I’ve been a fan of the comic book character The Flash for longer than I remember. It’s not because they’re fast or because of their slick scarlet uniform.
It’s just something about the hopefulness that character embodies that always struck a chord with me.
So when it was announced that the 1990 Flash would be gracing our shores, it’s safe to say I got a little excited.
Playing the first iteration of Barry Allen on television, John Wesley Shipp went on to portray many more famous roles including that of the father to the titular Dawson of Dawson’s Creek, but has now returned as the father to TV’s new Flash, Grant Gustin.
We were able to catch the man himself, and speak with him about his career and association with The Fastest Man Alive!
Xenojay (XJ): John Wesley Shipp. This is a big deal for me as I was a huge fan of the original Flash. It is wacky for me to think that I, as a small rural kid, would one day grow up to get to interview this TV hero of mine. So this is very interesting for me!
John Wesley Shipp (JWS): Well thank you!
XJ: So! First of all!
You’ve been Dawson’s Dad. You’ve been Barry’s Dad. What other famous Dad would you have loved to play?
JWS: Well you left out my psychotic Dads!
XJ: Oooooo! Okay!
JWS: You left out Mr Lahey on Teen Wolf…
XJ: Oh! Of course!
JWS: Who was a psycho, abusive, sick Dad. And you left out Eddie Ford on One Life To Live, from 2010 to 2012. I abused my wife and beat up my sons…so…
I sort of go back and forth! Some of my parenting skills are better than others.
XJ: Do you think that helped with The Flash?
As the relationship you and Grant (Gustin) portrayed on there was very loving. Do you think these “psychotic relationships” made it easier to portray that?
JWS: No, I don’t think that so much but it’s more interesting for me, you know? I got to break type! Really early in my career I came on and played the good guy for several years in the early Eighties, and then got to go straight into a psychotic part, and won my first Emmy. Then as a woman abusing tennis pro, I won another Emmy and then I went back and played a superhero and then played a drug-addicted cop on NYPD Blue and then a REALLY good dad on Dawson’s Creek.
And it’s always been like that! It’s been superheroes and psychopaths!
XJ: Which is kind of a mirror of each other!
JWS: It balances!
In the suit (from The Flash (1990)), did you ever feel fast when you wore it?
JWS: No, I felt hot…
JWS: And sticky…and wet…*laughs*
XJ: Cause what was it made out of? Was it like a velour or plastic or…
JWS: It cost $100,000 in 1990 to build 4 suits, and it was sculpted foam latex glued over a spandex suit that was flocked. They sent an electromagnetic charge through the suit and flocked it with the red material.
They had to spray it with sealant because I’d have it on for 20 minutes and I’d be sweating through it!
I thought it was cool though!
JWS: You could see the muscles sweating but production would think “That’s not in the comic books…”
XJ: No! *laughs*
JWS: They’d spray it with this sealant and I would literally squish as I walked…That was my personal comic book hero suit horror story. We all have them!
XJ: It’s great that you have one!
With his portrayal of The Trickster on-screen with you, what was it like seeing Mark Hamill meld that into his now famous Joker role?
JWS: In 1990, we were just coming into the dawn of a new way of telling these comic book stories on television. Taking them seriously, a darker element and dealing with the toll on the characters, and so we were dealing with something that hadn’t gone mainstream yet.
But Mark hit the ground running!
There was no hesitation at all, he put on that unitard and that multi-coloured hair and he was full-force! It lifted us all up, those 2 episodes that he was there.
What was wonderful about seeing him again, other than just seeing him, Marilou and Chelsea, their daughter, was…you know also hats off to the writers, was that you could believe he had been in Iron Heights for 25 years.
So his Trickster was now more darker, more cynical and a more poisonous Trickster than we had seen before.
And they balanced that with a lightness by having a Trickster wannabe!
So they were able to balance the 2 sides of the Trickster that way which was a clever device.
XJ: It’s really interesting that you’ve said that as I didn’t really think of how they kept mirroring everything with you playing Barry’s father and Mark Hamill returning in that kind of capacity, it’s like their way of saying that The Flash has already happened.
It’s like they use you both as device to explain that this is how the Multiverse works!
JWS: Yeah, kind of! But they always play around with those types of ideas. All of our producers, and I’m very grateful for this, were fans of the first effort so you always see the little nods or throwbacks! Even though I was Henry Allen and he was The Trickster in this series, in the original Flash The Trickster kidnapped me and took me to his lair and tied me to a chair where I was shocked and tortured. And so Henry Allen was of course also kidnapped and taken to The Trickster’s lair and I also had a line that was almost word-for-word to the original;
“I wouldn’t worry about the cops. Because if the cops don’t find you, trust me, The Flash will.”
I say almost that exact thing in the pilot!
XJ: Oh my god, you did! *laughs*
JWS: I’m looking at that line and going “God that sounds familiar…”
XJ: Were the writers sitting off to the side saying “WE DID THAT ON PURPOSE!”
JWS: Oh they totally do! Again, I had seen a scene where the centrifuge won’t work for Barry and I’m watching Grant, and he gets irritated and he slams it. Then he looks around, gets an idea and uses his powers to re-enact the centrifuge, and I’m going “WAIT A MINUTE…we did that exact same thing!” and so I ask “Who directed this episode!” and it was David Nutter.
He’s a kind and wonderful Director and he told me before a scene “You know you were my hero growing up?” and I say “DAVID! You can’t tell me something like that when I have to go on camera now!”
XJ: “Save this for a scene where I need this emotion!”
JWS: Oh he did that too! He’s an expert at it. In-fact, he just won an Emmy for Game Of Thrones! And of course he directed the pilot for The Flash and several episodes.
XJ: Well that’s a nice way to segue into…
Any fun stories from the set of The Flash? The new OR the old!
JWS: Ohhhh, goodness! The old Flash we were doing so many practical effects. We actually had longer shoots per episode and it was gruelling. We were sort of learning and thinking “How do we do these special effects?” and we were kind of reinventing the wheel. It was exciting and cutting edge in terms of “How can we make this work?” or “How can we do it a new way?” for television.
But now it’s like a well-oiled machine, where they learnt from our mistakes and have benefited from what we did well.
The set, I like to describe as a sort of ‘controlled lunacy’. When you put Jesse Martin, Tom Cavanagh, Grant Gustin, you know…Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Candace Patton and myself together…there’s no telling what will happen!
A lot of us are from musical background and almost all of us sing so there’ll be a Barbershop Quartet during one break, and then Jesse and Grant will be going over a Tap routine in another break AND THEN here comes Tom Cavanagh in the wheelchair giving Carlos a ride!
I mean it really is a lot of hard work but they manage to keep it calm.
XJ: And due to your backgrounds, that’s how you keep your energy up? You guys just get into it!
XJ: That would be a fun environment to work in!
JWS: It literally is for me! It’s the people. In 1990, when I was there for 60 to 80 hours a week, it could get on my nerves. But as Henry Allen now, I get this ‘in and out’ kind of ‘Elder Statesmen’ status where I can just dip in and do some meaningful scenes and get out of town again!
How does it feel to still be seen as The Flash character 2 decades after you portrayed them?
JWS: I think it’s wonderful. It hasn’t been totally consistent because of course when I was doing Dawson’s Creek, that eclipsed everything else. I’ve even noticed in places with my biography such as IMDB or Wikipedia, at one time one of the biographies said “He played The Flash in the 1990 series, but made a bigger impact as Mitch Leery”,
BUT NOW everyone is saying “Primarily known for The Flash“, because it’s come back!
XJ: Because you returned to it!
JWS: So it all depends, because we have an attention span of about 5 minutes, so whatever you’ve done most recently is the thing you’re remembered for the most.
XJ: So I guess it’s just kind of lucky that you already this past with it, and now you have this NEW character in it!
JWS: Totally unexpected! Completely unexpected. It just sort of came out of thin air and landed in my lap and I’m very fortunate.
Did you like how a lot of the fans reacted to your casting?
JWS: It blew me away! Yeah! You know, the publicity department at CW and Warner Brothers, Ben Brown and Suzanne Gomez are expert at dealing with the Press in 2015, which incorporates Social Media to a large degree. They utilise that medium expertly! When they first announced that I would be in the new version as a ‘mysterious character’, the way they rolled that out it exploded on the internet! I was surprised!
And then when it started to die down, they announced that it would be Henry Allen and then there was another boom! Someone showed me that I was trending on Twitter before the series ever aired and it was directly because of how they used that media.
XJ: The power of Social these days, right?
JWS: It’s incredible! It’s an incredible tool!
Your favourite piece of work that you’ve ever done?
JWS: That’s hard to say because they’ve been so different! And they’ve happened at pivotal points in my life. I’ve always said that I’ve been very lucky, so when I was in Daytime TV it was the ‘Youth Revolution’ with Kevin Bacon and Julianne Moore.
We had Primetime numbers and we’d go to the Canary Islands or the Caribbean to shoot on location with huge audience numbers and budgets,
so that was the time to be in Daytime!
Then I had a detour through Broadway, which was so much fun and then on to The Flash at the beginning of the modern superhero boom and then after that I got to be on Dawson’s Creek which people forget reinvented the way we tell stories for young people on television.
XJ: It did!
JWS: For 2 years we were the ‘critically-acclaimed Dawson’s Creek‘. Of course anything that achieves that sort of Pop Culture status will inevitably fall. But now that show has come back and is assuming its rightful place, being on ABC Family again and Netflix and these places.
So I’ve sort of, as there’s been each kind of successive wave, I’ve somehow been thrown into it!
It’s hard to choose one, because I have the likes of Dancing With Lughnasa by Brian Friel, who recently passed, a wonderful playwright, who came over from London and re-opened it with an American cast on Broadway where the show won a Tony that year.
But I think…the part that I did alongside Julianne Moore in As The World Turns, my family still says that’s some of the best work you’ve ever done and of course I’m having a WONDERFUL time completing a sense of legacy with The Flash!
So I really can’t point to one…
XJ: You’ve kind of just ended up in great periods for your life at each time!
JWS: At each moment, yeah!
XJ: I would feel very lucky after all of that!
JWS: I have to to be very mindful of my good fortune. I’ve worked very hard! But I am mindful of that.
XJ: That’s how it feels for me, that you’ve worked for this. You know, as a young fan I remember you as The Flash but as you’ve pointed out you have been working consistently through each decade and there’s always been a time you’ve been there!
JWS: Which is so funny because they’re all young audiences! Everything I’ve mentioned. So the audiences are staying the same age and then I pass a mirror and I think “OH MY GOD! When did I get so old!”
XJ: “I GREW UP! WHAT HAPPENED!”
JWS: “I don’t want to grow up!”
XJ: And it’s unfortunate with the daytime stuff you did, because I don’t think we had enough channels to cater to them all!
JWS: We didn’t have so many channels ourselves!
XJ: So I think your Daytime soaps didn’t fall into any area as they kept running the ones that already had a footing in New Zealand such as Days Of Our Lives and The Bold & The Beautiful, I know that As The World Turns did turn up on other channels…
JWS: It’s gone now!
XJ: It has?!
JWS: They’re almost all gone! Every soap I have been on is off-the-air.
XJ: It’s obviously because you left!
JWS: Oh thank you! I was going to come at it from the other end! I was going to say “I don’t think it’s because I was on them”
XJ: They were probably thinking “John’s gone, what do we do now?”
XJ: “THAT’S IT! END IT! CLOSE THE SHOW!”
JWS: You’re too kind.
Is Grant Gustin as huggable as he looks?
XJ: As you guys have a very good on-screen relationship involving a lot of hugging as father and son!
JWS: It’s really a wonderful relationship, and it’s funny that you say that because we just did another scene which I can’t talk about BUT at the end of it, it wasn’t supposed to happen, but I was leaning back out of the scene and he just had the impulse to grab me and it worked beautifully! And when we broke he laughed and said
You know, I’ve hugged you more than I’ve hugged my own Dad!
JWS: But it is that kind of relationship and I’m again so fortunate I get to be…well, Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns were fond of saying last season that Henry Allen was the heart of the show.
So I got to be the guy when everything slowed down, and the fireworks subsided and the dust settled and Barry needed to be vulnerable, he’d go to his Dad.
So I’ve had those wonderful moments that would make me tear up just to read them and I like being there when everything slows down that’s been a wonderful thing to play. Now that Henry’s out of prison I don’t know how that will affect that dynamic. You know, with how it happened over the course of the season, I just don’t think there’s any other way to write the father/son scene, but we’ll see how I figure in going forward!
XJ: I’m excited to see what happens! I mean they could write you in as a villain now with the Multiverse!
JWS: The comics have taken such an interesting turn with Henry Allen! I keep trying to mention to Andrew “You know that the comics are doing this and this!” and he’s going “Yeah, well…”
XJ: “…we’re not doing that at the moment!”
JWS: “We won’t be doing that!”
THE FINAL QUESTION! Is Jesse Martin‘s hug better?
XJ: Because of course you guys hugged a lot on-screen too.
JWS: It’s just different…
JWS: The relationship is different. There is something so magical, not only about the fact that I get to participate in handing off the mantle to Grant, but that I get to play that kind of father to that kind of son; So the heart moments are wonderful.
But Jesse! Jesse has a phenomenal sense of humour. He’s really, really funny!
XJ: He does seem that way!
JWS: He also surprises me! We were doing this one scene and Barry is in some kind of travail he escapes and we have to act so relieved. So we’re shooting everyone’s coverage and when it came time for us to do it, Jesse just High-5’s and then hugs me! I was thinking
WOAH! I TOTALLY BELIVE THIS GUY!
and I believed his enthusiasm and then he’s back to being sort of sardonic *laughs*
XJ: AS HE IS!