On The CW series Arrow, former undercover detective turned meta-human, Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy), is not only finding her place in life again, after suffering a great tragedy that made her hellbent on revenge, but she’s also finding her place as the Black Canary among Team Arrow. As a very focused, driven and bad-ass fighter, in her own right, her strength is proving to be a great asset, in the fight to keep Star City safe.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Juliana Harkavy talked about what her audition process was like, how her experience on The Walking Dead helped prepare her (and even led to the first time she tuned in to Arrow), how the physical prep also prepared her mentally, picking up the Black Canary mantle, how nervous she was on her first day, putting on the mask the first time, who Dinah feels closest to, what’s still to come for her character, and who she’d like to do a cross-over scene with.
Collider: What was the audition process like, for this role? Did you have any idea exactly what character you were auditioning to play?
JULIANA HARKAVY: They actually didn’t tell me much until I had already booked it. And then, I got this phone call that was like, “Okay, sit down . . .” When I got the sides, it just described her as a tough vigilante, and it showed her in the field fighting, and then having a vulnerable moment. I was only able to see that she was a very dynamic and strong character. That was really all I knew. It was only after that, that I got the news.
Since you didn’t really know exactly who you’d be playing, did you just have a secret desire to be on a superhero show?
HARKAVY: You know, the way that she was written really drew me in. There was something about the way it was written that felt different than most of the auditions I get. It just seemed more thought out and felt more in-depth. I was really drawn to her and I felt for her, right away. And the fact that it was a superhero show was awesome! But, it was just Dinah. Something about her calls to me, and I think that we all felt that, during the audition process.
The Walking Dead was a stepping stone for you, as far as the size and scale of the project and the fan attention, to doing something more long-term, like Arrow. Do you feel that your time on that show, even though it was just two episodes, helped prepare you for this experience on Arrow?
HARKAVY: That’s a great question. Yeah, absolutely! It was the first thing I’d done that had such a huge following. It’s also a comic book, so it put me in that world, for the first time. It absolutely was great preparation. It was the perfect little dose. I did two episodes of The Walking Dead, and it was enough to have time to get in there and really get the meat of it, but also then move on and take that experience and bring it into the next one. It was a great stepping stone.
Had you been a fan of Arrow, prior to being cast, or were you not too aware of the meaning of taking on a character like this, who would be stepping in for a character who wasn’t there anymore?
HARKAVY: Funny enough, the first time I watched Arrow was because Audrey Marie Anderson, who plays Lyla, was in my episodes of The Walking Dead with me. She was talking about Arrow and it sounded cool, and I wanted to see her on it. That was the first time I had ever been introduced to the show, which is such a funny coincidence. So, I knew the show and had watched some of it, but not enough to really understand how big this was when I got it, especially the part, itself. I was a bit familiar, but I didn’t realize the scale, right away.
Do you feel grateful for that, so you didn’t go into the audition with that in your head?
HARKAVY: Oh, god, yes! Absolutely! I’m such a nervous auditioner that, if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have been able to remember anything. It was really nice of the producers to do the actors a favor by not saying anything ‘cause it just allowed me to be free and be the character without thinking, “I am this thing that’s bigger than just being a human.” You want their humanness to come through. So, I’m glad I didn’t know.
What sort of prep did you do, before jumping into this, and what helped you the most, in how you wanted to play this character?
HARKAVY: A lot of the prep was physical, which is different than how I’ve approached any other role. She is a superhero. She is incredibly strong and a fighter. In training physically, I found my zen, on a mental and spiritual level, as well. She’s a fighter, but she’s very focused and driven. So, just by building up my physical strength, I’ve been able to get inside of her.
Knowing that you would be taking up the Black Canary mantle, but not taking the place of the previous one, how did you want to establish your own version while also paying respect to what’s come before?
HARKAVY: That’s interesting. When Dinah comes onto the scene, it’s because she, herself, has lost somebody and there’s a void in her life. And then, she goes onto this team, and they’ve just lost somebody and there’s a void in their lives. But from personal experience, she also knows how to approach that so delicately, and she knows how difficult and painful that is. When Lance tells her to step into that mantle, she’s like, “Dude, I don’t want to.” She can relate and empathize. It’s nice for her to have this common ground with Team Arrow because they are all dealing with loss, in a way. Remembering that is allowing me to approach her, as myself, but also with respect to Laurel. There’s that vulnerability there.
What were you most nervous about, on your first day on set?
HARKAVY: Oh, my god, I was so nervous! Some people on set were like, “You seemed really comfortable when you came in.” And I was like, “You guys, I think I threw up for three days, from nerves!” And it wasn’t anything specific. It was just the fact that it was happening. It happened very quickly. Life just did a total 180. It was everything that I’d ever wanted, in this role that I was so in love with. I couldn’t believe it! I just wanted to do it justice so badly, and I still do. Every day that I go to work, I want it to mean something. So, because I cared so much, I was very nervous.
Did that feeling change, by the end of the day?
HARKAVY: I did feel comfortable, right away. The first day that I wrapped, I remember feeling like, “Okay, I’ve got this!” Everybody was so nice and so supportive that I felt very protected and comfortable. So, I did go away feeling differently.
What was it like to get suited up, for the first time, and see yourself with the mask and the whole thing?
HARKAVY: Well, we don’t have a costume quite yet, but the mask was amazing. Even though it’s just a little mask that goes over my eyes, it was a full head cast. It was amazing, watching yourself transform. It was very cool! I want everything she wears. Our wardrobe department is so incredible. They have incredible taste. I want to buy her entire wardrobe.
At this point, who do you think she feels closest to?
HARKAVY: I think she feels close to different team members for different reasons. In general, probably Oliver because he was the one who she opened up to first, and they share such a similar background with so much pain. They’ve had so many years of difficulty. I also think that the team is really bringing out her humanness, especially Curtis. As the episodes progress, she starts to develop a fondness for Curtis because he’s so different from her. He’s unintentionally light and funny, and I think she’s drawn to that, as well.
Because Dinah wasn’t trained by Oliver, do you think that makes her feel like she’s more his equal than the other recruits?
HARKAVY: I think she’s the kind of person who, even if she was trained by him, would feel like his equal. She doesn’t care. She just knows she’s a bad-ass. What it does do is make her feel less inhibited to do what she wants, in her way, and say what she wants. He’s the leader of the team, but she was her own leader for so long. She’s not really bothered.
Now that Dinah has a place to live and a makeshift family, how far does she feel she’s come, since first crossing paths with Team Arrow? Does she feel like she’s in a very centered place now, or does she feel like she’s still figuring it all out?
HARKAVY: I think she’s still figuring it out, but she is in a much more centered place than when she came to Oliver, at the end of Episode 511, and was like, “I thought I was going to kill this guy and feel like my old self again, but I need something more. It’s not enough. I don’t feel good.” She needed people. Even though she’s settled in, she’s still figuring out how to co-exist with everybody, and how to be comfortable with being friends with people and having people around her.
What can you say to tease what’s still to come for Dinah Drake and her journey, this season?
HARKAVY: Well, I can say that she basically just becomes more and more of a bad-ass. She just keeps getting better and better, on the whole, because she is with this group of people. You’re going to see her open up more, and you’re going to see her grow. Physically, as a character, she’s going to transform, but she’s also going to emotionally transform.
We know there’s a lot coming up with Prometheus. How does Dinah feel about him and the threat that he represents? Is she scared of him, or does she think they can defeat him?
HARKAVY: I think that she’s really up for the challenge – the harder the better and the scarier the better. What she fears is not being able to stop him, but she’s excited about it, and she wants to go for it and do it in her way.
Knowing that Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow are all connected, and that there are always opportunities for cross-over, who would you like to see Dinah interact with, from one of the other shows?
HARKAVY: I would love to see her interact with Melissa [Benoist], who plays Supergirl. I have little fantasies about the two of them having lunch. I think that combo would be so much fun. The cool thing about superheroes is that they all have these very human roots, and that brings them all together and makes them all the same, in a way.
What do you most enjoy about playing Dinah Drake, and what are the biggest challenges for you, with this role?
HARKAVY: I’m quite different from Dinah, in many ways. We have similarities, but I have a lot of anxiety, in my real life. I’m quite neurotic. So, to be able to breathe all of that out and just let her take over, and be someone so sure of herself and so strong and confident, she’s therapy for me. She allows me to work through my own issues, by just being so strong. She has strength for both of us. I just love playing her, so much.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.