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‘The Flash’: Tom Cavanagh on the Many Faces of Harrison Wells

The Flash: Tom Cavanagh on the Many Faces of Harrison Wells

'The Flash': Tom Cavanagh on the Many Faces of Harrison Wells
Image: Alyssa Tieman

The Flash‘s Tom Cavanagh took the stage in Dallas this past weekend to talk about all things Harrison Wells. The conversation centered mostly on the Wells of the past as Cavanagh couldn’t speak much as to what is coming at the end of Season 4. He did however drop one spoiler that there are a couple of Wells variants coming. Cavanagh teased: “You’re not gonna like them, I don’t think. I mean, I don’t much care for them myself. And they’re very annoying… But, you know, that’s what you get.”

Season 1 of The Flash found Cavanagh embodying Flash’s most iconic villain, Reverse Flash. When asked what he did to prepare for the role, Cavanagh joked about how difficult of a question it is because “that was like 50 years ago.” He added that Season 1 is probably the best season of television ever, and much better than Game of Thrones.

“In season 1, it was a very simple arc for us because we had the genesis story: Barry Allen becoming the Flash. Easy to do, fun to do. Everyone who knows the Flash is aware of it. And then from there, we had him taking on the biggest villain: The Reverse Flash. So we always knew going into Season 1 that it was gonna come down to him and I hitting each other… And so basically to prepare, I just hit the gym.”

Later, Cavanagh was asked how it was working with the wheelchair, to which he answered that it was a difficult adjustment. He likes movement and uses that as a way to punctuate a scene. Cavanagh said that it was a good exercise in confinement and finding a different method to inform the scene. He then talked a bit about his antics behind the scenes while driving the wheelchair around, which he said drove everybody crazy. He reminiscences about running into walls and finding holes all over the cortex.

“My favorite thing was with Grant Gustin. The thing Grant used to laugh at, which I would do all the time, is I’d be in the chair and I would say, ‘All right, Barry,’ and I would go to leave. And then I would just keep turning. ‘I’ll see you later.’ [Turns in a circle] ‘Oh, you’re still here. Well, I’ll see ya later.’ [Still turning] ‘I could do this all day. Why are you still here?'”

The conversation then moved to H.R., who was the Season 3 iteration of Harrison Wells. Cavanagh talked about the process for coming up with the different Wellses, saying that they look at the season and figure out what is missing from the show. In Season 2, the characters are all winning at life and they needed a character who was their daily antagonist, who would just cause problems in the cortex on a routine basis. And so Harry was born. For Season 3, they looked at what was coming and decided that they needed that annoying comedy guy, who’s always causing trouble and is a bit of a con artist.

“I loved, loved playing H.R. because I got to walk around with drumsticks and I had a license to essentially just annoy everybody, and blame it on the character. So that was just really fun.”

Cavanagh added that the drumsticks were picked on purpose. During the scene in which Savitar kills Iris’, there’s a shot of the drumsticks falling to the ground. The prop was there solely for that tableau moment, which Cavanagh says was the most evocative way to explain the scene without spelling everything out.

In regards to H.R.’s death at the end of the third season, Cavanagh said that they knew that was the end game from the very start. He and showrunner Todd Helbing had long conversations about making the different Wellses look like something, but then have them be completely different. In Season 1, Harrison is in a wheelchair, but no he’s not. He’s Reverse Flash. With H.R., they created an idiotic character that appeared to have no use to the rest of the team. But then he ended up saving the day by taking Iris’ place. Cavanagh said that he enjoyed getting to be awful, pulling the audience along, appearing one way, when he knew that in the end, H.R. would make the ultimate sacrifice.

Cavanagh has had to embody so many different versions of the same character, which is no easy feat. When asked how he is able to put such clear dividers between each Harrison, he simply answered, “I pretend.” He said that the good thing about Harrison is that each version looks alike, for the most part, so their differences come in their mannerisms, voice, and origin story. Cavanagh says that as an actor, that’s the best thing.

“Getting an opportunity to be on a show that essentially seems to be a long-running show, and not having to play the same character over and over, I never lose sight of the fact that that’s a tremendous privilege.”

The Flash returns for its final seven episodes of the season Tuesday, April 10, on The CW.