ARROW: Susanna Thompson on the Heartbreaking Twist, Her Improvised Line, What Was Cut, and More - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

ARROW: Susanna Thompson on the Heartbreaking Twist, Her Improvised Line, What Was Cut, and More

April 24, 2014 by  


[This post contains spoilers for the ARROW episode, “Seeing Red.” If you haven’t watched it yet, please go view it first, and then come back to see what Susanna Thompson had to say about the hour.]

ARROW’s Moira Queen may not have been the most honest person in the world, but the one consistent aspect of her character was she would do anything in her power to protect her children. (Whether they wanted it or not.) And when Oliver was faced with the choice of having to choose between Slade killing his mother or his sister, Moira took the decision out of her son’s hands and volunteered herself to die in order to spare her children.

In light of Moira’s (devastating) death, I spoke with Susanna Thompson (Moira) about her character’s demise, why she opted to improvise a key element of her final scene, Moira’s secrets, what she’ll miss, and more…

When did you find out that Moira would be dying?
Susanna Thompson: I found out back at the end of January, so it gave me a couple of episodes to get ready for the end of Moira and to process it. And to actually have some time with the cast and crew, because when you work outside the city you live in, you create a tighter community, and we certainly have on ARROW. A great cast and wonderful crew.

Did you have to keep it a secret from your castmates?
ST: Here’s the thing: I think [ARROW executive producers] Andrew [Kreisberg] and Marc [Guggenheim] honored me in telling me early on, because it was the beginning of pilot season, really, and if anybody wanted to have me come in audition, they were honoring that. They of course didn’t want me to tell anybody, but they told myself and my manager and my agent, so if there was work out there, they would have a heads up. It was respectful of them.

But I also knew with such advance notice, things are leaked through the grapevine. The last thing I wanted was the cast members, in particular, that I worked with the last few years to find out through the grapevine, so I wanted to be the one to tell them. And I was at least able to do that. I think Andrew and Marc were a little nervous about that, but I assured them, and my manager assured them, that I would not be telling the public. I wanted to be able to tell those that were close to me. And the cast has been around; they know what the game is here. We can’t go out and leak this information. It’s not good for the show to do that.

How was it filming Moira’s death scene?
ST: Everyone showed up ready to honor the scene, honor the character, and make sure I was OK as an actor. Willa [Holland (Thea)], too, and Stephen [Amell (Oliver)]. It was very emotional for the family, in particular. And to get there, I sort of had to tune out a lot of the external. I think Willa did the same. I think Stephen and Manu [Bennett (Slade]] did the same. And the director was incredibly respectful, as was the crew. Everybody stayed really quiet, really focused, and we got through it. It was not easy. But we got through it, and I think we brought more to it, maybe than even people expected. I personally wanted it to be as truthful as it could be. And that’s not always easy watch.

And you improvised the “close your eyes” comment to Thea, correct?
ST: I did. I knew — there were a few more lines, Marisa, I think were cut from the scene. Where I had to tell Oliver to protect [Thea], protect each other, you take care of her Oliver, you protect each other. I think those lines were cut. But when they were in the script, I needed to bridge the gap between [thinking] both my children will live — which is displayed — and then having to get out the rest of what Moira had to speak. And Thea’s there screaming, “What are you doing, Mom?” and Oliver’s saying, “Please don’t do this” and I knew he could shoot Moira at any time. And the last thing I wanted was for Thea to see that. And she’s right there. And I was just going over it and over it in my head, prior to getting to the set several days in advance, and I thought, “This is what she would say. And I’m not going to tell anybody, I’m just going to do it.” And the first rehearsal I said it, Marc Guggenheim told our script supervisor, “Keep it, keep it, I love it. Keep it.”

It felt very painfully authentic.
ST: It was. But I knew she had to. She had to connect mother to daughter there.

That type of subtly and layering of story and emotion, it takes a collaborating. You have story, and you have the actors, and you have the director and the crew. And we — I, though I know Stephen also loved working with him — loved working with Doug [Aarniokoski], the director. It was the first time [on ARROW] for him, and I’m sure they’ll bring him back, but he was open to having a meeting with me before we started the episode. He shared with me some ideas, I shared with him some ideas, we’d go away into our corners and start working. And his truth barometer and his taste for not overdoing or overplaying was impeccable. So I have to give a shout-out to him.

Moira also had a lovely scene with Oliver earlier in the episode where she told Oliver that she knew he was The Arrow. Andrew told us that the writers had discussed for a bit that Moira had that knowledge, but did they actually fill you in on that piece of information?
ST: You know, they don’t tell you a lot. [Laughs] The writers like to talk about a lot, but then they don’t necessarily tell the actors. Stephen Amell and I had chatted about the fact that it was quite possible Moira knew and when. And in chatting with Stephen about that, and creating your own character arc, and waiting to have it either validated or sent in another direction based on any given episode, you throw out ideas. And then you have conversations with writers. I know they had talked about it, but it wasn’t being brought up to the table, it wasn’t being put in an episode. And as this [death] was coming closer, we were certainly hoping, Stephen and I, it would happen. We thought it might happen prior to the last episode, but we were very happy it was in the last episode.

Of course, there’s also the delicious reveal in the hour that as truthful as Moira’s trying to be, she’s also paid off a woman to keep Oliver’s kid from him. What was your reaction to finding that out?
ST: It’s in keeping with who Moira is and all the secrets. This was a season of redemption for her, and her dying, and the way she dies — in protecting her children — is the ultimate of redemption as I looked at it, and I know Andrew and Marc look at it that way as well. However, she goes to her grave  with yet another lie. A secret; not necessarily a lie, but a secret.

It’s interesting, because it happens in the flashbacks earlier than all the heaviness and the weight of having lost Oliver for five years. So you see a younger, fresher Moira, but you get to see the consistency of how her brain works, and how she protects her family. How she protects her status in the world.

But I do believe, and it was my intention, that she truly was concerned about this child. She loves her children, and here is her first grandchild, about to be born, and she’s not going to be able to have a role in this child’s life, except from afar. She’s going to make sure she has a part in it, regardless. And in that way, she’s not only hold on to Oliver’s hope for his future, [but] she’s trying to give a piece of hope to this child that she doesn’t know yet. There’s honor in that, but it does take a bit of looking at it from different angles to understand it.

What will you miss most about the show?
ST: Relationships. It was a lovely group of people. I adore Vancouver, but the cast and the crew, really lovely group of people.

I’m certainly going to miss the character I got to play, but there’s only so many ways the story can go out in these different pocket stories. And I don’t think they can go too far from that main story. And unless they were going to take Moira out to a bigger world, a satellite world, and weave pieces of that back into Oliver’s story, then great. But I don’t think we would have enjoyed just constantly seeing Moira concerned about Oliver. If we’re not going to go into government, which is where they were taking her, I always wanted to see her in a bigger world. In a bigger Starling City world. I think that’s a different show than what they’re seeing. But I will miss the cast and crew tremendously. But I know I will also see many of them.

And they’ll have you back for flashbacks.
ST: I’m glad you have confidence in that! [Laughs] Who knows. We’ll see — I have no idea!

Have you recovered from Moira’s death yet?


ARROW Post-Mortem: Andrew Kreisberg on the Devastating Fallout From ‘Seeing Red’
ARROW: Andrew Kreisberg on the Evolution of Summer Glau’s Isabel
ARROW Post-Mortem: Andrew Kreisberg on Laurel’s Decision, the Future of Laurel and Oliver, and More

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