Paul Blackthorne first became familiar to American television viewers with roles on shows like 24 in the 2000’s, but his most famous role is as Quentin Lance on Arrow, which is currently airing its third season Wednesdays on The CW. Lance has gone from sergeant, to detective, to officer, to now captain of the Starling City Police Department in the show’s 2 and a half seasons. In this exclusive AlternativeNation.net Film & TV section interview, Blackthorne discusses how he got into acting after growing up on miltary bases in England and Germany, discusses Sara’s death on Arrow, The Flash/Arrow’s upcoming crossover episodes, comparisons of Captain Lance to Batman’s Commissioner Gordon, Laurel becoming Black Canary on Arrow, his role in Dumb and Dumber To, and future films he’d like to direct after This American Journey.
You were raised on military bases in England and Germany growing up, I wanted to ask you, how did you first get into acting and what kind of TV were you exposed to?
All I can remember growing up is watching Top of The Pops and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from my childhood, along with the soap operas that my mother would used to watch. I didn’t see much film growing up, I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and the epic trip we had growing up to see that film, that’s really it though, nothing extraordinary. Just the usual kinda fare that a child in England would experience.
As for what got me into acting, I was ten years old and attending school in England, they had a great arts program there and had just built this beautiful, new theater in the school. The National Youth Music Theatre would go around various schools in England and put on their summer production and I auditioned for that particular play which was called the “League of Liverpool,” it was sort of an old Victorian sing-along romp thing. At the end of that summer, three different schools that were part of the production, the National Music Theater would choose certain children to do the end of festival production of that same play. So, they kind of tried it out and rehearsed it in the schools, then they would take it to the the festivals and then later to the London west end.
I was fortunate enough to be involved with the school production, one of the chosen ones to go to the Edinburgh festival in 1980 as well actually, big year, and to the west end at Christmas. It’s funny because in that same play with Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, they were in the same play. Later I went off to do another production and Jonny Miller, and Jude Law as well. A bit of a pedigree there, they had a knack of picking up some decent talent along the way. But that’s how I first got into it, musical theater as a kid.
Jumping years later now to Arrow and some of the plots going on this season, what was your reaction to Sara being killed off and Caity Lotz leaving the show? Also how was it discovering that the arc would involve Laurel not telling you that she died?
It’s always a shame, and it’s the nature of this kind of television that characters will come and go, much in the same way as Tommy Merlyn and Sussanna Thompson’s character, and now Caity. You enjoy spending time working with people and then suddenly the axe drops, but that’s television isn’t it? If you have a show that death defines odds every week but nobody dies, then the audience is not going to be that interested I would imagine, that’s why the deaths have to fly around every so often. It’s a shame, it’s always sad to see your fellow actors go, Caity Lotz and I had a great working relationship and I’m sure she’ll go onto some fabulous things from here. In terms of the storyline? Now Katie Cassidy’s character has to keep [quiet] on the thing for her reasons. So yeah, Lance is in the dark, what can I say?
Obviously you can’t spoil but do you think Laurel has the right motivations to not tell you and how do you envision your character reacting when he finds out?
Well, the initial motivation that she stated was that because of Lance’s heart condition she would at least want to know who killed Sara before revealing that she had been killed. That was in one of the earlier episodes in which this all came up. That would still be her motivation, and if/when Lance finds out I doubt he’d be doing an Irish jig around the place, would he? I think he would be a little bit perturbed by the situation. We’ll see.
Now, another secret that Detective Lance doesn’t know is that Oliver is the Arrow but it seems like recently, at least in Season 2, that there have been a lot of examples that should make it that he knows. Examples being Felicity working with Oliver and the Arrow, Sara obviously, you play Detective Lance, do you think he subconsciously knows?
As you said, all roads lead to Rome, don’t they, really? Whether it was Sara, her relationship with Oliver, Felicity, all that good stuff, all roads lead to Rome. In that episode The Man Under The Hood, the episode where I was in the hospital bed and Laurel was about to tell me who he was.
Right, you didn’t want to know.
Yeah, Lance doesn’t want to know, particularly at that point where he had to be real surreptitious about the whole relationship. Now it’s out in the open, it’s a different thing. Lance obviously has his suspicions, which were expressed in Episode 4 of the first season, but at that point that case was quashed, for his own reputation and well being, he had to keep those thoughts to himself, clearly he has done that since then. Now that his mind has turned regarding the Arrow, he realizes he’s actually beneficial for the city, he has no interest in knowing who he is, and even if he suspects who he is, he’s not going to pursue that, because the guy does good for the city, and as far as Lance goes, that’s all that matters. So why complicate things, in Lance’s mind, by knowing who it is? Just be quiet, and keep it moving.
Many of your scenes and storylines with Laurel tend to lean on the darker side, with alcoholism and dealing with death being some of the main issues. How do you and Katie Cassidy prepare for scenes like that, and would you ever like to see a lighter side to the relationship, kind of like we saw a little bit in that flashback episode?
That flashback episode was fun, it was kind of the Lance family sitcom all of a sudden, and that was fun. The family, in terms of the story, was having fun at that time. It was before the dark days of when death loomed over the family. They were good times, and it was nice to play some of that stuff in the episode. In terms of what is going on now, yeah, dark stuff, alcoholism, drug addiction, death, one thing after another really. But that’s drama, that’s conflict, from an acting point of view it’s actually nice to play that stuff, when there’s a lot of stuff going on the room, particularly with the family dynamic it makes it interesting to play. Because obviously a family dynamic is a very complex, peculiar one, so there’s lots of drama on top of the father-daughter relationship, so you’ve got a lot to play with.
With reports coming out that Laurel is becoming Black Canary, what do you think this will add to the show, and how do you think it will change your dynamic with Laurel?
Well Katie Cassidy always brings so much to the show wherever her character is at, whether it was the dark stuff from last season, or obviously the change that is occurring this season. She commits herself so fully to the character, and where it’s at, and brings it so much authenticity that it is going to be great to watch it, because she pulls out all of the stops. Watching her kicking a little ass, as they say in this country, will be great to see. Lance is obviously not aware of this situation going on just yet, we’ll see where that goes, but it’s nice being able to see Katie really get the chance to pull all the stops out and have fun with that aspect of the character.
Have there ever been times you feared you would be killed off, or have the writers always let you know in advance about situations like your heart attack in the Season 2 finale?
Well one has to be philosophical about television. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a show about death defying odds, and if nobody ever dies then the audience would be less interested in the death defying odds, so occasionally there are going to be casualties along the way. I just take it one episode at a time, one season at a time. If I have the good fortune to be involved in one season after another, that’s wonderful, you just take it as it comes really. I’ve been thankful for each season, so to be philosophical, it’s the nature of storytelling. Just take it as it comes, as long as they’re telling good stories, that’s the main thing when it comes to the TV show.
How do you interact with the cast on set, because obviously some characters are separated from each other in the context of the storylines. Are there any actors you’d like to work with more on the show?
I’d love to be working with David Ramsay, I really would. He’s such a great guy, we have a lot of fun together just on a personal level. I think over 2 and a half seasons, we’ve been in the same room in a scene maybe twice, and I walked by him when he sat in a car once. (Laughs) I’d love to spend more time with David, because he’s a great actor as well, so that would be fun. Of course I get the odd scene with Emily’s character, Felicity Smoak, that’s always fun, the Lance/Felicity dynamic, so those two for sure.
Yeah you mentioned Diggle, that’ll be interesting when Lance finds out he named his daughter, after his daughter.
That would be a touching moment, wouldn’t it?
Any funny John Barrowman set stories that you can tell? Because I talked to him a couple months ago, has he ever gotten one over on you?
No, but there will be a big dark scene, and they’ll say cut, and he’ll come around the corner with a dancing routine, doing the complete opposite of what the scene just played. He’s always good fun to have around (laughs), he’ll lighten the atmosphere for sure. Having said that, he applies himself 100% when it comes to the acting stuff, but he’s one of those characters that is great to have around.
What do you think about comparisons between your character and Commission Gordon from Batman? Do you try to avoid that when playing him, or are you fine with the comparisons?
Obviously there is a parallel there, with the story of the characters, but I don’t really give it any thought, I am just looking at these scripts, and what’s going on with this character. Although there are similarities, there are a lot of differences too, so I just concentrate on what’s on the page in front of me when it comes to Arrow. All of the other stuff is sort of peripheral really, so yeah the comparisons might be there when it comes to the set up of the characters and such, but it doesn’t concern me in any way, I don’t think about it when I’m reading an Arrow script.
Is there anything you can tease regarding The Flash crossover episode, and comment on working with the cast?
It’s kind of interesting, because tonally they’re too slightly different shows. What I find interesting is the blending of the two tones, so to speak. That’s just the thing I find interesting, my character wasn’t involved too much in that. I had one scene with Barry Allen when he comes and has a word with Oliver Queen, but all I can say is it was great to see Grant, because he’s just a fantastic actor. I remember back in episode 8 of the second season when his character was introduced in Arrow, and I just kept thinking, ‘This guy is good. He’s going to do a great job on this Flash show,’ which indeed he is doing. Have you been watching The Flash?
Yeah I have.
Been enjoying it?
I’ve been enjoying it, but I think Arrow is still better.
In what way, how so?
What I like about Arrow is it’s more of an action drama soap, with superhero aspects. Like you could take away the masks, and it’s still a great show. The Flash is an entertaining show, but it feels more like a superhero show, Arrow draws me in because it’s more of a drama.
That’s interesting what you said, you could take away the masks and you’d still have a drama, that’s an interesting thing to say yeah.
Speaking of another role you recently did, how did you get a role in Dumb and Dumber To and what is your role in it, how was it filming that?
It was a lot of fun spending the day with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Peter Farrelly is a friend of mine, we live in the same town, and we just went out for a beer one night, and at the end of it he said, ‘Hey, do you want to come and drop in and do a scene on Dumb and Dumber for us?’ Of course I was extremely happy to do that, so I went over to Atlanta for a couple of days. I was supposed to do a bigger role, but I didn’t have the time on the Arrow schedule to do that, but I was able to go over and do the role that I did end up doing, which was a lot of fun, playing an emergency room doctor, as Mr. Carrey and Mr. Daniels find themselves in an emergency room with a particular dilemma, the doctor attempts to deal with the situation.
It was a lot of fun, Jim Carrey is just extraordinary, seeing what he does on screen, and having the opportunity to stand there all day and watch what he does, how he moves about and changes, it’s incredible, he’s a genius. What he does with physical comedy is beyond belief really. So that was lovely, I was able to nip over there and enjoy that, and a year later it comes out and is #1 in the box office office, so good job to those guys.
You recently directed the documentary This American Journey, what types of films or TV shows would you like to direct in the future?
I’d like to do another version of This American Journey, but perhaps somewhere overseas. India would intrigue me, I have a lot of history with India, a big relationship with that place. I find it interesting that a lot of things we talked about with Americans on This American Journey, is what is it that really makes us happy. Everyone is pursuing this idea of the American dream, which is pretty much based around consumption, materialism, all things big and shiny, but really is that the thing that makes you happy? A country like India is pretty much going down that same route, so I would be intrigued to go to India and direct something along the same lines there, in terms of documentary.
I’d love to do a narrative film, probably sort of low key, that kitchen sink kind of drama, that small town in the middle of nowhere with human beings just trying to get by in the midst of their lives and family relationships, the classic kitchen sink drama stuff, more low key. I definitely would like to do that at some point, so we shall see.