One of the smartest things that the manufacturers of Grant Gustin– LEDs flash on CW was to bring in the OG Flash John Wesley Shippwho played the Scarlet Speedster in 1990-91 series on CBS. Shipp, twice Daytime Emmys-winner for his roles in As the world turns and Santa Barbarahe was tapped not only to play Barry’s father, Henry Allen, but later Jay Garrick (Earth-3’s Fliger) and also Barry Allen (of Earth-90).
StrippedPixel sat down with Shipp to get a sense of what it’s meant to him both professionally and personally to play such important roles on the revived series, which ended last month after nine seasons. What were your favorite Barry/Henry scenes? (Yes, it’s probably your favorite, too.) Read on to find out the details!
What were you thinking? flash series finale?
John Wesley Shipp: I really appreciated the way Eric Wallace (executive producer) and the whole team wrapped it up. It was so unusual and special to come back to a franchise 33 years later and end it with positivity and hope. The story wasn’t about hitting or overwhelming enemies, but trying to find empathy and believe in the impossible. I liked it when Rick Cosnetthis character (Eddie) said something to the effect of, “We’re still on opposite sides.” Grant’s Barry replied, “But together we can find a way.” I think this message is so important, especially for where we are today. Does it feel like so many have been in a frenzy about how rude we can be? How much can we blame the other? It’s great to have an action-adventure superhero who champions kindness and understanding. I must write to Eric and thank him. It was such a beautiful message to convey – one of hope, unity, compassion and empathy.
You’re also known for your runs as the good guy on Kelly Nelson Guiding light and the psychopath Douglas Cummings further As the world turns. Do you see similarities between soap operas and superhero audiences?
Yes. Comics are superhero soaps. The stories use the same set of characters for 50 to 60 years in new and different situations with overlapping universes. Characters die and come back (in both genres).
original Flash the series you played in didn’t have that kind of ending Flash made. It means a lot to viewers to have closure. What does it mean to you?
I need to revisit (my) Flash in (the) Crisis on Infinite Earths story. I found out that Barry and Tina (Amanda pays) got married and that his Earth was destroyed, but that Barry makes this sacrifice so that Barry’s (Grant’s) Earth can continue. I have to play this triumphant moment where I see Tina and I from 30 years ago. That gave me the closure (on the first series) that I didn’t get 30 years ago.
original Flash the series was innovative. Not even the explosions were made with CGI!
Back then, I was at the top. I didn’t know if it would work. Would the characters be taken seriously in an action-adventure context? I am very proud of the show. I’ll never forget at the end of filming for the pilot (for the revival series), David Nutter, who directed the episode, gathered the cast and crew and said, “If this man (meaning me) hadn’t proven that we could get these shows seriously for a mainstream audience, we wouldn’t be here.” I was so choked up.
For this final season, Eric returned and I said goodbye to Henry Allen and Jay Garrick both in and out of costume. The last show had Grant, Candice (Patton, Iris West Allen), and Rick in it. We were all there from the beginning and had a wonderful addition John (Cor, Mark Blaine). After I shot my last scene, the stage manager said, “This is a series finale on Mr. John Wesley Shipp.” I looked around and there were over 50 people there and they were all cheering. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to revisit this in a meaningful way. My voice broke. I wanted to thank Grant. He came bounding towards me and wrapped me in a big hug. I couldn’t have written it better. I stayed for the closing party. It was an amazing event. I couldn’t have written it better.
Viewers crave to have series closures, but I imagine the actors and everyone on a show love to have them too.
Shows these days on a network do about 20-22 episodes a season. I don’t know how Grant did it for nine seasons. He’s just getting close to the age I was when I first did it flash. Nine seasons of this character? He did and kept the same enthusiasm, drive and commitment he brought to the show from day one. The ending was hopeful. It wasn’t crazy, tragic or violent. We all have nostalgic reminiscences. People were pulling out photos on their phones from all nine seasons. I think maybe everyone was ready (to say goodbye). Is there an emotional sadness attached? Yes. But I think people were ready.
You first played Henry Allen, Barry’s father, wrongfully convicted of murdering his mother. But early on, people commented on your resemblance to a Golden Age Flash comic book character, Jay Garrick (TV’s Flash of Earth-3).
When people found out I was going to be in the new series, I was asked if I was going to play Jay Garrick. Getting to play Henry – a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife (Nora, played by Michelle Harrison) – is a role I would have loved to play even if I had never been associated with flash. I’m glad I played Henry because I was able to support Grant because I had the experience (playing Barry in the first series).
I had no idea about (eventually playing) Jay Garrick. I thought I’d get a season or two as Henry. After being booked for the last four episodes of season 2, I was sitting with Jesse (L. Martin, Joe West) and Grant. I had gone to a gun where I was wearing this ripped prison uniform, but it was brown. I thought, “Is this a flashback?” I was told that I would be trained separately for the iron mask. Jesse and Grant said, “You don’t know what you’re going to do next season?” Little did I know that I would be playing the real Jay Garrick. I sent a text message to (executive producer) Greg Berlanti. The man in the iron mask was a double of Barry’s father, who turned out to be Jay Garrick, who is the person a lot of people wanted me to play with to begin with. What a great way to channel fan expectations and present them in an inventive way. It was such a creative way to do it.
Barry and Henry had a scene in the prison infirmary after Henry was beaten. Henry had realized that Barry was the Flash, but he hadn’t come right out to say so. However, Henry wanted Barry to know that he was worried about him and wanted to be careful.
I like the way it was written. It was an example of good parenting. Barry had saved Joe’s life and made sure Henry’s attacker was sent away. Henry said, “I’m lucky too.” Barry said, “Dad, don’t you think if I was the Flash I would have told you?” Henry didn’t throw away his cover. He said that if Flash were his son, he would tell him to be careful and that his father is proud of him. Right before I shot my first shots, the director whispered in my ear, “You want to tell him you love him, but you can’t.” Grant and I had played so many emotionally vulnerable moments together. If we didn’t feel safe with each other, we couldn’t go there.
Did you manage to keep any souvenirs from either? Flash series?
It never occurred to me to keep anything from the first show, but I kept a raincoat that Barry had worn at the crime scenes and wore it in a new episode as Henry. After the last scene I shot as The Flash in the original, I ripped his wings (off his mask) and blew them up. Mark Hamill (who played the Trickster) said, “Don’t let those get away!” I think he still has them!
This time, I said, “I’m taking a helmet home.” I deleted it, of course. The main one goes to the Warner Bros. museum. I will be going to some (comic cons) later this year and will bring the helmet with me. It’s funny. I had this great pitch to ask them (the producers) to keep a helmet, but I found out later, it was already released!
Besides some comic cons, what’s next for you?
I have appearances in Charleston, Savannah and Washington State. I will be returning to the Judson Theater in Pinehurst, North Carolina to do (a stage production) Some good people. I’m going there with David Gregory (who played my son Ford A life to live), who will play one of the roles. I’m going to play Jack Nicholson role played in the film, Col. Nathan R. Jessep.
You end up saying, “You can’t handle the truth!”
That was the first thing I thought of – how can I say this line because no one can top Jack. I’m already thinking how I’m going to say it. I have a few different ways in mind.
Any final thoughts about you? Flash experiences and with whom you will see the film Ezra Millerwhich opens today!
I had my experience full circle. If this time it really is goodbye, then I’m fine with that. I am ready to support the next generation of Flash (actors). I will go to the movie and support him, of course. I think people need to put aside any “I better do this” feeling and put their asses on the seats and see!