Years before Grant Gustin put on the red tights of The Flash, TV’s first Flash was John Wesley Shipp who starred in a Flash series that sadly lasted only one season on CBS starting in 1990. The show was one of CBS’ biggest swings of the year, airing on a competitive Thursday night schedule that also included powerhouses The Simpsons and The Cosby Show. Now, it looks like his Flash is back in this year’s DC TV crossover Elseworlds which begins its 3-night run Sunday, December 9 on The CW.
Though he’s vague about it in our interview, the latest behind the scenes video introduces Shipp’s Flash as “Barry Allen,” so we are assuming he is playing the same character from the 1990 series. (This interview was conducted before the video was released.)
As always, it was a privilege to interview Mr. Shipp who is incredibly gracious of the love he has gotten from fans of his classic role and is clearly appreciative of what the producers of the new show[s] have done for him. You can read our interview below.
KSITETV’s CRAIG BYRNE: Is the character you’re playing in the crossover the version of The Flash that you played in 1990?
JOHN WESLEY SHIPP: Well, there’s some speculation about that, and the questions that we’re delighted that people are asking, like “Is this a Flash from the future? Is it the 1990 Flash? Or is it Jay Garrick for some reason that isn’t clear yet in the 1990 Flash suit?” So, we want to encourage all of that questioning going forward. I don’t necessarily want to clarify which answer is the correct one.
Trying to ask this question while still being vague: Does this Flash know Tina McGee and Julio Mendez?
I would have to say yes.
On social media, we have seen that other cast members like Stephen Amell were really excited to see you in the classic costume. Can you talk about the reaction that you got from the cast and crew in person?
First of all, I had a moment of panic when I discovered what they wanted me to do, because come on, man. It’s 27 years later. But I walked into the set in the bunker to film the first scene, and Grant [Gustin] immediately said — and I was so glad, because you don’t know — I’m playing the same character he is, you know! There are so many comparisons about the suits — you don’t know! But I walked on the set, and we rehearsed, and then he totally went “this is the coolest thing we have ever done!” So I breathed a sigh of relief in that way.
I couldn’t believe Stephen’s reaction on Twitter. I’m so grateful that they feel that way. And then the audience’s reaction, my colleagues… the thing was met with such excitement that it’s making me excited.
Most photos show off your character with Stephen Amell as The Flash. Do we happen to get to see your Flash and Grant Gustin’s running side by side?
That’s the kind of question that I would hesitate to answer. You’re asking all of the questions that we want the audience to be asking! So, again, I’m going to shy away from clarifying that.
Can you talk about what your character is doing there and what his storyline may be?
I think we can tell from the teaser that there’s a lot going on that hasn’t been going on well for Earth-90. We see all of these superheroes lying dead and the Flash is, like, on his last leg, but is able to escape the Book of Destiny when the Monitor opens it. That beautifully sets up the crossover. This the first time they’ve done this – they played the teaser at the end of all three shows this week, and it sets up perfectly what’s going on. In the first crossover, there’s all this red lightning happening; the three stars — Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, and Stephen Amell — are working very hard to try to figure out what’s happening and how to stop it. And my character is trying to break through to clue them in and warn them about what’s happening, and the way that they might be able to stop it. And then there’s great mystery, as intended, surrounding the Supergirl part of the crossover which closes it out. So, we hope to build to a crescendo for [the Dec. 11 episode].
Was the suit more comfortable than the one you had in 1990?
Without knocking or cracking on the builders and the designers of the original suit, it should be more user-friendly 27 years later, right? And it is. There are new fabrics — some which breathe more. There’s a new construction that’s not glued to my face and my neck. I was able to unzip it and pull the cowl forward. You lose 40 percent of your body heat through your head! So, yeah. It was more workable. Having said that, at the end of shooting all night long — brilliantly directed by Tom Cavanagh, by the way — I went into what has now been the teaser on all of the shows with a completely different concept, but the minute I saw that football field-sized set, with all of these dead superheroes in it, it completely changed my approach. He really worked with me instead of yelling out “Why are you doing this?” The whole way the scene was done, it was beautifully crafted and staged and shot by Tom Cavanagh.
If you could team up with any other superhero actor, who would it be and why?
I’m personally fond of Brandon Routh. I would love to work with him. I think he and his wife [Courtney Ford] both are just such lovely people, whenever I’ve been given the opportunity to interact with them.
You know, my answer is going to include EVERYBODY. I look at that picture of the four of us [himself, Grant, Melissa, and Stephen] from this crossover, and I look at me, and Grant looks so great in the Arrow suit, and there’s Stephen in the Flash suit, and then I see Melissa and I go “wow.” Melissa can just stand there and rock that suit and own that character. Who wouldn’t want to work with Melissa? Who wouldn’t want to work with Stephen? Stephen was so excited. I’ve never seen a cast as excited about a crossover in all five seasons, so you know there’s something going on that’s going to be dynamite.
Have you ever seen the Alex Ross painting with your Flash, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Christopher Reeve’s Superman, and Michael Keaton’s Batman?
I am so honored by that! What a great thing that is. I actually tweeted it, and thanked him.
This is also on my mind, I read yesterday, several people said that the original Flash is now officially part of Flash canon. And I was like, “wow!” What an incredible way to look at it, and how grateful I am that a show I did one season of 28 years ago still has that kind of resonance.
Will we be seeing you again as any of your characters after the crossover, and what else do you have coming up?
It’s a mystery! That’s always my answer when I’m not sure what I should say, but I live in New York now, and I’ve just been workshopping a play about the life-long friendship between Henry Fonda and James Stewart in spite of vast political differences and romantic rivalries. It’s a lot of fun. It’s written by David Gregory; I played his father on One Life To Live. It’s really beautifully sculpted, and in addition to being a lot of fun and finding out a lot about these men, it’s kind of a morality tale for our times. When everything is polarized, these two men — opposite ends of the political spectrum, still had their life long friendship and got together on Sunday afternoons. The play is called “Hank and Jim Build A Plane.” So, we’ve workshopped it in New York with some really good feedback. We hope to get a full production soon.
What is your favorite thing about being a part of this crossover?
I feel like a part of the team! It’s the way I felt with “Enter Flashtime.” My Jay Garrick felt like a part of the team, really, for the first time, and that was a great feeling. Again, it’s the excitement and the enthusiasm of my colleagues, my friends, and the audience… I’m so grateful, and I’m really excited. I just did a convention in Louisville, Kentucky, and I was like “I want to hear from you guys! I want to hear what your reaction is when you actually see it!” Because that’s the life blood of a performer, to get that kind of feedback, and to generate that kind of enthusiasm.