John Wesley Shipp Interview: The Flash TV Series…Both of ’em

We spoke with the original Barry Allen, John Wesley Shipp about playing the Flash, and playing the Flash's dad!

The Flash has always been a bit of a legacy character. In the comics, Barry Allen took over from Jay Garrick, and eventually handed off the red suit to Wally West. It’s fitting that there’s a bit of a legacy element with the CW’s The Flash TV series, then. 

Grant Gustin is, of course, Barry Allen/The Flash this time around. But John Wesley Shipp, the man who first wore the red on the criminally short-lived CBS TV live-action The Flash TV series that ran from 1990-1991 is also an important presence on the show. While many fans went a bit off the deep end when word of Shipp’s casting got out (“he’s Jay Garrick!” screamed the internet…including this writer), Mr. Shipp may have an even more important role to play, as Barry’s Dad, Henry Allen.

We got to sit down with John Wesley Shipp with some other enthusiastic reporters back at SDCC this year. Of course, the original Flash TV series was on everyone’s mind…

Den of Geek: So, who do you think had the more uncomfortable suit, you or Grant?

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John Wesley Shipp: (laughs) I haven’t been in his suit. But from what I understand, I don’t know how it could be more uncomfortable than mine was! I understand they have a different kind of glue, so they don’t have to take it off with acetone anymore. They can clean it. We couldn’t clean our suits. It cost $100,000 to build four suits in 1990. They’d just hang ‘em up in the trailer and spray it with Lysol!

It was crumbling. I didn’t have a cooling unit for the pilot episode, which we shot in May and June in LA. So I’d be in it for 10 minutes, I’d take off the glove, and it would literally be filled up with sweat. They got me a cooling unit to wear under it by the time the series was up and running.

Andrew (Kreisberg) was working on the backlot of Warner Bros and he was a fan of the Flash. Geoff (Johns) is a huge fan of the Flash. Greg Berlanti’s favorite character is the Flash. They were very aware of the first series, and from what I can tell, structurally, in terms of story, and a little bit in terms of how it’s shot, and in trying to protect him a little, they paid very close attention to our mistakes.

Do you ever wish that more of Flash’s rogues made it to the show?

I have to say, and this isn’t the answer that people want me to give, but when we first started, our concept was basically a gritty CSI show, and the only superhuman element would be the Flash. I was nervous back in 1990 when they talked to me about coming in and auditioning for it. I had just come from New York. I had been on Broadway. I had two daytime emmys. I was ready to go to prime time, but I was insecure about how comic book figures had been handled on television up until that point.

I had delusions of being a “serious actor” and I wanted to pursue those delusions. But April (Webster, casting director for The Flash) said “just read it, do you think I would be attached to this project if I thought they would hold a net off camera and throw it on for Spider-Man?”

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Do you wish they would take some more cues from what the original show did?

No. The way they’re doing it now addresses different sensibilities. I’m glad it’s a young cast. Everyone is ten years younger from when we did it. It gives it a whole different energy. It helps with the origins of the story. I love what they’re dealing with in their young lives.

I don’t mean to imply that it’s any lighter in quality than ours was, but ours was edgier in a different way. We had to do practical effects, we couldn’t do as much in CGI. Well, that frees them up to tell more stories. Just look at all the characters they’re bringing in already!

I was always a fan of keeping it dark, keeping it real, although our show did lighten up, much to the delight of many of the fans, many of whom felt we were just hitting our stride by the spring.

Danny Bilson’s promise to me at the beginning was “you will not be saving a kid from a burning building on page 6.” By episode three or four I was saving a kid from a burning building. (laughs) OK, it was page 11! The second thing he said was, “if we have our way, PTAs across the country will be calling up and complaining every week, because we want it hard-edged.”

And that was the way I thought it would ground me as an actor and keep me from being a mascot. We walked a fine line. You start off with one concept and you have thirty sets of fingerprints on a script by the time the actor gets it, but as a whole, I’m very proud of it now. It’s very hard to watch something right after you’ve done it. But now, I can watch and go “okay, yeah, I’m proud of that. Look how cinematic that looks.” I’m very proud of it. And I’m very excited about what they’re trying to do.

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I’m glad they’re not trying to recreate what we did. I’m glad the suit looks different. I’m glad Grant is different. I’m glad there’s more comedy. And the thing that’s gonna save it from having too much lightness is y’know, the scene in the prison, he just blew me away. The guy has got chops.

How often can we expect to see Henry Allen?

I’m in the first three episodes, and then sprinkled throughout the season, liberally from what I understand!

John Wesley Shipp, thank you very much! You can see him as Henry Allen on the CW’s The Flash beginning on October 7th. Keep up with all our coverage of The Flash right here.

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