During the Labor Day Weekend at Dragon Con, we got to talk with Echo Kellum, who plays nerdy computer specialist Curtis Holt and his crime-fighting alter-ego Mr. Terrific, an integral part of the Arrow team trying to keep their city safe.
So how are you enjoying Dragon Con?
Echo Kellum: I am enjoying it a lot. I’m impressed on how big it is, that it uses so many hotels and it has sections like where all the vendors are or where the celebrity signings are. The coolest thing is that the convention is continually going on. I love all the cosplaying going on; it’s pretty dope. I have slept a lot. I think Gus’s fried chicken has a lot of tryptophan in it because I meant to go out last night and all I did was sleep. The food in this city is so good; you don’t want to miss it.
What does it feel like to be an established actor on a show after mostly voice-over work for most of your career?
Echo: It’s still very surreal for me. It’s something that I have wanted since I was seven years old. I feel blessed and fortunate to be getting work after being in this business for so long. Not a lot of people get to do it, and it’s certainly a tough industry to get your foot in the door. I feel thankful that I get to do something that I’ve always wanted to do. I feel pretty normal, and I take pride in not being different than anybody else. I mean when we shoot in Vancouver, I take public transportation. I haven’t changed much since I got on the show like I don’t drive a Prius. Ha ha. Money and fame just amplify who you are; if you were a jerk now, you are a mega-jerk, if you like to chill, then you super chill.
What are you a fan of?
Echo: I grew up a fan of wrestling, WWF, ECW, WWE. Getting to meet WWE superstar Kane was so dope! I took pictures with him today and sent them to my friends. I got to take a picture yesterday with Stan Lee, which was like mind-blowing and surreal. To be here and be a part of all this is so cool, where you can see wrestlers and artists, comic book legends along with actors that you have been a fan of is just amazing. I just wish there were more video game people because that’s my number one nerdom/fandom. To be an actor that has been invited to be a guest is so cool.
You play a gay man on Arrow. How has that impacted you as an actor and as a black man in today’s society?
Echo: Well for me I think it’s very important to have that type of representation. Just seeing a black gay character on screen really has an impact and affects change. Joe Biden talked about how Will & Grace had an impact on how people saw the LGBT community. Now it doesn’t mean that I still don’t get flak from people, haters coming out saying your character shouldn’t be on TV. That’s especially true for some portions of the black community, where they feel you should be extra masculine or you let down the community. My feeling is that if someone is gay, that doesn’t have anything to do with their masculinity. That’s why I try to portray Curtis like a normal guy, that doesn’t portray him as flamboyant or any stereotypical way. He is a guy who is a person who happens to love another man. That’s not the most important thing about him, at all. He genius, an inventor, he all these things, so that aspect of his life is like the 5th or 6th thing down the list. None of us live our lives based on who we love. The more we see it out in the open, the less it matters, the more we except that everyone is different. It’s important to me because I do have a lot of friends and family that are part of the LGBT community and the pride that they get see Curtis portrayed as just a person makes me extremely happy. They also enjoy seeing someone like themselves being portrayed correctly on TV.
You have great comedic timing playing Mr. Terrific. Did you discuss this with the writers to give him more comedic moments than he has in the comics?
Echo: It’s always a collaborative effort, but that was really the writers that did that. When they pitched the character to me all I got was nerdy tech guy who works with Felicity. I was OK, I get it, and I can play that because I used to work at Geek Squad. So the comedy stuff was a vision the writers had, but as we have gone on, they have let me improv a bit and let me play a bit with the part. It really starts with the writing, and it’s up to the actors to get the writers vision out on screen. We try to add as much as we can and add life to it, but it’s really their vision.
When you came on the show, did you know what your character arc was going to be?
Echo: Yeah, they let me know after my second audition that this character would turn into Mr. Terrific. And I was like wow, that’s amazing but I didn’t know quite how it was going to come to fruition. You know we had a lot of Easter eggs during season four, like him saying terrific a lot. When it came time for the character to emerge it was exciting, especially to suit up. Now the character did have growing pains because an ordinary guy can’t be right from the beginning kicking ass, I mean because Arrow has been training for like five years for this. I like Mr. Terrific’ s trajectory and the growth that he has had. My hope is that he will step into that bad ass frame like the comic book character. For me personally, this has been the origin years of Mr. Terrific. It’s been a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Did you ever go to the writers and say, no one is going to believe that when Oliver says suit up, that my hair will be braided in five minutes?
Echo: First off this loss is on me because they came to me and asked me to change my look when I turned into Mr. Terrific. I thought they were going to ask me to cut my hair, which I was ok with it but they liked the Afro. So they said is there any way you can change your appearance? And I said I guess I can braid my hair. They said, send us a picture of it braided, and so I sent one, and they said that’s perfect! And then I went, wait….I didn’t think about this. Hopefully, this season will address this. I mean he could invent something that could braid it in super speed like the nanoites or maybe someone like Kid Flash could come over and braid it. Just a quick little scene, where it’s like, boom, done.
Thank you so much and enjoy the rest of Dragon Con!
Echo: You know I will.
You can catch Echo Kellum as Curtis/Mr. Terrific on Arrow each Thursday night at 9 pm following Supernatural.
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