Stephen Amell tells it like it is.
The 37-year-old-actor was a guest on Michael Rosenbaum‘s Inside of You podcast Tuesday, where he spoke candidly about what it’s like to be the lead of The CW’s smash Arrow; Amell was cast as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, a billionaire playboy turned masked vigilante, in 2011.
Arrow was Amell’s first leading role, and at the time, “I didn’t really care what the deal was,” he said. “It was a fair deal. I had no quote. I had never been a series regular before; I was a series regular on Hung, technically, but I wasn’t going to be bumped up to a series regular price until the fourth season—if there was a fourth season, which there wasn’t. It was a very, very fair deal. I mean, the first thing they did was try to hire me as a Canadian.” That “was a big no-no,” as it meant he would be earning less money and wouldn’t be eligible to receive residuals. “That’s the first conversation that they have and my agent shut it down immediately. Basically, the business affairs person comes back, semi-embarrassed, and says, ‘You know, I gotta ask…'”
Even after the contract was signed, Amell had to push back behind the scenes.
Not wanting to be taken advantage of, despite of his inexperience as a leading man, Amell recalled when he had to defend himself while re-shooting a scene for an episode in Season 1. “In the early days, we didn’t do a lot of re-shoots, but they were not happy with a couple elements of Episode 5,” he said. So, Amell was called in to rework some scenes with co-star Katie Cassidy—and that’s when he reached his breaking point and once again asserted himself.
“We had been working six-day weeks for a couple of weeks, coming in Sundays and doing that. I’m in the Arrow costume, I’ve got the f–king eye makeup on, and it was 11:15 at night or whatever. The second assistant director said to me, ‘Your call time tomorrow is 11:15.’ And I said, ‘I’m not done for the day. I can’t. Base camp is 20 minutes away and I’ve got to take my makeup off. It’s not my turnaround. I’m exhausted. I’m going to take my turnaround.’ And he said, ‘Contractually, your call time is 11:15 and I don’t have to give you any explanation,'” the actor remembered. “I said, ‘OK, I’m going to tell you this right now, and I’m going to do it in front of people so that everybody knows this: I’m going to get in the car tomorrow at the exact time that I get in the car tonight, and not a minute sooner. And if you had handled this with a little more tact, maybe we could have done something, but you didn’t. So, when everybody asks why we are starting later than everyone wants to, you need to tell them it’s your fault.'”
“You do get pushed around,” he added, “but I recognized my value, I think, pretty early on.”
By the time Amell’s first contract renegotiations rolled around, he admitted it became “weird” and “a little personal.” As he told Rosenbaum, who had similar experiences making The CW’s Smallville, “The only issue I had in the first couple of years was, I think, that up until the end of the second season I was the fourth or fifth highest paid cast member, because I had no quote. They gave me what they termed as a ‘gift’ after Season 2; it’s them raising my salary without asking for anything in return. My thing was very simple. I just said, ‘Quite frankly, I work way more than everybody else.’ Especially in Season 1 and Season 2—it was way more disproportionate than it is now. I think somebody was making X. They’re like, ‘OK, your new salary is going to be X minus, like, $1,250 per episode.’ And I go, ‘What are you doing? That’s not the most amount of money.’ They said, ‘Yeah, no. It’s the most amount of money over the course of 23 episodes, because the person above you is not all episodes produced.’ I was like, ‘OK, technically you’re right…’ That leaves a little bit of a s–tty taste in my mouth. Just a little.”
Admittedly, it was a trying time for Amell. “We’re actors and we’re sensitive, and we take everything personally, and so it is difficult,” the actor said. “It’s also difficult to argue with Warner Bros. Television, because they are prolific, and they have been in business forever.”
In the back of his mind, he thought, “The entity of Arrow is bigger than me. I am replaceable.”
“When I did my renegotiation, it wasn’t fun, because I have a lot of friends who have been in similar positions, and I knew what the actual numbers were. I’m very good friends with Jared Padalecki, and he shared information with me that [Tom Welling] shared with him. It’s everyone trying to help each other out, right? And I have gone on to share that information with people that I think it might be beneficial to,” the actor said of trying to broker a salary increase. “But when you’re hearing ‘final offer’—I heard ‘final offer’—I went, ‘That’s cool. I’m good with my current deal.’ And then there was dead silence for weeks and weeks and weeks.”
The timing was bad, as the renegotiations were going on right before The CW’s big crossover event with Arrow and The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl was set to begin filming. Amell described that shoot as difficult, since “they treated it like a normal run of production,” despite being in different stages of development. “There was just no wiggle room. It wasn’t until this year that they started building in down days to the production,” he said. “Certain productions would go dark for a couple of days so you could actually move the actors around.”
Working on multiple shows, without having finalized his contract, was stressful. “The very first time I did it was going and doing the pilot of The Flash. It was one scene. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting one scene—you’re getting one scene of an established character that I am used to getting X number of dollars to portray in an episode of television. So, there was a little bit of animosity,” he admitted. “But when it actually came for a proper renegotiation, I decided that I thought it would be advantageous for me to take a slightly lower amount on crossovers, because ultimately, my financial incentive on the show revolves around my episodic fee.” Now that crossovers are bigger events, it’s become “very hard” for Amell, as he has to read four scripts, work with four directors and tell one cohesive story. He explained, “I always take some time with the directors to just go, ‘OK: Where are we? Uh huh? Which show? Mmhm. That’s going to be hour three? Yup. OK, what just happened? Just make sure that I know where I am.'”
By nature, Amell isn’t a complainer. “I love going to other sets,” he said. However, he would change the call sheet order to match the context of the episode. “If have the most to do in the crossover—and I did this year—treat me like No. 1. As in, prioritize my time and get me out of there so that I can either go to another production or be rested for the following day,” he said. “Each show prioritizes their own actors—and that’s fine. I get it. I just would do it differently.”
New episodes of Arrow will begin airing Monday, Oct. 15, at 8 p.m. After that, the series’ future is uncertain. “My contract is up after 7. I think there’s going to be some clarity on my future in the show soon,” the actor teased. “It was a very interesting feeling once we were picked up for Season 7, because all of a sudden, I saw the finish line. Even if it’s many, many years from now, that will be up to me and not up to the studio, who has had me under contract—willingly. I signed it. I have no regrets that I signed it. But every year it’s like, ‘We’re going to pick up another season. You have to come back.’ Season 8 would not be that. We’re talking about it.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean he is looking to leave the show. “The passion is still there, 100 percent. And we have a lot of new blood on the show, which I think is important. This is what I’ve been thinking about: What else does my character have to do?” he said. It’s possible the showrunners could kill off his character—”he doesn’t have superpowers”—but Amell finds it “incredibly hard to believe that would ever happen.” Furthermore, he argued, “I don’t know that anyone would allow themselves to be cornered by killing the title character of the show.”
“The only thing that is left for him to do, and he doesn’t have to die to do this, is he needs to leave a legacy. Because we have all these other shows that exist. So, whether Arrow continues on in the absence of Oliver Queen, or someone else took up the mantle of the Green Arrow…I think leaving a legacy is the one box that is left to tick for the character,” Amell said. Although he’s loved working on the series, he admitted, “I wouldn’t take Arrow right now, because my life has changed. I’m in L.A. My life is different. I understand why I’m still doing it, but if it ended and somebody came to me and said, ‘Alright, we have a lead role for you on a television show,’ I would go, ‘Before you tell me anything, where does it shoot?’ If they said Vancouver, I’d go, ‘OK, but when and how many episodes?’ And if the number was north of 10, I would say, ‘No.'”
Arrow put Amell on the map, but working year-round has also been limiting. “I don’t really have the ability right now to be aspirational elsewhere, because of how many episodes it is. And so, I worry sometimes about being the guy that people will think has only ever done Arrow. I worry that if I stay on the show through 10 seasons—and I respect people who do that. I have great admiration for Tom staying for 10 years, for [Jenson Ackles] and Jared going into year 14 or 15 or whatever it is. I also have respect for you going, ‘You know what? I did seven. I’m good and it’s time to move on,'” he told Rosenbaum. “I worry that if I stick around until I’m 40, is there a chance I’ve sacrificed the next 25 years of my career because I maybe stayed a little too long?”
At the same time, Amell took a moment to recognize the “extraordinary” fans who have watched his show in their homes every week for season years. “People are so kind and so thoughtful, and I’m just so lucky to be involved in something that has been so captivating for so many people. The stuff that they’ve shared with me—it’s life-changing, man,” he said. It’s also why he is “eternally grateful” the opportunity. “I could go on to do things that people think are way more significant or bigger profile, or the movies, or whatever the case may be. Arrow will always be the most important thing that’s ever happened to me professionally,” he said. “Ever.”