of them is… a little bit of an understatement. But, I do think that the professionalism for them comes first, so… maybe they’ll make it through.
Well… I’m a little torn. As an actor I think it would be really fun to tap into that dark side, especially just being this all-around great guy in Billy Malone, to really flip it 180 into this evil serial killer would be an interesting adventure for me.
Is there anything – Prometheus rumors aside – you’d like to see for Billy story-wise?
I think, story-wise, it would be pretty cool for Billy and Deputy Mayor Lance to team up. I think Lance has a lot he could teach Billy about the things he’s seen, but Lance is kind of coming apart at the seams, and maybe Billy could be a solid shoulder to lean on while he gets it together. I also think it would be cool to see Billy working with the new vigilantes; I think they’d have a lot to offer each other. Plus, personally, getting to work with some of these guys, I’ve gotten to know a lot of them, and I know I would have a lot of fun. But we have a lot of story to go, so we’ll see how it plays out.
Is there anything you can tease for Billy coming up?
Hmmm… well, it’s safe to say that he’s clearly still got some stuff to work out with Felicity, so there’s going to be some relationship building blocks to put in place, and we’re gonna finally see him out on the job [as a detective] getting more hands-on involved, so that will be cool.
I’m excited about it, and I’ll also be the one who says it: I hope you don’t die. (laughs) So for our last question, since our website is “Talk Nerdy With Us,” we like to close out the interviews by asking, what is something that makes you nerdy?
I studied Psychology and Sociology in school, and now I always have those crazy, weird experiments floating around in the back of my mind, most of which would be illegal now… but in the 50’s and 60’s, they [researchers] got kind of crazy. I just find that so fascinating – and also very helpful. For instance, there was one where they found that if you force yourself to smile, it actually makes you happy. They took pencils and placed them in people’s mouths so that some of them were sort of forced to smile, and others were forced to frown, then had them watch a movie. Those who were smiling tended to enjoy the movie more than those who were frowning. And that’s actually a big debate in acting technique – whether it starts with the emotional or the physical sides – to ignite a feeling. So there are different ways that those experiments cross over into acting and I get to nerd out.