The Arrowverse has existed since 2012, making stars of Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin and the other series leads. What were they doing before entering the world of DC Comics?
As any fan of DC television will know, the Arrowverse franchise began on The CW back in 2012 with “Arrow”. Canadian actor Stephen Amell was cast as the titular hero, supported by an ensemble including Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Paul Blackthorne and Susanna Thompson. No one knew it at the time but this would become the start of an eight-year journey for Arrow as well as establishing a whole connected universe across the network.
Over the past six years, other shows such as The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Batwoman, Black Lightning and Stargirl have joined the ranks of the Arrowverse. Although many of the actors across all the series have become recognisable names and faces, perhaps none more so than the lead actors.
Each number 1 on the call sheet had worked professionally on earlier series but were not widely known. Some were more high-profile than others. Nonetheless, their new Arrowverse roles were their big breaks. Let’s take a look at what they were up to before joining the franchise.
Stephen Amell – Oliver Queen/Green Arrow
Before becoming the Arrowverse’s original vigilante, Stephen Amell had been acting professionally for almost a decade. Starting in his native Canada, Amell appeared in Degrassi: The Next Generation, Heartland, Flashpoint and Missing as well as being a regular in half-hour sitcom Rent-A-Goalie.
Making the move to the United States, Amell continued to pick up work. He guest-starred in numerous successful shows such as CSI: Miami, 90210, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Vampire Diaries and New Girl. Before landing the role of Oliver Queen, Amell had a seven episode arc as “Scott Becker” on Private Practice.
Amell was cast as Oliver Queen in January 2012 and continually played the role for all eight seasons of Arrow, one of only two cast members to do so. He played Oliver for the final time in January 2020, when Arrow’s finale aired.
Grant Gustin – Barry Allen/The Flash
Before becoming the Fastest Man Alive, Gustin was terrorising glee club New Directions on Fox’s hit musical drama Glee. He played the role of Dalton Academy warbler Sebastian Smythe between 2011-2013. This was Gustin’s breakthrough television role, having previously starred as “Baby John” in a Broadway production of West Side Story.
During his stint on Glee, Gustin also appeared in other projects. Namely, an episode of CSI Miami in which he guest-starred alongside Glee castmate Romy Rosemont (Carole Hudson, Finn’s mother) and played a dual role as long-lost twins.
Gustin also appeared in multiple episodes of 90210 as “Campbell Price”. Fun fact: his first episode on this show overlapped with the final appearance of future on-screen daughter Jessica Parker Kennedy, who would later play Nora West-Allen.
Gustin landed the role of Barry Allen, originally a guest character on Arrow, in September 2013. Gustin shares many personal connections with his series. He and co-star John Wesley Shipp were both born in Norfolk, Virginia in January. Shipp began playing an earlier version of The Flash in 1990, the year that Gustin was born.
Melissa Benoist – Kara Danvers/Supergirl
Much like Gustin, Melissa Benoist also got her start on Glee, where she played New Directions member Marley Rose between 2013-2014. Benoist joined the series as part of a newer group of club members, which also included Jacob Artist, Alex Newell and Becca Tobin.
She made her film debut in 2008, with Tennessee, starring Ethan Peck and Mariah Carey. Perhaps more notably, Benoist played the supporting character Nicole in Whiplash (2014), a film which won numerous Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor for co-star JK Simmons.
Additional television appearances included stints on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Blue Bloods and Homeland, among others.
Benoist’s casting as Supergirl was announced in January 2015. She continues to play the role to this day, with the series entering its sixth season in 2021.
Caity Lotz – Sara Lance
Caity Lotz, a former dancer, began her acting career in 2006. Her debut film role was Bring It On: All or Nothing, which starred Hayden Panetierre. In 2012, Lotz had the lead role in The Pact, a horror film directed by Nicholas McCarthy.
Furthermore, Lotz had a five-episode role on Mad Men, as Stephanie Horton. She also guest-starred in Dance 360 and Law & Order LA. In 2011, she played main character Kirsten Landry on Death Valley, which ran for only one season.
Lotz was originally cast for a recurring role on Arrow in 2013. However, she later became part of the spin-off Legends of Tomorrow from 2016. She’s now one of two remaining cast members from the pilot.
Following the departures of co-stars such as Victor Garber, Arthur Darvill and Brandon Routh, Lotz’s Sara Lance is unquestionably the lead character of Legends.
Cress Williams – Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning
Originally, Cress Williams’ Black Lightning was not part of the extended Arrowverse, instead existing as its own entity. However, with Jefferson Pierce’s role in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Black Lightning character seems to be a fixture in this new iteration of the universe.
Before landing the superhero role, Williams played characters in a wide range of television series, including Friday Night Lights, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, ER and Hart of Dixie.
In addition to his television appearances, Williams had roles in films, namely Never Been Kissed, Fallen, Ball Don’t Lie, Little Black Book and Lowriders.
In February 2017, Williams’ casting as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning was announced. He became the first African-American title character on The CW and later in the Arrowverse. The regular supporting cast includes China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, James Remar and Jordan Calloway.
Ruby Rose – Kate Kane/Batwoman
Although Ruby Rose’s departure from the role of Batwoman has already been confirmed, she is still the incumbent actress until a recast is announced.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, actress and model Rose worked for MTV Australia. Rose has also been a television host, with her work in this field including Australia’s Next Top Model and The Project.
Rose’s acting roles prior to Batwoman include the films John Wick: Chapter 2, Pitch Perfect 3, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and XXX: Return of Xander Cage. Her big break came with her performance as Stella Carlin in the third season of Orange Is the New Black, released on Netflix.
Rose’s casting as Batwoman was made public in August 2018. Her departure, announced in May 2020, comes ahead of the show’s as-of writing forthcoming second season.
Brec Bassinger – Courtney Whitmore/Stargirl
The newest (and youngest) actor on this list, Brec Bassinger was no stranger to being a series lead. This was long before she ever acquired Stargirl’s Cosmic Staff or distinctive outfit. Between 2015 and 2016, Bassinger starred in the title role of Bella and The Bulldogs, a Nickelodeon sitcom. The creators of that series, Gabriel Garza and Jonathan Butler, now write for The Flash.
Bassinger has also appeared in The Haunted Hathaways, The Goldbergs, School of Rock and The Loud House. She played a leading role in the Hulu series All Night and has appeared in Status Update (direct-to-DVD), 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (feature film) and Liar, Liar, Vampire (television movie).
Although the series premiered in May 2020, Bassinger was announced as Stargirl back in September 2018, being the first actor cast for the series. Bassinger’s character, Courtney Whitmore, is named for and inspired by creator Geoff Johns’ younger sister, who died in a plane crash in 1996.
The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Batwoman and Stargirl are all airing on The CW. Additionally, Stargirl airs a day earlier on DC Universe, a subscription service.
Follow writer Conor O’Brien on Twitter and Instagram – @CourageousConor