In the upcoming CW drama series The Flash, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is struck by lightening and wakes up after nine months in a coma to learn that the accident has given him the power of super speed. But being a superhero and facing danger isn’t easy when there’s a city full of heroes and villains with extraordinary abilities.
During The CW night of the PaleyFest Fall TV Preview, executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg were joined by actors Jesse L. Martin (“Detective Joe West”) and Candice Patton (“Iris West”) to talk about how the show came about, which comics they’re drawing from, how similar this Iris West is to the comics, the dynamic between Iris and Barry, what Detective West is like as Barry’s surrogate dad, season-long storylines versus series-long storylines, that time travel is a big part of The Flash’s world, Easter eggs, love interest cross-overs, having such a diverse cast, and having 20 days of production for the pilot. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
ANDREW KREISBERG: It was definitely Greg [Berlanti]. We were working on Season 1 of Arrow, on Episode 13 or 14. And we were just starting to get the hang of writing Arrow when Greg said, “We should do a spin off?” I was like, “Are you kidding? We can barely do one of these.” He said right then, and I remember it so vividly, “We should bring Barry Allen on. We should do two episodes with him, and then he gets hit by lightening at the end of the last episode. And then, we’ll do the pilot.” That’s pretty much what we did. The only real change was that we were thinking of doing it as a backdoor pilot on one of the episodes [of Arrow.] We worked so hard on Episode 8 and 9 for Arrow. If we hadn’t found Grant [Gustin], we might not have done it, at all. Grant was so amazing, and those episodes and turned out so well. We had such great support from both the studio and the network who said, “You should do this as an actual pilot, and not just as an episode.”
What comics are you guys drawing from, for The Flash?
GREG BERLANTI: The one that I loved the most as a kid was Crisis on Infinite Earths because he died in it, in 1985. He died saving the universe, and it was emotional. I think that was always our hope with the character in the show. When Geoff Johns re-imagined him in Rebirth, he gave him the gravitas of this backstory of searching for his mother’s killer. That was something that we also really wanted to include in this series. It’s the fusion of having the same epic world-building that we get to do on Arrow, but with a bright and fun universe and show, filled with those kind of characters. That was our hope. And then, you cast the show and you work with these individuals, and the show becomes something else entirely because you try to respond to the stuff that’s coming in.
Candice, did you read any of the comics to find out about Iris West?
CANDICE PATTON: I wasn’t a Flash fan before. I was definitely a DC Batman fan. So, when I got the job, I definitely felt like I should do my homework. I went to my comic book store and grabbed a couple of comic books because I really wanted to understand why people love The Flash. But, I really relied on the scripts that we’re doing to inform me, as well.
How similar is this Iris West to the comics?
PATTON: She’s fairly similar. She’s a very brave, strong, inquisitive, curious girl. To play that on screen is a dream come true. For me to be a black woman playing this role, god almighty, someone is out there looking out for me. I can only thank [Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti], Geoff Johns and The CW for allowing me to be in this role, and give hope and inspiration to other young girls that look like me or who are marginalized. It’s a great place to be.
BERLANTI: We always describe them as When Harry Met Sally. They are best friends, and only one of them is aware of his feelings for her. She’s unaware. That kind of friendship is what’s so nice to see on the show. To open episodes with the two of them leaving the movies and doing those kinds of things, I think of the Albert Brooks relationship with Holly Hunter in Broadcast News. They call each other on the phone and finish each other’s sentences. That was always part of the inspiration for us, for that dynamic on the show.
Jesse, Detective West is the surrogate father of Barry Allen. What is that family dynamic like?
JESSE MARTIN: Obviously, I’m not his real dad, and there are plenty of times when Barry, as a little boy and as a grown man, will tell me that I’m not his dad. But I did all the stuff that dads have to do, in order for kids to make it to school and live a decent life, so I don’t care what he says. I’m his dad, especially when I need to be. I make sure that he’s safe. Of course, he’s The Flash now, so he gets in a lot of trouble, and I still have to be dad.
On Arrow, people didn’t really know his secret for awhile, but with The Flash, Barry’s surrogate father finds out. Is he even more protective of Barry and his daughter, Iris, because of that?
MARTIN: Yeah, of course! It’s not every day that you find out that your kid is the fastest man alive, not to mention that there’s a whole bunch of other people in this world, all of a sudden, who can do either really amazing things to help humanity, or do really horrible things to hurt humanity. The more I find out, the more I’m like, “Oh, my god, how am I gonna make it?! I’m gonna have a stroke before the show ends.” I worry. I worry about him. I worry about her. She loves him. That’s her best friend in the whole world. He loves her. He’s probably going to say something to her, and she’s going to find out. The next thing you know, she’s going to be in trouble. I don’t have any powers to help, other than being human. So, I have to be super human, in order to protect them and make sure that they’re okay. All I have is my wits, my body, a gun and a badge.
MARTIN: Nope, I never did. When I met Greg and Andrew in New York, when they were telling me about the show, I actually had an incident with a cop, on the way there. I said to myself, “What else can I do with a detective? What am I really going to be able to do?” And then, they started talking and telling me about the world of The Flash. Now, I’m not a comic book guy. I never was, growing up. I didn’t know anything about The Flash, other than that there were Underoos and I had them. And I knew that the guy could run really fast. That’s all I knew. To be honest, I still don’t know that much about The Flash because I don’t want Joe to know that much. I want Joe to see it when Joe sees it. So, Jesse sees it when Joe sees it, and when the audience sees it. So, when they told me about the things that I would get to do, I got excited. On Law & Order, I got to do some incredible things and work with some incredible people. Here, I have a family, I have a life, I have people to protect, I have people to love, and you get to see him love and protect these people, not to mention that you get to see him dealing with some extreme humans. I didn’t get to do that on Law & Order. Also, they were really jazzed about it and they made me really excited about it, too. I have a friend who’s super into comics, and when I told him what I was up for, he lost his mind. He was like, “If you don’t do this, I’ll kill you. You’d be crazy not to do this.” And he was right. I would have been totally crazy not to do this. I am super psyched that I did.
One of the major stories on the show is Barry Allen trying to figure out who killed his mother. What can you say about that storyline? Is it a series long thing, or will we start to get some answers in this first season?
KREISBERG: I think you’re going to get a lot of the answers in the first season. We tend to approach things season by season. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned working with Greg is that, if you have a great idea for Episode 10, do it in Episode 5. In within an episode itself, I’ll pitch him a story and say, “We’re building up to this great moment in Act 4,” and he’ll say, “Do it in the teaser.” People are always worried that we’ll burn through story, but we’ve always managed to come up with a new idea. We’ll be solving a lot of the mysteries that we set up in the pilot, and not making that a series-long mystery, but a season-long mystery. At the same time, we’ll set up new mysteries for a potential Season 2. There’s always more story there.
KREISBERG: Yeah. If you’re a fan of the comic book, you obviously know that time travel is a big part of The Flash’s world. There’s obviously hints that Harrison Wells has access to the future. One of the things, especially going back to Crisis on Infinite Earths and some of our favorite time travel stories, like Back to the Future, time isn’t written, as they would say on Doctor Who. Things can change, and some things can’t. That’s one of the things that will get explored, over the course of the series. How much of our lives are already written, and how much of your destiny is up to you?
Harrison Wells is obviously keeping secrets. Will we start to uncover his motives sometime soon?
BERLANTI: You’ll learn a lot more about him. We don’t like to screw with people too much that are watching. It’s an onion that gets peeled, over the first seven or eight episodes. The other thing we like to do is have the characters ask the questions that we would ask, if we were watching the show. Certainly, Joe is an inquisitive character, and there’s a lot of great scenes between them, coming up.
Will Captain Cold be your big bad on The Flash?
KREISBERG: He’s not the big bad, but he’s certainly playing a pretty big role. Especially in the early part of the season, he’s Barry’s main nemesis. There is a very definitive big bad in Season 1 that will become apparent as you watch the show. How’s that for saying nothing?
You’ve already had some Easter eggs in the pilot. Will you continue to do that?
KREISBERG: Yeah, we always do that. One of the best decisions we made on the Arrow pilot was to have the Deathstroke mask. Within 30 seconds, you knew you were watching DC comics show. For Greg and I, and Marc Guggenheim, our partner, we love the Arrow comics and knew we were going to be exploring them. I always say that these shows have to work for both me and my wife. My wife could give a rip about comic books, but she loves Arrow and she loves The Flash, and she likes them because of the characters. When she sees the man in yellow, it means, “Oh, that’s the scary thing that killed Barry’s mom,” but it means something else to comic book fans. There will certainly be hints, as we go, but you can’t let the Easter eggs or the lore drive what you’re doing. It has to be about the characters and it has to be about their relationships. The DC comics part is the icing on the cake.
KREISBERG: There’s one thing they let us put in there. In the newspaper, it’s so small, but Geoff Johns said it was okay ‘cause the paper is from 10 years in the future, it says, “Queen Consolidated/Wayne Enterprises Merger Completed.” We figured that was the kind of thing where, once people saw it, they would freeze-frame it to look at the rest. As with both Arrow and The Flash, there are all these Easter eggs. Especially in upcoming episodes when The Flash is running through the streets, a lot of the times, the entire environment is digital. It’s not just The Flash, it’s the buildings and everything. It’s just all one big CG image, and the animators have had fun with that. There have been billboards that say, “Palmer Technologies,” which is Brandon Routh’s character on Arrow. And there’s Big Belly Burger, which is now a national chain that existed in Arrow. Part of the fun of reading a comic book is when you’re reading a Batman comic, and then you turn the page and Superman shows up. Both of these shows exist in the same world and they connect to each other. We had a lot of success on Arrow, referencing what was going to be happening in The Flash pilot. This year, simultaneously, they’re going back and forth with each other.
BERLANTI: Sometimes the guys who run the visual effects shop will bury it in and not tell us. We’ll be in the middle of the edit, watching it for the fifth or sixth time, and we’ll be like, “What’s that big W on that building? I don’t think we can do that. We haven’t asked DC.” And then, they take it out.
KREISBERG: There was actually a crazy big one where we looked at each other and were like, “We can’t do that! The feature people will hunt us down.” The Flash was running down the street and he literally ran past Luther Corp. They were all sitting there like, “Is it okay?,” and we were like, “No, you can’t do that!”
You have a love quadrangle across two shows, with Iris, Eddie, Barry and Felicity.
KREISBERG: And Oliver! It’s a love pentagram.
BERLANTI: Actually, it’s a seven-sided shape.
KREISBERG: Yes, Emily Rickards is actually going to appear in Episode 4 of The Flash. We’re all on Twitter. There are just as many people out there shipping Baricity. One of the great things in the dailies of that episode is when you actually see Felicity meet Iris. Before then, Iris was a notion, and you could see that Barry has this love for somebody. But when you see Candice on screen, you realize how he could not be fully into Felicity because you have somebody like Candice there. Because of that, it was really important to us to address that, right away. Given the way it’s portrayed on Arrow, and what an impact Grant had on Arrow, beyond just the two episodes he appeared in, and how Barry and Felicity and Oliver rippled throughout that whole season, if we had not addressed what was going on with Felicity, as soon as Barry woke up from his coma, we would have been remiss. So, those relationships continue, and there’s some amazing stuff that happens in that fourth episode.
PATTON: At the end of the day, Iris wants whatever is going to make Barry happy. I think she looks at somebody like Felicity and is like, “Duh! What’s going on?! How could you not?!” They’re both nerds. They’re so great for each other. It just works. Iris just genuinely wants what’s best for Barry. It doesn’t dawn on her that he would be in love with her, so she’s trying to set him up.
KREISBERG: That’s what’s so heartbreaking about it. She says, “This girl is perfect for you, and I just want you to be happy.” When you look at those dailies and you see the way Grant is looking at Candice, it’s heartbreaking.
PATTON: You’re always looking at the person you can’t have.
Did you intentionally set out to make this show so diverse and cast this color blind?
BERLANTI: We did intentionally set out to make sure the Wests were African American, and they hadn’t been in the comic book. You want to go to a place where you work every day, where you get to tell stories that look and feel like the audience in America that are watching. You’re really limited, if you walk into a room and you can just tell stories about that. So, we’ve been really blessed. That was definitely a goal of ours with this show. It’s been nice, with David Ramsey’s character, to see Diggle show up in the Arrow comics. Our hope is obviously the same with the Wests, and with other characters.
KREISBERG: And Cisco is from the comics. Carlos Valdes plays Cisco Ramon, who becomes the superhero Vibe. That was one of the reasons we made him one of what we call the Big Bang group at S.T.A.R. Labs.
KREISBERG: That conversation I had with Greg was Christmas of 2012, so we were plotting this for a really long time. David Nutter, who directed the Arrow pilot and who is one of the best pilot directors ever, was brought into the process very early. He actually signed on without a script, which is something he doesn’t normally do, but he did because of our relationship. We also knew that, if we were going to pull this off, we needed the kind of planning that you have with a feature film. So, David came on relatively early. The actual production ended up being about 20 days, which is a lot for a pilot. Ironically, the amount of time we had for post was the amount of time any of us have. That part was a giant galactic nightmare, to do the kind of effects you’d see in a feature film, in a relatively short amount of time.
Time travel shows often take a lot of work. Did you set anything up in the pilot, that we might see come up again, in another time?
KREISBERG: Especially for the foreseeable future, what’s most important to us is what’s happening in the present. At least for the time being, talking about the past and the future is impacting what’s happening in the present day. I don’t think we’ll be making those kinds of trips right now.
Jesse and Candice, what do you like about your characters?
PATTON: One of my favorite lines that I’ve gotten to say as Iris is, “Excuse me, if you think that being curious is a character flaw,” and I love that about her. She’s unabashedly curious. To tell young girls that you can be curious, explore the world, and go out there and be brave is what I love about her. Every time I get a script and I read Iris, I’m constantly inspired and motivated to be a stronger, braver woman. She’s not the kind of girl that’s going to wait for someone to come in and save her. She’s constantly figuring out ways to save herself. I think that’s such a great message.
MARTIN: The thing I love most about what I’ve learned about Joe West, so far, is that he doesn’t see showing emotion as a weakness. He sees it as somebody who’s been strong for a really, really, really long time, and had to break. I love that. You get yourself trapped in the notion of being a cop, and you always have to be stern about things and not cry and hold yourself together, but that’s not Joe. He’s strong and he can hold himself together, but sometimes he breaks down a little bit. I like that.
The Flash premieres on The CW on October 7th.