'Arrow's' John Barrowman: Malcolm "Returns With a Smash and a Bang"

Arrow Still Katie Cassidy and John Barrowman -  H 2015
The CW

Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) is about to shake things up again for everyone on The CW's Arrow

Last seen six months ago in Nanda Parbat taking on the role of Ra's al Ghul, the leader of the League of Assassins, things have been going well for Malcolm. But when Laurel (Katie Cassidy) convinces Thea (Willa Holland) to resurrect her dead sister Sara (Caity Lotz) via the Lazarus Pit, their request will "throw things into a tailspin" for Malcolm.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Barrowman about how Malcolm will react to their plan, what he's been up to with his new army and more. "Malcolm makes his big return and he returns with a smash and a bang," the actor says. 

Malcolm hasn't been on the show since he became the new Ra's al Ghul, and it's been about six months since that happened. How has he been adjusting to his new role?

He has been adjusting quite well. There's been a time [jump], so you are finding Malcolm when he has all the men bowing to him: Nyssa [Katrina Law] is bowing to him, and Malcolm is in complete control. Something happens in the episode that proves that. What happens when Thea and Laurel walk through the door is he's not expecting that, so it throws a bit of a spanner in the works. That's where the, shall we say, the fatherly instinct comes out because with one, he's being a father, and with the other he's being Ra's. Both have two different issues.

Is this dilemma going to affect his standing as the new Ra's? He can't really be a good father and the leader of the League of Assassins at the same time, right?

Of course you can! Laurel's coming back to ask him to resurrect his sister, who Malcolm murdered, using his daughter to get her out of the way to help him with a situation that he needed to manipulate. So now Malcolm becomes very ethical and, I'm not sure if this is the right word but, moralistic about the whole thing. Then he turns around to his daughter, who has an issue herself, which is this bloodlust she has, and he knew this was going to happen. So he turns to her and he does something completely without ethics or morals. So yes, you can be a father and yes you can be Ra's al Ghul at the same time [Laughs]. It's just very complex.

Nyssa has never been a fan of Malcolm's, since he murdered Sara and especially now that he's taken over the League, which she saw as her birthright. Has she been following his orders or has she been fighting back in any way?

She has to follow his orders to a certain extent. Well, she has to follow his orders. If she goes out rogue, he'll have to deal with it. But that doesn't mean she won't throw obstacles in his way. Something happens in the episode that Nyssa is involved in that is going to be a jaw-dropping moment. Nyssa is putting obstacles in Malcolm's way. 

How is Nyssa is going to react to Laurel's plan of resurrecting Sara?

Both Nyssa and Malcolm's reactions are going to be surprising to the audience. It's interesting as to how they both react to it, with the passion and severity of their reactions. Remember, Malcolm wasn't a fan of the pit for his daughter. He was going to let her go. He only wanted the pit for himself, for selfish reasons. So for it being used for other things now, it's a dilemma for him.

We've seen a lot of different sides to Malcolm over the past few seasons, from loving father to grieving husband to evil villain to helpful ally. Which side is your favorite to play?

What I love most about Malcolm is his complexity. The audience allows me to give that complexity to a villain who I see as a misunderstood hero. It's a different kind of villain to play. But you will see the return of the puppet master and the magician this season, as well as the passionate father. You're going to get a combination of every side we've seen prior all wrapped up in one season.

Which side comes most naturally to him?

He has to work harder to be a loving father. That's something he learns every time he does it. But it's the manipulator that comes very easy for him. The ruthless side. It's the father side he has to step back and think about.

It's interesting to see how he approaches fatherhood differently this time around vs. when Tommy (Colin Donnell) was still alive.

Yes, he has. He was always very angry with Tommy because he saw Tommy as being useless. The fact that Tommy died a hero, but Malcolm was the cause of it, he does regret that in the latter part of Tommy's life he was finally getting to bond with him and get him to be more like him, and then all of a sudden it went all wrong. That's why Malcolm doesn't want to make the same mistakes with Thea. But he wants Thea to be strong, and to be like the son he never had, who is her half-brother Oliver [Stephen Amell]. That's why he has such a strong affection for Oliver, because of his drive, his passion, what he has become. That's what he wants Thea to be so she can protect herself and be strong enough to turn to him and ask for help.

What is going to surprise fans the most about what Malcolm goes through this season?

The way that he deals with things in two different cities. He's watching and learning an awful lot about other people in other cities.

Does that have anything to do with Damien Dahrk (Neil McDonough)?

[Laughs] I can't say!

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.