INTERVIEW: ‘Arrow’s David Ramsey Talks About Action, Ra’s al Ghul and Getting Diggle Out of His Comfort Zone
The weekly adventures of Arrow have not only been a success for its network, The CW, it’s also helped spawn a whole series of TV shows including two spin-offs of its own. But credit does not go alone to the bow-wielding hero played by Stephen Amell, but also to the cast of compelling characters built around him, like Arrow’s partner in crime-fighting, John Diggle played by David Ramsey. Making his way as a professional actor since the late 90s, Ramsey has appeared on series like Huff, The West Wing, The Ghost Whisperer and Dexter. During his time on Arrow, Ramsey has also moonlighted in a recurring capacity on CBS’ police drama Blue Bloods where he plays the Mayor of New York City. But really, it’s his important place on Team Arrow that we all want to talk to him about.
Recently, Nerd Bastards got the chance to talk to Ramsey about the Arrow season that’s currently winding down. Big changes are in the offing for Oliver Queen and friends, and while Ramsey didn’t spoil anything, he did tease that there are going to be interesting developments for the cast going forward, and that the effects of this season will reverberate on into Arrow’s already approved fourth season. While taking a break from filming the final episode of season three, Ramsey also talked about wanting more action for Diggle, why is character serves as mentor to the group of young heroes, and the surprising similarities between Diggle and his arch-nemesis.
Nerd Bastards: When you get to this point in the season, do you get a second or a third wind, or are you looking forward to it being over and getting to do some new things for a couple of months?
David Ramsey: A little bit of both. It’s a mixed bag because you do look forward to a break because of the long hours, it’s a lot of work. It’s not only cold and rainy, but we work 14-hour days, man. The break is well-needed and well-deserved, but at the same time, you get into a rhythm, so the more time you have off that ends up changing and you have to get into the rhythm again.
Let me pick your brain a little about how the season’s been. Obviously, you have a pretty good idea about where the show is going, at least more than the audience, but have you been pleased with Diggle’s growth this season, his development and the direction the character’s been going in?
I am. I personally would always love for Diggle to have a little more action. He’s a four-tour Afghanistan veteran, and I think he’s a great representation of our armed forces; he’s solid, he’s steady, he’s consistent. He’s also a family guy, he’s loyal, and he’s honorable. That being said, he’s also a bad ass, and I’d love to see more of that “bad assery,” if you will, in the story.
But when you’re writing a television show, and if it’s successful, part of the reason why is because the characters are well-written and it takes time to flesh those characters out. There’s Black Canary, there’s Speedy, there’s Arsenal, there’s Felicity, there’s all the bad guys, there’s Arrow, and then there’s John Diggle. This show does not hurt for stories. Any of these characters could have more than half a season to write just for that one character.
So I think Diggle’s taken a back seat in terms of action, not so much in terms of development. Just in terms of the action he’s taken a back seat to some of the other characters getting out into the field. But a couple of things, first of all we’ll see more of that next season, and number two, I don’t mind that because, like I said, there’s a lot of story to tell on Arrow, and part of it’s success is that it does have these other characters, who also have a full life of their own.
I think a lot of people have noted Diggle hasn’t been out on missions as much, but one of the things I’ve noticed is that he’s been in more of a mentor capacity this season. You’ve had a lot of characters like Laurel, even Oliver, reacting emotionally to developments, and Diggle’s been the one to say, “Let’s step back for a minute and look at it this way.”
He’s always been that guy, but here’s the thing about Diggle, Diggle says what we’re thinking. He’s the normal guy and I think that’s part of his appeal. Everyone else has had a crucible that is a very recent event, and that transition you see on camera, and [those characters] are still adjusting to it. Oliver has the island, Thea has her mother dying and finding out her father’s Merlyn, Laurel has losing her sister the Canary. All these people have crucibles that they’re just now dealing with, and you see it on screen. What Diggle went through, he’s already adjusted to it. He has dealt with his crucible. He’s been an Army Ranger veteran, he’s been married, he got married again, he has a child, he’s the guy that Oliver Queen will be mentally in four years.
I think this season we’ve seen Diggle shape Oliver more into a hero, and we’ve also seen the idea that Diggle now sees this crusade as one that’s just as much his as it is Oliver’s, and we’ll be exploring that idea even more into next season. A point of contention for these two men is that Oliver wants to hold on to this crusade, and not ask for help, as if it’s his burden alone to bear, but Diggle never signed on to be a sidekick, Diggle signed on to find purpose. He lost some of his purpose when he left the military and went into private security, and he found it again while working with Oliver. And in that quest of finding his purpose again, he discovered that the protection of Starling City is just as much his as it is Oliver’s, and I think that’s what we’ll discover in the last part of the season.
Diggle’s story is still being written, but it’s not about the big transition, it’s about the understanding that the city is his and he has something to offer in its protection.
I did note in the Suicide Squad episode [Episode #3.17, “Suicidal Tendencies], and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that there was a pretty big tease about where the next season’s going to go with H.I.V.E. and the mystery of what happened with Diggle’s brother, and why Deadshot was contracted to murder him. So can we read that as Diggle perhaps driving the narrative next year?
Well that’s a good question, and maybe more a question for the producers, but I would say that H.I.V.E. is being featured next season, I think that’s already been teased and talked about, and Diggle does have a very big part in that. Similar to Laurel Lance’s trajectory to Black Canary this season, Diggle’s is coming up as well. But I’ll say again, this show doesn’t hurt for stories. A lot of these shows have to really reach to find stories for their main characters, but Arrow doesn’t, there’s about five or six character they can spend half a season on alone besides Oliver. As an actor, I would love more action, but we’ll see more from Diggle next season. Plus, this season isn’t over yet, so you’ll see a lot more from Diggle this season.
Maybe without spoiling anything, how would you sum up the last batch of episodes in one word or maybe one sentence?
Ra’s. Al. Ghul. Listen, the things that we become next season, the evolution of these characters, is a direct result of what happens with season three. Ra’s al Ghul makes a lasting impression on all of us. He’s no joke. No joke. And I said that in an interview at the beginning of the season, when he shows up, it’s going to be a transition for everybody from the mark that he leaves. So as much as we want to talk about what’s next for Diggle in season four, and what’s next for these characters, season three isn’t over. Whatever he see next year, you’re going to remember Ra’s al Ghul.
Aside from more action, is there something you want to see Diggle go through, something you want to do with the character as an actor, a challenge you haven’t undertaken yet?
Sure, I love the idea that people get thrown out of their element. Diggle is a great representative of the Armed Forces, he’s steady in combat, steady when the chips are down, he’s honorable, he’s a good guy. There’s no conflict in him in terms of fighting crime and still having a family, unlike Oliver who hasn’t quite figured out how to do both yet. He’s a great representation of a well-rounded, honorable soldier, but he has a problem with “the grey.” He sees things in black and white, which is why he has a problem with the Suicide Squad, and Amanda Waller, and A.R.G.U.S. I would like to see more of that having to compromise, and seeing him have to work with people he might otherwise never work with.
Part of that has been his experience with Deadshot and the Suicide Squad because he’s had to find the humanity in a man he swore to hate in Deadshot, and he’s had to work with people in the Suicide Squad whose tactics he’s diametrically opposed to, a nefarious group of agents who plant bombs in their subject’s head in order to coerce them to do their bidding. This is something that John Diggle does not agree with, but he will work with them because they have similar goals, to save a senator or rescue hostages in a foreign country. So the overall goal is noble, but the means of getting there is the grey.
The other thing about the Suicide Squad is that it’s almost another show, whenever we do a Suicide Squad episode is that it’s like another show in and of itself, and it provides another piece of Diggle where you see he has to work with these operatives whose motivations are less than honorable. It’s nice to see Diggle struggle with that.
I agree about the Suicide Squad episodes getting Diggle out of his element, but there’s also this, I don’t know if I’d call it friendship or mutual respect, between Diggle and Deadshot that’s developed. There’s definitely been a change in how those two characters interact. It’s not just two guys thrown together on the same mission, they get each other now. I’m not sure how you read it…
I think that’s the intent, so I’m glad you read it that way. Even in this last episode, when we actually went into Deadshot’s back story we see, hey, here’s a guy who had a similar background of service like John Diggle, they were both professional servicemen, but in Deadshot’s case he didn’t get the help that he needed.
What’s interesting about Deadshot is that like Oliver Queen, he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. But Oliver found John Diggle, and Felicity, and found a network of friends who he could channel that horrible experience though into something positive. When Oliver got back to Starling City, he was a killer, he was probably closer to Deadshot in some ways even though he wasn’t a contracted killer, he was still a murderer. In finding John Diggle, finding Felicity, and the death of Tommy, he found purpose. He found how to channel these energies into a more noble purpose. Floyd Lawton, if he had a guy like Diggle or a Felicity or a best friend like Tommy, who knows where he would have gone.
I think that in showing Lawton’s story, that’s kind of the stuff that Diggle tuned into, learning that Lawton had a child and was sending money home, he saw a different side of him. I wouldn’t say that he’s now friends with Floyd Lawton, but there is a mutual respect, and certainly a more well-rounded understanding that this was a soldier who had gone astray. [Lawton] still had a heart, and even in that last noble act, that last heroic act of a soldier, landing on the grenade, he was still a solider at heart. I’m glad the writers took that time to show that part of Floyd.
Let me wrap up by asking about the legacy of the show. It’s been on for three years, it’s going into a fourth, and now you could fill a network schedule with all the comic book shows on the air, so what do you think the lasting influence of Arrow will be?
Well, it always starts with writing for me. Always. I think that the lasting influence will be that this was a well-written and well-produced show. And it was well-acted. And that’s the greatest compliment you can give any show, that it made a lasting impression because of its craftsmanship. I’m a fan of the show because of that. The elements that come together to create a show, and if you watch the show, there are so many elements that have gone into it – the lighting, the directing, the production quality, the music – so many of the things have gone into it to make it a well-crafted show that touches on things we can all relate to.
So the lasting imprint will be that Arrow was a well-produced show, and when you think about well-performed shows like Dexter, Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, you looking at the acting, but those are well-crafted shows. And working on a show like Arrow I’ve come to understand that as good as we are, if we are good as actors, we get a lot of help from the writing and the production quality of the show, like those other shows that I’ve mentioned. And I think that’s the greatest compliment we can ever get.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 pm EST on the CW