Back in June, I met Victor Garber at a big Warner Bros event in a fancy London hotel to talk about The CW’s DC Comics time travel series Legends Of Tomorrow.
On his way past, Blindspot star Sullivan Stapleton saw me waiting outside Mr Garber’s allocated room. Stapleton stole my sheet of questions, procured a platter of fruit from someone else in the corridor, and barged in on Garber pretending to be a healthy-food-wielding interviewer. A good giggle was had, and I tried not to act too awkwardly amid the celebrity tomfoolery.
I’m not sure if it was the rather odd prank’s doing, but when I eventually got my piece of paper back and we began chatting, Garber proved to be a fantastic interviewee. Here’s the transcript, where you’ll surely notice just how candid he was…
Your CV is one of the most varied around – Titanic, Legally Blonde, now Legends and The Flash –
Well, I’m so old. I’ve done so many things.
[Laughs] So how do you go about picking things? And why in particular did you want to do this one?
It’s very simple. I’m an actor, and I need to work. And so, if someone… if my agent or my manager calls and says, “they’re interested in you to do this”… I read it. And sometimes I say, “no, it’s too awful”, or, “it’s not great, but I’ll do it.” Um, and, “how much?” And that’s really how I decide.
But actually I am picky. I’m joking. Kinda joking. But, I’m picky about what I do because, you know, it takes a lot of energy and…. you know, as I get older, I just can’t… it’s harder to do something I don’t believe in.
And what appealed about doing Martin Stein? You’d worked with Greg Berlanti before, hadn’t you?
Yeah, that was the initial appeal, was Greg Berlanti. Because I trust him and I really respect him. And we’re friends, and when he called what appealed to me most about was that I’d never done anything quite like it.
So that, really. Similar to how Martin Stein goes on his quest. Because he wants to do something different. And that leads you into, “how are you like Martin Stein?” If you wanna go there.
So how are you like Martin Stein?
Well, there you are. I just said.
This year you had Franz Drameh replacing Robbie Amell as your Firestorm counterpart.
What was that change like, and how has the dynamic changed with that?
Well, like anything, part of the reason I did The Flash was because of Robbie and because we’re friends and we’d worked together before and I adore him and he’s so much fun. We have a rapport, and we really enjoy each other’s company. So I knew that would be fun, and it was. It worked really well.
And when the series [Legends Of Tomorrow] materialised, he wasn’t gonna go with it. And so they brought in Franz who I’d never met. Didn’t know anything about. And we did this sort of chemistry read, and I was just… he’s from East London, [switches to cockney accent] you know, he talks like this.
[Switches back to normal accent] I’d say, “I don’t understand you, what are you saying?” And then he read the scene with this flawless American accent. That impressed me, because that’s rare. That’s really something. And then, he was really good. But he was very subdued and very low-key [at the audition]. And, turns out he’s a maniac.
He’s just… he’s so much fun. And I’ve grown to adore him, to love him. So we’re really good together. I feel comfortable with him.
It is a very good accent. I didn’t realise until I watched a video of him today that he’s English.
I know! People don’t know. It’s shocking, isn’t it?
And he can do… he does voices, he raps. He mimics people. He’s really kind of unique. I suspect he’s going to do very well in this business.
So Martin made the very drastic decision of drugging Jax…
Yes he did.
Were you shocked when you read that?
[Pauses for a few seconds] Yes. But I thought it was kinda great, because it just shows another side of Martin Stein. The only thing that’s appeal about any character you play is how dimensional they are. And it was nice to see that he had this… that he wanted something so badly that he would drug this poor kid.
Yes. I think that was actually the first scene we did together. I think that was the first scene we filmed. So that was funny to do.
And then you find out later that he sort of had permission from Jax, but from the future…
Yeah, but I have no idea how that all worked out. I said to him one day, I said, “I don’t really… I can’t follow any of this. So just, where do I go? Tell me what to do.” So I really can’t follow any of that.
Another great actor that I saw for the first time in this was Graeme McComb, who played Martin’s younger self in the 1970s.
He was great! I’d never heard of him, I didn’t know him at all. If you were going to ask me, “do you have a favourite scene you’ve done last season?” That would be it. I don’t normally have favourites with anything. Everything has its positives and negatives. But that was really joyous for me, and he was so good.
The resemblance was quite good as well.
It was, I know! Although, my hair, at that age… there are pictures. If you look at the movie Godspell. My hair is like a huge afro. I mean, it’s shocking. It looks like, ‘is that real?’ But it was. And so Graeme… they couldn’t really do that. It wouldn’t have worked. But he was great. He was great.
Doing that episode, seeing where Martin came from, did that change how you play him at all?
No. No. Not at all. Because it was, really, he just learns more about himself, sees himself in a way that he hadn’t. And that affects everything. So yes, of course, it changes everything. But subtle of course. Because he goes, “oh, I was an asshole”, and, “oh, maybe I should try not to be one.”
When you do your scenes with Franz, you’re either getting along or you’re telling him off. Is it hard to turn on a dime like that?
Oh God no, that’s when it’s fun. I look forward to those scenes the most because, first of all, they’re well written for the most part, and also it’s like a father-son kind of relationship. And that, really… the only thing that interests me about this show… the most interesting thing about the show is the personal, human interaction. All the bells and whistles and the comics stuff and all of that, I could care less about. Frankly.
And I’m sorry if I’ve offended any nerds, but that’s just not my thing. But I love… for me, it’s about these people that happen to have these powers, and that’s just another dimension to the show. Of course, it’s why the show’s on. But for me, what’s interesting as an actor… merging as Firestorm isn’t interesting as an actor, it’s just a special effect.
When it comes to visiting new places, Martin’s kind of the most enthusiastic member of the team.
Well, he’s the one walking in and going [here, God knows why, I attempt to do a Victor Garber impression to Victor Garber], “Fascinating.”
Oh, well that, yeah. That’s a bit of a… well yeah, he is. That’s part of what’s fun about playing him. He’s relentlessly optimistic. Except when he isn’t. And that’s his whole thing. Wanting to explore. And curiosity, to me, is the key to staying vital. And young. And he is curious, as I am.
And what sort of times and places would you be curious to explore in season 2?
Honestly, I’m more interested in ‘what’, how the group dynamic is affected by the changes that happen from last season. And the changes that will happen in this season. And I don’t really know what they are specifically, but I know that they are planning to do things… whether we’re in one period of time longer, over a few episodes, or if it’s… you know, whatever it is, I’m really just, once again… it doesn’t really matter to me what time we’re in. That’s just incidental, again. Because it affects wardrobe more than anything else.
Obviously Martin has decided to stay on and continue helping Rip Hunter.
Is that just him ignoring the danger, curiosity again, because he needs to know what’s out there?
Yes. I think he, also, recognised he has a purpose. A greater purpose. And I think that’s a huge thing for anybody, when they think, “oh, there’s more than just me, maybe I can be of service.” And that’s a nice thing.
And just to ask about something completely different before I go: Sicario is a film that made a huge splash. You were in it. Did you get a sense while filming that it was going to be a big one?
You never know. But what I did know was that the script really was powerful. And I was working with a great director [Denis Villeneuve], and Emily [Blunt], who I really respected. And I’d worked with Josh [Brolin] before, on Milk. And Emily I hadn’t worked with, but I knew slightly, and I’m a huge, avid fan of Emily Blunt. I really, honestly, wasn’t crazy about the character. I thought it was sort of generic, but it turned out… I haven’t seen the movie… but it turned out that people really thought it worked, and people liked what I did, and so I was very happy about it and very happy for the success of the film.
And do you know if you’ll be involved in the second one?
I doubt it. Let me check my machine [picks up his mobile]. Machine, I said machine. Because it used to be an answer machine. Check my phone. No, they haven’t called. But I’d love to be a part of it, sure. Great.
Victor Garber, thank you very much!
Legends Of Tomorrow season 1 is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.