Arrow has been stocking up on new faces for its upcoming fourth season, but one casting caused a particular stir on Wednesday.
British actor Jimmy Akingbola was tapped to play Baron Reiter, who in the world of DC Comics is known as Nazi super villain Baron Blitzkreig, the leader of criminal organization Shadowspire. However, Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim wants to “disabuse people of the notion that we cast a black man as a Nazi, because that’s not actually what we did.”
On the upcoming fourth season, Baron Reiter acts as a foil for Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) in flashbacks, while Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) fills that role in the present-day story lines. “We wanted a really great villain for Oliver in the flashbacks,” Guggenheim tells EW. “We wanted to come out of the gate strong with someone great and we wanted to, quite frankly, cast the best actor. As it turns out, our best actor was African-American.”
“We took the name Baron Reiter without any intention of turning him into Baron Blitzkrieg,” he continues. “Baron Blitzkreig is the evil Nazi super villain. Baron Reiter is not going to become Baron Blitzkreig in the show.”
Therefore, Reiter will have a completely different background, with the show simply using his name. In truth, the producers were interested in the character’s affiliations more than anything. “We never planned on actually telling a story about a bad guy who is a Nazi,” Guggenheim says. “In fact, when people meet this character, he’s not German, he’s not a Nazi, he doesn’t subscribe to any Nazi philosophies. We were attracted to an organization that actually in the comics had been associated with Deathstroke called Shadowspire. In the comics, Baron Reiter became associated with Shadowspire.”
Still, Guggenheim understands the quick reaction from the fans. “I totally get it,” he says. “It’s all good. We were surprised because we mistakenly assumed that everyone was on the same page as we were, but why would they be? We haven’t told anyone anything about the flashbacks, but this was so obviously not our intention to do Baron Blitzkreig. If we were, in fact, doing a Nazi being played by an African American, I would expect us to be very duly Internet chastised.”
As for those flashbacks, Guggenheim is still playing coy. “We have a really great surprise for the season premiere for the flashbacks, and it’s made talking about the flashbacks very difficult,” he says. “We pick up basically in real time. It’s been a number of months later since the last flashback. Oliver is in Coast City, as eagle-eyed viewers noted when he boarded the boat at the end of season 3. What happens there and how he comes to cross with Reiter, that we need to keep secret because it would spoil a pretty big twist in episode 401.”
Arrow is slated to return Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.