When “Arrow” star Stephen Amell comes to town for this weekend’s Planet Comicon, it will mark his first trip to KC.
And the Toronto native has received plenty of advice about our city from his Kansas City fans.
“It’s been the most passionate group about making sure I eat the correct food,” he says.
Amell is the headliner of this weekend’s pop culture convention at Bartle Hall, joining the likes of Cary Elwes from “The Princess Bride,” Michael Rooker of “The Walking Dead,” Karen Gillan of “Doctor Who” and Erin Gray from the 1970s series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” He says he considers fan conventions such as Planet Comicon an educational experience
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“It’s like juicing the batteries,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to meet the people who watch your show and find out why they watch it. I really like to cultivate a relationship with the people who tune in every week.”
That relationship-building actually started years ago when Amell read an Esquire interview with George Clooney, who couldn’t understand why any famous person would choose to be on Twitter, claiming the “worst thing you can do is make yourself more available.” Amell recalls thinking, What if I were REALLY accessible?
Making that decision instigated “a transformative experience” for the 33-year-old Amell. Now he is deemed one of the most active — and interactive — celebrities on social media, boasting nearly 3.5 million Facebook followers and another 750,000 on Twitter. Quite a blessing for the rabid enthusiasts of this television superhero.
“I’ve now met so many fans. Heard so many stories. Gotten into charity work,” he said. “From a career perspective, I’ve made myself more marketable. But I’m also controlling the message. People want authentic content straight from the horse’s mouth.”
On “Arrow,” Amell plays billionaire-by-day, vigilante-by-night Oliver Queen. The character — whose alter-ego is Green Arrow in DC Comics — has enjoyed enduring but somewhat middling popularity since his 1941 debut.
The CW’s TV update of the character debuted in 2012 and attracted enough fans to give DC and the CW (both owned by Warner Bros.) confidence to create the spin-off “The Flash,” which debuted in 2014. Now, another spin-off featuring characters from both series is in the works.
Compared to the Flash or even Superman or Wonder Woman, Oliver Queen represents one of DC’s more modest and grounded characters. But the ultra-buff Amell — a spinning instructor before becoming an actor — stands second only to Chris Hemsworth as Marvel’s Thor in terms of looking the part of an honest-to-goodness superhero.
“He brings a physicality and presence to the role that allows you to believe this is a guy who would actually put on a hood and shoot arrows into people in his spare time,” says Alan Rapp, who runs the KC-based media site RazorFine.
Rapp has reviewed every episode of “Arrow” for his site, and he considers “Arrow” one of TV’s finest.
“There is obviously an overall plan and arc to both the show and title character, which becomes even more evident if you go back and watch it again on DVD,” Rapp says.
Amell says even though Oliver Queen is a guy who sports uncanny skill with a bow and arrow, the character is most interesting when he fails.
“Audiences often misunderstand why they like superheroes — they actually like adversity,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons Batman is more relatable than Superman. People can identify with someone who has no superpowers becoming something else. That’s why Superman has been more of a struggle to tell cinematically than Batman has. How do you relate to an alien who, when things get tough, can fly out into space?”
Amell first became interested in comic books in 1991, when he found a copy of “The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special,” which featured DC’s alien bounty hunter standing over a fallen Santa Claus who has been stabbed in the back with a knife.
“I was in seventh grade, and I liked it because it was sort of like reading an R-rated movie,” he says.
These days the actor doesn’t spend a lot of time leafing through comics, despite his constant professional immersion in the DC universe.
“I’ve found it helpful to keep myself separated ever so slightly from that world. I don’t want it coloring my interpretation of Oliver Queen,” Amell says.
He says making the TV show is “a very insulating experience.” When not occupied by the demands of a July-to-April shooting schedule, he’s busy spending time with his wife, actress and former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant Cassandra Jean, and 1-year-old daughter Mavi.
“I know that everybody says this, but fatherhood really is more cool every day,” Amell says.
Prior to Planet Comicon, Amell says his closest connection to KC was unearthing an old VHS tape of the Royals vs. the Blue Jays in the 1985 ALCS.
“Keep in mind, I’m 10 and I discover this VHS,” says the actor, whose voice carries a more pronounced Canadian accent than his TV counterpart. “I actually don’t know anything about the Blue Jays. This is probably 1990 when I find this. I’m watching this video that’s recapping the Jays going up 3-1 against the Royals. Watching the Royals come back and winning in seven games was actually an accelerated, real-time heartbreaker as a sports fan. One of my first.”
Amell isn’t the only famous Amell attending this weekend’s convention. His cousin Robbie Amell is also a featured guest. Robbie portrays the flying inferno Firestorm on “The Flash.” Is it possible these Amell cousins will cross paths on TV in the near future?
“There’s a decent chance we’ll see a little Arrow/Firestorm matchup before the day is done,” he says. “I don’t know who would win the battle. I’m not particularly familiar with the extent of his powers. I’m going to plead no contest until I can research more thoroughly.”
As for a fight between Stephen and Robbie, he’s more certain of how that might turn out.
“I’m older and somewhat broader. I’m also quicker, and I think I have more savvy,” he says.
That amiable savvy has paid off in career terms. After collecting a Gemini Award early on for his role in the Canadian sci-fi series “ReGenesis,” Amell recently received both People’s Choice and Teen Choice Award nominations. The honor he’d most like to earn is an Oscar.
“Whether it’s an Emmy or Academy Award, I don’t think it’s something you can aspire to. You never know career-wise if it defines success,” Amell says. “I personally think the degree of difficulty of what we do is not any higher or lower than ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Breaking Bad’ or any other show that snags it up during awards season. I’d be happy to do a crazy arc on ‘House of Cards’ to get into awards contention. But I don’t think that would be more difficult. In fact, it would be easier than playing a superhero who people believe on television.”
Planet Comicon runs from noon to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Bartle Hall, 301 W. 13th St. Advance tickets are $55 for a three-day pass; $20 for Friday only; $30 for Saturday only; $25 for Sunday only; ages 11-15 are $15 for a three-day pass; ages 10 and under are free (limit two per each adult admission). VIP passes are available. For more information, go to planetcomicon.com. Among the media guests:
▪ “Arrow” star Stephen Amell (Sunday only)
▪ “The Princess Bride” star Cary Elwes (Saturday and Sunday only)
▪ Michael Rooker of “The Walking Dead” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”
▪ Karen Gillan of “Doctor Who” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”
▪ Caitlin Blackwood of “Doctor Who”
▪ Robbie Amell of “The Flash,” “The Tomorrow People”
▪ Scott Wilson of “The Walking Dead”
▪ J. August Richards of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
▪ Steve Cardenas of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”
▪ Jason Faunt of “Power Rangers Time Force”
▪ Erin Gray of “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”
▪ Mitch Pileggi of “The X-Files,” “Sons of Anarchy”
▪ Laura Vandervoort of “Bitten,” “Smallville” (Saturday and Sunday only)
▪ Garrett Wang of “Star Trek: Voyager”
▪ Sean Gunn of “Guardians of the Galaxy”
▪ Kris Holden-Ried of “Lost Girl”
▪ Tom Kane of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Archer”
▪ Jerry Lawler of “WWF Raw”
▪ Kent McCord of “Farscape,” “Galactica 1980”
▪ Rudy Reyes of “Generation Kill”
▪ Raphael Sbarge of “Once Upon a Time,” “Star Trek: Voyager”
▪ Rachel Skarsten of “Lost Girl,” “50 Shades of Grey”
▪ Emmanuelle Vaugier of “Lost Girl,” “Two and a Half Men”
▪ Adrienne Wilkinson of “Xena: Warrior Princess”
▪ Sam Witwer of “Being Human,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”
Where to watch
“Arrow” airs at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on the CW.