John Wesley Shipp teases 'exciting and interesting' new role in season 3
Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season 2 finale of The Flash. Read at your own risk!
The Scarlet Speedster saved the day in The Flash finale — and then he changed it.
While Barry (Grant Gustin) was ultimately able to stop Zoom (Teddy Sears) — which involved making a time remnant of himself to help thwart Zoom’s plans to destroy the multi-verse — the death of his father weighed especially hard on him with the reveal of the identity of the man in the iron mask: Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp), a superheroed version of Henry Allen from Earth-3. (The move lets Shipp suit up again as The Flash after playing the titular hero in the ’90s TV series.)
Having lost both his mother and his father, Barry decided to run back in time and prevent the Reverse Flash from killing his mom, effectively changing the future. What does this all mean? EW caught up with Shipp to get scoop on season 3 and that iron mask reveal:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first find out that a version of Henry Allen from another earth was actually the man in the iron mask?
JOHN WESLEY SHIPP: I went up March 1 to shoot my last four-episode arc. I knew that Henry Allen would be dying, but that’s all I knew. I went for my first costume fitting, and I was trying on this shredded [costume], what looked like a prison uniform. I’m thinking, “This is interesting.” Then, a mention was made of an iron mask. Then I had a conversation with Grant and Jesse [L. Martin]. They were like, “Yes, do you know what’s happening?” And I’m like, “Yup, apparently I’m the man in the iron mask.” They were like, “That’s all you know?” “What do you mean, ‘That’s all I know?’ Isn’t that enough?” They said, “You better call Greg [Berlanti].”
I immediately emailed Greg, who of course has six or seven projects going; he’s the busiest man in Hollywood. Three minutes later, he emailed me back and we had this long conversation. Later on, I had one with Andrew [Kreisberg], who flew up to Vancouver. They laid out this story, everything that they wanted to do. I have to tell you, my jaw dropped. I didn’t see it coming at all. I remember saying after he had told me the whole thing, I said, “Well, take me out of the equation, this is brilliant television, and it’s also a brilliant channeling of fan expectation.”
From the very first moment it was announced that I would be on The Flash, everyone was saying, “He’s got to be Jay Garrick.” That was not my choice. My first choice would’ve been Henry Allen, because it was an acting role, it was a non-costumed character. I felt that, in this medium, I could legitimize myself as an actor with the quiet moments. It was all about the truth of the moment. Now having played that, to turn around and morph me into the character that the audience wanted me to play from the beginning is a brilliant stroke. That they can make it work, I’m still dumbfounded. I am very excited, bordering on nervous to see what the reaction will be [Tuesday] night.
What was that feeling like once you got to suit up again as The Flash?
It was nerve-racking. Andrew Kreisberg said to me, “You get to be The Flash again!” I dubiously went, “Yeah, I know.” He said, “Why? What?” “Andrew, it’s been 25 years.” Of course, being very kind, he stepped back, looked me up and down, and said, “Yeah, but look at you! You’re fine!” Putting on that costume, I saw everything that is wrong about me now that wasn’t wrong physically with me 25 years ago. I was very nervous.
The minute I stepped onto the set, the crew and the cast burst into applause. Of course, I understand that was for the costume designer, who is just brilliant in designing the costume. When the crew comes up to you and says, ‘Fantastic, that’s great!’ it made me feel more comfortable. At one point, bless his heart, Grant turned the monitor around during my big reveal when I turn around in the suit so I could see it. He’s like, “Look at this! It’s great!” Jesse L. Martin would go, “I’m so glad you agreed to do this.” I looked over and saw Candice with her hand over her heart, which is a wonderful expression. I just got the most incredible and wonderful support from the entire cast.
I’m still waiting to see what it’s going to look like [Tuesday] night. I comfort myself in knowing that Jay Garrick, chronologically, is 92 years old. However, he and his wife were exposed to age-reversing vapors, so he’s physically 50 years old. I’m like, “OK, I just have to remember that. I’m under no obligation to look like I looked 25 years ago.” I will be nervous watching [Tuesday] night, that’s for sure. Although, I so trust my producers.
It’s like what Mark Hamill said when he found out they wanted him to be the Trickster, “Are you kidding me? I could barely work the unitard 25 years ago. They want me to be the Trickster again?” He said he trusted Greg and Andrew enough that he figured that if they were going to have him come back and do it, they would do it in such a way that he felt honored and protected. That was the case. I believe it was the case also with me. It’s a little nerve wracking. When I stop and think about what’s going to be on the air [Tuesday], yeah, I’m a little nervous about it, but what an opportunity going forward.
Regarding the man in the iron mask, were you in the costume the whole time?
I wasn’t in it until the finale. Let me give the actor who was in it all the kudos in the world. He was apparently told to study three different actors and how we use our hands; I was one of them. The morning where he filmed those scenes where he’s communicating with his hands, he was told it was me. Judging from what I saw and the reaction of my friends who were actors, that actor did a remarkable job.
On the one hand, Henry Allen has died and Jay Garrick has left Earth-1. On the other hand, Barry has gone back in time and saved his mother, which changes everything. What does this mean for your future on the show? Are we going to see you back next season?
Yes. I’ve been given permission to say that yes, they have all kinds of exciting and interesting plans for me, that are interesting not only in the context of the storyline, but they continue to spin out, which will be very challenging for me as an actor. That’s all I’m allowed to say about that. But yes, I will be back next season.
How do you think Henry would feel if he knew Barry had changed the past to save his mom?
We know already, don’t we? Henry has already said unequivocally when Barry came to Iron Heights to say, “I can save her, I can get you out of here.” I go, “No, absolutely not. Things happen for a reason. There are unintended consequences, Barry. You cannot go and change one thing without it having myriad unintended affects.” Henry Allen was very clear with Barry back in Iron Heights that he should not go back and — excuse my French — f— with the timeline. You cannot do that. It’s one of the reasons why Barry, the first time around, stopped himself from stopping the Reverse-Flash from killing his mother. Now he’s decided, “What do I have left to lose? I’ve lost everything? I’ve lost my father. I’ve lost my mother. Screw it. What else can go wrong?” So he decides to go back and do what Henry had advised him not to do.
How do you think this is going to change the show?
That’s going to be very interesting to find out, isn’t it? That is the exact question that we want left in the minds of our audience members when the curtain comes down on our finale. [Laughs.]
After Barry’s father got out of jail, viewers expected him to be around, but he left town. What came with that decision? Was that because you weren’t planning to do so many episodes?
I really think it was purely a technical consideration, that they had so many stories they wanted to tell, they had so many characters they needed to spin out. I personally had no desire to hang around, drinking beer and eating pizza on the sofa in my underwear saying, “Well, Barry, you going to the crime lab today?” I don’t think that would’ve served me having played The Flash in the past. It wouldn’t have served Henry Allen. It would not have interested me. They needed to get Henry off to one side.
The bulk of what I came on to do was achieved in the first season. That was to provide Barry with a place for him to come when the special effects die down, the music is quiet, and the suit came off; a place where Barry could go for emotional safety, where he could let his guard down and the audience could see inside this character. That was the function of Henry Allen; that was the tool in Barry’s tool box that Henry Allen was. Also, from a technical standpoint, to grasp my audience, which thankfully was still very present from the 1990 show onto the new effort.
After that, there was a question of, “OK, what do we do with Henry?” I didn’t want to hang around. What I loved about the way they used Henry first season is I came in when it was important, when it was needed, when it was necessary. I got to do some lovely, beautiful work. But I would’ve hated to be hanging around in the background at S.T.A.R. Labs with no real purpose, other than just to have me there. Andrew and I talked about that scene, and I said, “It’s got to be about, on some level, Henry believes that he would just be in the way if he stayed.” In order to give his son the space to be the superhero that he can be, he needed to leave town. Then, when his son came to him and said, “I’ve lost my powers,” well that’s a different ballgame. Now he needs his dad again, and his dad comes back. I think the reason they brought me back for the last four is they knew they had to get the audience to reinvest in Henry again so that his death would mean more.