The Flash: Getting Into Ralph Dibny’s Head With Hartley Sawyer

Hartley Sawyer tells us all about playing Ralph Dibny, what he pulls from the comics, and what's next for the character on The Flash.

The Flash has had no shortage of wild cards entering and exiting the ranks of its core team over the last five seasons and counting, but Ralph Dibny certainly ranks among the most memorable — and it’s not just because he’s recently been upgraded to series regular. Ralph’s story since his introduction in season 4 has stretched him (pun intended) from goofy comic relief to genuine superhero and back again, and it’s an evolution that shows no sign of stopping.

We sat down with Hartley Sawyer to get some real insight on Ralph’s continuing journey alongside Barry and the gang, as well as pick up some clues as to what might lay in store for him even further down the line.

Den of Geek: So Ralph has really changed a lot since we first saw him, and it feels like he’s starting to find his center. Do you think that is because of Team Flash, or has Ralph actually discovered something in himself?

Hartley Sawyer: I think one actually begets the other. I think when we met him last year he didn’t really have a positive community around him — and I think anybody can relate to that. When you don’t have a support system, it’s harder to flourish in the way that you might when you have people who make sure you’re home on time and make sure you’re eating and sleeping and who make sure you’re okay and are saving your life with their superpowers. So being brought into that brought out all these other qualities in him that were kind of waiting to shoot up out of the dirt.

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As part of that growth, we’re starting to see Ralph as much more of his classic detective self, something that really stems from his comic book roots. As an actor, has it been tricky to balance that with the sort of slapstick absurdism of his comedy?

No, it’s not, not really — for me, it’s not a challenge to balance it because that’s absolutely who he is. I haven’t dug into the comics a whole ton because I didn’t want to get a mental picture in my head of how it ought to be played, but I had some familiarity and I have seen bits and pieces here or there and in the comics, he’s a truly brilliant detective. But he still says the wrong thing and gets himself hit in the face or whatever. And he always will be that way. He may not say it in the most finessed way, but he knows what’s going on. I personally love exploring detective aspect of him. I think it’s so much fun to do.

Speaking of the comics, it’s always hard to talk about Ralph without then talking about Sue Dibny. Now that we’re getting to see more and more of Ralph developing here in this season and hopefully there’s more coming in the future, is Sue something you’ve considered at all, even just in terms of building a history for the version you’re playing?

Really for Ralph, I think on a long enough timeline, all roads eventually lead to Sue. How can they not? We all have that friend who might be a bit of a jackass but who has this amazing life, or this great gal, and you’ve got to think “there must be something there.” You know, if he’s going home to that every night and they can tolerate them and they love him,  there’s got to be a whole different thing going on there. I think it says so much about him that Sue loves him in the comics and stays with them and they stick together and they have a beautiful romance. That informed me of how wide the playing field is for this guy that he can crack these jokes, he can say the wrong thing that’ll get them hit in the face, but he has this depth of feeling.

Here’s a tricky one: if you had to pick a theme song for Ralph, what would it be?

[laughs] Oh god, I’ve never thought about that before. I guess the Looney Toons theme song? He’s a walking Tex Avery cartoon.

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Now, to wrap things up, can you tease something for Ralph’s immediate future? We’ve talked hypotheticals, now let’s get specific. What’s on the way?

There’s a couple of things that are to come towards, you know, really towards the end of the season that my lips have to be something on — but um, we’re gonna see his detective skills progress. We’re going to see his relationship with Sherloque kind of develop in some very interesting ways and some very, very fun ways. I like those two characters together a lot.

Then, coming up in episode 13, it’s going to be a sort of Barry and Ralph are going to be together for the episode and we’re going to see them thrust into this kind of criminal underworld that Ralph came from. He knows this stuff very well and no other member of Team Flash knows how to navigate this world the way he does. This is easy for him. Time travel is a little more complicated, so it’s so much fun to play. It’s something that I’ve been excited about doing for a long time. Going back to that whole underworld guide, “I know where to get that, I know where this is, I know how to talk to these people,” you know, that kind of thing.

Hartley Sawyer appears as Ralph Dibny weekly on The Flash. The next episode airs on Feb. 5 at 8 pm on The CW. Keep up with all our Flash news and reviews right here.