FAN EXPO CANADA: Arrow’s Stephen Amell on Back Pain, Toronto, and Season Six

Amongst the 250 celebrity guests that appeared at Fan Expo this past weekend, it was a homecoming for one of them: Oliver Queen himself, Toronto-born star of The CW’s Arrow, Stephen Amell.

On a Sunday morning in Room 106 in the North Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, a packed room of dedicated fans – both casually dressed and in cosplay – gave Stephen a standing ovation as he took to the stage and grabbed the mic and a seat.

Proving how grounded he is, he noted that:

“[One] of the things I love about being from Toronto is I grew up Toronto. Yonge and St. Clair, so I know when the taxi drivers are lying to me. I know what’s up. ‘We’re gonna take this way. No you’re not, no you’re not, no you’re not. And I love when I meet people here at the table and I’m like ‘Where are you from?’ And they go ‘Toronto.’ I go, ‘Where?’ [And they respond] ‘Mississauga.’ That’s cool, it’s like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.”

Amongst a lineup of questions, the 36-year-old star reflected on how a life-altering event years ago was responsible for his present-day success:

“I was living in Toronto, I’d been with someone for a very long time, and it ended, and I took stock in what was important to me. And it was the first time I looked at it and said ‘My family’s important, my friends are important, and I really love acting.’ [I] met a young girl yesterday [and] we were talking about it, and I said any vocation of the arts, you can’t attach money to it. Because the tether is sometimes very long. If you’re a lawyer, and you’re really talented, you get paid accordingly for sure. There are very talented actors and painters and singers and songwriters who are not as successful financially. But that’s okay. [A] bunch of people on social media are like ‘Do you only own four shirts?’ Because I always wear the same shirt. No, it’s not that I only own four shirts, it’s part of my language. It’s that I don’t give a s**t. Because the material things that used to be really important to me, at that time, I found myself rejecting them. So, to me, it’s like ‘Yeah I’ll wear the same shirt. Because it’s comfy and because I feel good in it.’ And that helps me get into a positive energy space to come out and meet a bunch of people or walk to set and feel good or come home and be a good dad.”

When asked by a fan what was his favorite behind-the-scenes crossover moment with the cast of The Flash, Stephen chose the pilot episode and focused on personal nostalgia.

“David Nutter directed the pilot of Arrow, [and] directed the pilot of Flash, and brought basically the exact same crew from the Arrow pilot to The Flash,” he explains. “So, that would have been shot in February or March of 2014, two years give or take from right where we shot the Arrow pilot. So from that point, we’ve done 40 somewhat episodes, and to be back at the beginning, so to speak, to watch Grant [Gustin] and what he was going through and just to be back and, all of a sudden, it was the first time ever for Arrow that I could look in the rear view mirror a little bit and feel a sense of accomplishment. That this was happening because we’ve had some success.”

Direction shifted with a question on the future of his well-documented charity work, Amell admitted he got a chance to return to the Toronto-based Emily’s House, a respite care facility for children where he and WWE superstar Cody Rhodes aka Stardust donated funds raised by their Summerslam match in 2015.

“Whenever I’m looking for something,” he continued, “I’m looking for something that I can have a personal attachment to so I know there’s a validity to it. And I know if I’m helping people, it’s going somewhere where it should. At the end of the month we’re gonna do another ‘F’ Cancer fundraiser. It’s that time of the year, so we’re working on designs for that.”

With Arrow in its sixth season, one new factor in the life of Oliver Queen is his son, William, played by Jack Moore. Stephen is joyful at the addition of new blood to the cast to the point where he throws up his fist and jokingly declares:

“We got a minor! We’re not taking a meal penalty today. The kid has to eat! That’s been great.”

One of the prerequisites of the job is Stephen maintaining his amazing physique and level of athleticism. On the series, as the skilled vigilante fighter known as Green Arrow, Amell performs a majority of his own stunts. However, he confessed to and elaborated – somewhat amusingly – on his present struggles with back pain:

“I think the past couple of months have been a wakeup call for me. That I’m not 26 years old. I used to be able to roll out of bed and do the salmon ladder. I can’t do that anymore! I gotta stretch, you know what I mean? Last year, when I did [American Ninja Warrior] when I came off that second obstacle and you see me touching my arm like this [motions to arm], it’s because I couldn’t feel anything south of my shoulder. I thought my bicep had torn off.

So, it didn’t. I ended up with something called compartment syndrome, which ultra marathon runners get. It’s when you get so much fascia around the muscle it starts to bleed toxins into it. It’s awesome! The point is that I have to prepare for it. So now if I have a problematic back, I have to find a counterpractical skill. That means I have to stay in good shape. That means I have to stretch before I exercise. That means I have to drink so much water that you’re gonna see me get up from the table eleven times today if you’re standing in line because I have to pee so much. [This is] because I want to lubricate my body so that my joints can operate. I don’t know if that’s medically correct, but it’s correct in my head, so it works!”

Sadly, however, back pain does not give Stephen a pass when it comes to playtime with his four-year-old daughter, Mavi.

“[When] my daughter wants to ride on my shoulders, and I’m like ‘I can’t because Dad has a booboo owwee and it hurts’ she’s like ‘What if I kiss it?’ [And then I’m like] ‘Okay, get on my shoulders, get on my shoulders, get on my shoulders.’”

For the bulk of an hour, Stephen’s sense of humor kept the crowd entertained. For instance, he occasionally whipped his head around whenever he suspected former co-star John Barrowman – aka arch-nemesis Malcolm Merlyn – ready to deliver one of his patented pranks.

“It’s not that he pulls pranks,” he explains. “It’s not like I go to put on the Arrow suit and it’s filled with A535 or something like that – but that would be pretty funny – [but] you’ve been to a John Barrowman panel, right? John’s panels are typically called ‘anything goes.’ Anything goes! John Barrowman gets away with more stuff than I’ve ever seen anyone get away with because there’s never a filter. So, the expectation is he could really be behind me right now. Would anybody be surprised? Exactly.”

Spoiler: He wasn’t.

But besides the role of a notorious jokester, Stephen reveals there’s another layer to their professional relationship:

“I’ve learned a lot of lessons from John and, principally [how] to be the lead of a show,” he said. “I got to pick his brain. [He] had been the lead of a show. I was the lead of a show, and to hear about his experiences on Torchwood and just, in general, to watch the way he carries himself and to watch the level of respect he has for the crew, to watch the fact that his energy never changes. If they hold a camera on John and we’re onstage, I want you to tell me is it 10:00 on Monday morning, or is it 4:00 on Friday morning? Tell me. You can’t because he’s the same; he always brings that level of professionalism and joy to work and he carries that through. [I] love John. I miss him.”

While John had left for Atlanta at the time of this panel, the event was still hilariously crashed by Stephen’s co-star David Ramsey, who portrays longtime ally John Diggle aka Spartan. For two minutes onstage together, the two kept the crowd rolling in laughter about how they answer questions on panels, especially doing non-spoilers about the upcoming four-part crossover event amongst Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Doing a motion with his hand coming over his face, Ramsey joked:

“It’s gonna be like ‘Is it Oliver Queen? No, it’s John Diggle!’”

Regarding last year’s four-parter, he had nothing but praise about the job that was done on last year’s crossover event in which the Arrow-verse, noting:

“It was incredible! You know, when we were shooting out in that airport hanger, y’know, when Supergirl arrives for the first time. We’ve got all the cast there, you take a moment and be a little reflective. You say ‘Wow, look what we’ve had the chance to build. Look at the universe we’ve had the chance to populate.’ And then, very selfishly, it falling on our 100th episode, all the people we got to bring back, specifically, most importantly for me, Susanne Thompson, who hadn’t been on the show since her character met a sword.”

Further, he congratulated the cast and crew for putting up with the aggressive wind conditions on the evening they shot the climactic fight scene between the captured members of Team Arrow and Team Legends against their mind’s eye opponents.

On the subject of season six, as well as what he would like to see for Oliver, Stephen hopes that the character has a continuous evolution and possibly some of the traditional elements from the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams treatment, which saw Oliver as something of a social reformer.

Minus the goatee, of course.

“I think that some of the more classic elements can start to come to the forefront now because we [are] not conjoined anymore to his backstory,” Stephen confirmed. “The thing I ask myself all the time when I’m reading a script this year, it comes down to an Oliver-based issue: Is he handling this as someone who has learned lessons along the way? If he’s not, then we change it because if he hasn’t evolved, if he hasn’t taken away stuff from everything that has happened over the past five years, including and especially what happened at the end of season five, then if I were a viewer, I’d be like ‘Enough of this guy.’ Seriously, I mean what does it take for you to start learning lessons and to start being more inclusive and to start relying on other people and to start being honest and to maybe relax and loosen your grip a little bit? If it’s not an island exploding with everyone you love on it, what’s it gonna be? The destruction of Earth? So, that’s what I’m really asking myself this year. Am I approaching this as someone who’s learned lessons?”

As to the shades of grey that the previous season reintroduced – killing the officer who had abducted him in the season premiere that mirrored his response to the same situation in the pilot – Stephen explained:

“I liked the shades of grey. He didn’t kill Chase [in the finale] because that was the goal. But there’s a hierarchy of importance for him: his family, his friends, the city. And if you get in the way of that, and you’re willing to use lethal force, in our world, it will be returned in kind. Which I think in our show that’s more interesting.”

Regarding what to expect this year such as the big bad and what situation the city itself finds itself in, Stephen offered a very expanded scope without giving away any major plotpoints:

“[Star City at the start of season six] is in a reasonable place. We also left it where Green Arrow was kind of public enemy number one. And the idea of vigilantes and their role within the city, and whether or not the public supports them, that plays a role. But what we’re really dealing with this season is that there’s kind of a villain for every character. Normally we have a really bad villain. This year there’s kind of a villain for every character, and I say that because there’s a character for Green Arrow, but there’s also a villain for Oliver Queen.”

We’ll all learn that as the sixth season of Arrow premieres on its new night on Thursday October 12th at 8 Eastern on the CW. And look for the release of Season Five on DVD and Blu-ray on September 19th.

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Jay

I'm an Ontario-based news writer, as well as graphic illustrator with his own commission business. I've been a comic collector since I was ten and have enjoyed the lore of these larger than life figures ever since. I graduated with an HBA from the University of Toronto in Humanities and have worked for both local and online news outlets.