For their final season, Arrow is going big. With the entire universe on the line, Oliver Queen has been traveling around the world and off it in a desperate attempt to stave off the looming crisis. But Ollie isn’t the only hero on Arrow these days. We’re also learning about Mia Smoak, Connor Hawke, William Clayton and Zoe Ramirez’s fight to save Star City in the year 2040, and that story is a much smaller, more personal affair.
That’s because the person they’re trying to save it from is John Diggle Jr.
As the leader of the Deathstroke Gang, John—or “JJ” as he’s frequently called on the show—rules the city’s underworld, but he has his eye on complete control of Star City starting with the Glades, the previously walled-in section of the city that has long been victim to heavy crime and corruption. Connor was once close to his adoptive brother and believes he’s a good person who’s just been badly misguided. But is he? Or in a city as troubled as Star, is it possible that there are some things even family can’t overcome?
We were curious why JJ would stray so far from his father and brother, so we spoke with actor Charlie Barnett about the ways in which his father’s choices may have placed JJ on the path to villainy. We also asked him his thoughts on carrying on Deathstroke’s legacy, what it feels like joining Arrow in its final season and how living in dystopian Star City compares to repeating the same day over and over, Russian Doll-style.
This is obviously a very important season for Arrow. How did it feel learning that you’d be a part of it?
So incredible. I hadn’t been watching it prior, so I picked up watching it right after the audition, just hoping that I had booked it. Just knowing that this is the final season—remember that Arrow was one of the first shows like this on TV, building this kind of superhero realm. And they do it in such a great way! I still think the fights are some of the best on television. I was thrilled to know that I was going to be a part of it.
How familiar were you with the character of Deathstroke?
I’d known Deathstroke from childhood. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I did watch a lot of the shows when I was growing up. I got into more of the comics later in my life, mostly from a castmate, Yuri Sardarov, from Chicago Fire. But from that, I was able to get into the world. I have a couple of the comics sitting next to me right now.
That being said, a majority of the time, Deathstroke is a very different character from who I’m playing. That opened the door for me. I’m making these choices based on my own decision-making, not around the comic book universe that’s been, admittedly, incredibly developed over all these years. I imagine Deathstroke as being not necessarily the person who is behind the mask, but the mask itself in that the mask can kind of jump from person to person. It’s like an entity that anyone can fill if you have the anger and if you’ve been pushed.
Because of all of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” build-up, we have at least an idea of what we’ll be seeing in the present-day Arrow scenes this season, but the flash forwards are more of a mystery. What can you tease about what John Diggle Jr. will be up to in the episodes ahead?
He’s up to no good, at least in the eyes of the audience. From my standpoint as an actor, he’s trying to have a voice heard. The vigilantes in this world continually react to the negative forces in society, and those reactions have a greater effect. They’re like butterfly effects. If you kill a villain who’s a father or a mother, their child is going to rise up. We’ve heard this story. We’ve seen it so many times, especially in these universes.
I don’t necessarily see John Diggle Jr. as a villain. I see him as trying to have his voice heard and have them understand the ramifications of what they’re doing. Now, the way that he’s doing that is something that we all won’t agree on. But he’s been pushed into a corner, and he feels like he has not been heard and also lied to. I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s been lied to by his father, his mother, his brother. It’s almost like they now have this whole world they’ve gotten to develop, and he has no place in it, so he’s got to make his own.
As the leader of the Deathstroke Gang, JJ is obviously influenced by Slade Wilson, but he’s also John Diggle’s son. Who do you think was the bigger influence on him?
It depends on when you ask. At this point in my mind and where I’m at working on the character, it’s definitely not Diggle. It’s funny, I got to meet David Ramsey for the first time a couple of days ago at a party. I’ve watched him and I’ve been taking a lot of notes, just to try to have our two characters relate. But he’s such a great guy. It’s hard trying to be mad at him!
John Diggle Jr. feels like he’s been left by both his mother and his father. His relationship with Connor has been a brotherhood. They were tight up until a certain point. I think that a little later in adulthood, it clicked for him. He was like, “Wait, the reason I have no relationship with my father and mother is because of Connor’s actions.”
I don’t think he blames Connor for being adopted and brought into the family. On a personal level, I’m actually adopted in real life. So, it’s such a funny kind of twist for me to be approaching this from the other side. John Diggle Jr. can’t blame Connor for the adoption, and we’ve always been close, but I’ve realized that Connor’s actions of being such a troublemaker have also left me in the dust. On top of that, to later learn that my father has now taken Connor under his wing. Whether it’s in order to protect him or to teach him the good out of life, he’s forgotten completely about me. And aside from that, I come to learn later in life that my father and mother are these vigilante heroes taking care of this entire community, but they haven’t taken the time to think about what I need and what is important to their son? It’s like a knife in the back! That’s enough for me to be like, “Screw everything. Screw this world. Everything is bad, and everyone should know.”
The episode also talks a lot about sacrifice. Would JJ say that he’s sacrificed his relationship with his family to get what he wants? It would be an interesting parallel to Oliver’s sacrifice, since he sacrificed his relationship with the family to save the world.
This is honestly the first time I’ve thought about that! Yes, he sacrificed his relationship—I don’t know if he sees it as a sacrifice. I think he feels like he was dealt these cards and kind of pushed into sacrificing that relationship. That maybe the relationship wasn’t given an opportunity by one side—not by him, but by John and by Lyla. Yes, ultimately it becomes a sacrifice. He doesn’t have that relationship with his family, and because of that, it results in these reactions. So, yes and no. Oliver and JJ are very different. Just because of the moral outlook of these two characters.
That being said, Oliver Queen is such a twisted hero. You can’t label him as just good. That’s why I really love this show within this greater universe. Not to downplay any of the others, but there’s more malleability to these stories and characters. Not everybody is wholeheartedly good or bad. I really appreciated that because I think that relates back to humanity so well. We all kind of fit within that realm, as much as we would like to be the good guy or the bad guy, no one is.
The other show a lot of people know you from is Russian Doll, so I’m curious, if you had to choose, would you rather find yourself suddenly living in a dystopian, gang-ridden future, or living the same day over and over again in a repeating time loop?
Oh f*ck! Ha!
Both of them would be SO bad! So, I would be Charlie Barnett, not my characters? I think I’d have to pick the dystopian world because they’re superheroes! I mean, come on! The opportunity or chance to be one of them—maybe I won’t garner any super powers, but I could be working superheroes? That’s so badass. Being stuck in a cycle of death? It would be different if I knew that there was a good outcome to the end of Russian Doll, but I don’t even know if they’re still in that universe, if they’re moving forward, if they got out of it… No, I don’t think I could do that to myself! As much as I love and respect Natasha Lyonne and the show itself, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, y’all!
Arrow airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CST) on The CW. Visit our official Arrow page for more features, news and articles on Oliver Queen's adventures.