Slade Wilson makes his triumphant return to Arrow during Thursday’s episode, but the question still remains whether he can be trusted.
After Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) finale promise to reunite father and son, Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) returns to town to take Ollie up on his offer. But that will be easier said than done when they learn Joe Wilson (Liam Hall) has been taken hostage by mercenaries.
As EW previously revealed, Joe has followed in his father’s footsteps by joining A.S.I.S., the secret Australian military agency. After years of brutal combat, Joe now finds himself in a remote Kasnian prison under the alias, Kane Wolfman, fighting for his life. (FYI, this son is not to be confused with Grant Wilson, Slade’s potential future son who took up the mantle of Deathstroke in 2046.) EW was on set for the first episode of the Slade Wilson two-parter, where we sat down with Bennett to get the scoop on his return. (Read our story with Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, and David Ramsey on Slade Wilson’s return here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Slade survived the island explosion, but how do you think the events of the finale will affect him moving forward? He’s finally got his freedom, so what’s his mindset?
MANU BENNETT: Slade got his freedom when the Mirakuru wore off. The prison is a prison, but it’s more about the state of mind that Slade was in as a result of the Mirakuru. With that element gone, we’re back to the beginnings, we’re back to the origin relationship of Slade and Oliver as difficult as it is, because there’s been so many horrible events that have taken place in between. The objective of season 6 is to establish whether Oliver and Slade can work on the same page together, whether they can rekindle the friendship of old and whether they can overcome the torments that are in each of their lives relative to their sons. This is the narrative, the through line that this season will take. It’s wonderful, because for me, the uncertainty of the Shado story, the mixture of emotions that culminated in her death, the agitation of the Mirakuru upon that crises for Slade. It was a Shakespearian tragedy. The audience remained fans of Slade even when he was in the dark zone only because they had sort of seen the human version of him first. It’s like Othello. It’s like watching a really well-crafted tragedy where the actual truth, the actual pieces that make up the decline of a character, are convoluted. You could say, “If it wasn’t for this,” or, “If it wasn’t for that,” that person wouldn’t have been changed. Oliver injected Slade with Mirakuru to try to save him, but that was the beginning of the addiction to Mirakuru, or the overwhelming effect on Slade’s life that changed him into Deathstroke. But without giving spoilers, the fans are going to find out a lot more about the origins of the mask and the identity of Deathstroke, opposed to Slade Wilson. There’s a time when this character came into being that pre-dates him arriving in Starling City. For those fans who tune into season 6, you’re going to get the meat, because so far there has only been the potatoes.
How do you think he’s changed in the years since we’ve seen him? Can he now be trusted?
You’ve got to look at it from whose perspective you’re looking at it from, because he said that he was an ally, then an enemy and then an ally — the same can be said from Slade’s perspective of Oliver, given that he believed Oliver killed Shado, was responsible for her death. There’s this counterbalance that goes between who is a killer and an evil killer versus a killer and a man struggling for some kind of redemption. Slade and Oliver go through very similar stories, or a transitioning at the same time, into characters that have got the same story line. Whether you kill a man in Afghanistan or kill a man in China, it still puts you in the same category, you know what I mean? One of the wonderful pieces of writing that happened at the end of season 5 was how Oliver and Slade, with an exchange of only a few words, were drawn right back through the tunnel, right back through the rabbit hole, to how they first met, and the tone in which they spoke to each other. Truth is undeniable if it’s presented in the right signal. Usually it can be unraveled whether somebody is lying or not. At this point, anyways, there doesn’t seem to be a game face between either Slade and Oliver other than the two men looking at each other and really wondering if it’s possible that they can reconnect.
Now that there’s not necessarily an imminent threat, will more of Team Arrow voice their distrust or misgivings about having Slade around?
Of course they will. None of those members of the Arrow team ever had an intimate or personal relationship with Slade. They’ve only seen him while he’s crashing through the Arrow den in his Deathstroke outfit, obsessed with Mirakuru. There’s nobody in that camp that can judge Slade other than Oliver. So of course it’s like any circle of friends: You take a shot at who is the enemy of your friend, whether you know them or not.
What can you tease of this big two-part Slade flashback as he’s hunting for his son?
Episode 605, “Deathstroke Returns,” it is what it says it is. It’s not like Deathstroke returns the way the fans will expect either. The Deathstroke that does return is a different Deathstroke. There’s a lot of new information that’s going to come into play. When I was involved in the show Spartacus, I really had the joy of going from season to season with the character of Crixus, finding new directions for that character. When we finished that show, one of the greatest compliments that I ever get from people was that the journey was just so epic. What I feel with the writing in Arrow right now, which I’ve always said at conventions — people go, “What’s your favorite role?” Well, I did a full journey with Crixus; I knew the way that story began and ended, but with Slade, I don’t know. I’ve been sitting around for two years waiting to get back on the show. I don’t even know what the hell is going on. Now this has happened and it’s happened at the right time. I think Arrow always knew this was a good trump card to play when it was a good time to play it. If we played this card two seasons ago, the weight wouldn’t have been so good. It’s come at a really good time. I think the way the story is evolving now, I can feel the same dramatic responsibility, the same dramatic challenges that helped me make Crixus a really good character. So this emotional journey that season 6 proposes for Deathstroke, for Slade Wilson, for me as an actor, is really just awesome and I have to take my hats off to the Arrow writing team.
We know he has a son out there. How nervous is Slade to reunite with his son and find out how his son feels about him?
People often ask me what was my favorite scene to date until I made this return, and I always refer to the campfire scene from season 1 where there was no backstory ever told of Slade. So when you’re creating a character, when you get the opportunity to see the backstory, that’s when the character really becomes fully alive. Because you’re just taking him in the present page. But what happened in season 1 was, I had this scene with Oliver over the campfire and I told him that Billy Wintergreen had betrayed me and I even allowed him to be the godfather of my son, Joe. There was just this little moment where I reflected on my personal life in that one scene that never happened again throughout the whole anthology of the next two seasons until now, and now it not only opens the window, it drags me through it and into that world that is completely unknown to the audience right now. The thing is, at that time, I was referring to a young boy, my son — well, add up the years and you realize I’m not looking for a kid anymore. I’m looking for a strong, younger version of myself. The guy I’ve started to work with already, I’m quite confident we’re going to blow the fans away. There’s a whole new revelation of Slade, Oliver, Deathstroke, his son — all of this stuff is so well written.
Is it that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?
Oh yeah, that’s true. But there’s certain mysteries to the relationship between Joe and Slade that are tied into father and son, but they’re also tied into becoming an assassin, becoming a killer, and the type of mind that develops as you go deeper and darker and become involved in this world of mercenaries and soldiers and corruption and money and who you think you are in comparison to who you’ve actually become. Staying in control of that identity I’m sure is the catalyst of most issues with military men, with people who were involved with conflicts all over the world, because you go in there as the man you think you are, but you come out as something completely different. That’s had its own revelations with Slade, but what are those revelations going to be like with his son Joe? That’s where a father needs a son and a son needs a father. The guy who’s playing my son is Liam Hall, we’ve started a working process. It’s interesting because he and I both grew up a couple of kilometers [apart]. At the same age that he grew up, I grew up in the same spot within two kilometers in Australia. So we’ve already had a conversation that links us.
How do you think Oliver will help Slade reconcile being a father again, but also how Slade might help Oliver in now being a father?
I like to reflect on reality when it comes down to playing this character. You have privilege in the world and then you have the non-privileged. I think Oliver Queen in his status represents privilege. Slade Wilson, in his status, represents non-privilege. I like to turn the tide when it comes to antagonist-protagonist concepts, especially in storytelling. The world has become sophisticated enough, and yet we’re not sophisticated enough in the way we analyze the world around us, whether it be bigotry or religion; we don’t allow ourselves enough scope to truly understand the top to the bottom in society. To me, to struggle in the skin of a character that hasn’t got privilege, that doesn’t represent necessarily the systemic identity of the protagonist, I really enjoy trying to make more out of those characters than allowing them just to be two-dimensional villains. You lose any concept of being able to move forward when you’re two dimensional as a character like that, so I’m always trying to layer my characters so that they may be broken, but even when I’m playing a broken scene or an angry scene, always there’s some level in my performance of trying to layer in the person that exists before the tragedy. I’m trying to layer in the person that exists maybe for Joe. We have this way of categorizing and I’m glad, I’m really glad. Deathstroke is more that man that sits deep in the pocket reflecting on the world around him and making really hard decisions about how to deal with this very, very deep dark world that he’s gotten himself involved in, probably looking for an escape internally, but externally knowing there is no exit.
Do you think it’s a fine line of whether he might revert back to being a villain?
This is all new ground. I’ve had a long conversation with [executive producer] Marc Guggenheim, and the fans out there know that I’ve vocally defended Deathtroke, DC Comics, [artist] George Pérez, the origins of the story. I want to keep it on the page, because there’s a great theme that is embraced by fans that is titled Deathstroke, and to protect that, I will always try to be aware of and keep a certain honesty going with the character that I think he deserves. It’s never certain what the pen will write, but I’ve had enough conversations with Marc Guggenheim to know that we’re not going to steer off course with Deathstroke. If anything, we’re going to steer forward with Deathstroke. [Artist] Tony Daniel is creating incredible new visual dynamics for Deathstroke in the comic book word. Deathstroke is alive again in popular culture. If this season is a sign of where they’re going with Deathstroke, then I’m a thankful actor, because to put that mask on with the elements that are involved this season, you want drama, well they’ve written it.
Arrow airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.