Exclusive: John Wesley Shipp Talks THE FLASH And Passing The Baton To Grant Gustin
This weekend stars from the worlds of TV, movies, and comics descended on Knoxville, Tennessee for this year’s Fanboy Expo. The three day convention had a fantastic turnout and gave fans an opportunity to meet even more of their favorite actors and actresses than ever before. One of the actors who had an impressively long line all weekend was John Wesley Shipp, the original Barry Allen in the short lived but much loved 1990s Flash series. The actor was billed as a special signer this weekend due partly to the fact that he will be seen in the upcoming Flash series from The CW as Henry Allen, the father of Barry (Grant Gustin). Shipp was gracious enough to grant me some of his time between signing autographs and chatting with fans.The actor was careful about what he said regarding the new show and his recurring guest role, but he did spill some details about what we can expect when the pilot airs this fall. It sounds like Flash fans new and old won’t be disappointed.
First off, how has your weekend been at Fanboy? Good response so far?
It has been fantastic. Both with a combination of having done the 1990/91 first live-action Flash and now having the good fortune to be in the [Andrew] Kreisberg/[Geoff] Johns/[Greg] Berlanti reboot…it’s not really a reboot, it’s sort of a recreation. Or a reimaging. That’s what they’re calling it of The Flash experience with Flash 2014 starring Grant Gustin. Between the two, it’s been a very lively weekend in terms of people asking question and wanting to know the difference and what it’s like now to be playing the father of the character I created in the 1990s show. It’s been a lively experience.
Did you ever think that you’d still be remembered for The Flash and to now be connected to the show yet again, going through the original series?
I’m very cognizant of the rare position that I’m in. Very few people get to revisit a character they created 23 years later and be integrated into the story, the way that I have been, with so much respect and affection. The showrunners were fans of the 1990 version. It’s been a love fest. I just can’t say enough good about it.
Your show really started to reach cult status when the DVD came out. How has that been for you seeing different generations of fans coming up at conventions like this?
Yes, yes. See, we did it in ‘90/’91. The DVDs didn’t come out until 2006. That’s when I started doing conventions. To see fathers come up to me who had grown up with The Flash now saying ‘I’m introducing it to my son and we’re watching it together.’ That’s good stuff! A lot of people now are saying ‘I’ve just got it. I haven’t seen it before, but I want to see all the episodes in preparation for seeing the new Flash.’ And that’s going to pay off for them. Because these guys [Flash producers], like I said, they were fans at that time. There are lots of sort of homage and throwbacks. It will be good.
Before the plans for Flash and the pilot came about, were you a fan of Arrow? Did you watch the show before all of this started coming together?
No, I had never seen Arrow. I tuned in to see Grant when I knew that I would be working with him. You always want to get a feel for another actor and how they work. I was so pleased to see that it was not ‘acting.’ You know, it was very sincere. He is very real in his work. Very truthful. He’s invested, and sincere is just a good word for him. After having worked with him in the pilot, I know just how good of an actor he really is. How much depth there is. It’s a pilot that has a lot of depth. It has a lot of flash and dazzle, but then there’s emotional depth.
How did it come about that you’re now playing the father? Obviously you worked with Berlanti on Dawson’s Creek. Was that something where they wanted to pay homage? Did they come to you with this idea?
They made an offer. They called my agent and said they wanted to talk. When I heard about it, people were saying ‘Jay Garrick! Jay Garrick! Jay Garrick!’ I thought ‘Yeah, I guess a mentor figure.’ I thought that was pretty limited. Then I heard about Geoff Johns reboot where he reimagined the Allen family and the fact that the father is imprisoned, convicted wrongfully, for killing his wife. I thought ‘Wait a minute! That’s the character!’ Then it was after that that they called and asked to see some recent tape. I had just done two films. One was with John Savage and Corbin Bernsen, who was the husband of Amanda Pays who played Tina McGee in The Flash. And then I did a movie with Lance Henriksen and Richard Tyson. So they saw that footage then called and made an offer.
Once you realized the part and how meaty it was, like you said with Johns‘ comic book storyline, did you realize it had come full circle? You went from playing The Flash (Barry Allen) to playing the father?
Flash is a thread that’s woven through my 34 year career. I was Barry Allen, then I voiced Professor Zoom in Batman the Brave and the Bold (so I was my own worst enemy), and now I’m Henry Allen. Now I’m my own father. It just keeps going. So who knows!
You’ve been talking about Grant Gustin, and everyone is raving over the pilot, but what else are you excited to see when it finally airs?
Well I’m excited to see, because I look on the blogs and they’re going ‘I don’t understand how this fits. I don’t understand how that fits. I don’t understand why the suit looks like this. I don’t understand why he’s playing the father and not Jay Garrick.’ And I’m going ‘Wait!’ Believe me, Kreisberg, Berlanti and Johns, these guys are smart. They love the character and they know what they’re doing. Just wait because you’re going to be eating some crow if you don’t! I have people coming in and saying ‘You’re the only reason I’m going to be watching this show. I don’t like the way he looks, I don’t like this.’ I say that’s fine. Whatever it takes, whatever reason watch the first time then you’ll have many more.
And they said that you would be having a semi-regular role…
I’ll be a recurring guest star.
Have you filmed any since the pilot?
No. They told me what they’re writing. I know that they’re writing stories. I know they start shooting the second in July. We’ll see. Greg Berlanti, as part of the announcement in The Hollywood Reporter, said some wonderful things. I contacted him and thanked him. He said there would be more story and many more appearances.
I know you can’t get into specifics, but is there anything you can tease about what you’re excited to explore now that you’ve been told a little about your role?
I don’t know what I can say without giving stuff away! All I can say, if people were disappointed that I’m not playing Jay Garrick because they wanted to see the baton passed, they’re going to get that. It’s going to be in the context of father/son so that it will appeal to a wider audience, because we have to realize that we can’t keep a show on the air…although the comic book audience will drive getting it there, we have to appeal to a broader audience so we put it in the context of father and son. But they will know when it happens. It’s awfully effective.
I have to ask about the costume. Yours was maybe a little more comic book accurate and Grant’s is sort of comic book inspired but more realistic in a sense. What do you think about the new suit?
I think it’s the way it needs to go in 2014. My comment, even in 1990, was that it was too big. It was too muscular. The guy’s thing is speed. It needs to be more aerodynamic. In fact, if you noticed, we did shave it down as we went on. I think it’s the way that it has to go. Also, people haven’t seen it yet. All they have seen is [an outline and photos]. They haven’t seen what they’re going to do. The effects they’re going to use. There may be, I’m not saying if they are, electrical sparks that may be added. CGI. I’m not saying. Maybe, maybe not [laughs]. Guys, that’s something you have to wait and see. How do you know? You haven’t seen it yet.
Yeah, we’ve just seen a handful of set photos.
I remember sitting at the Essex House with Geoff Johns and he showed me some of the test effects with Flash and some photos. And man, it’s so cool! It’s the only place it could have gone and it totally makes sense.
Finally, do you have anything else coming up that we should be on the lookout for?
I play the President of the United States in a wonderful little film called Golden Shoes with Eric Roberts, Vivica Fox, Montel Williams, and John Rhys-Davies. Then last August I finished a film that they’re putting the finishing touches on called Sensory Perception with John Savage and Corbin Bernsen. Then I just did a new film called The Sector with Lance Henriksen and Richard Tyson that shot outside of Dallas. Those are in post-production now. Josh Ridgway, who wrote and directed The Sector, just approached me with another script. That might be a conflict because I’d be shooting Flash. It’s going to be hard fitting in and doing two things at once, but we’ll see.
And there you have it Flash fans- the John Wesley Shipp stamp of approval. I highly recommend meeting Mr. Shipp if he’s at a convention anywhere near you. He took time with each and every person in line talking about both series and really selling the show to anyone with any doubts. On top of that, he’s a ridiculously nice guy. A lot of people are ready to see The Flash pilot, but the wait got a little harder (for me at least) after hearing how genuinely excited Shipp is about the new direction. It will be very interesting to see how that father/son scene that Shipp says passes the baton on to Grant Gustin plays out. What do you think about the actor’s comments?
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