He may play one half of the fused superhero Firestorm, but Victor Garber is more than content to let co-star Franz Drameh do all the driving when the time comes to jump into action. Even as Garber’s character, Professor Martin Stein, segues from a frequent supporting player on “The Flash” to one of the main ensemble on the CW’s supergroup spinoff series “Legends of Tomorrow” the highly regarded character actor admits he had absolutely no desire to one day be the guy actually wearing the super-suit. He’ll leave that to Drameh, his brand-new partner in atomic heroics.
But while he admits to CBR News that the whole comics-to-TV world remains a very alien landscape to him, he makes it clear that he’s having a blast bouncing off his new set of co-stars. He enjoys the challenge of finding real human emotion in the extraordinary DC Universe and, as he reveals in a conversation with CBR News, he’s happy to be along for the ride.
CBR News: First “The Flash” and now this series have offered a whole different style of acting for you — a whole different genre for you to delve into. What’s been the fun part of it for you?
Victor Garber: Honestly, I don’t feel that it’s so different other than the actual — the character happens to be part of a superhero. For me it still requires exactly the same things that I do in every role I play. The writing is what determines the difference really, in a sense. Still, it’s trying to make something that’s larger than life human — that’s the fun of it. And the fact that we are in these incredible circumstances, that’s the fun of it. I come to it from the same place I always come to: how can I make this honest and real and accessible?
“Legends” gives Professor Stein some juicy plot material from the get-go — revisiting his own past via time travel. Tell me about that opportunity for the character and making that real in this fantastic context — finding the real guy and the real emotions in there.
Well, [executive producer] Greg Berlanti is my link to this show. We did “Eli Stone,” so that was another fanciful, very off-kilter show. He writes with me in mind, and he knows what I can do. I think it’s a good fit I think for me. I don’t know, I love the idea of meeting my younger self, [it] was really kind of the most intriguing thing I’ve done in a long time. That was really, really [great] for me as an actor; I just have to be in the moment and it all happens. Except when it doesn’t, then I do it again.
Did you work with Graeme McComb, the actor who played the young Martin Stein, to create a kind of continuity between your performances?
No. No, he’s a very astute young man who obviously has watched YouTube videos of me. But also, he picked up character traits just from rehearsals and watching — I saw him, very candidly and coy. It was impressive. He was a really good actor, and a really sweet kid. I was very thrilled about it.
What are you learning about Martin Stein in the context of this show. Who is he here, to you?
What I sense about the character, maybe it’s just because I’m playing him, is that there’s a longing for knowledge, which he had in “The Flash,” too. There is a real passion for that. Also, [there’s] a kindness and humanity in him that seems to be coming through in different aspects of his personality more so in this show. That’s the luxury of doing a series. When you’re doing sporadic episodes, you can only do so much, and most of it is special effects. So we’re now going to our tenth episode soon, and we have 16 this season. It just gives the writers and the actors more chances to fill them out.
Thus far, can you tease some of the pairings that you’ve enjoyed? These characters, which come from both “Arrow” and “The Flash,” are being mixed and matched as the series progresses.
Brandon [Routh] and I was unexpected, that pair. We have a couple of very heartfelt moments. We started off as un-slightly contemptuous of him. He points out that he was a student of mine. There’s these scenes where I’m sort of playing psychological games with him. What happens is that Stein is really behind him. That was a nice character shift and a nice thing to play. Brandon has this kind of innocence about him, not only as an actor but as a person. He’s a very sweet person, Brandon is. I think I feel like he enjoyed it, and I know I did. We had some very poignant scenes together.
Tell me about the other half of the Firestorm equation and working with Franz Drameh to create this unusual, fused character. That’s got to be a lot of fun to figure out with your fellow actor.
It is fun. Obviously, Robbie Amell, who I was very close to and we were friends, who did “The Flash” — I was very sorry when he said he wasn’t going to be able to go on doing it. Then, they said they’ve got this other actor. What I realized is that Franz brings, of course, a whole different aspect to it, and it challenges me in a different way. I was so comfortable with Robbie that, really, we laughed a lot. I laugh with Franz, but he is an original. That boy is a real talent. So it’s challenging in a different way. I think he adds huge dimension to the show.
When you fuse together, Franz Drameh plays Firestorm. Would you like to steer Firestorm yourself and be able to play that superhero aspect of the character?
No, I’d rather die! No. The whole point of this is that I get to go home when he’s Firestorm. No. I would never have signed up for it if I had to play Firestorm. No.
They’ve given you so much material in both shows, and I know that that’s enough to work from to play this character, but have you dug deeper into the comic book origins of the character?
Frankly, I haven’t, because it’s, honestly, not my thing. I don’t pretend that it is and I’m not going to lie to you. So no, I haven’t. I don’t have any interest in it. I only have interest in what I’m doing with this group of people and this story, which I do find compelling and fun to play. As far as the whole genre and the whole all of that, it’s just never going to be something I have a real interest in.
Some of the best parts of the debut episodes hinge on Stein’s family life and the time travel aspect. Are we going to see more of that as the show progresses?
I can only assume we will, but I can’t say for sure. I mean, yes. There are certain things that have to be addressed as time goes on. Like, where is my wife?
Is it nice not to have to be in an ensemble as opposed to being the center of the show?
It’s heaven. It’s heaven. It’s all I want at this point in my life, just to be a part of an ensemble and have as many days off as possible.
Is the experience any different on the show than it was on “The Flash?”
It’s different because everything is different. Like, all shows are different. It’s different people, different dynamics, different crew. So yes, it’s different. But in a good way because, fortunately, we all like each other. And so it’s a new show, so there’s all of this excitement. There’s all of this hype about it. That provides another element.
I remember you had not been to Comic-Con when we last spoke on the phone and you were looking forward to that. Was it as overwhelming as you imagined?
It was very overwhelming. It was much less terrifying than I thought it was going to be, so I’m prepared now to do more of them as time allows.
What is intriguing about those interactions with the fans?
Well, what is more than fun or surprising, what is astonishing is their enthusiasm. I just can’t…I don’t understand it. I’m grateful that they are so excited, but I just find it baffling — and I love it. I love it. It’s just such another world to me.
Does your schedule on this show allow you any room to go and do some other projects as well?
Well, at the moment, this is basically taking all my time. As time goes on, I’m sure, and there’s a hiatus period. Depending on how many episodes I’m working on per season, all of that, will affect the future in terms of…my manager is sitting right there. He’s on his phone right now making deals as we speak. He’s determined I’ll be working on my hiatus, and I’m saying, “Hold off a bit!”
Is there a kind of project you want to do? A palate cleanser from this?
It’s always on the page. If I read something, it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a cartoon, a voiceover. It could be a period drama, which I love. That’s how I started, doing PBS period dramas. I love all that. I love “Downton Abbey,” and I love those shows. If I could do any episode of something here or there like that, if that’s possible, I would love that.
Is there a favorite role that you’ve played?
I don’t have a favorite role. I really don’t. There’s so many. Obviously, Jack Bristow on “Alias” was a seminal, life-changing role for me. I have so many stage roles that I just can’t believe I got to do. Also, movies. So I don’t have a favorite anything, really. I don’t [even] have a favorite food.
“Legends of Tomorrow” premieres on the CW on Thursday, January 21.