The Flash is not only a highly entertaining, funny and fun show, but it’s got killer villains that could each have their own cool arc. On Episode 11 of The CW series, called “The Sound and The Fury,” Dr. Wells’ (Tom Cavanagh) former protégé, Hartley Rathaway (Andy Mientus), returns to seek revenge on his mentor. Now able to manipulate sound waves, earning him the nickname of Pied Piper, the brilliant Rathaway is a dangerous threat to both Wells and The Flash (Grant Gustin).
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Andy Mientus talked about the most exciting thing about being a part of the DC superhero universe, the most daunting thing about playing this character, having previously auditioned for the role of Barry Allen, why he wanted to play Pied Piper, the duality of this character, bringing the openly gay villain to life, that getting to wear a costume was his every adolescent dream come true, how cool the effects will be, and that he would love the chance to have the character return for more. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: This is your first time working in the comic book world, and you’re jumping right into the DC superhero universe as a villain who gets to go up against The Flash. What’s most exciting about getting onto a set like that, and what’s most nerve-wracking about it?
ANDY MIENTUS: What was most exciting to me was just knowing that I was going to get to do these action scenes that I was reading in the script, and that they would be fully realized in a way that I had never experienced before, as an actor. Everything that I’d done on camera previously had been pretty intimate drama. I did one multi-cam sitcom, but just with people talking to each other. So, to read through this script and read, “He flips the car with his sound waves. He blows up the door with this thing,” and to know that when I showed up on the day, things would blow up for real and I’d be wearing the costume with the cape, was just really exciting to me. I felt like a kid, honestly. We were getting to play pretend, but with the best toys in the world. I was also really excited to play with the cast, just because I was friends with a few of them previously and I was a fan of all of them from the couple of episodes that had aired already. I was just really into the show and watching it as a regular viewer, before I was cast or had any hope to be cast.
And the most daunting thing is entering the DC universe, playing this character who really is a fan favorite, and learning from his role in the comics, over decades. To get to play him on camera, really for the first time that he’s ever been fleshed out, is a challenge. It’s daunting because I know he means a lot to a lot of people. I didn’t know much about him before I got this job, so I feel a real responsibility to get it right for those people. I don’t want to tarnish the legacy of this character that they love, so I definitely did my homework, with DC and the team at The CW, and listened carefully to what all of the higher-ups at the show were telling me. I did my best, so hopefully everyone is pleased with that.
MIENTUS: That’s right, yeah.
When you didn’t get that role, had you ever thought that maybe another opportunity would arise, or was this role just completely surprising when it came up?
MIENTUS: I didn’t get very far along in the process of reading for Barry. It’s not as if it was between me and Grant [Gustin], and I didn’t get cast. But I got great feedback that said, “He’s not quite the right fit for Barry, but we really like him. He’s really interesting. Maybe there’s something down the pike.” You hear that a lot, as an actor, and you like to hear that. It’s a nice thing to hear, but you don’t necessarily think, “Oh, I better wait by my phone ‘cause they’re gonna call any minute.” So, when they did call, my ears pricked up. You have so many auditions, as an actor, and so many disappointments that you learn to not get too attached to anything. But that first step in the process went really well, and then this character came up. When I read it, I saw that it was maybe a good fit for me, and I just really liked it. I immediately felt an attachment. It was a character that I wanted to see and knew I would enjoy, as a viewer, so it was then somebody that I wanted to embody. So, I was hopeful. I really wanted this one, more than the average thing, and I’m really glad it worked it.
All of these villains have a duality to them because they were all somebody before they could do what they do now. For people who aren’t familiar with this character, who is Hartley Rathaway and what can he do as Pied Piper?
MIENTUS: Without giving too much away before we get his full origin story, they have officially said that he was involved at S.T.A.R. Labs before the accelerator exploded and everything was set into motion. So, what’s really interesting about that is that he’s got a history and relationship with all of those other characters. Where most of the villains get to deal with The Flash, I get to deal with everybody on the team and have a long history with many of them. His agenda becomes a little bit more personal than just wanting to ruin everyone’s day or make a lot of money, or the typical criminal motivations. He’s got a personal stake in what he’s setting out to do. He doesn’t have superpowers. He’s just a genius. He’s created mechanisms to be able to manipulate sound waves. It’s really interesting because he’s going up against somebody who’s been endowed with great power by this thing that happened that he’s trying to seek revenge for. But, he’s not evenly matched. He’s only got what he’s born with to fight that. I think that’s even cooler.
MIENTUS: It’s really affirmative to me that we have made such progress. Awhile back, maybe a show would date to introduce a gay character and it would probably create a lot of hoopla. It was maybe the kind of thing you could do on premium cable, or late at night, in the 10 pm slot on an edgy drama. Now, there’s a gay character on almost everything, including this superhero show, which you think of as being a really adolescent, straight male driven world. That’s not true. It’s a really diverse group of people who enjoy comic books and superheroes. I think everybody enjoys comic books and superheroes. But I think it just really goes to show how far we’ve come that this character can be on this show that’s viewed by a lot of teenagers and teenaged girls, and they’re not concerned about alienating any of that audience. They know that the world is ready to accept something like that, and not be turned off by it. It’s really encouraging.
What do you enjoy about getting to play a villain versus a hero? Is it more fun to get to play a character who doesn’t necessarily have to have the same moral compass that a hero really does have to have?
MIENTUS: Absolutely! I think it’s a cliche that most actors like to play the villain because they tend to be better, more interesting and get the better dialogue. Piper has a bit more going on than your typical villain. You’ll meet him and identify him as a villain, but then the more you learn about him, you’ll start to wonder what side he’s playing for and if he’s completely villainous or not. I feel like I get the best of both worlds. It’s a villain that, even if his acts are completely dastardly, as the person trying to embody him, I completely relate to why he is doing these things. It’s a real treat. He’s not just curling his mustache and tying girls to train tracks. He’s got some really human struggles going on that make him do what he does.
MIENTUS: It was just like every adolescent dream come true. I was definitely an indoor kid where, instead of fantasizing about being a hugely successful sports star, I fantasized about having superpowers, being a wizard and being superhuman, running around with a cape. That’s easy to tap back into. I’m a bit older now, but that wasn’t so long ago. There’s something about donning this really stylized, heightened costume that makes you feel like a kid playing in your backyard that lets you really play, as an actor. That empowered me to make bolder choices than I might if I was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans. You feel a need, on camera, to be incredibly naturalistic, but even just putting on the costume allowed me to be a bit more theatrical, and it allowed me to create something more interesting, more fun and more in keeping with the tone of this show that I love so much. I think people really respond to The Flash because it feels like a comic. It is a bit heightened and a bit color and a bit exaggerated. It’s not total naturalism, and I think that’s awesome. I was a little scared, to be honest, about rising to that level, but I feel like the costume did a lot of that work for me.
When you’re dealing with effects, does it just feel totally awkward, acting and reacting when things aren’t there, or does it help that you have the reassurance that these guys know what they’re doing?
MIENTUS: I went to drama school and spent countless hours pretending that I was a dog or a tree, or did mirror exercises. I am game to just go there with full commitment. So, I didn’t feel too silly. It was more just fun to imagine. Because I had seen episodes of the show and had seen how filmic they made it all look, and how much time and effort they put into making the effects look really great for TV – it’s unprecedented how much production value is in this show – I knew it was going to look incredible. Also, a lot more of it was practical effects than I had anticipated. I really thought everything was going to be visual effects, after the fact, but there are quite a few live explosions, glass breaking, people flying through stuff, and just real action going on around me. It was really, really overwhelmingly cool.
MIENTUS: I haven’t seen much more than the rest of America. The trailer is the most I’ve seen of complete effects. I had to go back and do some ADR for some audio, the way you do with anything, so I’ve seen some scenes, but even when I did that, the effects weren’t done yet. They were just band-aid place-holders. I’m going to see it with everybody else, which is really cool. I’m not an actor that feels really great watching myself. I tend to now watch, especially TV that I do, or if anything comes out of what I’ve done on stage. I don’t like to watch it because I can’t not see everything I hate about what I’m doing. Even if everyone else is liking it, I’m too critical. But because I’m so excited to see everything come together with The Flash, and because this character is so unlike myself and I’m in a cape, I will be okay to watch this one. I’m actually really looking forward to it.
If Pied Piper makes it through the episode alive, is he someone you’d like to see make a return appearance, at some point? Do you still feel like there’s more to explore, if given the opportunity?
MIENTUS: Oh, absolutely! They set up a lot of potential story points in this introductory episode with him. If you look at where the character goes in the original books, it’s a fascinating arc for him. He gets to go so many places, and go back and forth on which side he’s fighting for. I think he’s become a fan favorite because his stories are so good. Even with what we’ve done already, there are lines about his past that allude to a really rich history that would be really fun to explore. Above all, he’s just a really fun, cool, funny character that I love to play, so I would love to have the chance to embody him more.
The Flash airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.