I did it! I caught up with a speedster. The Flash’s own John Wesley Shipp has been making his rounds on the comic con scene and I was fortunate to cross his path during Garden State Comic Fest held July 8-9.
Initially playing the beloved Flash/Barry Allen on CBS from 1990-91, John Wesley Shipp returned to action in 2014 as Barry’s father, Henry Allen, when the CW network brought The Flash back to its devoted fans. Mr. Shipp happily saw actor Grant Gustin take over the lead role but, little did he realize, his new position as Barry Allen’s father was just the beginning. The fans wanted more, they got it! Kudos to The Flash writing team for their creativity in combining the past, the present, and the future in such an extraordinary fashion. It is awesome to now see John share his journey with fans across the world.
John Wesley Shipp is not only a talented actor, he is a true gentleman with a huge heart. Seeing him interact with fans during the convention was an absolute treat. Mr. Shipp took the time to thoughtfully engage everyone that came to visit him; creating unforgettable memories that will be cherished for years to come. And, it was an unexpected honor as he granted yours truly a few moments to ‘Flash’-back with Fan Fest News.
Linda (L): How’s it going with the convention? Do you attend a lot of these?
John Wesley Shipp (JWS): You know I’ve gotten a lot of requests and I’ve probably said yes too many times. And when I look at my schedule and it’s every weekend and it’s England and it’s Equador and its Dublin… I’m traveling a lot and I’m meeting the most wonderful, generous, kind, and enthusiastic people.
L: People love you.
JWS: It’s amazing the outpouring of affection if you open your heart to it. If you come to these and you’re willing to receive it, you can get so much from the people that come to see you.
L: I’ve got to ask you about The Flash, from the 90’s and from today. How did you get approached for today’s Flash?
JWS: You know it’s amazing though the legs that Flash 1990, I call it Flash 1.0. had. Then when they released it on DVD in 2006 I started going to conventions and I heard there was gonna be a new Flash. It would fall in and out of development and then I heard that it was still gonna be built around Grant Gustin and it was gonna be on the CW and people were saying, “You think you’ll be a part of it?” I said well it will go one of two ways, either they’ll want me to be a part of it or they’ll want to start something entirely new. And I would understand it, 24 years was a long time to represent as a superhero. But, when I heard about the new imagining of the Allen family, that papa Allen was wrongfully convicted of killing mama Allen in front of a ten-year-old Barry, which wasn’t my story at all with Emmet Walsh and Priscilla Pointer. I said well if they do come to me, that’s the role I want. ‘Cause everybody was saying Jay Garrick, Jay Garrick, Jay Garrick, but thought ahhhh that’s a little on the nose. But to play his father, I could bring a lot of my experience as backstory to that. A lot of our work as actors would already have been done because I knew what he’s going through, he knew I was The Flash. So when they called and they wanted to see some recent stuff, and I had just done a couple independent films, so we shot it after and then they offered the role Henry Allen which was exactly what I wanted.
L: How did you feel as that role then progressed? Were you ready for that?
JWS: I wasn’t prepared for that at all. I knew that Henry Allen probably would be drawing to a close because his usefulness as a plot device which was really to help Barry… to be that safe, ya know, port in a storm where he could come and bare his soul as he was getting used to these new powers. His dad was a place where he could come and open his heart, which worked perfectly because I played the character he was starting out. But I was not prepared for being the man in the iron mask. Or, that the man in the iron mask would turn out to be the real Jay Garrick, who looked just like Henry Allen. I just thought that was brilliant writing. When Greg Berlanti told me those ideas, I said “Man, ya know I’ve worked with you for 20 years, since Dawson’s Creek, but ya know, take me out of it. That’s just good channeling the fan expectations.” To come back to the show and then to circle all the way around to the character that the fans wanted me to begin with, but I got to ground myself in the more realistic world that’s been reality first. That’s a lot of words. (laughs)
L: That’s ok. (laughing) I was just wondering what the biggest challenge was between The Flash of the 90’s as opposed to now?
JWS: Well it’s so much easier now. I had so many challenges with the suit, which was visually great but, really hard to work in. I think they’ve made the new, I know they’ve made the new, suits more user-friendly. We have an under-suit and an outer shell. The important information here is that the under suit can be washed. You couldn’t wash the original. They would hang them in my trailer and spray them with Lysol. They spent $100,000 on four suits in 1990 and they couldn’t clean them (laughing) because the foam latex started crumbling because I was sweating so much. So it’s a little bit easier I think, technology has advanced, the special effects both look better and are easier on the actors. A lot of it’s done in post-production. A lot of times now, ya know, where I’d be running around the track, me or my double…. now we just go (John strikes a Flash ‘in action’ pose) and then the digital double takes over. Yeah, talk to my digital double about that shot. (laughs) It’s very funny.
L: I see you have some fans here waiting, I don’t want to take up too much of your time.
JWS: We can do one more question.
L: Ok, great. Tell me about what you have coming up in the future? What are you working on?
JWS: You know what I’m really excited about… is a little project that I’m doing that’s David Gregory who played one of my sons on One Life to Live, I was a very decent father in 2010/2012 and he wrote this great new drama called Powder Burns and I play a blind sheriff. The concept is, see the old west the way Sheriff Burns does without sight. So it’s atmospheric and it’s all the sounds of the old west and we have Robert Vaughn guest star in an episode, we just had Eddie Asner. It’s [Asner episode] not come out yet on iTunes, a story dealing with Alzheimer’s and it got an award from an association for our script on Alzheimer’s. So I just put that up on my Twitter and social media. [Note: The award Mr. Shipp referred to was at the National Audio Theater Festival. It is an award of distinction for their episode about Alzheimer’s. Raising awareness for this debilitating disease is clearly something close to John’s heart.]
L: Yes, I follow you on social media.
JWS: Yeah (laughing), it gets very lively.
Noticing that fans had started to gather again, I wrapped up our conversation so that the charming Mr. Shipp could get back to shaking hands, signing photos, and sharing stories. He is the epitome of humble and gracious. In fact, I asked if I could take photos while he greeted people. He jokingly responded…”So long as you make me look good.” C’mon John, you look great! 🙂
For those fans wanting more Flash festivities, John Wesley Shipp also took part in an hour long Q&A. Seats were filled as excited fans eagerly anticipated his arrival on stage. The crowd erupted as he was introduced.
It was endearing to sit back and listen as Mr. Shipp attentively addressed questions from adoring fans of all ages. From what it was like to be in the speed force to his emotional connection with his on-screen son, he covered it all. John even shared an interesting bit that Grant Gustin was born in the same city as him, in the same month as him, 27 years ago… while John was filming the original Flash. Talk about destiny! The respect he has for Grant’s portrayal of the iconic superhero is obvious…
“Grant IS The Flash. More Flash than i’ve ever been.” – John Wesley Shipp
What I took away most though was John Wesley Shipp’s admiration and love for all his fellow cast mates and his genuine appreciation for all the fans. No question was too big or too small; John took the time to actively listen and responded with thought and care. It is no wonder he is well-loved by all those around him. The world could always use a little more ‘Flash’!