Since finding his appreciation for theater in middle school, David Ramsey has continued to pursue his passions. He currently stars as John Diggle in The CW’s Arrow, as well as recurs on Blue Bloods as Mayor Carter Poole. A long practitioner of jeet kune do and studying boxing and tae kwon do, Ramsey takes his skills to the set of Arrow. And like Diggle’s introduction to fatherhood this past season, Ramsey has a 4-year-old son at home, so he’s balancing that home and work life (with a lot of trips to Disneyland). We got to talk with Ramsey about his journey into the DC Universe, some of his favorite moments on set, and what’s coming next.
Cliché: How’d you first get into acting?
David Ramsey: I got into acting back in Detroit, and I was in plays. I’ve talked to a lot of kids and folks in the area about getting into the business, and it’s exactly what I did and exactly what I tell them: start where you are. Believe it or not, even in the smallest and most rural of places or the most concrete jungle of places, there are always artists around. You’re less alone than you think. You just have to get out there and explore. I started doing plays and got bit by the bug in junior high and continued in high school. My school was very urban and in the heart of Detroit in the ‘80s. There was a lot of violence, but for me, I loved theater, and there was a big art community in the school. From there, I studied theater at Wayne State University, which is also in Detroit, and got my BFA. I did some stuff in Chicago and Miami, and then I came out to LA, and it’s been great ever since.
Were you a fan of the DC Universe (or comics in general) before getting the role of Diggle?
I was a huge fan of the DC Universe. It’s funny though because I grew up attached with and identifying more with Marvel, especially the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Hulk. The whole “outcast, nobody understands me vibe” they were giving off matches that teenage mentality, and Marvel was emanating that. But then as I got older, I got into Batman, Superman, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow—just more into the DC Comics, so I was very well-versed with who Oliver Queen was by the time Greg Berlanti approached me about the project.
How was it joining the DC Universe?
It’s awesome. This is such a good time for comic book characters in general. It’s like a renaissance. I would have loved to have had this when I was 12 or 9 or 15. I would have loved to turn on any channel at any time. We’ve got Arrow, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Flash, Gotham—it’s crazy. What’s even better than that is that the content is good. These are good shows. It would be one thing if they came or went because they weren’t high-quality or the writing wasn’t good, but the shows are solid. So how does it feel to be a part of the DC Universe? It feels like a dream come true.
How did you prepare for the role? Did you know the character was going to stick around?
It’s funny you say that because David Nutter, who was the director of the pilot and also directed The Flash pilot, Andrew Kreisberg, who is a producer on the show, and Greg Berlanti, who is a creator of the show, all saw me on this show I used to do—and still do—Blue Bloods. I was recurring on that show. Blue Bloods wasn’t ready to pull the trigger and make me a regular, so Greg Berlanti reached out and said they had a great show about the Green Arrow. Kreisberg said [about Diggle] that he’s not doing much with the pilot, but this guy would be the first one to find out who Oliver Queen really was, and that he was going to have a ton of stuff to do and be Queen’s right-hand guy. What was cool about Diggle was that he was not a part of the comic book at the time. There was no book or anything about him. There was no comic lore about John Diggle, so we were just making it up, which is awesome. He can be anything he wants to be, and still can be, because though he is in the comic books now, we’re still making him up as we go along. It’s awesome to me because when he became part of the DC comic books, I thought to myself, “20 years from now, someone can play John Diggle, and I was the very first person to play him.” He never existed before this, but he’ll exist 20 to 30 years from now.
Diggle has had to step it up this season by becoming a father and spearheading everything when Oliver went missing for a bit, so what can fans expect from the rest of the season?
Well, obviously the Suicide Squad. The Suicide Squad returns. There will be a very nice wedding, but as things happen on Arrow, things might seem great for a moment, but all hell will break loose pretty quickly. The group that hired Deadshot to kill my brother, Andy, that group is called Hive, and they’ll get into that, particularly next season. The big story is Ra’s al Ghul. He’s going to make Diggle’s life and all of team Arrow’s life a living hell. We aren’t done with Ra’s al Ghul, and we aren’t done with the League of Assassins. We’re ramping up to that.
With The Flash starting this season, there have been a few crossover episodes. How has it been merging with The Flash and watching that take off?
I’m such a fan of the genre and the comics and the characters that I feel very privileged to be a part of it. Looking at the finished product, the crossover, I was like a kid watching it. I was so stoked to watch it. Sometimes I feel a little out of my body, like I’m 12 again. To answer your question, it was just exciting. The Flash has a whole different tone, so it’s fun to go over to Central City, because the writers make Diggle more like me, which is very silly. They give him quips and funny one-liners, so I always look forward to that. From my understanding, there are going to be more crossovers, so I’m looking forward to that. Anytime the shows get to merge, one, I think the fans love it, and two, for me, it’s always fun to watch.
Do you have a favorite memory from set?
Oh, gosh, many moments. One that just happened recently is our ongoing pursuit to break Katie Cassidy, who plays the Black Canary. First off all, it’s amazing that Stephen [Oliver Queen] and I get any work done at all. We are cracking each other up at all times. It’s just dumb, adolescent stuff. Any time anyone works with us, they have to get silly because we are going to get silly. Katie Cassidy is silly, but she doesn’t like to break character. She’s right on it, stays in the moment, but Stephen and I can glance over at each other and break. Katie, not so much. We have taken it upon ourselves to break Katie. To that end, he and I decided that at the end of a scene, we would just give her a kiss on the cheek right in the middle of the scene as the camera was rolling. We both did this on two separate occasions, and she did not break. She just stayed there in the moment. She is a real actress. That’s one of the funny things on set, and right now, that’s our mission.
You were in Accidental Love, which was released online February 20, so can you tell me a bit about the film and your role in that?
Jake Gyllenhaal is a senator, and Jessica Biel is a woman who worked in a diner and gets hit in the head with a nail gun. She doesn’t have health care benefits, so she is going to Washington with some other people to lobby for health care. She falls in love along the way, but she also encounters some resistance, and I’m a senator that decides that I don’t want to champion their cause. I’m playing a not-so-nice guy, but it’s very funny. Everyone was fantastic. When you work with good actors and actresses, you have to raise your game. David O. Russell was fantastic to work with, a very interesting director, but fun. It was a big hoot. The film had some issues, so we actually shot it a couple years back, but the whole experience for us as actors was fun.
When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?
Whatever my 4-year-old son says we’re doing, we’re doing, number one. We have season tickets to Disneyland, and if I ever hear the word Disneyland again, I don’t know what I’m going to do. The boy just loves it, and we’re there all the time. It is the happiest place on Earth for him, for sure. There’s that, and then there’s my martial arts training. I’m lucky enough to be on Arrow and practice that. I’ve been studying for 22 years.
What’s next for you?
Right now, between Arrow and Blue Bloods, which they still let me do, I’m on two hit shows, and that’s just awesome. Between those and a family life, I’m just thanking my lucky stars. I’m lucky and fortunate. There was a good while there that I was just waiting for the phone to ring, so I’m not complaining.
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David Ramsey interview: Photographed by Patrick Maus