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[Warning: this story contains spoilers from Tuesday’s season two finale of The Flash, “The Race of His Life.”]
John Wesley Shipp’s days as a speedster are no longer behind him on The Flash.
The original Barry Allen from the 1990 The Flash series has played father to Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen on the CW reboot for two years. But the season two finale revealed that, just one episode after Henry Allen’s tragic death at the hands of Zoom (Teddy Sears), Shipp is also playing the identity of the man in the iron mask that Zoom kept locked up in his lair. But this isn’t just another Earth’s version of Henry Allen. Shipp is the Earth-3 version of Jay Garrick, the original speedster that Zoom/Hunter Zolomon was pretending to be all year to get closer to Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs team.
“I never saw this coming,” Shipp tells The Hollywood Reporter of the twist. “I left at the beginning of the season, I came back once, but for the most of the season, I was gone. So to be brought back as part of a triple whammy, first with Henry’s death, which I expected, then the reveal of the man in the iron mask, which is me, which I didn’t expect, and then I certainly didn’t expect the man in the iron mask to be Jay Garrick. It’s a triple whammy for sure.”
But Shipp wasn’t told about this shocking revelation in any concrete way.
“I went up on March 1 to film the last four episodes and I began hearing things,” Shipp says with a laugh. “I was fitted in this costume that was all brown and shredded and like a prison costume. But it obviously wasn’t a Henry Allen costume. And then I started hearing about fittings for an iron mask. I wrote [executive producer] Greg [Berlanti] and email saying, ‘I’m starting to hear things about characters that I may or may not be playing going forward. What’s going on here?'”
Shipp continues with a laugh, “I was dying for him to talk to me. Of course he got back to me within three minutes and he was like, ‘Oh my God, I thought they had already talked to you!’ So we had a great conversation and he laid out this story for me and the series of reveals in the last couple of episodes. I have to tell you, my mind was blown.”
When Shipp first began to process the big Jay Garrick revelation, he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.
“I had a couple of reactions. One is that it’s great TV,” Shipp says. “And it’s really an expert channeling of fan expectations, because the audience always wanted me to be Jay Garrick from the very beginning. And I felt some apprehension of assuming the role of a costumed superhero, a quarter of a century later after I had done it before.”
While viewer speculation ran rampant all season long about who was the man in the iron mask, Shipp didn’t have any ideas or theories of who he thought it would be.
“The writers know how to keep things secret and how to throw everyone off,” Shipp says. “I also think it worked to our advantage that absolutely everyone was convinced that Henry Allen was actually Zoom. When they turned out to be wrong about that, they were a little gun shy about being burned twice by saying that I was the man in the iron mask.”
But Shipp was glad that he didn’t have to play this speedster role right out of the gate.
“When this role came to me initially, I wanted to play Henry Allen. I didn’t want to suit up again right away,” Shipp says. “‘Is this all this guy can do? Run around in a costume?’ But Henry Allen was a quiet, truthful, emotional character grounded in grit. He was a true character role in the midst of all this action and adventure. Having done that for two years, now I feel like, OK, I’ve proven myself again as an actor. Now maybe I can get in and have a little fun as a costumed superhero again.”
What excites Shipp the most about taking on the new role is the acting challenge of making this character completely different from Henry Allen.
“He looks like just Barry’s father but it’s vital that he not be Henry Allen,” Shipp says. “Coming out of the iron mask, my challenge was: How do we let the audience know right away that this is not Henry Allen?”
And that means Jay’s dynamic with Barry is going to be completely different from Henry’s.
“Barry just lost the person he’s closest to, his father, the person he could be vulnerable with, whom he could cry with,” Shipp says. “They had a very physical, hands-on relationship. It was very important to Barry. But that’s not who Jay is. Jay has no idea when he comes out of that iron mask, the emotional minefield that he is walking into. Going forward, that’s going to be interesting to explore.”
Of course, Jay’s appearance means quite a lot to Barry.
“He wants to have the same relationship with Jay that he had with his father, but Jay is coming from a place of, ‘That has nothing to do with who I am,'” Shipp says. “Barry and Jay have to make their own relationship, which will be separate and distinct from the Henry and Barry relationship. That was the challenge.”
He continues, “This isn’t the Henry/Barry relationship in another form. Jay is a very different guy. People say that I, John Wesley Shipp, am the original Flash, but he’s the original original Flash. This is the Golden Age Flash, the head of the Justice Society. This is the real Flash daddy. I have to remind myself of that, because there were some aspects of the Henry/Barry relationship that I treasured, the absolute emotional vulnerability, being a safe haven for him, that emotional connection. It’s going to be very tempting for me to want to go back and play that dynamic again, but the Jay/Barry dynamic is going to be very different.”
It’s pretty coincidental timing that The Flash would introduce the founder of the Justice Society of America right at the same time that Legends of Tomorrow revealed that Justice Society member Rex Tyler aka Hourman (Patrick J. Adams) would have a major role in season two of the Arrow/Flash spinoff series.
“There have been endless suggestions and possibilities [that I can cross over to Legends as Jay Garrick],” Shipp says. “Jay Garrick formed the Justice Society. Not that I know of anything concrete, but this character is so open-ended. Henry Allen had a shelf life. He had one purpose: to be there to support Barry. Jay Garrick, it’s wide open. Who knows what we’re going to see? That’s very exciting.”
Shipp is grateful that his time on The Flash will extend long after his first character’s tragic death.
“It has been indicated to me that I will play an important role going forward, again,” Shipp says. “But this is Grant Gustin’s The Flash. He is the speedster on the show. I will be privileged to show up and support his journey in any way that I can. But it has been indicated to me that the palette is so much broader now and there’s so many more things I can do on the show now.”
But most of all, he’s relieved that he can finally live up to fan expectations when it comes to who he’s playing on The Flash.
“No matter where I go, I always get the same message from fans: ‘Yes, we love you as Henry Allen, but we really were hoping you’d be Jay Garrick,'” Shipp says with a laugh. “Now that that’s coming to fruition, I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen on the Twitterverse. I can’t wait to see fans’ reactions when suddenly, I’m dawning the mantle of the character that just about every Flash fan wanted me to play from the get-go. That’s going to be a wonderful treat for the audience. I’m just going to bathe in the reaction.”
The Flash season three returns this fall on The CW.
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