Ricky Church chats with John Welsey Shipp about The Flash…
Anyone who watches a lot of superhero TV series or films knows that the turnaround for actors portraying the heroes is fairly high. Every few years a new actor comes on board in either a reboot or a continuation of the series, much like the James Bond franchise.
John Wesley Shipp is one of the rare actors, however, to have participated in both an original series and a remake. Shipp starred as Barry Allen, aka The Flash, in the 1990 series of The Flash only to have a major recurring role as Henry Allen, Barry’s father, and then an alternate universe Flash as the original speedster, Jay Garrick, in The CW’s The Flash with Grant Gustin starring as the title hero.
At the Toronto ComiCon this weekend, we got the chance to speak with Shipp about his roles as The Flash and what it is like to continue a such a long legacy in a roundtable interview. Read his thoughts on The Flash, Grant Gustin and the legacy of Barry Allen below…
Q: So when you were first invited back to do The Flash, did you have any reservations about jumping back in the suit or did you even know were you going to be in a suit?
John Wesley Shipp: I didn’t know. They did a whole bait-and-switch on me! I had no reservations because I had heard about Geoff Johns’ reimagining of the Allen family. How suddenly Henry Allen was wrongfully convicted of killing Nora Allen in front of a 10-year old Barry. That wasn’t my origin story in 1990. I thought ‘Wow’ and people were asking me if I was going to be part of the new show and I said if they come to me, Henry would be the part I would want because it would be a part I would want even if I had never played Barry Allen at all. I discovered that having played Barry and Grant’s awareness of my Barry and knowing his hopes and dreams and assuming this iconic role, it helped me play Henry better. It really fed the father-son relationship.
Q: Since you’ve obviously worked closely with Grant Gustin for the Flash, was there any advice you gave him?
JWS: People have always asked me that since I’ve become an ‘elder’ actor. They asked me that on Dawson’s Creek! ‘Do you give the kids advice?’ and I’m always like ‘Oh god, I hope not’. If I ever do I hope somebody smacks me because that’s just insufferable!
Grant had mentioned at San Diego that the main thing I had told him was that – you know you’re going into a role like this, The Flash was 50 years old when I got to him, a 75 year tradition when Grant got to it. You have a certain amount of insecurity if you’re a sensitive actor and as conscientious as Grant is and I basically said to him ‘Believe me you were cast for the right reasons and trust your instincts’. There’s nothing worse than being in a role like that and second-guessing yourself or allowing other people to allow you to second-guess yourself.
I felt that my role coming in there was two-fold. We still had a vital audience from the 1990/91 show which we wanted to bring in, a network audience in those days. The second one was just to – I felt like I was a mirror in those scenes to hold up so Grant could see all the really special and unique qualities that he possesses as an actor and a human being that makes him uniquely qualified to play that character. I felt if I could do anything at all, if I could just bathe him in as much affirmation as I could, and that was why the father/son relationship worked so well because that was what Henry was trying to do. “I’ve accepted my surroundings and you need to go live your life”.
Then Greg Berlanti told me what they had in store and I was like “What?!” By that time Flash was 27 years ago and I swore I’d never get into another suit. Never say never, man!
RC: Going off that point, you have the distinction of playing the Barry Allen Flash and then the original Flash, Jay Garrick. What does that mean to you to have played two generations of The Flash for two different audiences?
JWS: You know what it means to me is reflected in what it means to people who come to these conventions. I have a lot of guys and women who, when they were young, watched the original show with their parents and are now bringing their children who are now watching the new show. There’s this whole multi-generational thing to it and it resonates through ‘I used to watch your show with my dad and now I’m watching the new show with my kids’. That is a unique thing to be a part of.
That’s what Mark Hamill had also said when he came off the set of Star Wars and was doing the first Trickster episode on The Flash. He said how special and unique an opportunity it is to come back – and not in a token way, but in a meaningful way and contribute to handing the project off to the next generation. I feel really blessed to be in this position. It’s nothing I ever expected. I thought that’d be the last superhero I’d ever play, but you never know.
Q: What characteristics of The Flash have you introduced in your life as an actor and in your personality?
JWS: I think there are many things you can learn from Barry and one is his purity of purpose. I think of all the superheroes Barry is just a really good guy, he has a really good heart. I always say Barry’s heart is always in the right place, but his head is just trying to catch up. He just really, truly wants to do the right thing. Sometimes he wants to do the right thing so badly that it screws everything up and that’s when Jay Garrick comes through the Speed Force!
He’s really kind of an everyman. I always use to think of my Barry as being this ordinary guy, CSI who worked in the crime lab so my mom wouldn’t have to worry about all the men in her family were street cops and might be killed at any moment. Suddenly he’s caught in extraordinary circumstances with these incredible powers and his dad would be so proud of him if he knew but he couldn’t tell him. There are many things to love in the character of Barry Allen.
Thanks to John Wesley Shipp for speaking with us. Shipp will appear all weekend at Toronto ComiCon.