In just a few brief scenes in Shantel VanSanten’s debut episode of “The Flash,” the flirtation between Patty Spivot, the new cop on Central City’s metahuman beat, and police scientist/secret superhero Barry Allen went from zero to sixty. And, as the actor tells CBR, there’ll be even more lighting-charged chemistry between the two as the season progresses.
For VanSanten — a CW veteran best remembered for her three-season stint as Quinn James on “One Tree Hill” — that those scenes popped they way they did came as little surprise. Based on the chemistry that reportedly registered when she auditioned with series star Grant Gustin, and her role’s comic book background with the Scarlet Speedster, a budding romance was a likely storyline.
But it’s Patty herself who’s surprising the actress, as the continuity-conversant comics fan revealed in a chat with CBR. The character is one VanSanten is looking forward to exploring, one who’s strong and resourceful enough to make an effective cop, but is still carrying the wounds of her father’s death at the hands of one of the show’s original Rogues, the Weather Wizard.
CBR News: Based on that first episode, you seem to have found a part that you really clicked with in Patty Spivot.
Shantel VanSanten: Yes, the nerd in me definitely came out! I mean, I’ve just completely fallen in love with Patty. In the beginning, I felt a little bit, I would say, confused, as to how to play the light and quirky and nerdy moments against the strength of being a cop. I feel like by now I’m really starting to kind of find my footing. The writing has just been really wonderful for Patty, to show this light, fun side of her, but also to show a strong woman. It’s been the best. I’ve really enjoyed it.
One of the things that really came through loud and clear was that there’s definitely a great spark of chemistry between her and Barry, and you and Grant Gustin. So tell me about that fortunate thing of finding a great groove with your scene that quickly.
You know, it’s funny. I actually — I know that they wanted somebody who would have lasting chemistry with Barry, so we actually did a chemistry test. I knew Grant from before, from upfronts and press and stuff we had both done, so it was a really nice, warm environment to already come into. We just kind of played around with it. It kind of just clicks, sometimes.
I think that also, they write the characters so similarly, where they’re both quirky and very kindred spirits about the whole science, nerdy side of things and the inside jokes both of them get. Like, in the last episode where we both talk about the gatekeepers of the Holy Grail — all these things that I had to go look up exactly how to do. We both just decided to go for it. We were on set, and it was like, “Okay, how are we going to do this?” The only way it works is if we just go 100% and just be as nerdy as possible.
Those parts are so fun as an actor, where you’re scared that you might do something wrong, but you just go for it and try it. And Grant’s really great. We had our date scene, our first date scene, a couple episodes ago, and it was so much fun just to play around with it and to try to kind of find what their date would be like. They have their own fun, light-hearted love story, and that part’s really cool.
What can you tell me about cultivating that relationship with Joe West and Patty? He does everything he can to get rid of her from the moment they meet before she wins his confidence, so tell me about taking that relationship forward as the show progresses.
That relationship was obviously always going to be more challenging, because he’s not my captain and he’s not necessarily my boss. We would work almost as partners, and as a lot of partner relationships don’t always work perfectly, and have to kind of find their way, there are a few road bumps.
There’s a lot that Joe is keeping from Patty — the whole S.T.A.R. Labs and The Flash — so there’s times when the Anti-Metahuman Task Force will work alongside of, let’s say The Flash, and we have the same goals in mind. But with Patty not knowing who The Flash is, Joe has to keep a lot from her. There’s some tension there, because I think that Patty wants trust and communication, and she’s been open and honest from the get-go. To have a partner who is so guarded, although you want the same things, it’s a little confusing. It’s been a different relationship, definitely, to develop than the one of her and Barry.
But it also has been really great. And Jesse [L. Martin] is awesome. We have such a good time. He’ll roll his eyes at Patty, and then we’ll call cut and he’s just cracking up about how persistent she is, and just the quirky jokes that he constantly makes that Joe doesn’t laugh at, but he does. I think that it takes time for some people, I would say, to warm up to Patty, and Joe’s one of them.
Given her backstory and her motivations, will we be seeing something along the lines of a confrontation with Mark Mardon soon? Or is this going to be a slow-burning kind of plot line?
I don’t actually know. I know Patty’s in all of the comic books right now. I know that their intent is to keep Patty around for some time, so I would think that they would drag the conflict out a little bit. But I also think that each metahuman she encounters, in Patty’s mind, is one step closer to taking one more out of society in a way. It’s a smaller victory until, hopefully, one day she does take on Mark Mardon, because that is her ultimate goal, is to have justice for her father. Each metahuman is a little step further to, I think, finding peace in her heart.
It’s interesting to play somebody who has a past, has a dark side and who is broken, but to not play into that — to be something that you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be, happy and goofy and spunky, but to still be ambitious in order to find all the metahumans and the wrong that’s happening in their world. Especially for the human beings not given powers. I love that part of her speech where she says, “I don’t have powers, but I know I want to stop them.” It’s that drive within her that she wishes existed in everybody.
How fun — or exhausting — was the research? Patty’s a character that’s been around even longer than I realized, and I’ve read a lot of comic books.
I read some of the recent ones, and I looked up a lot of stuff, but I also wanted to allow Greg [Berlanti] and Andrew [Kreisberg] to kind of write the story that they wanted for Patty. Like, I knew coming in as a new character, I would be assisting certain storylines along. But it’s been really great to see that I’ve actually gotten my own storyline. I’m not just playing Barry’s love interest — I get to be a cop on the Anti-Metahuman Task Force and be a detective and be involved. That part was really refreshing, but also made me so happy.
I read some of the recent [comics] where Iris and Patty are kind of catty towards each other, and that’s not interesting. [Laughs] I’m happy that we’ve haven’t written to that! There’s one [episode] I think where she’s in Earth-2, and I was like, “Oh, I wonder if that’s going to happen,” since we introduced Earth-2 this year. There’s a lot of me wondering, but I also just kind of sit back and get excited when I get the episode [scripts]. Just to kind of watch Patty’s life unfold and see the decisions that she makes along the way, but also to see how the relationships develop — it’s been so much fun. The writers are really, really wonderful about writing both men and women on the show, and both human and superhero.
How geeky are you? Is it something where you truly love the genre culture? Or did you have to wrap your brain around it a little bit?
I would say that I’m more nerdy and silly than I am necessarily geeky. I would say I get a lot of the references and the jokes that her and Barry have with each other. I also get like the awkwardness of her. I would say I’m pretty awkward, especially in social settings, so that part was really easy for me to tap into and to understand. It’s actually harder for me to show that side of her because it feels like I’m exposing a real part of me.
For instance, I got into comic books like seven years ago. I started off as a kid. My dad would get me like “Betty & Veronica” stuff, and I just seven years ago started reading them again. I was working on a show, and another guy who was on the show loved them. Next thing I know, I have boxes and boxes and boxes I’m shipping home full of comic book,s and no place to put them all. For me, it was “Green Lantern,” and I fell in love with “Kingdom Come.” I fell in love with even the small ones, like “Tank Girl,” which aren’t so small anymore, and “Scarlet.” There was a lot of those characters that I love, but I also really liked the artwork. It kind of looks like storyboarding, when it came to acting, so that part was exciting.
“The Flash” is such a unique show, and the special effects are so great on a television budget. What can you tell me about the production challenges and embracing those as an actor?
Obviously, my debut episode Sand Demon comes along and my first question when we were shooting the scene where Joe gets blasted across and he has a big throwing hand and all the stuff that happened in the green house, and I was like “How do I react to this? How big are you going to make it? “They don’t show you ahead of time what it’s going to look like, and you don’t want to overreact and look awful, and you don’t want to under-react and look awful!
So I went back and I watched the first season to kind of see, especially, obviously Mark Mardon, I watched him in the first season, and I would watch the special effects to know how to react to it. It is a challenge, but it’s an exciting challenge to be able to watch the episode and know that what you did was great, and the stunts were great, and everybody loves all the special effects. As a cast, those days are really fun to get to kind of act out. We just had one in an episode where Patty had to deal with something, so I’m looking forward to seeing that with all the special effects.
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