By the end of Season 1, the writers for The CW's hit series Arrow realized something: Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) needed more levity and less romantic drama in his life. So, they brought in the humorous computer wiz Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) and wrote out Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), Oliver's best friend and — along with Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) — the third corner of a love triangle that just wasn't working.
But instead of simply eliminating that romantic entanglement, executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg decided to kill off Tommy and use his death as a catalyst to propel Oliver's journey forward.
"It was, of course, hard to get the notice that I wasn't going to be coming back in Season 2, but my ultimate goal with anything — film, TV, stage — is to serve the story and this did," Donnell told BuzzFeed News, nearly a year and a half after Tommy's death in the Season 1 finale.
Typically that would be the end of Donnell's Arrow journey, but, thanks to the show's heavy flashback narrative structure — and enduring fan affection for the character — Tommy briefly returned in ghostly form in Season 2 and now, he's back in a bigger way. The writers crafted a Season 3 episode (airing Wednesday, Oct. 15, titled "Sara") that will use Tommy to illuminate an unexpected period of employment in Oliver's post-island, pre-vigilante life.
"I love bringing Tommy back, but last season was such an abbreviated version of him," Donnell said of the brief Season 2 cameo. "This time, I get to be in more of the episode. I've never gotten the chance in my career to revisit a character like this, so to be able to fall back into this skin again is neat and fun for me."
But there was a time after Tommy's death when Donnell found himself struggling a bit. "You sort of accept this fate as an actor of being a gypsy and moving from thing to thing. Then, you get your first series and you're like, Wow, I've got a seven-year contract. This is interesting. My life is changing," he said. "And it did. My life changed in so many ways, all for the better. And then we got to the end of the first season and I was like, Oh ... I guess I'm not going to be doing this for a while."
"As an actor, any time you get to the end of the job, you go through a fearful moment of Holy shit, I'm never going to work again," Donnell added, with a knowing laugh as he's gone on to star in the Broadway musical Violet and in Showtime's new drama, The Affair.
The actor maintained an open line of communication with the Arrow cast and writers, and credits that congenial relationship with their desire to bring him back as soon as possible. "I have a great relationship with all those guys," Donnell said. "The first season on any show is going to be a little tumultuous — in a good way — because everybody's figuring out the rhythms and the relationships. It's a learning process. So, to come back in Season 3 and see how they've got this really cool rhythm going is a super positive thing. I can't speak for other people who've been killed off things, but I love the fact I have this continued relationship with the show."
And he's confident that the affection he has for Arrow won't wane. "I'm sure that 20 years from now, no matter what I've done, someone's going to say, "You were Tommy on Arrow," Donnell said. "And why not? I look forward to having a long career outside of Arrow, but it was a huge break for me and it will always hold a special place in my heart no matter what part of it I continue to play."
He added, "If my career is filled with being a part of shows like Arrow that hit huge and I am a central part of that at the beginning, I will be the luckiest person alive."