The Flash is a superhero mantle of legacy, with several speedsters taking up the role. The Flash series on The CW has been successful at incorporating numerous elements of this line of legacy, particularly in its Season 7 finale “The Heart of the Matter, Part 2,” in which Barry must gather speedsters of past and future to defeat the villainous army of Godspeeds. This includes the original Flash of the Arrowverse Multiverse, the one and only Jay Garrick, played by John Wesley Shipp who originated the role Barry Allen in the Flash show of the 1990s.
We at The Nerds of Color were fortunate enough to speak with Shipp, delving into what Jay’s return to the team entails, the experience of shooting The Flash, and working alongside speedster mentees in Grant Gustin and Jordan Fisher, and what fans can expect from the finale of Season 7.
Mild plot and setup spoilers for the season finale of The Flash Season 7 follow:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So first off, I’d like to ask you, what has it been like for you to play these different roles in The Flash/DCTV multiverse? From Barry Allen in the ‘90s to his dad Henry Allen, and now in the last few seasons of The Flash as the original Flash Jay Garrick, what’s been different about each role, and what do they have in common for you?
SHIPP: Well, I have to tell you it’s been the most unexpected journey of discovery. And one of the things that have kept it very interesting for me is that the origin stories are different. People said when I came back as Henry Allen to be on The CW Flash, they asked “Does it feel familiar?” and I said yeah, in the sense that you walk up to a familiar house you open the door and all the wallpaper furnishings. You know the staircase in the fireplace or in different places you know it’s brand new, but the origin stories are different, the characters are different enough that I don’t feel like I’m repeating anything. With the possible exception of the first time that I came back in Elseworlds as first ‘90s Flash, I was like “You want me to do what?” you know, revisit that character from 20, and it was 28 years ago. But I’ll tell you that it unfolded organically. In 1991, I was the right age to play Barry. I felt like playing Barry was very close to who I was. And they when they came and they asked me, and I heard about the new telling of the Allen family of how suddenly Henry Allen was wrongfully convicted of killing Nora in front of a 10-year-old Barry. I was like, “Man if they want to include me. You know, that’s the role I would want,” because that’s generally a role, I would want, whether I had ever played Barry or not.
Now, having played Barry helped me play Henry, better for two reasons. I had all that backstory. I had an understanding as an actor of the enormous task that Grant Gustin was stepping into what some of his insecurities hopes and dreams might be. And so our Father-Son, mentor-mentee, whatever it was, our relationship was built-in, you know. And we just connected. He knew I had been the Flash, you know, and we just connected right away it’s an incredibly beautiful experience. It was interesting then to reset the temperature for Jay because he comes in very suspicious of Barry. Jay’s suspicious of who this kid is, asking “Are you gonna screw up the timeline every time you have a fight with your girlfriend?” And both Grant and I had quite a few chuckles when suddenly I was playing a character that was no longer the soft shoulder that he could lean his head-on. You know, it was more of a challenging figure in his life, and now we’ve been able to generate, particularly in these last two episodes, a relationship, an intimacy of our own. It’s very different from Henry to Jay. But yeah, it’s been a mind-blowing journey. It is never at the same point, it is never felt it has always felt like something new and I have to credit Greg Berlanti. I have to credit all of our producers, such as Eric Wallace our current producer. They keep it and do and they keep it fresh, so I don’t feel like I’m showing up and repeating anything. You know, there’s always something new to discover, I get to discover a whole new Jay that I’ve never played yet entirely last week and in the season finale. Because now, Jay has his powers back he’s part of the team he’s in there to work with the group. It’s a Jay we’ve never seen before, and then I am incredibly grateful to have had the chance to play.
I’m curious about the technical aspects of having filmed as Barry Allen’s Flash in the ‘90s versus now, particularly when you’re doing these new fight scenes, and how has that experience been and differed in that specific technical aspect or even the fight scenes of special effects the stunts.
First of all, let me say I don’t mean to imply that filming The Flash today is easy, because it’s not it’s backbreaking and I give Grant Gustin 100% an A+ for continuing to generate the enthusiasm and embracing the role, and committing to the character in what is a very big show, and physically and emotionally, whatever writing it has for him. It’s a difficult show but I gotta tell you, the hours that we spent on the backlot of Warner Bros. in 1991 or in southeast Los Angeles because we needed a building that was built at a certain period of time. We needed a certain look, or, you know, so we’re always putting down like plyboard over. We spent hours and hours and hours that we spent doing the fights. When I would have to do the eating a lot, eating and eating, and have every buffett, they’re the card tricks, you had to do them and do them and do them and do them and do them, whatever it was the running and running and running as they under creating the camera, and then they would prank the camera up to speed, the blur effect, and had wind machines. I mean, we were in the process of discovering new ways of creating the special effects, some of which are now being used on the new show, and that’s not me saying that some of the special effects people from The CW clash, I’m saying that we were in the process of pioneering a new way of telling these stories to be taken seriously by adult audiences on television. Incredibly, it’s like when I had my big fight with Savitar. If we tried to fill what we got in 1990, I would be dead. There was so much more they can do with CGI now than they then they could do that and it looks great so why not, you know. Yeah, absolutely. So on that note, what was it like shooting these battles with the Godspeeds in these last two episodes.
But it was great, is now, you know, in the beginning, Jay was suspicious of Barry, who’s this kid coming into my Speed Force. And how is he going to behave and what kind of superhero is he going to be, you know, and resetting the timeline and changing things that didn’t students, but now totally respecting him, realizing he’s faster. And his respect for my wisdom and experience. We’ve developed a relationship that is more of a lateral relationship rather than a mentor-mentee relationship. Now we’re two superheroes with different things to contribute, trying to figure out answers to the problems that present themselves. And that’s incredibly rewarding. Also to be brought into the center of the storyline as the main reason that Bart comes back, right, because he calls, Uncle Jay was killed, and he can’t let that happen. He feels connected to Jay in a way that maybe he doesn’t feel connected quite with his own father as sometimes that happens. We can have conflicts with our fathers and maybe find a male mentor figure in another state, but that also pays off in the finale, because Jay hasn’t lived that history yet to understands why this kid reacts to him the way he does. That pays off in the finale. It’s great to be at the center of that storyline.
I’ve loved they’ve used me sparingly. They’ve used me at peak moments to come in, deliver the information that was needed, and leave. You know people have said “Well we want you to be in the episodes more,” and I’d rather you want me to be in more than be saying, you know, we don’t really see that. But these two episodes on fully involved. I’m so glad that Jay has his powers back, because that was heartening and Jay likes to be a speedster. He has his powers back and he’s in there fighting Godspeeds and it’s a gift, it’s a real gift.
That’s amazing. I just have one last question for you about what you touched upon with your storyline. What was it like working with Jordan Fisher as Bart Allen?
He’s amazing. And in fact, I wrote him because I was wondering, you know, the whole thing about what will pay off and they’ve already announced that we will be hitting next season and that there will be further payoff to the Bart-Jay relationship, emotionally, and it was all dependent on how well he sold it. And I gotta tell you the kid broke my heart. This last Tuesday when he was explaining to Nora, they killed Uncle Jay, you know, he had many of the qualities that I found in Grant Gustin at the beginning, which was really committing 100% with his heart and soul. Also, he was a dancer like Grant so he has this physical ability he could do these leagues and twirls and slides and spins and crazy things which are so perfect for the character, but the fact that he can do all the goofy quasi-annoying stuff that we associate in the comics with Bart, and then turn around and be so simply, honestly, heartbreaking. You know, they score big time. I can’t wait to do more scenes with him.
You can watch The Flash Season Finale, “The Heart of the Matter, Part 2,” tonight at 8 pm on The CW and streaming after on The CW app.