“The Flash” actor Keiynan Lonsdale played the part of con attendee well on Saturday at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (better known as C2E2). When the man now known to fans of the CW series as Wally West showed up for his own spotlight panel, Lonsdale sported a classic red-and-yellow Flash t-shirt and immediately went into his experiences hunting for things on the show floor.
“I did walk around today for a bit, and I got recognized twice,” he admitted of his first ever con experience. “I haven’t been on TV that long, though.” The actor admitted that he was looking to see if there were any good “Dragonball Z” or “Final Fantasy” products he could spruce up his living space with.
But soon moderator Heath Corson (of DC’s “Batman Unlimited” DVD franchise) showed up to lead the Q&A, starting with the fact that he comes from Australia. “I grew up in a house full of kangaroos,” Lonsdale joked before saying that he came from a very big family where he only met his father around the age of ten. “I have that in common with Wally, so I feel like everything was just setting up this role.”
Lonsdale got into performing at a young age when he wanted to learn to dance so he could perform on stage with Michael Jackson. His mother signed him up for classes, and he worked on the stage for years starting at five years old. As a teenager, he decided he wanted to expand beyond dancing but had some trouble making the transition into traditional acting. “Luckily, it just worked out.”
After touring with the professional company of the musical “Fame” for a year after high school (the eight-shows-a-week pace of which he called “the toughest thing I’ve ever done”)Â the actor was recruited for a part in the Australian TV drama “Dance Academy.” “Learning to act is one thing. Learning to work on a TV or film set is different,” he said, noting that things like hitting your mark and not looking into the camera caused him a few humorous hiccups early on. “You have to think of a million things at once and also focus on one task.”
Making the leap to Los Angeles, the actor started going on auditions during the TV industry’s pilot season trying to land on an American show. He went out for shows like CW’s “The 100” and learned the hard way how quickly you can get turned down. “I didn’t take it personally, and now I’m on ‘The Flash’ so it’s cool.”
His big break came after he’d actually left LA and was back in Australia trying to find parts by submitting video tape auditions. This led to him landing a part on the dystopian YA franchise “Divergent’s” second installment where he played Uriah. The offer of the part was contingent on whether he could get a work visa to come and film, but he made it through.
“I felt like I really connected with the character. We were pretty similar. I mean, I wasn’t born holding a gun and jumping on trains, but after reading the books I understood why they thought I’d be a good choice,” he said. Asked which faction he’d be in the Divergent world, he joked “I wouldn’t be dauntless because I wouldn’t jump off a train. I’d probably be Erudite, except their evil…not that I’m an incredibly intelligent person, but I like the idea of teaching people.” The size of the production and the passion of the fandom made that movie “the weirdest experience of my life” as he went directly from shooting one movie to another.
Amidst that, he actually auditioned to play Firestorm in “Legends of Tomorrow,” and while he never had seen the DC shows, he ended up binging all of the “Flash” episodes in a few days. “A week later, after I’d become obsessed with the Flash, my team calls me and says ‘The other show didn’t come through, but they want you to audition for Flash for this part called Kid Flash,” he said. “I hadn’t read the comic book, but I was like ‘I’m pretty sure I get what that means.'”
While he was the only actor they invited to read for the part, it was many months of auditions and meetings before he locked the Wally West role. He learned that he got the part when the news broke in his Twitter feed. “I thought, ‘Well, if they’ve let everyone else know it must be locked in.'”
For his first day on set, he said everyone kept telling him how excited they were to meet him, and he thought, “This is super weird.” His first scene was with the entire cast at a Christmas party. “I met the majority of the people that day, and it was crazy. I just said, ‘Yeah, this is my new job.'”
As for the character himself, Lonsdale reiterated how much he related to the idea of meeting his long lost father, and he said that Joe West actor Jesse Martin has been great to play the part with. “The family dynamic is my favorite part of the show. Aside from the whole superhero dynamic, it’s all about this family story. It’s cool to play a character that’s growing in every episode, and he’s hopefully growing into becoming Kid Flash one day.”
A fan wanted to know what it meant for this non-American actor to come in and play a role in an African American family. Lonsdale said, “Especially because Wally was a character who was not originally African American, it’s great that there are so many characters coming out today that Australian African kids or African American kids can look up to and say ‘I can be a superhero too.'”
The actor went on to say that one of the strengths of the show is how they create diversity of character and let each individual be their own person. He said he wanted to do more research into characters of color in comics and catch up on the full breadth of that world.
Asked about the mentorship relationship between Barry Allen and Wally West, Lonsdale said, “I’m really looking forward to Barry and Wally’s relationship. If you read the comics, you know how much Wally looks up to Barry, and that’s what makes it so interesting to see how we’re doing it now. I don’t know what Wally’s response will be when he learns that Barry is the Flash, but I know what I want it to be.”
Lonsdale also spoke to the mentoring relationship he has with Martin on set. “He leads by example,” he said. “I see someone being super generous and kind to everyone on set while also being very relaxed. You want to take it seriously, but you don’t want to take it too seriously. I’m inspired by him whenever I have scenes with him, so I feel like he’s making me a better actor.”
An audience member wondered how he dealt with bringing Wally to live action for the first time. “I was a little nervous, but at the same time it gave me a sense of freedom,” he said. “I want to honor the character and the history of the character, but at the same time we have twists in the scripts to keep things interesting for the fans.”
Asked how long it will take to turn the TV Wally into Kid Flash, he said, “I honestly don’t know. I haven’t tried on a suit yet, and every time I get a script I look for little hints of it,” he said. “What I’m most looking forward to is I want to run alongside Barry. I think people want to see two speedsters on the same side.”
Lonsdale’s favorite shows of the moment include “Family Guy” which he watches to relax, “House of Cards” and recently “The Walking Dead” which he’s been binging in between scenes on set.