The Flash star Tom Cavanagh discusses his exit from the CW superhero drama
When Tom Cavanagh joined The Flash pilot in 2014, he couldn't have imagined the journey ahead of him. Over the past seven years, the actor has played many versions of Harrison Wells, from Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash masquerading as the famed scientist, to a French Sherlock Holmes-like detective, and a multiversal mythbuster/adventurer modeled after Indiana Jones. Alas, that unanticipated run is coming to an end in the CW superhero drama's seventh season, which marks Cavanagh's final one.
"To put on a supersuit is a box you see checked by some actors these days with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC," Cavanagh tells EW, "but it's a really small club when you think about who gets to put one on in the millions of actors out there. Not only a supersuit but an iconic one like the yellow Reverse Flash."
Cavanagh realized he was ready to leave the show during the fifth season. As EW previously reported, Cavanagh was originally supposed to leave the show at the end of season 6; however, the pandemic mucked up those plans, so he returned as a series regular for the first three episodes of season 7 before continuing on as a recurring guest star. He most recently appeared in last week's episode, titled "Timeless," as Timeless Wells, a version of Harrison Wells who can travel through time at his leisure and has chosen to spend the rest of his days reliving moments with the love of his life. Will we see Timeless Wells again this season? That remains to be seen.
Below, EW chats with Cavanagh about his decision to leave the show, his upcoming Superman & Lois visit, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did your exit come about? Was it your decision to leave?
TOM CAVANAGH: No, that was my decision. It was definitely my decision.
The first season was such a strong season, such strong writing. I think the accelerant to the first season was fear. When we did the first season, I don't think we gave a lot of thought to the second season [Laughs]. We were like, "Let's try to make something that sticks." And the thing that made the most sense was to go Flash vs. Reverse Flash [like] Superman vs. Lex Luthor, Batman vs. Joker. It makes perfect sense because you get the A story out there and then figure out if it does well enough to give you a second season. And at the end when Flash [Grant Gustin] and Reverse Flash fight, and Flash wins necessarily, I remember thinking, "Well, that's it." [Laughs]. Honestly, I was like, "I'm grateful to have been a part of that."
But then Greg Berlanti and I were speaking about it and the opportunity provided by the fact that this show is set in this fictional multiverse. You're like, "This is certainly an opportunity." So then I was coming to the table with all these different characters. Ultimately when you think about, it's another privilege as an actor because that is a rarity for the same actor to get to play multiple versions of a character. What a joy! I think that was, for me, a very fun run.
You also have to keep in mind that the show you're doing is not called Wells. It's called The Flash. At a certain point I [thought] in the back of my head, "I'm going to do this for as long as I really feel challenged and it's enjoyable and that I'm contributing to Flash's story line." I thought after [in a French accent] Sherloque was tracking down himself, the Reverse Flash [in season 5], even early on in that season, "Yeah, this feels like I might be heading towards the exit now." I thought [that would be] a perfect denouement. The Wells characters have been fun, but like we say, the show is called The Flash and it'll be fine without me.
It's interesting you first got that inkling in season 5, which featured the 100th episode and came full circle with another Flash vs. Reverse Flash fight.
I remember I sped off at the end of that season. I got thrown 300 yards, which to me is just my favorite thing about doing this show, the stunt work. Doing the stunts is fantastic. I didn't get thrown 300 yards, Adrian [Hein], my stunt double, did. But I did a lot of the other stuff and I just enjoy it so much. What's nice is I feel like in the same way that you've got the Joker and Batman, or Luthor and Superman, closure is a tricky word because I think you're always kind of biding your time, you know what I mean? At some point when you want to say, "Okay, well, because the Flash is going to determine the story lines, what's the best way for the Flash to go out?" So, I think the fact that the Reverse Flash is still out there speeding around is enough to give any good-willed super-speedster pause. And that's nice for me because I like the fact that out there somewhere is this villain that I play lurking and biding his time.
Does that mean you would be willing to return when it's time for the show to end?
I feel like all of us on The Flash feel a certain sense of propriety toward the show and when Greg Berlanti calls, I don't think there's ever any hesitation. I think one of the grand things about the show is the collaboration I've had with him. It's not just a sense of, "When this guy calls, he's so prolific, I best go." It's more a sense of, "When this guy calls and he's so wonderful, I can't wait to go."
You're also slated to direct an episode of Superman & Lois. Have you started shooting that yet?
They asked me to direct their finale. As you know, I directed the 100th episode of Flash and I embraced the pomp and circumstance of these types of episode, and I'm really grateful to be jumping on board Superman & Lois.
And let's talk about that for a second. It's a funny thing to say, like "Wait… Superman!" I love the fact that's a Warner Bros. property that's getting yet another go-around. I love the fact that they're getting to the emotional and familial heart of it. I'm just really looking forward to directing their finale. That doesn't start for a couple weeks when we [head into] prep. I'm just so grateful for the invitation.
Getting a chance to direct a show that visually distinct from The Flash must be exciting.
It's so funny. The way they shot is they went with anamorphic lenses. So, I did this short film called Tom & Grant about the world's worst bank robbers (And you can get that on Vimeo for $1, starring Tom Cavanagh and Grant Gustin! Twenty minutes of your life you can't get back.) But that had such a fun run at a bunch of festivals and I remember people talking about that exact point, "Hey, your cinematic style is you went anamorphic and comedy at the same time. Were you worried about pulling it off?" No, it's possible to look good and be funny.
Superman & Lois isn't a comedy, and I think the richness of the emotion they're trying to bring is mirrored by their cinematic style. I think it looks ridiculously great. I remember the [shot of] the amber waves of grain and the sun setting with the iconic Kent mailbox in front of the Smallville farmhouse, it says so much! If you're a fan of the comic, that shot is pulled out from the best artwork that Superman has offered over the years and they're doing it on camera. It's really wonderful.
Beyond Superman & Lois, what else do you have coming down the pike?
This is kind of cool. I sold a pilot I wrote to Warner Bros. and I'm also in talks with the National Hockey League about a project with Shane Doan, who is the longtime captain of the Arizona Coyotes. Shane and I have been friends for years and years years, and he recently retired as a captain and he's in the front office of the Arizona Coyotes now. We had been talking about this project for when he hung up the blades. So, we've been working on that in conjunction with the NHL. It's a half-hour single camera comedy, and it's just been a delight to work on.
What's the pilot you sold to WB about?
The pilot is: In the swipe-right world of modern dating, one guy decides to go it the old-fashioned way and it's called Old Fashioned. I am and have always been a courter by nature. And my friend Vic Hawkes and I had done this Broadway show together called Urinetown. What's funny is when somebody is a popular fellow in the entertainment world, it's not necessarily expected that they might be slow-moving in their romantic approach. So we liked the idea because I look at what goes on now with the social media, there's just a lot of pace to some things. A lot of that comes from the new age and the younger set approaches one another with devices. The guy walking down the street, meeting somebody face-to-face for the first time and talking to them, maybe with a small bouquet of flowers behind his back, that's largely an anachronism. Can it still work? Would it still work? Obviously, we think so. That's sort of what we're exploring with this thing.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT, followed by Superman & Lois at 9 p.m. ET/PT, on the CW.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.