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‘Arrow’s’ newest villain Neal McDonough reveals his big plans for Star City

Neal McDonough didn’t read a lot of comic books growing up. But the first time he picked up an issue of “Superman,” his eyes wandered away from the Man of Steel and toward the guy giving the hero fits, the megalomaniac Lex Luthor.

To McDonough, whose found himself playing the villain more often than not during his 20-plus-year career on screen, the bad guys were just more interesting.

“I always gravitated more towards the fun villain,” he says, letting loose a slightly sinister chuckle. “And now I’m making a wonderful living at it.”

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While he may have grown up idolizing one of the greatest rogues in DC Comics’ history, McDonough is excited to be working from a blank slate as he steps into the role of Damien Darhk in the fourth season of CW’s “Arrow.”

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In its first three years on air, “Arrow” has put some of the source material’s most nefarious villains on screen to test Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), including Green Arrow arch-nemesis Merlyn, DC’s master assassin Deathstroke and A-List Batman bad guy Ra’s Al Ghul.

But in Darhk, McDonough finds a villain he can make all his own. While the character is little more than a bit player in the comics, the version of Darhk that’s come to “Arrow” is an extremely cocksure, and possibly superhuman, foe.

“We’re starting fresh with Darhk, which is great, so we can go anywhere we want. Later on in the series, we’re going to do all these flashbacks to show where he was and how he became who he is today,” McDonough told The Times last week. “It’s great to not have to say, ‘I’m Lex Luthor, well how am I going to beat Gene Hackman in that one?’ I’m glad that Darhk is not a very well-known DC entity.”

While Darhk’s plans might seem similar to those of past “Arrow” villains (destroy Star City, spread mass panic, kill your own henchmen because it’s fun...), McDonough is hoping to play the character in a way that separates him from Merlyn or Slade Wilson. The actor said he hadn’t watched a single episode of the series before screening last week’s premiere, and he thinks that lack of awareness of the show’s history actually helps him on set.

“I made sure that I didn’t watch it. When you play the villain, it’s best to not know all the information that’s going on with all the other characters because you wouldn’t know them anyway (in the narrative), “ he said. “I don’t know what Ra’s Al Ghul is like. I don’t know how any of these characters played the villains … I want mine to be completely Neal McDonough organic. I think it’s working.”

With DC’s television universe rapidly expanding, and with both “Arrow” and its sister series “The Flash” relying on plots that lean heavily on flashbacks and time travel, McDonough actually had to play two different versions of Darhk during filming. For all the swagger McDonough will bring to Darhk in “Arrow” and “Flash,” he also had to tone down the confidence while filling the role in the upcoming “Legends of Tomorrow.”

The new series, a spinoff that will see a mob of “Arrow” and “Flash” characters team up to face off against time-hopping DC villain Vandal Savage, will highlight a version of Darhk who isn’t quite the master of all he surveys.

“In ‘Legends,’ it’s back in 1975, so I’m not as confident. I’m only 95 years old, now I’m 122 years old, and I’m not the major villain at that point, yet,” he says. “But my time is coming. So when we get to ‘Arrow’ and ‘Flash’ it’s my time.”

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for recaps of the CW’s “Arrow” and Netflix’s “Daredevil.” And for breaking news in the real world.


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