Interview: John Wesley ShippMarch 22, 2018
Recently we had a chance to talk with John Wesley Shipp about his life as an actor and his second time around on The Flash during a media roundtable at Toronto Comic Con.
The GCE: When you were first invited back to do The Flash did you have any reservations about jumping back into the suit so to speak, or did you even know you were going to be in the suit?
John: I didn’t know, they did a huge bait and switch on me. No, I had no reservations because I had heard about Geoff Johns re-imagining of the Allen family, how suddenly Henry Allen was wrongly convicted of killing Nora Allen in front of a ten-year-old Barry. That wasn’t my origin story in 1990, Emmett Walsh was not wrongfully imprisoned for killing Priscilla Pointer in front of a ten-year-old me. I thought wow, and people asked, are you going to be a part of it and I said well if they come to me, that’s the part that I would want because that would be a role that I would want whether I had never played Barry Allen at all. I discovered that having played Barry, and Grant’s awareness of my Barry and my knowing his hopes and dreams at the beginning of assuming this iconic role, helped me play Henry better, it really fed the father-son relationship.
Media: While you were working so closely with Grant Gustin, was there any advice that you gave him about playing The Flash?
John: I always get asked that since I’ve become an elder actor, they asked me that on Dawson’s Creek, do you give the kids advice and I was like oh god, I hope not and 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, because you know, you’re going into a roll like this, The Flash was fifty years old when I got to it, a seventy-five-year-old tradition when Grant got to it, so you have a certain amount of insecurity if you’re a sensitive and conscientious actor like Grant is. The only thing I said was, believe me, you were cast for the right reasons and trust your instincts because there’s nothing worse than being in a role like that and second-guessing yourself, or allowing other people to cause you to second guess yourself. I felt my role coming in there was two-fold, we still had a very vital audience from the 1990-91 show which we wanted to bring in, a network audience in those days and the second one was just, I felt like I was a mirror in those scenes to hold up so Grant Gustin could see all the unique and wonderful qualities that he possesses as an actor and as a human being that makes him uniquely qualified to play that character. I felt like if I could do anything at all, if I could just bathe him as much affirmation, and that fed the father/son relationship, it worked well because that’s what Henry was trying to do, it’s like I’ve excepted my circumstances, then you need to go and live your life. Then Greg Berlanti told me what they had in store and I was like what, I mean at that point it was twenty-seven years ago and I swore I’d never get into another suit again. Never say never, man.
Media: You have the distinction of playing Barry Allen/ The Flash and then the original Flash, Jay Garrick. What does that mean to you, to play two generations of The Flash for two different audiences?
John: You know, what it means to me is reflected in the people that come to these conventions. I have a lot of men and women who when they were young, watched the original show with their parents. Now they are bringing their children who are watching the new show and so there is this whole multi-generational thing to it and that’s a unique thing to be part of and that’s what Mark Hamill said, coming from the set of Star Wars and was doing the first Trickster episode on the new Flash, he said what a special and unique opportunity it is to come back, and not in a token way but a meaningful way, 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’s the last superhero I will ever play but you never know.
Media: What characteristics have you introduced into your life from your experiences as an actor, specifically with The Flash?
John: 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, his head is just trying to catch up but he 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 into the speed force, so that was kind of my role. I always used to think of my Barry as being this ordinary guy, CSI, worked in the crime lab so my mom wouldn’t have to worry about the fact that all of the men in her life were street cops and might be killed at any moment. Then all of a sudden, he is caught in extraordinary circumstances with these incredible powers that his dad would be so proud of him if he knew but he couldn’t tell him, so yeah, I think there are many things to love in the character of Barry Allen.
I want to thank John for taking the time to speak with us.