In the center of the East Bay Comic Con storm of excitement, on a Sunday afternoon in Concord, Ca. stood John Wesley Shipp. His Q&A session in full swing. I had to cover a bathroom break at the table where I was helping before I pulled myself away and arrived in time to catch the end of a story. The audience hanging on every syllable with iPhones and cameras following his every movement.
“Do you remember at the end of the season when Wells makes the surprise switch and he takes the blow that’s intended for Iris. And Barry had to watch that part of himself die right before his eyes. It’s a powerful reminder. Be careful about the parts of yourself that you estrange.”
Shipp was talking about the CW’s The Flash, now in its fifth season starring Grant Gustin as the titular character. It would make sense, that as the first actor to don the cowl of the scarlet speedster in the original The Flash that aired on CBS from 1990-91, he would be inclined to keep the show on his radar. But that’s not the only reason.
Shipp has also joined the cast of the current show, and thanks to the DC Universe multiverse theory, he has played a range of characters from Jay Garrick of Earth-2 to Henry Allen, Barry’s father. I guess you could say it has something to do with timing.
“I have had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time,” Shipp said, before telling a story about his time playing Welsh wastral Gerry on the Tony award-winning production of Dancing with Lughnasa.
“I loved playing a character like Gerry,” Shipp said. “Always at the top of his emotions and also someone who’s aspirations far exceeded his achievements.”
Shipp has a rich list of television, stage, and film credits. But, he offered one clue when an audience member asked if there was any role that he was still seeking out, a character he still wanted to play.
“I told my agent I want to play in To Kill A Mockingbird before I die,” he answered. “But, really, more than that, I want to play a role that has something of substance. Which is another great reminder that your interests point the way to your talents.”
But, Shipp pointed out that acting is never just about himself or what he wants. In fact, it is never as fulfilling as the experience of acting in front of a live audience while on stage or in front of a crew for film or television where he can make a connection.
“If you’re only acting for yourself,” he said, “then who cares.”
Which then led to why he loves to attend and speak at conventions.
“We all come here with different beliefs and politics,” he said. “When we come to conventions we check all of that at the door.”
Shipp then shared the story of a man he met who watched THE FLASH on television with his dad when he was young. Now his father is gone, and he stood before his childhood hero, eyes filled with tears.
“I loved that we had that chance to hug and cry,” Shipp said. “This is a sacred space where we get to relate to each other. I end up finding out more about you than you do about me.”
The next question brought up the issue of how many different versions of the flash there have been since Shipp and what he thought of the film version of Barry and Henry Allen.
“I was so pleased when I heard that (Billy) Crudup would be playing Henry Allen,” he said. “And I have so much respect for Ezra Miller as a performer. They had a third of the material Grant and I had and when the guards were taking Billy away, the way he hung onto the phone, and built up the energy so fast, I thought they nailed it.”
One good scene doesn’t dismiss Shipp’s feeling that there were a few flaws regarding the way Justice League portrayed his favorite character.
“They shortchanged him in the movie by using him as comic relief,” Shipp said. “And then when Aquaman says, ‘Look, he’s tripping over my feet, he’s tripping over his own feet,’ I said, ‘Oh no they did not do that to my Flash.’”
When the audience finished laughing, Shipp admitted that he not trying to start any trouble.
“I was at one convention and they said, ‘Well Jason Momoa is right over there if you want to talk to him,’” he said, and then paused. “I said, ‘no way!’”
The last question addressed the Crisis on Infinite Earths reference made before the mid-season break regarding the annual CW crossover between Arrow, Supergirl, and THE FLASH shows. Shipp pointed out that this was a perfect example of how he can talk about something without revealing very much.
“I’ve been talking to (Marc) Guggenheim and all of those guys and the details are being worked out,” he said. “Think of the possibilities for Crisis on Infinite Earths. There could be a version where Barry dies or not, and there are so many other characters that who knows what could finally happen?”
Then he added a final thought
“But, just think of the possibilities.”