David Ramsey has a reputation as one of the nicest, funniest guys in showbiz, and arriving straight from the airport, traveling long haul from the US to Australia, with only one cup of coffee to keep him awake for our one-on-one interview, he does not disappoint.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, David gained many fans from his work on the popular Showtime drama series “Dexter” as Anton Briggs, a confidential informant who had a love affair with the character played by Debra Morgan. He portrayed the title character of Muhammad Ali in the Fox television movie “Ali: An American Hero”, and has starred in recurring roles on television shows including: “All of Us,” “The West Wing,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “Wildfire,” “Hollywood Residential” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
David currently plays former United States Army Special Forces soldier, John Diggle, on the CW’s “Arrow”.
You’re going to be directing an episode of “Arrow” this season, is that right?
David: Season 7, episode 11. 7-11. You know it’s funny too because I just tweeted out a moment ago, I said “On my way to Oz Comic Con,” I shouted you guys out. “Can’t wait to meet the fans in Melbourne.” Low and behold, in my inbox was episode 7-01. And I gave a shout out to Beth Schwarz, who’s our new showrunner, and just how well it was done and that the fans are going to love it. And Beth said “thanks Dave, the response is fantastic. Don’t talk about this, don’t talk about that, don’t talk about that, or talk about that, or talk about that, or that or that and definitely whatever you do, don’t talk about that.” I have been sworn.
So that’s in writing. Damn.
David: I think…maybe it’s well deserved, maybe I’ve earned it. People think I’m the spoiler king. So I have been told to shut up. There you go.
Okay so no specifics, but you feel good about it?
David: Season 7? Oh my god, I just can’t…I don’t know…at the beginning of every season, you talk to the show runners, previous seasons it was Mark Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle and they would tell you what was happening, kind of an overview of what’s happening. The arc, if you will. And it’s always incredible. But Beth is just really kind of just going for it. She’s just really like “we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that” and it’s like oh my gosh. So it’s just great. She’s just fantastic and I’m looking forward to doing it. And I don’t…she hasn’t said this but my feeling is that I won’t get any mercy in terms of the episode that I’ll be directing. It’s going to be in the same daring vein as all the other episodes of the season.
They’re not taking it easy on you?
Excellent. And Beth Schwartz; she’s been a part of the Arrow family for a long time. It’s
very exciting to see another female showrunner at the helm.
David: It’s fantastic. For me it’s just right, in every way.
What do you think she’ll bring that’s a little bit different than in the past?
David: I think some of the stuff is just…some of these fans are talking about “Oh I would love to see…” yeah they’ll see it. “Wow it’s time to see, why don’t try…” Yeah we’re going to try it. It’s kind of, to some degree, answering some of the things I think fans want to see. And I think in other ways, taking it in directions the fans would never have thought of. And really to Mark and Wendy’s credit, and to Beth’s credit, for season six, I think we ended in a way people didn’t think we were going to end it. There was no big bad guy ending finding justice, it’s continuing into season seven, putting Oliver in the prison and all that. I mean, that was a risky for our show.
Going back a little bit, when you filmed the pilot six plus years ago, and “Arrow” was the first DC TV show, did you think you’d still be John Diggle all these years later?
David: I didn’t even think it would be on the air. And not because it was bad. Just because no one knew. Actually I should rephrase that, I didn’t think that it would not necessarily be on the air, I just didn’t have the guts to allow myself to think this far in advance. You know people seeing it all over the world, we just, we didn’t think. And we were living in the shadow of “Smallville”, believe it or not. And “Smallville” did 10 successful years. Much of the crew of “Smallville” was working on our show, the gaffers, the grips, so they were shooting in the same city, Vancouver, and to be honest this Green Arrow was in some people’s minds – on the rating of the big DC comic book heroes – a B or a C. He wasn’t really Batman, Superman, he didn’t have that mythos. To bring him to life I think was daring. And I don’t know if people saw – could see six years or seven years down the road – particularly being as successful as it was. Spawning so many spin-offs, nobody saw that.
David: Arrow-verse, that’s right. That’s right. The Arrow-verse. I mean Greg Berlanti is I think now the most successful showrunner in history, 12 or 13 shows. It’s just incredible. Other shows are being developed and it’s just…it all started here. I can’t speak for him, but I would say much of it started with Arrow.
I was watching the first season as it aired and it was interesting, you could see they were still trying a few different things and trying to get the groove, but I think once you kind of hit on the ‘Original Team Arrow’ dynamic…
David: I think that was the key. You know, when you found Oliver [Stephen Amell], Felicity [Emily Bett Rickards] and Diggle and the chemistry those three specifically had. That’s just lightening in a bottle. It really is just something you can’t plan. And it wasn’t only that the direction of the show, we had no idea Emily was going to walk into the room. So no one knew that was happening. I mean, the idea was that there’ll be a powerful love interest between Oliver and Laurel and, also no one saw the chemistry me and Stephen have. I was told at the very beginning “You don’t have much to do in the pilot, David, but you will find out that he’s Arrow and we’ll see where we go from there.”
And that was the brief?
David: That was really it. Diggle will be integral to the story line, in the sense that you’ll be his friend and no one knew. No one saw it.
In this last season, you and Stephen, Green Arrow, had a big fight scene which was quite unusual. Was that fun to film, or was it a little bit strange?
David: It was both. It was fun because any time you get these really visceral writing as an actor is great to sink your teeth into stuff, you’re pointing at people, you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, you’re crying and all that’s great, for actors.
David: Exactly, actor catnip. But I think the struggle was just getting the words right. We really worked with the writer to just get that moment right, because we’re recalling the long brewing history between these two men. So you kind of want to get the right emotional arc, throughout the paragraphs, throughout the words, you just kind of want to get the right tone. So that took a while. But we really relished it.
And just touching on directing again, is that something that you’ve always wanted to do, or you just developed an interest in it in the last few years.
David: Season two I was sitting in Greg’s office – and by the way I can’t speak well enough of Greg. This isn’t about anything besides the truth really for me. I’m on the show. and I’m in season six, we‘ve done our bit for king and country on this show and so we’re looking at the horizon so, what I’m about to say is really from the heart. There’s no better showrunner that I’ve ever worked for. And that’s not because he has so many shows on television, I mean shows come and shows go. That’s just the nature of it. But he’s always had an open-door policy. I can literally call the biggest showrunner right now and talk to him and he can say “come let’s talk, let’s have coffee, come to my office.” And I haven’t worked for every showrunner in the business but I have worked for a lot and that’s unusual. And that’s not to put down other showrunners because other showrunners in my experience have had a big job to do and I haven’t run into bad showrunners. But Greg is exceptional and when I met with him, I had a meeting with him. I had several meetings with him but this particular one was in season two and we were just talking about where I’m going, what he sees for the character in the next however many years and it was a very successful season so we knew we were going to go far around that time. And he asked me point blank “do you want to direct?” and I said “Yeah, I do. I do want to direct.” And I said it very similarly to the way I’m saying it now. I was so taken aback that he would ask me that, it’s always been something that I really, really wanted to do, but I was just taken aback that he would say that. And he said “Look, when you’re ready, let me know.” That was season two. We’re going in to season seven, that was five years ago, so I wanted to make sure that when I finally did this, this was something that I’d earned, this was something I felt like I really had something to say. It wasn’t just about the showrunner asking me direct so I’m going to do it. But I really wanted to say something, in terms of my directing style; I wanted to even develop a style. Which I didn’t have at the time. So, it’s been something that’s really been on my heart and it really started with an invitation. So I really can’t say enough about him. Me being able to direct in a show is in no small part because of Greg Berlanti.
That’s really great to hear. Because it shows a lot of faith.
David: It does. And for him to ask me that in season two. I mean, he doesn’t know me. If he’d asked me in Season five, that would have been different, but in season two, it was just a fantastic request.
Last question, do you have a favorite moment of playing Diggle so far?
David: I do. It’s between me and Stephen. I’m going to say this, I don’t know how crass it’s going to come across but it’s the truth: it was season one and Stephen at the time, now let me paint this picture: Me and Stephen are incredibly good friends now, we joke, it’s amazing that any scene between he and I makes it to camera straight faced because we’re always joking with each other. Season one, I’m the chauffeur, I’m the guy driving around, and I’ve said this story before, but in the scene it’s his cover so the camera’s on him and I have to whisper in his ear “Mr. Queen, your car is ready.” So when the coverage is on me, I said the correct line, but now the coverage is on him, I whisper in his ear “Mr. Queen, your car is ready,” but I don’t say that, I say “Mr. Queen, I have the biggest, “blank” you’ve ever seen before in your life.” And it pushes in on his face and he just turns completely red, his eyes go a little bit blank, kind of tilts his head a little bit and he totally breaks character. Now before that, he was like “David Ramsey, very serious actor, blah, blah” so he didn’t even really know that he could even cross that comedic line with me. And so ever since then we try to crack each other up at every opportunity. And it’s all base humor, it’s like fart jokes, it’s just the dumbest, silliest stuff but we work 12 hours a day together so it’s whatever gets you through, but I would say it was the best story because we really got to know each other a lot.
A defining moment in your relationship – it started with a dirty line.
David: Most do.
See David at Oz Comic Con this weekend. “Arrow” season seven begins in October 2018.