Comic Book Men guest star Tom Cavanagh talks about creating his many different portrayals on the CW’s The Flash, the upcoming episode he directed, and the “revelatory” acceptance of the show’s fans.
A: Yeah, you can ask for the world and they’ll deliver. I also say that doing a television show outs your character — especially an hour-long television show. After two weeks of 17-hour days, if you’re a bad person, that’s gonna come out, and we’ve been fortunate that the people on The Flash are delightful to work with — they’re really good at their job, smart, funny and have a great outlook.
Q: The Flash fanbase is very dedicated. Have you had many memorable fan interactions?
A: Jesse Martin, who plays Joe West, and I were talking about this a little early on, about how welcoming [the fans] were. Like what I said on Comic Book Men, the people who have interest in this stuff are so knowledgable about it, and suddenly you’ve got these outliers coming in and making a version of a show or a comic book that was dear to them. That’s a responsibility. Here come some people coming from outside and into their territory, so you wouldn’t be surprised if there was some distance or backlash, and what was revelatory to us was how welcoming they were. They weren’t like, “So what are you gonna do? How are you gonna do it?” They understood, as I think Kevin understood, that this is good for the brand, this is good for the world that we love. So from our side of things, we try and take great care with it to try to make sure we don’t muck it up on behalf of the fans.
Q: You play so many unique and different characters on The Flash throughout the different worlds of the show — what’s your process like as an actor for making different iterations of the same character feel so distinct?
A: This is one of those trick questions where you’ve asked a really good and honest question, and I’m going to come across as a real pompous dick talking about my methodology and my “craft.” Every time I hear an actor talk about craft I’m like, “Ugh, puke.” Well, I will say this, we’ve created this world where there’s a “multi-verse” and multiple earths, and we have the audience’s blessing to introduce the same actor, but have them play a completely different character.
I’ve been a beneficiary of that because my starting point was as the Reverse Flash, the archnemesis to Barry, but we did that in Season 1, and I think the writers’ room did a really good job of telling that story. You don’t want to have me in Season 3 standing on a rooftop saying, “You’ll never defeat me Barry!” because the audience will be like, “Yeah, we did that already.” I don’t think it would be very interesting for me to do, and I don’t think it would be very interesting for the audience to watch because we told that story. And so then the question is, can we create something else? Instead of doing the B-version of that, let’s make someone else. Our show works best when we have a daily antagonist, whatever form that might take, and then the principal protagonist… and if you have that but on a lesser scale, it can add conflict.
In this season, I decided to go with humor, which was something I hadn’t really done yet. So that’s what I do — I try to find the thing that we’re missing and fill in that gap. A lot of the regulars are so nice and good, and I realized last year that we have room for someone to come in and be a bit of a dick, and that was Harry from Earth-2. And then this season I thought, “You know, we have room for an Owen Wilson kind of con-man character,” and that became H.R. So a lot of it is finding where those gaps are and then filling those gaps.
Q: What a gift as an actor, to be able to explore so many different roles on the same show.
A: It’s an incredible privilege, to be on a show that, first off, is mining decades of history already, so it’s got a built-in audience. And then to be fortunate enough to be on a show that’s going to run for a while and still be able to fulfill yourself creatively, creating something new every season — it’s such a privilege.
Q: And now you’ve directed an episode of The Flash as well, which will air on April 25. How was it like transitioning from being directed to directing?
A: For us who do the show, I don’t feel like there’s anybody that knows the show better than we do, and that’s great to have those arrows in your quiver as a director. You can say, “You know what, you don’t have to do this, our show works best like this, our visual effects work best with movement,” so I don’t have to learn the lessons that have hamstrung other directors in the past. I know what works for the show by virtue of having done the show, and I think all of those things help as a director.
Q: Were there any challenges in directing that you didn’t expect, and how did you approach those?
A: No, to be honest, it came down to knowing what our strengths are and being able to hit up those strengths more than another director might be able to. I also have a little more leeway because this is my third show for Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, the people who are running the show, unlike another director who doesn’t have a relationship with them. I can call them up and say, “Hey, I’m gonna cut these lines, can you add something here?” And it’s a two-way street, because they’ll say, “Oh, if Tom’s doing it, he must be doing it for a reason.” There’s a trust factor to that that a guest director might not have, and I think it really helps with the creative of what we’re trying to put on the screen, since I’m more of a “cut to the chase” guy, and I think these guys like it. Instead of “challenge,” I’d say one of the most beautiful things about directing the show is there’s a phenomenal group of people that put it together every week and as an actor, I only satellite over to their departments, but as a director, you’re reliant on them in a much greater way than you are as an actor. You’re talking to the set decoration people, you’re talking to the production designer, the hair people about this thing or that thing, you’re talking to the effects people — all way more than you would as an actor, and they’re all so incredibly talented. Probably the most joyous part about directing it is getting to cross-pollinate with people I don’t often get to talk to that much and be reliant on their abilities and have a working relationship more than we normally do for the month — that was probably the most pleasurable thing about the whole experience.
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