John Wesley Shipp has had a prominent role on both TV adaptations of DC Comics character “The Flash” — as the title character in the 1990-1991 CBS show, and Barry Allen’s wrongfully imprisoned father Henry in the current CW series. He talked both Friday afternoon at Emerald City Comicon in the “John Wesley Shipp: Back in a Flash” panel — answering questions from Seattle fans at the Washington State Convention Center.
The first question from panel moderator Patrick Reed asked if Shipp — wearing a yellow Flash t-shirt — anticipated comic book-based fare to reach this level of success. “It was a bit of a hard fight to crack outside of our niche audience,” Shipp said. “And I have to say CBS didn’t do a very good job scheduling and doing that,” saying that the show was opposite “The Cosby Show” and “The Simpsons.”
“I went down to San Diego Comic-Con in 1990, and I walked through it in about three to four hours, and signed about a half-dozen autographs,” Shipp continued, contrasting that to the vastly different experience of premiering the show at least year’s show. “We had a great deal of critical success [in the original show], we just missed having commercial success. What I hoped for [current series star Grant Gustin] is that he would have the commercial success that we just missed. It’s awesome to see that. And it makes me swell with pride in my father role.”
“They’ve done everything right,” Shipp said about the way the current “Flash” series has progressed, praising executive producer Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns and David Nutter. “When you’re working as hard as they are, nothing is better than realizing that you’re reaching the kind of audience you want to reach.”
Shipp said the only real exposure to comics he had when starting the original “Flash” series was the ’60s “Batman” TV series. “They had talked to me about doing a comic book interpretation for TV, and I was a little concerned about it, to be honest,” Shipp said. “The broadly comic, cartoony — I wouldn’t have been good at it, and that’s not where my aspirations were at the time.”
On the current “Flash,” Shipp’s character is mostly seen talking on the phone with his son, divided by a glass partition. Rather than being limiting, Shipp said, “That can be seen as an advantage, because we don’t have any business, we’re connected to a wire. We’ve got a small, enclosed space. It throws us on each other. We have to listen and talk and respond. That’s been the most rewarding experience.”
Reed asked Shipp about his process in switching back and forth between different types of roles. “What people don’t realize is that good guys are, in my opinion, actually harder to play,” Shipp said. “The villains — why do they stand out? They’re the ones that move the plot. The challenge in playing a hero is, how do you keep this guy active? Basically, he’s responding to the villains. How do you keep that interesting? I find villains easier to play.”
Speaking of reuniting with original “Flash” cast member Amanda Pays, Shipp said, “Amanda and I have never lost touch. A year and a half ago, I did a movie with her husband, Corbin [Bernsen]. We’ve done a couple of conventions together.” Shipp also hyped the imminent return of Mark Hamill as the Trickster, saying that this is a Trickster who has “lost his mind.” “The poison has gotten quite acrid in his veins,” Shipp said. “It’s still fun, but it’s really chilling what he’s doing. I prefer this new Trickster, just because he’s so demonic.” Shipp also praised the rapport between Hamill and Devon Graye, who plays the show’s new Trickster.
Does Shipp have any scenes with the Tricksters? “Yeah! I’m a sitting duck in Iron Heights.”
Discussing his preparation for his current role, Shipp shared, “I knew I was going to be playing Grant’s father, and I wanted to catch him on ‘Arrow.’ I watched him, and I thought, there’s no acting here. It’s just sincere. He’s not acting. Who you’re seeing is Grant.”
Shipp discussed coincidences that Gustin noted between the two of them — they were both born in Norfolk, Virginia, born in January and Gustin was born the same year (1990) that Shipp was playing The Flash.
Moving to fan Q&A, Shipp was asked if he gave Gustin any advice on playing The Flash. “None at all,” he replied. “That would be insufferable.” Continuing, he said he has had concerns and empathy for the many hours that Gustin has to spend in the Flash’s suit, which leads to further “paternal” feelings.
Shipp again praised Gustin’s work, talking the difference between Barry’s interactions with his two father figures. “He comes to Henry as a little boy, because Henry raised him from birth to age 10,” Shipp said. “Very emotional with Henry. Joe raised him from age 10 to manhood. They have very powerful scenes, but they’re qualitatively different. I don’t know if that’s a conscious choice on Grant’s part, but it’s significant.”
When asked by a fan to talk his time on “Dawson’s Creek,” Shipp said “it was a magical moment,” and praised how the main cast were smarter than the average young actors.
A fan asked Shipp for his feelings on Ezra Miller being cast as The Flash in DC’s upcoming feature films. “I think that the people behind the current DC incarnations obviously have their act together, and if they have picked him, even though I am not familiar with his work, they picked him for a reason,” Shipp said. “I don’t know why they’re keeping the [TV and movie] universes separate. They seem to think it makes sense, and I’m not going to second guess them.”
Speaking of the incoming end of The CW’s first “Flash” season, “It’s not going to let up between now and the season finale,” Shipp said. “I go back to Vancouver at the end of the week to film the season finale.” Shipp said an advantage of the show is that the executive producers are “writing what they want to see. They are delighted. They’re writing things that they dig.”
Next fan up asked what Shipp’s reaction would be if he was asked to don a Flash suit one more time. “I would go, ‘You want me to do it?’ Hell, if Tom Cavanagh can wear the yellow suit, I suppose… I can’t imagine. And I don’t think it’s going to happen. But it’s amazing how often that comes up.”
Did “The Flash” producers ever consider crossovers with other DC superheroes, if the show had continued? “We didn’t get to that point,” Shipp answered. “I have a feeling that probably was not in their consciousness at the time.”
In the midst of answering one of the panel’s final questions, Shipp received a phone call — which he told the crowd was from the “Flash” production office. He picked up and said he was doing a panel at the Emerald City Comicon, prompting the crowd for a big cheer.
Keep reading CBR all weekend for more from Emerald City Comicon!
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