With just one appearance so far on the series, Arrow's Neal McDonough has already brought a new flavor to the show.
Rather than the brooding, brutal, street-level villains we're used to seeing on the show, McDonough's Damien Darhk is a preening, murderous supernatural threat who really just seems to enjoy what he's doing a tiny bit too much.
As the season unfolds, McDonough told us in this interview, we'll get to see more of that sensibility -- as well as what sets him off and sends him down the road of brooding brutality.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
You are no stranger to these big universes; you've been in some of the DC animated stuff and things like that. What attracted you to Arrow?
Marc Guggenheim. It's as simple as that. Marc and I have talked so many times on the phone over the last couple of months, and we've never met face to face yet, which is shocking. I feel like I know him so well, and I'm sure he'd feel the same way about me.
I just got off the phone with him an hour ago discussing the flashbacks and what we're going to do with Damien Darhk to explain who he is later on in the season. But what he devised for me is truly awesome and instead of just playing a dark Damien Darhk, we're making him light and comical and comic booky and making him more a Nicholson Joker, Hackman Luthor type of villain.
I like entertaining on the screen and I love comedy, which I never get to play, so my villains are always a little comical because that's the only time I get to get my comedy jones out of my system. So we've really built this kind of nine-year-old kid who just wants that toy and if he doesn't get that toy, he's going to throw that monumental temper tantrum. That's kind of the mindset for Damien Darhk. It's not ruling the world; it has nothing to do with ruling the world. It's "This is my plan, and I'm going to get it. And if I don't get it, I'm going to be really mean to you. And I'm going to enjoy it."
Which is kind of great because that's kind of what he did to the League of Assassins.
Right! They wouldn't give him the shiny new bicycle.
Do you feel like you're conscious of wanting to play it a little different, or do you think it's good because it establishes a pattern of behavior?
It's great for going back to when the League of Assassins gave him the boot. They wouldn't give me a shiny new bicycle. Oh, really? Well, I'll take my show on the road like LeBron James and find a shiny new bicycle in Miami. So if he wants to show to everyone that although he's not immortal, he's got these powers that can kill everybody but they can't kill him. So he's going to be around forever, but he wants it right now: "I want my Oompa-Loompa and I want it now, Daddy."
So he's going to get it and whoever comes across me, I will have to do whatever it takes and sometimes I really enjoy it because, gosh, it feels so good just to off three guys with the palm of my hand in ten seconds. In one of the scenes that we shot last week, I did do just that after I kill a gentleman: "Oh! I could do that all day! Gosh, that's fun!" And then, in comes Green Arrow and all the minions, and I'm like "Please kill them." And when they can't, I'm like "Augh! Let me show you idiots how it's done." And I go in there and I have to do it.
No one can do what I do. No one can be as great and awesome as Damien Darhk. You have to understand that, and I have to knowing that everyone else are imbeciles compared to myself. And then this guy named Arrow shows up and just ruins my universe. And it's just great drama. It's just fun.
Those kinds of characters usually precipitate their own downfall becuase they underestimate everyone. Is it more fun to play the start of that where you're kicking everybody's ass or the part where you're trying to humanize him a little bit down the line?
Oh, I'm not trying to humanize everything. In fact, even at a point coming up where Green Arrow finds out there's something that's very special to me in my life and I just snap, and then I snap him like an old G.I. Joe doll, and I just beat him -- it's going to be an awesome scene. And then he tells me something and I realize -- it's the only time you see Damien Darhk pause and have a heart. You'll see why, but it's great because every villain can't be just dark; there has to be some reason why he is who he is. Like I was saying with Marc, we're going to go back and figure out why 122 years ago, how the became this guy and has not aged in 122 years.
You go back to the League -- I did an episode of Legends last week -- and I look exactly the same in 1975 but you see he's not as confident and doesn't have such an agenda forty years ago as he does now. So it's fun to play the different times, you know? Going back in time with Legends, and The Flash, with The Flash, I'm just this crazy, fun, enjoy everything while I kill everybody type of character. It's just nuts. So it's playing the humor in that very dark soul that I have but then as the season progresses, that humor starts to fade becuase Green Arrow is getting the best of me a bunch of times and that really is going to cause the unraveling of Damien Darhk.
I always assume when you're entering into a show that's ongoing, it's a little bit of an adjustment period for the actor...but your character is changing the dyhamic and the rules of the show so much, is there just a lot of experimentation going on across the board?
Well, I've never watched it. The first time I sat down and watch an episode of Arrow for the first time was the [Season Four] premiere. I didn't want to have any preconceived notions of who Ra's al Ghul was, of who [Vandal] Savage is, who Malcolm is. I didn't want to know anything about any of those characters and how they play them.
I told that to Marc and Marc was like, "Oh! That's kind of a great idea." Even when I read the scripts, I try not to read much more about the other characters because when I meet the other characters, I want it to be fresh. So it's a different take on the villain. If you're the good guy, you have to know everything. The villain is just so about himself that everything else doesn't really matter.
I'd think that really gels with a character who's so powerful. When you walk into the room, it's like, "Well, I could just kill that person if they're a pain in the ass." You don't exactly have to scout them.
Exactly. The first time I saw Lance with his arm in the sling, I didn't know who he was in the confines of the show becuase I hadn't watched the show. As far as I knew, he's just another minion that was in my way that I'm going to have to obviously crush. But then I pull him in and use him as one of my pawns, and now seeing Paul do what he does, he's phenomenal. We have a wonderful time working with each other.
Paul Blackthorne is great in this role. Has that been a fun relationship to explore?
Paul's awesome, yeah. In the first few issues he's literally my pawn doing my dirty work, and then it happens that he doesn't exactly tell me the truth and I then hold his family over him and threaten him and do all kinds of nasty, evil things. Which is so much fun watching Paul unravel in front of me as an actor; it's just awesome.
That's a character who's been through the wringer quite a bit. Is that one of the things that Damien likes to do is to kind of play with his food a little bit?
Yes, absolutely. There's no question; I do enjoy playing with my food but at some point when I see that buck that's in front of me, I need to spear it in the head as quickly as possible and that's when my patience starts to unravel. The first third of the season, I'm enjoying offing people. I'm enjoying the power that I have because it's my time. It's not Savage's time, it's not Ra's al Ghul's time; it's Damien Darhk's time.
But as the season progresses, and Green Arrow starts messing with me more and things start to unravel and Lance starts to figure out things, it's like the fun of killing people is gone and now it's time to kill everybody so I can get the job done tomorrow. That's it; today's the day. I have to figure out how to rule the world immediately. And that's what I'm using as an actor; the ticking clock is great.