'Arrow's' Susanna Thompson on Her Character's Exit: 'She Had More to Do'
The veteran actress tells THR of ending Moira's arc in dramatic fashion: "It's a beautiful Shakespearean moment."
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Wednesday's episode of Arrow, "Seeing Red"]
Arrow pulled off a mother of a twist last night.
Queen matriarch Moira sacrificed her life in exchange for her children, Oliver and Thea, dying by sword at the hands of Slade. The episode, "Seeing Red," was initially billed as a Roy Harper-centric hour, but the other major bombshells also had to do with Moira: (1) She knew Oliver was the Arrow since (at least) the Undertaking. (2) She paid off a girl to lie about losing Oliver's baby and leave town. (3) She was thisclose to spilling a secret about Malcolm.
Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg detailed just how "difficult" the decision was to kill off Moira, even crediting Susanna Thompson -- the producers viewed her as a huge "get" in the beginning -- for elevating Stephen Amell and Willa Holland's performances.
For Thompson, who has yet to see the episode (she was vacationing in London; the day before, she and Colin Salmon, aka Walter, had a "sweet" reunion), Moira's final scene was "quite emotional, but satisfying," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I saw that beautiful crane shot of them pulling back from the death scene and that was almost like film noir to me. It was beautifully filmed."
In a chat with THR, the veteran actress opens up about Moira's shortened arc, the other Oliver-related bombshells and if she felt her character had more places to go.
When were you first informed that Moira would die?
At the end of January, actually. The writers have a wonderful trajectory of where they think they’re heading, and as Marc Guggenheim said to me, “We don’t take these types of storylines lightly.” They come in with the possibility and then they sit with it and sit with it and make sure it’s the right path. And I know it was hard for both of them [Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg]. It was Andrew who had the unfortunate job of chatting with me and telling me what was going to happen in the story. We all know that any one of us could be in the situation as characters on a TV show based on a comic book, but that doesn’t stop the initial impact of it.
What was that conversation with Andrew like?
I was told I needed to chat with him about another episode and then the information came out. They had to get me in the room, basically. I think everyone was awkward about not knowing how to do that because they care for me and I do believe that they did not want to say goodbye to me but this was the best trajectory for Oliver’s character. Andrew said, “This is hard to say...” and as he said that, I said at the same time he did – “You’re going to kill Moira.” Then it landed in the room and the two of us talked it through. I asked why. It wasn’t an emotional meeting -- it wasn't in terms of tears – but it was emotionally being felt inside of me and in Andrew. Then you go away and you start processing it. There were a couple of days where it stung, but they gave me a beautiful episode to dig into and work hard with Willa and Stephen and little bits of Paul Blackthorne and say my goodbyes.
Do you think Moira’s arc ended at the right time or did she have more to do?
To be honest, I do feel like she had more to do. But this TV show is called Arrow and I think the writers – I’m not sure – didn’t want too many satellite stories right now and that was discussed with me. To give Moira her full weight, you would really have to give her these satellite stories. You’d have to give her a world. She’s too big of a character not to give her a world to live in besides being Oliver’s mother and worrying about him. You can’t keep playing the same in those stories. I think that they went down certain paths – I don’t know if maybe they were not satisfied with the path of mayor. The Moira that I met in the pilot, in my heart as an actor, lived in a much bigger world and we got to see a good majority of that, but I know there was more to explore personally. But they have more of a story to tell elsewhere and that’s probably why.
Was her death the way you pictured it?
It's a beautiful Shakespearean moment. Here's what I was most happy about and the most satisfied about: [The producers] had talked to me at the start of the series that her motivation is her love for her children, so to go out standing in front of that sword so that her children could be saved, yes, that satisfied me because at least it completed that particular part of that story. It showed her true strength.
I imagine the last day of filming was tough...
That last scene was filmed on the second day. My last day of filming was tough for other reasons because that's saying goodbye to the community. I was surprised we were filming the death scene so early but I have to tell you the truth, when we finally finished it and we were satisfied with it, it was a relief that that was over and we could get to the rest of the episode. No one wanted it to happen.
It was a huge Moira-Oliver episode...
It was, wasn't it?
Another Moira-Oliver reveal came in the form of a pregnancy, with Moira using money as incentive to have the girl disappear and worse of all, lie about losing the baby. Was that moment surprising to you when you first read it?
It wasn't surprising. The producers like to create these unexpected Easter eggs. You find these eggs in different areas, hidden away, and a lot of them are in Central City, it feels like. (Laughs.) As Marc talked to me about the episode, what he liked about that particular bit of it was it allowed the audience to see how her brain works. She is still protecting her son and a grandchild. Yes, she is asking the young woman to go away and yes, she is paying her off. But the way I wanted to play it, I did truly want Moira to feel sincere about helping that child out.
How do you think Moira would have handled the repercussions of Oliver's secret child had she stayed alive?
It would have been interesting, in creating my own backstory for her and my possibilities of the future had she lived, was that she had probably at different times reached out to this child or at least kept an eye on them.
What are your thoughts on Moira knowing about her son's Arrow life for at least a season?
Stephen and I have often played and felt that Moira knows. I don't know that Stephen played or built it into Oliver that he knew that Moira knew. (Laughs.) But Stephen and I have talked about that Moira has always believed that somewhere in the middle -- I thought it was a little bit earlier [than the Undertaking]. I harken back to the pilot. There's a piece of Moira that I feel knows much more than the audience realizes she knows and much more than Oliver realizes. Moira and Oliver live a very parallel life in the first two seasons.
It's safe to say Moira's death shatters Oliver's and Thea's worlds. How do you think this affects their trajectories?
What we're left with in this episode is that Moira and Oliver are starting to mend their relationship. Thea and Moira haven't quite gotten there. For Moira to die in the middle of healing actually rising [with Oliver] and healing that hasn't happened yet [with Thea], I think we've got possibly two different trajectories there and the impact and the guilt and the pain or the release of that that might be felt from either one of these characters.
What will you miss most?
I had a certain role as a senior actor on the show and you set an example for people and you welcome people into your home and you rally people to work hard and go forward and you challenge people – writers, producers, crewmembers, other actors – to do the best work they can. Saying goodbye to all of that was the hardest part.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.