Barry Allen makes his hyped-since-the summer “Arrow” debut this week, and this new take on iconic superhero speedster The Flash already has at least one fan — Grant Gustin, the 23-year-old actor playing the role.
“He’s fun to play. He’s likable. I would be his friend,” said Gustin during an “Arrow” press event at The CW‘s Burbank headquarters. “I haven’t had the opportunity to play a character that I would actually enjoy spending time with.”
Gustin is set to play Barry Allen in two episodes of “Arrow” — this week’s “The Scientist” and “Three Ghosts,” airing Dec. 11. Following that, Gustin will star in a pilot for a potential spinoff starring “The Flash,” which was originally slated to air as a backdoor pilot episode of “Arrow” next spring.
“Arrow,” currently in its second season on The CW, has thus far been defined by its relatively grounded approach, especially when compared to its DC Comics source material. Introducing a superpowered character like The Flash — whose comic book adventures frequently feature sci-fi concepts like time travel and the “Speed Force” — marks something of a shift, though the character debuts in “Arrow” simply as Central City Police forensic scientist Barry Allen, in a two-episode stint starting with this week’s “The Scientist.”
“Barry comes to Starling City because there is an unexplained robbery at Queen Consolidated, and Barry is very interested in the unexplained, for reasons we will find out over the course of these two episodes,” “Arrow” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg told reporters. “He’s the opposite of Oliver, in a lot of ways. Barry’s sort of outgoing and funny, and a little bit unsure of himself, and smart. Sort of a squeaky wheel. The contrast between [“Arrow” star Stephen Amell] and Grant is both comical and fun, and has been really great to watch.”
The contrast extends beyond the personalities of Gustin and Amell’s characters — Gustin is nearly a decade younger than Amell, something that’s acknowledged in “The Scientist.”
“We had always seen [Barry] as being a little bit younger,” Kreisberg said. “The thing that was really important to us, more than anything, was that he really should be a contrast to Oliver and to Stephen. Stephen is the more traditional, square-jawed, musclebound hero.”
“[Oliver] needs the heart, Barry has the heart,” DC chief creative officer Geoff Johns added. “[Oliver] has the body, Barry needs the body.”
Greg Berlanti, a fellow “Arrow” executive producer who developed the show with Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim, described casting Barry Allen as a tricky proposition, due to the need to find an actor that could both work in the “Arrow” world and possibly star in his own show in the near future.
“We were trying to hit a moving target,” Berlanti said to the gathered press. “If we were just creating a character out of nothing that nobody had any kind of preconceived awareness of, it would be a lot easier. This, we knew the character we were trying to honor, and the spirit of the character we’re trying to bring to the show.
“Had we not found Grant, I’m not sure we would have done the character.”
Johns co-wrote “The Scientist” with Berlanti and Kreisberg (“story by” Berlanti and Kreisberg, Johns and Kreisberg are credited with the teleplay), and called Gustin — the first actor to screen test for Barry Allen — “the perfect Flash.”
“He’s earnest,” Johns told CBR News of Gustin’s uniquely Barry Allen-esque qualities. “Grant as an actor, he’s brought more to Barry Allen than I think we’ve seen before, especially seeing him in the days of when he’s taking his first steps. He’s got that heart. He’s got humor. He’s got compassion — Barry was always a nice guy. He’s the guy that stops, makes sure everyone’s alright and then keeps going. Grant embodies that.”
Gustin isn’t the first actor to play Barry Allen, though he said he hasn’t seen any past live-action incarnations, including “The Flash” series that ran on CBS for one season from 1990 to 1991, starring future “Dawson’s Creek” dad John Wesley Shipp. Yet Berlanti pointed out there are “Kennedy-Lincoln” connections between Gustin and Shipp, including the fact that they’re both from Norfolk, Virginia, and their birthdays are only two days apart.
Though Gustin was, quite literally, just a baby when the last “Flash” live-action series was on, he made it known that he has an appreciation for the genre.
“I was a big Superman fan growing up. I’ve always been a big superhero fan,” Gustin said. “To even have the opportunity to audition for this blew my mind, and to have them get excited about it was really cool. But I wasn’t trying to be any Flash that I knew about or I had seen, because I really didn’t have that much knowledge in that category.”
And while many characters have been The Flash in the comic books — including currently-in-continuity limbo fan-favorite Wally West and Barry’s grandson from the future Bart Allen, two characters Johns has written extensively — the “Arrow” team was very clear that Barry Allen was their first and only choice.
“Barry just fits into this world,” Johns said. “His backstory makes sense for this world. He is The Flash.”
The “Arrow” producers also commented on the major development in the last aired episode, “State v. Queen” — the return of Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), and his revelation that Oliver’s sister Thea (Willa Holland) is his biological daughter.
“There was no way he was going to stay dead,” Kreisberg said. “It’s one of the things we were talking about at the end of last season — the story works on so many different levels. Moira [Queen, Susanna Thompson] always works best when she has a deep, dark secret. Last season we were like, ‘How are we going to top this deep, dark secret?’ In a way, this one’s even better, because it’s more personal. She’s tied to Malcolm. Thea, ironically, is one of the few people who actually turned out well after last season. You can probably assume that she’s going to get hit with a whammy as the season progresses.”
Towards the end of the Q&A session, Kreisberg fielded a question concerning “The Vampire Diaries” actor Steven McQueen’s tweets last month hinting that he may be getting ready to play beloved DC hero Nightwing on “Arrow.” The casting had been unconfirmed — and remains so.
“He definitely picked the right guy to get me interested, because Nightwing’s my favorite,” Kreisberg said. “I don’t know. Twitter’s interesting.”