By Sam Thielman
It's the biggest show on the CW and on track to become the network's most-watched series ever. The Flash, it appears, really can outrun everything.
As with any prime-time property, especially one on the vanguard of a comics-driven movement reshaping the television landscape, it is essential to get the right guy to play the lead. The network found an unlikely—but ideal—superhero in Grant Gustin, whose most recent major role had him playing a conniving villain, the backstabbing Sebastian Smythe, on Fox's Glee. In The Flash, the six-foot-plus, 24-year-old theater veteran plays a crime-fighter who hasn't quite grown into his mask yet. It agrees with him.
You started out dancing before you played a superhero who runs, right?
Yeah, kind of from an early age I just did what I loved to do, which, at 8 years old, became tap dancing.
Why was that?
Because of Gene Kelly and Singin' in the Rain, specifically, and Donald O'Connor. I mean, I watched that movie hundreds of times probably, and I had played soccer and baseball growing up and was starting to lose interest. My mom said she would watch me watch that movie and others like it over and over again and eventually just kind of made me take an all-boys tap class, because she knew deep down that I would love it. And I resisted, and of course ended up loving it. I joined a community theater, and from 10 to high school, I probably did 30-some musicals.
You did theater professionally after that, correct?
I lasted two years at Elon University before I auditioned for the Broadway tour of West Side Story on my spring break. It, like, lined up perfectly with my spring break. Had a call-back the last week of school, during exams, and was able to get away, and found out I got it when I was doing summer stock theater that summer. I met my manager, Robert Stein, when I was performing at the Pantages [in Los Angeles], and he told me that he thought that I would do really well in L.A. and he wanted to start working with me. I just submitted tapes from the road, ended up having a call-back for Glee. Got Glee, one thing led to another, and now I'm the Flash.
Wait, back up. You were in the last production of West Side Story? The one that Arthur Laurents, the original writer-director, mounted right before he died?
Yes. Really it was the last production that he cast and he was involved with the Broadway production and everything, but we were the tour. We were the last company of anything that he had his hands on. He was there in Detroit with us when we were teching the show, and he was in a lot of the final rehearsals in New York at 42nd Street Studios. I was able to shake his hand, and I talked to him for a few minutes at one of my first auditions and that was about the only interaction I had with him. But yeah, he was involved with our show and it was pretty special.
Do you ever miss the theater?
All the time. But I know that I will absolutely be back in the theater—I would imagine many, many, many times over the course of my career, so I'm just kind of enjoying what I'm doing right now, because I never expected this.
So, this being your first big break, what do you want your career to look like?
I'd love to kind of go the Joseph Gordon-Levitt route, and do a lot of really good independent films that I love, and I'd love to get back to the theater in the next couple of years, if possible, just when we're on a hiatus. Those are kind of the two things I want to check off my list next, I guess.
You're kind of in an action-movie zone now on The Flash. How much of the stunt work do you do yourself?
Well, I'd be working 16-hour days every day if we tried to use me for everything. I mean, the crew works 14 hours a day and I'm right there with them most of the time. But as far as the stunts are concerned, I probably do about, I mean, 50 percent, and that 50 percent being mostly stylized movement type things. When it comes to throwing the Flash through a glass plate or pulling him through something, my stunt double will always do those things, cause they'll never let me do it. There's a lot of choreography-type things, just sliding into frame or stylized movement that I always like to do just because I want to. I think my dance background does come into play sometimes when it comes to the quality of movement I want to bring to the character.
Were you a DC fan beforehand?
Oh, yeah. I've actually got a Superman tattoo on my left arm. I'm a lifelong Superman fan.
What has been your favorite thing to do on set?
To be honest, I love the straightforward acting scenes because it's such a technical show and it's got a lot of stunts and special effects. I'm running around in a friggin' superhero suit, for Chrissakes. So I especially love working with [Jesse L. Martin, who plays the family friend who raised his character], and I get to work with Tom Cavanagh and Danielle Panabaker and the whole cast, but especially my scenes with Jesse Martin—those father/son scenes that get to the heart of the show, and the heart of those two characters. That's the most fun to me.
One last thing. I have never not heard a superhero actor complain about the suit. How is it?
Well, what we had in the pilot took a few people to help me get into, just because it was all one piece and it was just heavy, thick material. But there were some changes made after the pilot, and it essentially looks the same, but I can pretty much get in and out of it by myself. It's nice to have some assistance! On a hot day it is miserable to be in, and borderline dangerous to be in I think [laughs]. But thankfully it's not often hot in Vancouver. On the cold days, it's not so bad, to be honest. And at this point, it's not that uncomfortable either. It's a pretty soft material and it's not the worst thing to be in. The mask, on the other hand, is the worst thing to be in. I'm thankful that it comes on and off.
I think at least one Batman had veins of water running through the suit so that he could survive the various takes.
Yeah, that's not uncommon. I think John Wesley Shipp (who plays the Flash's wrongly imprisoned father) had that back when he was The Flash [on CBS, briefly, in 1990], too.
Did you watch the old show?
After we finished our pilot. I love it, actually. I love all that stuff. I loved the George Clooney Batman when it came out. When I was a kid, I loved that stuff, and I loved the Christopher Reeve Superman. I mean, the first Flash TV show was the year I was born, so I didn't watch it live.