Rocky Mountain Con is a small convention with a big heart. It works in tandem with the charity Aurora Rise to help the victims of the Aurora Theater Shooting. This year, it brought in actors John Wesley Shipp, Michelle Harrison, and several others to help in that endeavor. I was lucky enough to nab an interview with the two of them before they had to head to their tables for the day.
Since the convention is on the smaller side, I had a chance to chat a little bit with John and Michelle prior to the interview itself while we did our best to navigate to the green room, and eventually their tables. The intent had been to do an interview with both, but it’s rare a convention schedule ever goes according to plan, so stay tuned for a follow up with the lovely Michelle after her agent and I work out the details!
Before we dive in to the bulk of the chat, I feel it my responsibility to help you understand what kind of man John Wesley Shipp is. For this, I give you a story!
We got he and Michelle set up at their tables and were about to head over to the green room to start the interviews. This process took about 5 minutes, tops. I turn around to find out how he takes his coffee (it was morning, in Colorado. We have no air here. Only monsters let people go coffee-less in those, or any, conditions) and he was gone. John is not a small man, okay? The convention hall wasn’t packed, there was nowhere for him to have gone. After scanning the convention hall, I spot him. He’s 50 ft away with a small gaggle of fans, just hanging out and chatting.
Now, it’s a part of a celebrity’s job to interact with fans and press. It’s not a celebrity’s job to break away prior to being offered a cup of coffee to go hang out with fans while people get things set up. Michelle was also quite kind. She went around and remembered everyone’s names, and even remembered mine the following day when I popped by. Both actors are brimming with charisma and kindness, and I highly recommend you meet them if they ever come to your local show!
Now! On to the main event!
You’ve been in The Flash universe since the early ‘90s. Which role have you found more rewarding, Barry or Henry?
Barry, Zoom, Henry, or Jay? I feel like I keep circling around to this universe! It’s very funny, one of the heads of Warner Brothers said to me at one point that I was born to play this part (The Flash). At the time I said (jokingly) ‘Oh god I hope not! I hope have a lot more career!’ Little did I know that 25 years later I’d be circling back to The Flash universe, with Greg Berlanti, who I worked with on Dawson’s Creek! It’s incredible. Of course Barry being my first big huge primetime show, that’s in a category all itself. There’s a whole host of extra gifts, challenges, and responsibilities that come with-- and I don’t mean monetarily necessarily, creatively you have more control when you’re the Flash in The Flash. But I have to tell you, when Geoff Johns recreated the Henry Allen character, which was very different from my version, I thought ‘if they come to me, that’s who I want to play’ and that’s who they offered!
The final Jay Garrick reveal at the end of S2 was one of the most satisfying moments on The Flash last year. How soon did you know you’d be coming in as Jay, and how did you feel about taking on another iconic speedster?
Let me preface this by saying that Berlanti Productions has so many shows, six shows on the air, so they are the busiest people in television. It’s like they map out the Berlanti Productions articles in Variety and then they fill in around them! So, having said that, no, I didn’t know!
I knew that Henry Allen would be coming to the end of his usefulness as a story device. Henry, I always felt, was a good tool in Grant’s toolbox. It’s a place that his Barry could come, and it’s a place that I didn’t really have as the character. He could come to let down his walls, and be very vulnerable. Henry raised him from birth to 10 years old, so when he came to him he came as a child, and that added a whole new dimension of color and relate-ability—what was your question?
Sidebar: This was one of the best parts of the interview. I know celebrities have to play excited all the time, but let me tell you: Shipp’s excitement is genuine. He gets so into all of it, and it’s contagious! After reminding him of the question he hopped right back to it, just as excited as before.
Right! Jay! I showed up for a fitting, and I was trying on these ripped costumes that looked like a variation of Henry’s prison suit. I asked if it was for Flashpointand was told ‘well, you’ll be fitted for the iron mask later’ and she (the costume director) was immediately like ‘you didn’t hear it from me!’, and I’m thinking that it’s all pretty cool! I’m talking to Jesse and Grant and it went something like this—
Jesse and Grant: So did you hear what you’re doing?
John Wesley Shipp: Yeah, I’m the man in the iron mask, go figure!
Jesse and Grant: Yeah, is that all you know?
John Wesley Shipp: Uhh… there’s more?
Jesse and Grant: You’re the real Jay Garrick!
John Wesley Shipp: Stop!
All I could think was that I better text Greg, which went something like this—
Hey Greg, I’m hearing hints and intimations about parts that I may not be playing, or may be playing! Can you enlighten me?
After which Greg called me immediately and was just like ‘Oh my god I can’t believe we didn’t tell you!’ You know, I just want to be like hey Greg, you’re the ‘we’! So he asked if we could talk the following day and ended up calling me at the hotel before I went in to shoot and he told me where they were going and asked me what I thought. I had said, you know, take me out of the equation— it’s just great story telling, and it’s great manipulation of fan expectations because we circle around who they wanted me to play to begin with.
In addition to your portrayal of on-screen speedsters, you’ve also voiced the infamous Professor Zoom for The Brave and the Bold. Which do you prefer, voice over work, or on screen?
Live! I had such a hard time with the voiceover thing because when you go in to record the script you have no visuals. Not only that but you’re standing alone in a semicircle on mics. My instinct as an actor is to swivel and talk to you. They had to stop me several times and ask ‘John… could you stay on your mic, please?’
So I went through and I read it, and I guess it was okay. Then we came back later after they had animated it, to replace the lines that had any distortion or technical difficulty. Suddenly I’m seeing this awesome animation, and my character comes to life. So at the end of that session they ended up asking me if I minded staying and re-doing my whole part. I said that I would love to do that, and that’s how my character in that was born, but I much prefer live.
Follow up: Villain or hero?
I have two Emmys, both for playing psychos. I’ve played heroes, good guy med students, the best father on television in Dawson’s Creekand I will say this: Villains are easier. Most people think they’re harder, but they always win the awards. I’ve never been nominated for a good guy part.
Villains know what they want, they know what they’re willing to do to get it, and they throw up all of the obstacles that the hero has to solve. Well the problem with being a hero is you have to keep those moments active. You’re waiting for the villain to do something so you can respond. Also, writers have a lot of fun with villains, because they come in and shake everything up. The challenge, I would say, for the writer is to keep your hero active.
If you never played the Scarlet Speedster, which hero would you have liked to portray?
You know, I hate to be so predictable and boring, but who can resist the Batman character? Who can resist that, pardon my language, kickass persona. Vigilantes are just interesting to play. I mean, the good thing about the Flash is he’s a good guy. He wants to do good in the world. He makes all kinds of mistakes, but his heart is in the right place. The Flash’s journey is the coming together of a good heart with this superhuman element that he doesn’t really know how to control. But that’s his journey. He’s not really wandering the dark streets looking for thugs. So, yeah! Batman, that’s my answer!
You can catch The Flash every Tuesday on the CW Network!