On the next episode of The CW series The Flash, entitled “The Present,” Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) finds himself unable to focus on the Christmas holiday and decides to go to Earth-3 to get advice and help from Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp), in order to figure out how to stop Savitar. Wanting to help Barry fight Savitar, Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) reveals that he’s been training with H.R. (Tom Cavanagh), which Barry is not happy about.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor John Wesley Shipp talked about closing the chapter of Henry Allen and opening a new chapter with Jay Garrick, the funny way he found out how he’d be returning to the show, what it’s like to put on a superhero suit again, so many years after he did for the 1990 Flash series, the relationship between Barry and Jay, and the return of Mark Hamill as James Jesse. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: The last time we spoke, you were playing Henry Allen, and now you’re playing Jay Garrick. Does that feel surreal?
JOHN WESLEY SHIPP: It’s bizarre, isn’t it?! I keep rotating around through this universe. It’s the fourth character I’ve played. I played Barry, I voiced Zoom, there was Henry, and now Jay Garrick, but it all fits together. I get to come back as the experienced speedster in this new universe and come to terms with someone else who has speed that, if anything, is even greater than mine. It’s a rich environment for an actor to land in. I’m very mindful of my good fortune, to not only still be connected with this universe, but to be saying words and doing scenes written by people who not only love this character, Jay Garrick, and Barry and The Flash, but who also were big fans of the original effort. I couldn’t be in a better position.
When you learned about what was happening to Henry Allen, did you immediately know that you’d be returning as Jay Garrick, at some point, or did you find that out later on?
SHIPP: It’s kind of crazy, the way that all happened. They’ve got all these shows going, at the same time, and sometimes the lines of communication don’t always get where they think they’ve gone. I went up to do the last four episodes of the show, last season, figuring that Henry Allen was drawing to a close. Henry had served his purpose as a tool in Barry’s tool box, as a place he could come when the music stopped, the lights went down, and the special effects settled. He could come and, in a very vulnerable way, come to terms with, emotionally, everything that was happening to him physically. We had played those father-son scenes, and every time I thought there wasn’t another way to play it, the writers would come up with another way and it would break my heart just reading it.
At the beginning, Henry was one or maybe two seasons, so I went up there figuring that, over the course of the last four episodes, Henry would die. What I didn’t know was that I would be coming back. It was really comical. I was at a costume fitting and I was trying on a shredded costume and I was like, “Wow, what’s this?!” And (costume designer) Kate [Main] said, “Well, of course, you’ll be fitted for the iron mask separately.” And I said, “The iron mask?” And she said, “You don’t know?! You didn’t hear it from me!” And then, I was with Jesse [L. Martin] and Grant [Gustin] on set and they said, “So, did you hear what you’re doing this season?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m the man in the iron mask. Go figure!” And they paused and said, “Yeah. That’s all you know?” And I was like, “There’s more?” And they said, “You’re Jay Garrick, man!” And I was like, “Get out of town! You’re kidding!” And then, I contacted Greg [Berlanti] and we had a lengthy conversation, and Andrew [Kreisberg] came up and they spun out the idea. I continue to be in awe of our producers and our writing team. Take me out of the picture. The fact that, in the span of four episodes, Henry Allen comes back, makes a contribution, dies, is revealed to be the man in the iron mask who looks just like Henry, who then turns out to be Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, which is the part the fans wanted me to play, it’s just made my head explode.
Is it less nerve-wracking or intimidating to suit up as a superhero when you’ve done it before, or is it equally so, considering that it’s been awhile?
SHIPP: I have to say the thoughts went through my head that I’m not only competing with myself 25 years ago, but I am on set with 20-somethings, running around in a superhero suit. It gave me pause for just a moment, except that Kate, our costume designer, said, “I applaud what you and The CW are doing.” I said, “How so?” She said, “Showing and demonstrating to the audience that you don’t have to be 25 years old, or 30, or 35, in order to be a hero.” That made me look at it from a whole different point of view. Am I in the physical condition I was in, 25 years ago? No! But neither is Jay, so it all comes together in wonderful synchronicity.
We know what a threat Savitar seems to be, so it’s not surprising that the desire to stop him would lead to Barry needing to turn to someone else for help. What does Jay think about Savitar and what’s going on?
SHIPP: It’s a psychologically rich environment, isn’t it? You have the original speedster, who clearly sees himself as the guardian of the speed force and his legacy. We’re having legacy across all of the shows. His concern with this new, young, hotshot speedster is that he doesn’t know what he’s dealing with and he might not be making decisions to alter the speed force for the right reason. When Barry comes and stumbles into this madness that’s going on with me and Mark Hamill on Earth-3, he’s not necessarily a welcome intrusion, at the beginning. However, as soon as he says the name Savitar, there’s a lot of things going on for Jay. Jay’s not sure Savitar exists. He’s heard about him as a speed force myth, a legend and a rumor that he’s this villain beyond even a superhero being able to deal with. The fact that this is confirmation that he exists, but he didn’t show himself to Jay, he showed himself to Barry, now he has to say, why? He was threatening Savitar’s power? Is that possible? Who is this kid that he’s dealing with, and what is his relationship, as the original speedster, in relationship to Barry? There’s a lot going on, once Barry shows up on Earth-3 and drops the name Savitar.
Does Jay Garrick know that there are so many other speedsters out there, now that Wally and Jesse have powers, as well?
SHIPP: He may, on some level, know it, but I think it’s still important, on camera, to see the evolution of that happening. In the comic books, a very beloved relationship is Jay’s relationship to the other speedsters as a mentor. He’s sort of the father of them all. However, I love that the writers gave us a bit of an edge to separate Jay from Henry. Coming into this world, the fact that he goes, “Woah, you’re the only speedster to ever have seen Savitar.” Now, his concern for Barry kicks in and some of the edge slides away. Then, he comes back to Earth-1 and there’s a wonderful scene with all of us, dealing with Savitar and trying to come up with a way to combat him, and Wally is in it. There’s a great little moment with Jay and Wally, that’s a little seed dropped into that area, that I hope we’ll see more of, coming up. This is the most I’ve been involved in any episode, so far. We get to see Jay stretch out, and we get to travel some distance from the skeptical guy, sizing Barry up in the diner.
What can we expect from the interactions you have with Mark Hamill and Earth-3’s James Jesse, in this episode?
SHIPP: Well, we’re suited up and we’re going toe-to-toe again. It’s a great, fun little sequence, right at the beginning, that harkens back to an action sequence that Mark and I did in “The Trial of the Trickster,” which was our season finale, all those years ago. It’s madness! It’s a whole different thing, dealing with Mark as Jay Garrick than it was dealing with Mark’s Trickster as Henry Allen. It really does feel full circle, in the most bizarre way.
Does it feel very different to do scenes with Grant Gustin that are between Barry and Jay, without having that father-son bond that you previously had?
SHIPP: Totally different! When Grant and I were running lines for the scene in the diner, I saw him looking at me. At one point, he just looked down and started to laugh, and I said, “What’s the matter?” He said, “It’s such a trip, doing these scenes with you like this.” We had gotten used to the father-son, very warm, very loving, very nurturing relationship that Henry had with Barry. Jay doesn’t have all of that. With Jay, it’s big boy rules. The temperature and the template is completely different. What that gives Grant and I is that we get to learn each other all over again, creatively, from an entirely different perspective.
The Flash airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.