When Paul Blackthorne is not acting, he travels halfway around the world to save wildlife, particularly elephants and rhinos from being poached. This is how the 47-year-old ended up in Vietnam recently.
“I was heading to South Africa, when I discovered that 90% of rhino horn ends up in Vietnam, poached from Africa,” he said in a phone from Hanoi. “So I thought it was pertinent to focus on raising awareness in Vietnam itself.”
For the past year, Blackthorne has been working with Air Shepherd – a company that utilises drones to track down poachers in Africa. Statistics have shown that a rhino is killed every eight hours and 96 elephants are killed in a day there.
Teaming up with Save The Rhino International, Blackthorne and footballer Aaron Ramsey launched the sale of T-shirts that carry slogans “Poach Eggs Not Elephants” and “Keep Rhinos Horny”. The money raised is used to keep more drones flying and to stop the poaching.
Blackthorne was heading to South Africa after he finished shooting S4 of Arrow, when he learned that in Vietnam, rhino horn is considered a symbol of wealth among the middle class.
“We want to raise awareness that rhino horn doesn’t represent wealth or status. It represents greed and ignorance. The species is heading towards extinction in 10 years, and people are getting conned into thinking it does something. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t do anybody any good,” he continued passionately.
On Zap2it.com, Blackthorne wrote: “… that’s what needs to happen with rhino horn in Vietnam: Raise awareness of its impending extinction and the suffering it goes through (face chainsawed off and left to die in the bush) and point out that people are getting conned – paying $60K/kilo for the same thing as your fingernails is no smart way for a businessman to spend his cash – it’s a con!”
In the 10 days he spent in Vietnam, Blackthorne went to universities, schools and national parks to educate people. He also sat down with ambassadors, ministers and celebrities.
“We met with business leaders and Arrow fans. We have a lot of press, talking about the subject and to raise awareness on other species too. We have been busy, busy, busy running around.”
Blackthorne is now back in Vancouver, Canada, filming the fifth season of Arrow which will premiere on Oct 5 in the US. In the popular series – based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow – Blackthorne plays Captain Quentin Lance, father to Sara and Laurel Lance (aka Black Canary).
In S4, Blackthorne’s character went through an emotional upheaval of the worst kind (spoiler alert!) – Sara returned from the dead without a soul and Laurel was killed by the villainous Damien Darhk.
“I really enjoyed this season from Lance’s point of view, because there have been interesting twists and turns with the character and obviously in his relationships with Team Arrow. That shifting dynamics have been interesting.
“Also, the situations with his daughters were emotionally challenging from the Captain’s point of view and also from an acting point of view. What happened with Laurel was a shock to Lance; to act out that kind of material is challenging, but a welcome challenge. I enjoyed it – bawling my eyes out – it’s actually great to work on that stuff.”
However, the actor admitted that it was hard to wrap his head around the magic and the supernatural stuff featured in the last season of Arrow.
Blackthorne’s scepticism about the show’s use of magic was also voiced by some disgruntled fans and most recently by Arrow’s lead actor Stephen Amell.
Amell told Entertainment Weekly that Arrow needs to “get back to focusing more on some of the core elements that used to define Arrow. To me, that’s hand-to-hand combat, no superpowers and dealing with the job of cleaning up Star City.”
When we last left the Star City dwellers, only Amell’s Oliver Queen and his IT girl, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), remained in the crumbling city. The other members of Team Arrow – John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Thea Queen (Willa Holland) – had left. As for Captain Lance, he no longer wanted to be a police officer.
What does Blackthorne think Lance will be up to in the new season?
“A few episodes ago, Lance turned up to pick up Felicity and her father. (In the finale) he was driving Felicity’s mother out of town. Maybe he should consider being an Uber driver. Perhaps Lance is heading off into the sunset somewhere in America,” Blackthorne answered.
He chuckled, before adding: “Who knows? I have no idea. We shall see in Season Five how all the characters are shaping up and in which directions they are heading.”
Although Blackthorne was born in England, he’s truthfully a citizen of the world. The 1.92m-tall actor spent his childhood on British Military bases in England and Germany, putting up maps on his bedroom walls and reading National Geographic.
“I did travel a lot when I was a child. I was never really at any one place for a year or so,” recalled Blackthorne.
His “travelling circus nature” suits him just fine, especially where his career is concerned. So, don’t bother pinning him down to one place, like asking him where home is.
“I have no idea where I am based. We shoot the show in Vancouver. I live in a small town far outside Los Angeles in California. I also have a home in England. So I just spread myself out at these three places, and I travel in between as well.”
As if confirming his nomadic lifestyle, Blackthorne’s debut was in Aamir Khan’s Oscar-nominated 2001 Bollywood film Lagaan. It was shot in India and for the role, Blackthorne learned Hindi for six months.
To this day, he still remembers his lines from the film which he happily repeated in Hindi during this 15-minute interview. “That’s all the Hindi that’s stuck in my head, 16 years later. I have no idea if it makes any sense but it did 16 years ago.”
After the Bollywood stint, Blackthorne has appeared in a number of projects especially in American series 24, Deadwood, Lipstick Jungle and playing the titular Harry Dresden in the short-lived show The Dresden Files.
An avid photographer who’s held exhibitions, Blackthorne believes in being in the moment, letting things come out of the unexpected.
“If you keep the hands slightly off the steering wheel, you end up with the truth sometimes. I knew I would end up in these parts of Asia at some point, but I didn’t know it was going to be through the Save The Rhino cause. Just listen to your heart and let it happen.”
Catch Arrow every Monday to Friday at 6.30pm, from July 25 on Warner TV (HyppTV Ch 613). All four seasons of Arrow are also available on iflix and Netflix.