Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with John Wesley Shipp at the 2015 Motor City Comic Con in Novi, Michigan. Currently, Shipp has a recurring guest role on CW’s The Flash as Henry Allen, father of the eponymous hero Barry Allen/The Flash. No stranger to comic book shows himself, Shipp played the role of Barry Allen/The Flash on CBS’ The Flash, which ran for a season from 1990-91. Shipp is no stranger to playing a television dad either, and is perhaps most well-known for his role as the ill-fated Mitch Leery on The WB’s Dawson’s Creek as father of the title character, and more recently on MTV’s Teen Wolf as the emotionally and physically abusive father of Isaac, Mr. Lahey. I asked Mr. Shipp about his involvement and thoughts on the new show—
DCN: Obviously people are aware of your previous work on The Flash, but when did they approach you for involvement with the new (The Flash) series?
JWS: Well I had heard that they were going to do a series, and I didn’t know whether they would want to break with the old…I didn’t know if they’d want me to be involved or not, you know? Breathing over, you know, down Grant’s (Gustin) neck, or looking over his shoulder all the time. But I heard about Geoff Johns’ reimagining of the Allen family, a much darker version, certainly different from the one I played, and I thought ‘Wow if they do come to me, Henry Allen is the character that I would want.’ And people said ‘Jay Garrick, Jay Garrick, Jay Garrick’ but I knew that we could accomplish Father/Son. What they wanted to get, Jay Garrick/Barry, they wanted a passing of a blessing, they wanted a mentoring, and I thought it would be more effective storytelling if we weren’t quite so on the nose—old superhero/new superhero. So we could accomplish Father/Son, what they (Warner Bros.) wanted, so that when I walk on the set I bring this show with me and my history with it and it actually feeds our dynamic—him relating to me as his father, and me relating to him as my son, and so they came and they offered me that role in February (2014).
DCN: I actually spoke to you briefly yesterday (May 16) and I mentioned to you that you kind of have a history of TV dad now.
JWS: God yes…
DCN: Good and bad.
JWS: Good and really bad.
DCN: Good and really bad. What are your influences toward Grant Gustin, and has he come to you for mentorship? What influences are you passing onto him, and is he coming to you asking “How do you feel about me being in this role, and where should I take it from here?”
JWS: No, no, no, he doesn’t really need it. He is a fully formed actor; I got that very clearly when I tuned in to see him on Arrow, when he was explaining to Oliver (Stephen Amell) why he was really there, and what had really happened in his past. And I could see that there was no acting, I mean he’s just a very sincere…very sincere guy. He works, he takes everything he needs from the script itself, and then he relates. We have a good working relationship, we don’t really need to run lines or anything, but I think it’s because I know he’s the Flash…I know what he’s going through as the Flash, so we have a built-in relationship that feeds the current story. And that’s the most important thing, not whether I was the Flash, or New Flash/Old, but does the relationship between Henry Allen and Barry Allen resonate. And if it does, I think it is in large part because I’ve been where he’s at and we meet in the middle, so it’s really a very special working relationship.
DCN: As far as moving forward, things are going to potentially change as the plot progresses, but assuming Henry Allen gets out of jail or doesn’t, where do you see them taking your character in the show as the next season goes on? (Note: This interview took place before the Season 1 finale.)
JWS: Well we’ve had those discussions. Obviously, (Executive Producer) Andrew Kreisberg said it doesn’t make sense to spend the whole first season dealing with trying to get Henry out of jail to have him disappear, so they asked me to come back and he spun out some ideas. But even if I told you what they were, they change. Our episode on Tuesday night (May 19) is not going to be the finale that they envisioned when they were shooting the pilot. Things change, dynamics…they saw Grant’s amazing ability to play emotion and vulnerability so that’s going to play a huge factor…I tell you it’s an Emmy winning performance…worthy performance. The trailer is great. And we all knew that we were part of something very, very, very unique. I’ve been a professional actor for 35 years, and the last 8 to 10 minutes are some of most…just we knew something very special was happening. Everybody knew it, the soundstage was silent, and that never happens between takes…because we all knew that we were getting lightning in a bottle, so I can’t wait to see it all put together.