The Flash is not only a highly entertaining, funny and fun show, but it also has some very heartfelt moments, especially when it comes to the relationship between Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and his father, Henry (John Wesley Shipp). In Episode 12 of The CW series, called “Crazy for You,” their relationship is taken to a whole new level, after a meta-human with teleportation powers busts her boyfriend out of Iron Heights, and Henry snoops around in an attempt to help Joe (Jesse L. Martin) and Barry solve the crime, landing him in the infirmary.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor John Wesley Shipp (who played Barry Allen in the original 1990 TV version) talked about what sold him on the idea of revisiting The Flash, just how much of the season arc he’s been made aware of, how great it’s been to reunite with Mark Hamill, who played The Trickster then and now, how the next episode is a turning point for Barry and Henry, just how dangerous it is for Henry to be in Iron Heights, addressing just how much Henry knows about what his son has been up to, and how proud he is of the work they’re doing on this show. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: When you first heard about the opportunity to return to this world and play this character, did you think it was just the craziest idea, or were you immediately excited about the possibility of it?
JOHN WESLEY SHIPP: We had heard three or four times that there was going to be a movie. I was complete with what I had done with what they call the original Flash. That blows my mind. I knew that it would go one of two ways. Either they would want to make a clean break and make it all new and totally their own, or they might want to include me. I had been asked, “Would you be interested?” I said, “If there’s a character that can contribute something meaningful.” To do a cameo and do a walk-through would have had limited appeal for me. But when I was told what Geoff Johns had done to the Allen family, and that Barry’s father is wrongfully convicted of murdering his mother in front of his 10-year-old self, I was like, “This is a whole new world.” I said to a friend, “If they ask me to do it, Henry Allen is the role that I want. That’s the layered, conflicted, darker role.” And that’s the one that they called and offered me. And then, when I met Geoff Johns at the Essex House, we spun out some ideas for Barry’s driving motivation for the first season, which is to find his mother’s killer and vindicate his father’s innocence, I thought, “That’s being an integral part of the driving force of the show.” I tell people, even if I had never played Barry Allen, I would be interested in playing this incarnation of Henry Allen.
How far ahead have you been told about the arc for your character, this season? Without telling me the answer, have you been told if or when Henry might get out of prison and under what circumstances, or are you totally in the dark about that?
SHIPP: I’ll just say that the surprises keep coming. I had extensive talks with Greg [Berlanti], Andrew [Kreisberg] and Geoff, before we ever started, and they said, “These are some of our ideas.” Now, how long that arc will play out, I don’t know. I take my cue from something I read. I read an interview where Grant [Gustin] was talking about the Man in the Yellow Suit and what’s going to come of that. In the interview, they asked him, “Do you know?” He said, “Yes, I do know.” And Andrew Kreisberg turned to him and said, “No, you don’t.” Anything is possible. You can tell from the way that it’s plotted that they have a master plan, but they’re also quick enough on their feet that they can respond to audience feedback. If they’re brainstorming in the creative room, they might go, “Wait a minute, let’s go down this path.” So, yes, I know the broad outline. No, I don’t know all the twists and turns that it’s going to take. If you had asked me a month ago, I would have told you that I knew, but I’m not sure that I am certain of the timeline anymore. So, I’m right there with you. I’m looking forward to the information, as I get it.
SHIPP: It’s fantastic, really. I’m in a completely different situation. I get to leave my Barry behind, and I get to play a whole new character. He gets to come in, 24 years later. We had some conversations about how that presented it’s own particular set of challenges. He was very funny and said, “Twenty four years ago, I was working the unitard. What are they gonna do? How are they gonna handle this Trickster?” But, the writing led him to commit on faith to revisiting this character. They did need an over-the-top Trickstery embodiment of what Mark did before. It would be inappropriate to do that now. So, they solved it by bringing Mark in as that character, 24 years later and in Iron Heights. It’s darker and edgier. It’s equally insane, but it’s not as physicalized. And they brought in Devon Graye, who is much younger, to add that element of The Trickster that is so important for The Trickster to work in the storyline. So, you get the best of both possible worlds. The interplay between those two characters – the pretender Trickster and James Jesse – is a fascinating one to watch.
What can you say about Episode 112, “Crazy for You,” and what we’ll see from Henry Allen?
SHIPP: What I enjoyed about this episode is that, up until now, Grant and I have had variations on a theme. We have had the penultimate moment in the episode where son comes to father. Either father is in despair and son is being strong for him, or son has let the Reverse-Flash get away from him and he’s totally broken down, and the father is strong for him. They’ve been wonderful, beautiful scenes to play, but they’re always separated by a glass partition and they’re over the phone. Now, Joe (Jesse L. Martin) has come in and let Henry know that he knows that he’s innocent, and Henry has more than one window on the world. He doesn’t process everything through Barry. So, it’s about how that affects Barry.
We also get to see Henry in league – and I can’t tell you how – with Joe. We know from the synopsis that that gets Henry in trouble, he gets roughed up, and he’s saved by The Flash. What that does is move Henry out from behind the glass and put him in the infirmary. Now, we have father and son in the same room. Metaphorically, that works because the issue that we’re dealing with is does Henry know that Barry is The Flash. If he does, would he say, “Look, kid, I know you’re The Flash?,” or would he open the door for the son to be comfortable enough to tell him. And if he does that, would Barry be comfortable enough to tell him? Those are the things we get to see, face-to-face.
What’s fun for me is that I get to be with Jesse L. Martin and Grant Gustin, not constrained to being on the phone, but actually being in the room physically with them. At one point, Grant is sitting on my hospital bed. It adds more dimension, certainly, to Henry and the possibilities of how Henry might be involved, going forward. And it emphasizes the dangers of Henry Allen. Even if they don’t know that Henry is the father of The Flash, they know he’s the father of someone who works in the police department. What is the danger of Henry being in Iron Heights with a son that works in the police department? And as more and more people find out that he’s The Flash, what particular dangers does that present for Henry? It ups the stakes.
Knowing that there’s a meta-human that can break someone out of prison, do you think Henry is even the slightest bit tempted to have someone like that help him, or does he want to get out of prison the honest way?
SHIPP: Every time I want to keep giving Henry a little bit more of an edge – which I really wanted to play with in The Trickster episode – Kreisberg gently reminds me that Henry is, at heart, essentially a very good man. His main concern is the drag that he’s putting on Barry’s life. Would he ever allow Barry to do something like that to get him out, knowing what the consequences might be? I doubt it. When you’ve been in a place that’s the hell hole that we know Iron Heights is, and you know that it strikes fear into the hearts of everyone who hears that name, after being in there for 14 years, after being a very successful heart surgeon, Henry Allen has learned to live in the moment, day by day. What we get tomorrow night is an expansion of his world.
SHIPP: You know what? That is exactly the question that we want you to be asking. You just made my heart very happy. That goes to the heart of what we will address, in the next episode, in my final scene with Barry, in a very moving way and in a way that surprised me when I read it. I thought, “God, these writers are smart!” When I’m reading a script for the first time and it catches me by surprise, that’s some good writing. The question you just addressed is in my final scene with Barry, in the next episode.
What would you say the coolest thing is about getting to be a part of The Flash again, at this point? Is it just cool to be a part of the DC universe, at a time when comic book movies and TV shows are really more popular than ever?
SHIPP: After getting to know Grant, and being such an admirer of his work and of his talent, at such a young age, and also just what a fine young man he is, I said to friends, “What I hope for him is that he gets the commercial success with this character that we just missed.” We got an enormous amount of critical acclaim and success. I’m very proud of what we did in 1990. We did not step into an audience that was ready-made, at the mass level, that there is for comic books today. We just barely missed it in 1990. It’s gratifying to me, and it also helps me swell with pride and play the role of Henry Allen, the proud father. I’m very proud that he is fulfilling and achieving that. It’s great to see. It’s gratifying to see. In 1990 we did, and in 2015, we are doing a superhero show for television. It’s back-breaking. So, when you know that the audience is digging it as they are, in 2015, and the writers are smart enough, not only to write superhero elements, but to also have character and relationship elements going forward, that’s keeping a wider audience involved, outside of the niche audience, that is just wonderful. There’s no other word for it.
The Flash airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.