(CBR) With the freshly launched second season of The CW’s “Arrow” — based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow — producers have been looking to up the stakes with more characters familiar to comic book readers. Last night, the show introduced a rogue who’s more than a simple villain, played by a man who’s done more than his share of comic book-inspired filmmaking. In the all-new episode “Identity,” Michael Jai White becomes Ben “The Bronze Tiger” Turner.
Created by Denny O’Neil, Jim Berry and Leo Duranona, the kung-fu trained mercenary is known in the comics as a bad guy who hews closer to the antihero archetype with his work on the Suicide Squad. Meanwhile, White is an actor well known to comic fans thanks to his starring role in the ’90s “Spawn” film, a critical part in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” and other superhero and action fare along the way. The combination of the two as part of “Arrow’s” growing expansion of characters promises some new wrinkles to the show’s format.
CBR News spoke with White about the Bronze Tiger role, and the actor explained that stepping into the shoes of the competitive mercenary provided a welcome departure from his current gig on “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse.” Plus, White discussed how the physicality of the role allowed him to collaborate with star Stephen Amell and the “Arrow” stunt team, and why his part in the series may not be done after last night’s episode.
CBR News: Michael, this week, you’re playing Ben Turner — the man who’s known as the Bronze Tiger. In the comics, this isn’t a man who’s necessarily a villain. He’s often on the wrong side of the law, but he’s not a cold-blooded killer. How does “Arrow’s” take on the concept stack up with that idea?
Michael Jai White: I think it matches up. The one thing to consider is that he’s been told by China White, “Here’s a worthy adversary [in the Arrow.]” And so he’s pretty much self-serving in that he’s competing with somebody of his own ilk. Therefore, there’s a warrior code that he operates from. That code says that you both recognize the challenge, and steel sharpens steel. That’s where his character is coming from. He may be seen as a lot more aggressive in his turn, but as the story goes on, there’s room for him to look at things in other ways. He may not be presented so much as a villain.
It feels also that Bronze Tiger isn’t just a “villain of the week” character for the series, but we’ll likely see him across the season. How does this character tie into the bigger arc of Season 2?
It stands to reason. I don’t know for sure at this point, but I think it’s a character that they can continue with, and they wrote it that way. I understand that in a series like this, you want to have as many rogues as possible. The tendency is not to kill off a character like this because it’s a moving artform. The fun of it is that the story starts to present itself as it goes on. A lot of that is due to the response of the fans. So I know there’s more potential for the character that can lead to much more, but understanding the craft, I see it now as possibility, and I hope that he does get to show up again.
In the real world side of the equation, how was the process of squaring off against Stephen Amell? You’ve been playing these kinds of parts for years, and he’s been at this for a full season to date. Was there an even match there that allowed you to do a little more with the stunt work?
I really liked how Stephen plays this role and his commitment to the physicality of the role. I really applaud that, and I was very happy to work with someone so committed.
You also get to add some more flourishes from the costume to some claw-like weaponry. How does that change the experience?
That’s always fun. I’ve been doing martial arts my entire life, and the collaboration of working on “Arrow” with some stunt coordinators I’ve heard about for years was something I was really looking forward to. The creators were able to really shape the identity of this character, and I could walk into areas I’d never been before.
This is only the latest superhero-style role for you in a career that goes from “Spawn” to “The Dark Knight” to animated work. “Arrow” seems to try and keep to a more grounded, realistic take on the genre. Does that impact how you play the part?
Yeah! I think that’s one of the best parts. Even in the fantastic world, I like things that are closer to reality. I think that most of us like it that way far better than a far-fetched world. It can’t help but touch you more because it’s more believable.
Was there an element to this filming experience that sticks out as most memorable?
I think it was the match of the physicality with the character. Stepping into the world of “Arrow,” it’s always great as an actor to tread new footprints. That’s what’s most interesting. I’d be very interested to see where this character can go from this episode.
Overall, what brings you back to superhero roles and worlds like this?
It’s fun to play big characters. I’m able to really put my acting and physicality all in the same boat. That’s a great workout for me. It’s rare that you can do all of that in one character. In the very same night on air, I’ll have my show “For Better or Worse” coming on right after “Arrow,” and I’m a husband and father in a sitcom there. So to be able to play both sides is a really fun thing.
“Arrow”airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on The CW.