introduction to John Wesley Shipp came in 1990 when THE FLASH premiered
on CBS. I had just recently taken a major interest in comic books, and
from the moment I watched the pilot movie, I was instantly hooked. They
had taken a comic book character and brought him to life in splendid form.
Everything seemed perfect. His powers were easily explained, and they
even gave a valid scientific reason for his costume. They even did a
fine job of dealing with how those powers affected his health and lifestyle.
Every episode played out like a mini-movie, featuring big-budget sets and
effects, and a very talented cast. Not to mention the writing, which was
clever and consistent with each episode. I felt like there was finally a
show on TV I could honestly say I loved... and then they cancelled it, after
one season no less. As insulting as this was to comic book fans, a
majority of whom seemed to adore the series, it has helped build critical
appreciation for a job well done since it went off the air. Now you
could say that THE FLASH series was good because of it's expensive
budget (the highest ever for a live-action show at the time), or you could
argue that the imaginative effects are what made it so much fun to watch.
But the bottom line is that the show was great because of one thing, it's lead
actor John Wesley Shipp. He brought just the right amount of charm and
depth to make that character fascinating, which in the hands of the wrong
actor could've been quite bland. After getting his acting start by
working on Soap Operas like GUIDING LIGHT, AS THE WORLD TURNS,
and ONE LIFE TO LIVE, John won the job of playing the Scarlet Speedster
shortly after Tim Burton's BATMAN was all the rage. His timing
and charisma was the key element to making the character of Barry Allen a hero
we all wanted to root for. Since his stint on that show, John has
appeared on DAWSON'S CREEK playing Dawson's dad Mitch Leery, and has
appeared on popular shows like JAG and NYPD BLUE. Shipp
even returned to his Soap roots in 1992 playing Carter Jones on ALL MY
CHILDREN. He was most recently seen as an abusive alcoholic father
on the series PALMETTO POINTE. There's no doubt that John is a
highly diversified actor, and his performances over the years have always been
worth a look. I had a chance to speak with him, and we talked about
everything from THE FLASH to all of his other experiences in Hollywood.
Here is what the man had to say.
MARK: So let's start by
telling folks about your days prior to acting. It seems like I remember
reading a story years ago about your father being a preacher. Where did
you grow up, and what was home life like back then?
I was born to a farmer and his wife. By the time I was a year and a
half, my father went back to school and we began to move a lot. He got
his undergraduate in Virginia then went to the Seminary in Wake Forest, North
Carolina. There he was the pastor of a small church outside of Wake
Forest. The plan was for them to raise a family have a nice little life.
The junior high schools and high schools had been partially integrated in the
summer of 1969. My father was Southern Baptist Minister. My sister
and I always gave a little Christmas party before Christmas every year.
At that time some of our friends were black. The church my father was a
pastor at found out about it, and held a special meeting telling him not to
have the party. My father said no, and it upset the people of the
community. They told him he would most likely be asked to resign.
He said he had to do what he had to do, and that we're all equal under the
eyes of God. So we had the party, and a little after 9:00pm while we
were all in the den, we got 18 bullets through our house. Thank God no
one was killed or hurt. I think we were going through the kitchen to
make popcorn when it happened. The police came eventually. My
father was fired from the church the next morning, and we were asked to leave
the community. Dad went on to become a Pastor in a church of Kentucky.
He's an American Baptist Minister. Now he's technically retired.
He and mom left there a couple of months ago. Now get this, if
you'll excuse the expression, flash-forward 30 years while I'm doing
DAWSON'S CREEK. The president of the senior class of the now fully
integrated Wake Forest high school was a day player. This woman on the
set told her the story, and it got out on campus. She ended up asking me
to come, I think it was either '98 or '99, and give the key note address to
the high school, tell the story of the shooting and tie it in with other acts
of violence. So in front of 2500 people I stood up and told this story.
The reaction was a standing ovation. The next day my father was asked to
come to First Baptist at Wake Forest, to pick the story up from the shooting
and talk about his ministry since then. The mayor came and gave my mom a
key to the city, and issued a public apology. It was a remarkable week
within the community, which has now changed a lot. There are a lot of
wonderful people in Wake Forest.
MARK: Let's talk about
how you got into acting. I'm assuming GUIDING LIGHT was the
beginning of it all. How was the experience of getting started on that
My grandfather loved music. My first piano teacher taught me the
alphabet. I switched my major to theater with a minor in music. I
got GUIDING LIGHT in January or 1980, and that was the beginning of me
supporting myself as an actor. It's a moment that ended up lasting 26
years. Yeah, so GUIDING LIGHT was the first thing, I did that for
four years. I came off of that and went to L.A. and did a movie of the
week, and then I came back and did AS THE WORLD TURNS. I guess it
ran for over a year, but I actually worked on it for about 7 months. And
I won a Daytime Emmy for that. Then the following year I went and did a
guest performance on SANTA BARBARA, and won an Emmy for that the
following year. And then I moved out to California in the fall of '89,
and did a couple of projects. Then in the Spring of '90 I was cast in
THE FLASH, and in June or July we shot the pilot.
MARK: When you won the
Daytime Emmy for your role on AS THE WORLD TURNS, that must have been
pretty amazing. At the time did you feel like working on Soap Operas was
intensely gratifying, or were you hoping to branch out into other things?
Both. I was really lucky in Daytime. I worked for four years on
GUIDING LIGHT, and when I was on AS THE WORLD TURNS I worked for
Douglas Marland. As far as I know he was sort of the last of the
old school Daytime writers. Number one, he had been an actor. He
was the head writer of GUIDING LIGHT, then he was a producer. He
went off to do a touring company of GYPSY with Dolores Gray. But
he understood actors and how characters and voices had to be different.
He was a bit of a control freak, which as a head writer of Daytime isn't a bad
thing. His outlines were exhaustive. He had staff writers, but it
was always his imprint. Oh, and it was the beginning of the youth wave
on Daytime. He was instrumental in creating the Luke/Laura/Scotty
triangle on GENERAL HOSPITAL, which was our competition. So then
Proctor and Gamble hired him away from them to come to CBS to try to
concurrently do the same thing for GUIDING LIGHT. He took
GUIDING LIGHT from being I think twelfth in the ratings to being CBS'
number one show. It was fun in those days, because Daytime was getting
Primetime numbers. We were going on location, and I went to places like
St. Croix. There was a big buzz and a lot of excitement about Daytime in
those days. It was amazing in New York City how many fireman and
policemen would stop you and recognize you, because in the firehouse during
the day they'd have the show on. It was just a lot of fun. There
was a whole group of us. Kevin Bacon was my dressing roommate there for
a while there on GUIDING LIGHT.
So you're one degree away from Kevin Bacon!
I'm one degree away, yeah. Then I went on to do my big story that
Douglas wrote for me on AS THE WORLD TURNS after he left GUIDING
LIGHT. He handed me this 35-page document, with back story and
characters, and examples of dialogue. It was just this incredible
story. I came on as this good guy like I played on GUIDING LIGHT,
and then the character degenerated into total psychosis, which as an actor is
great. It was a surprise with that arc. No one suspected that
would happen, and it was a beautifully crafted story. So in and of
itself, my time spent on GUIDING LIGHT and AS THE WORLD TURNS
stands alone. It wasn't just a stepping stone. I think a lot of
actors in any media would love to attempt the kind of stories I was playing.
Having said that most of us are ambitious. I always did have an
eye towards doing as much as I could of everything. But I've been really
blessed. I've done Broadway a couple of times, last time was in '92 I
believe. I've done theater in L.A., and I'm due for another play.
I know that because I miss being on stage. I was actually a question on
JEOPARDY. A friend of mine called and said that the category was
in Daytime TV, and the question was "Who was the only actor to have won two
consecutive Daytime Emmys for two different shows on two different networks?"
I don't know if the person got it or not. I don't think I want to know.
But anyway, so then I did NEVERENDING STORY II in the summer of '89,
and the casting director met with my manager and said "You have to come to
L.A."... so I came to L.A. in the fall of '89.
MARK: Which takes us
into THE FLASH. It's 1990, and Tim Burton's BATMAN is
incredibly popular. I'm sure several studios in Hollywood were trying to
think of what the next big comic-to-screen adaptation could be. When did
they approach you for this series, and how did you feel when it was first
The first time I heard about THE FLASH I think was after Christmas, in
January of '90. My manager had mentioned it to me. My first
thought was... oh God, never. They want me to run around in a pair of
red tights?! As fun as the former treatment of superheroes on TV was, it
was not the kind of thing I really wanted to do. I didn't feel like they
took them very seriously. Sort of like with SPIDER-MAN where they
would hold the rope off camera and then throw the rope at him. But they
assured me that it would be dark. And Howard Chaykin would be our story
editor. And the theme would be Danny Elfman, with the score being a full
orchestra. They would not have me running around, and they would be
spending a lot of money on suits and high-tech construction. They ended
up spending a $100,000 building four suits. That it would be dark is
really what I wanted. The character at the beginning was. In other
words it wasn't that I was going to go be Hugh Hollywood Hero, but rather my
brother was killed by this sonuvabitch and I'm gonna go avenge his death using
these powers that kind of freak me out. I really don't want to know from
them, but in order to avenge my brother's death I will learn to use them.
And so it comes out of more of a darker motivation. Things played
differently. Barry did use his powers for good. But that's
kind of how it came about. I was the first one to read for the part.
They auditioned about 60 or 70 other guys, and then they took two of us to the
network to be tested. And I got the part, and it was a very exciting day
over at CBS.
MARK: Was it always
going to be a big-budget production, or did that come after the
conceptualization of it?
It was Warner Brothers and CBS, and it was the most expensive show they had
ever done for television, which I think is one reason we didn't go another
season. It was always in the cards. Danny Bilson and Paul Demeo
did not want to do a low-budget superhero treatment for television.
That's not where they saw their career going. Danny had directing
aspirations. In fact he ended up directing a couple of episodes
including the final Trickster episode with Mark Hamill. None of us
wanted to be involved in an inexpensive treatment of TV for a superhero.
It was a very hefty budget from the beginning, and then we ran over. We
were a nine-day shoot per episode. Our pilot we shot for like six weeks,
it was a long shoot for a pilot. I heard we were like $6.5 million for
the pilot. Which certainly in the early 90's, even today, was a lot of
money for a pilot. But CBS was very excited. They touted the show as
their big hit, and Jeff Sagansky who was president referred to me as their
newest star. They had a lot of hype because the reviews were excellent.
They had advance screenings, and I was gratified that the acting was also well
received, which is not always the case in an action adventure that spends a
lot of time on special effects. We went into the fall season with all
flags flying and all guns blazing, I think too much so. Because they
immediately scheduled us on their toughest night out of the gate with their
biggest competition which was THE COSBY SHOW at its height and THE
SIMPSONS at its height. We were sandwiched in between those two
shows. Plus CBS had the baseball contract for that fall, so we went on
the air for a couple of episodes, then we went off or were pre-empted for
baseball. Then they brought us back on because they realized they were a
little too cocksure putting us up against that kind of competition right out
of the gate. The following year when I was at the Tonys in New York,
Howard Stringer who was with CBS at that point said "We killed that show with
our scheduling." They kind of took responsibility for that. It was
with a mixture of relief and sadness that I got the news that we wouldn't be
doing another season. It was the hardest thing I could ever imagine
doing. We would be in at say 7:00 on a Monday morning, and we would work
until 10:00 Monday night, then we'd be in at 10:00am on Tuesday and work until
1am, be back at 1:00 on Wednesday and work til 3 or 4am. Then they'd
either force our call, meaning less than 12 hour turnaround, and by Friday or
Saturday we'd be finishing in the backlot as the Warner Brothers executives
were coming to work. By Saturday morning it wouldn't be unusual for us
to be shooting until like 9 or 10 in the morning, and we'd be back in on
Mondays at 7. I would wake up, and if it was low light outside I
wouldn't know if it was dawn or dusk. It was a wacky schedule. We
had guest stars come on, and about halfway through the week they'd go "You do
this every week?!" And that's how it was from the third week in August
until the second week in May, and we got four days off for Christmas. I
don't even think we took Thanksgiving. It was just grueling.
Because Danny, to his credit, he envisioned a big show and the agenda was we
were going to do it right. It's not going to be laughable. There
are humorous elements, but when people laugh it's going to be our jokes.
So he kept the integrity of it. And I think what happened in the end
partially was they were going to go another year and merchandising was kicking
in. Warner Brothers owned DC Comics, so they would have a lot of money
for merchandising. But the network either did not up their contribution
enough, or they wanted to cut back on the amount of money they were putting
up. Danny was simply not willing to produce the show for less than the
amount of money it would take to get the right final product. So that
was that, and I went off to New York to do Broadway.
MARK: A lot of actors
don't like the idea of playing a superhero, for fear of being typecast.
Did that thought ever go through your head, or do you think you guys were
I think we were transcending it. A couple of things I liked about Barry
was that he was very much in contrast to the Flash persona. The Flash
was the superhero. Barry was kind of this ordinary guy. I loved
the way they setup the relationship with the father, and that it was really
Barry's brother who was the blessed child. He had the father's blessing.
Barry Allen was sort of the unblessed child. He was the guy that agreed
to go in the crime lab because he didn't want to worry the family. And
Jay was the street cop. Jay was the one who really had our father's
blessing. So when the beeper would go off, everyone would assume that it
would be Jay's, cause he was the tough street cop in the mold of the father
played by M. Emmett Walsh. And it would be Barry, so it's the crime lab.
You know at one point the mother says "Be careful" and the father says "What's
he gonna do, stub his toe on a footprint?" I loved those elements about
it. So you had a really intensely human character as Barry Allen, and
then this ultra persona. I never really felt that I knew quite what to
do with it. I loved the fact that his first reaction of running to catch
the bus and ending up at the ocean, or reaching for a cup of coffee and having
it break against the wall, it freaked him out and he wanted to get rid of it.
I loved that was his first reaction and not "I'M GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD NOW!"
MARK: I was very
impressed with the costume on the show. As you said they obviously spent
a lot of money on it. What was it like putting that red suit on for the
first time and seeing yourself in the mirror?
It had been such an ordeal up to that point. To build the suit, first
they had to do a full body cast of me. Each individual muscle component
was sculpted and tailored to my body. I was working out a lot in those
days, and it would just expand on my musculature. At one point they
covered me in grease, put me in a leotard, used glue that got hot when it was
setting, and glued on these each individual muscle pieces. And then they
flocked it with this red material. It was challenging. The first
time I put it on, I really remember... I think I was in shock. I was
glad the way they lit it. It was dark. We always had problems with
the suit, because of the same things that made it appear very real, that it
breathed with me. So when I would sweat the suit would sweat, and it
would pop right through the foam latex. They ended up putting a sealant
on it, which would keep all the water inside, because really early on the foam
latex started crumbling. I would have the suit on for a half and hour,
and when you took the gloves off they were half full with sweat. It
would come pouring out. It was unbearably hot. I couldn't sit
down, they had a leaning board. The pilot was such an ordeal of
shooting. You'd come over and grab my arm and water would pour out of
it. Then they came up with a vest like race car drivers wear. You
plug it into an ice chest and it circulates water through the vest. I
would put that on under the suit. Then in between takes they'd plug me
up to an ice chest, just to keep my body temperature down. You'd start
to overheat, and suddenly you're listening to them less, and they're like
"John?!" It was a challenge, every aspect of it was a challenge.
MARK: From what I could
tell, critics seemed to like what they saw, and the comic fans thought it was
pretty great too. Was it really the budget ultimately what killed it?
It seemed like CBS didn't know what to do with it. They were constantly
moving its timeslot, and a lot of fans had a hard time trying to keep up with
it. Was there anything going on behind the scenes that kept them from
being a little more grounded in their decision making?
Like Howard Stringer says, they totally missed... that was kind of a
transition period for television. You know they'd give Sally Field one
episode or two episodes, you know what I mean? And if it doesn't get big
ratings then they'd kill it. In the old days it took one and a half to
two seasons for a show to find its audience. They would nurture shows.
I think THE FLASH was kind of in the middle. The networks were
going more towards stunt broadcasting which was calculated to grab big ratings
right away, and there were shorter attention spans which meant if it didn't
they would dump the show faster. I do know that Sagansky and them were
all really behind the show. It was an industry show, and people in the
industry loved it. Our reviews were wonderful. Washington Post,
New York Times, Chicago Tribune... heavy hitters. Oddly enough the one
sort of "take it or leave it" review we got was the L.A. Times, and a really
scathing review from the associated press, which is actually the one I
memorized. It was just so mean. All the other major publications
not only liked it, they loved it. But I think that when it didn't get a
big audience right away they were surprised. And everything they seemed
to do made it worse. Toward the end of the season I remember getting a
call from Jeff Sagansky saying don't worry about the ratings, we have
merchandising that's going to begin next year. He said the show is great
and you're doing a fantastic job... don't worry about it. Then later the
decision was made. I think it was actually Danny and Paul, when they
(CBS) said this is how much money we're going to put in next year, they said
no. You know, we won't do it for that, it's too hard, too big of a show,
we're not going to compromise. So it was a combination of low ratings,
scheduling, and pre-emption... and also the cost.
MARK: I know it has
been a while since you worked on that, but there were a few things I wanted to
ask about. The first was co-stars. That show had some great talent
both in the regular cast and guest stars. There were people like Richard
Belzer, M. Emmett Walsh, Dick Miller, Mark Hamill, David Cassidy, Angela
Bassett, Denise Crosby, and of course the incredible Jason Bernard, who I
loved as Nightshade. It might be hard to single it out, but in your
memories of working on that show did you have a favorite co-star, and what was
one of your fondest memory working with them?
MARK: Heh, I'm making
it tough for ya!
You know by virtue of the fact that Mark Hamill lobbied CBS to come and play
The Trickster, and by virtue of his energy and enthusiasm... I don't know if
he still does, but he had a comic book store up in Vancouver. So he was
really big into the whole comic thing, and by virtue of his enthusiasm and
energy I had a great time when he was there. Doing that day in and day
out, he didn't care about the hours, he didn't care about the days and nights,
or that we were shooting in Southeast Los Angeles in gang territory at 4:00 in
the morning to get the architecture that we wanted. He didn't care, he
just didn't care. And so that kind of energy was really great to work
with. I'll never forget we were shooting the last episode down in
Southeast Los Angeles at 5:00 in the morning, doing the last shot. And
of course the last shot was appropriately in the suit, which by that point had
become sort of an albatross for me. So we did the last shot, and I
reached up and everybody cheered, and I grabbed both ears... wings, and I
ripped them off and threw them in the air. There were trash cans,
cables, garbage cans... at which point Mark was like "DON'T LET THEM GET
AWAY!! DON'T LET THEM GET AWAY!" He was digging through cables and
prying through trash cans looking for those ears for his comic book store up
in Vancouver. So that I remember. We all had a big laugh.
Then there was the time when David Cassidy came on as the Mirror Master, and
there was this one scene where he presented the illusion that Barry Allen was
covered in snakes. In comes snake wranglers for that insert shot with
garbage bags full of snakes. They started putting snakes around my
shoulders, on my head, around my neck. I had sunglasses on, so at one
point there was a snake crawling up over my head and through my sunglasses, in
between my eyes, and pushing my sunglasses off. I remember Danny Bilson,
who was directing the episode, had to leave the set. My hairdresser
about fainted. It was all very interesting. I'll tell you who I
enjoyed working with, and was such strong support, and was just a steady
strong unflappable guy, was my stunt man Dane Farwell. I remember one
episode where they suspended me from the rafters on one of the sound stages by
my ankles, and my hands were handcuffed behind my back, and they lowered me
into this big container of water which was glass on all four sides.
They're cranking me down into this case and I'm thinking "Okay, I'm chained by
my ankles... what if this crate breaks?" And then they put Dane in the
tank and blew the tank. Out comes all these gallons of water, and glass,
and Dane on a tidal wave. It went further than anyone expected and out
onto the loading dock. I went up to him afterward. That was the
last shot. I guess if someone was hurt we'd at least still get our day
in. There was this big gash out the side of his wrist on his hand, and I
was like "You gotta have that looked at, you've go to report it!" and he was
like "Nah, nah, nah." I really had to pressure him saying you've got to
have an accident report. But the things they did to that guy... I
remember one morning they blew him out of a second floor window, and he landed
on a concrete sidewalk two stories below on his back. He would just get
up and go on to the next thing. He was always checking to see if I was
okay. When I think of someone who was really there for me... he was just
a maniac, and a great guy. Dane was a real rock, I can't speak highly
enough about him. So much of THE FLASH I don't remember.
Now that it's on DVD people will want to sit down with me, and I'll watch
episodes with them, and I'll go "God, I don't remember that at all."
There's a lot of it that's just sort of gone from my memory. It's like
rediscovering it to watch it.
MARK: I was
particularly impressed with your performance in the episode "Twin Streaks", in
which you also played a mentally-challenged clone of Barry Allen. Your
acting in that episode really made that a highlight show for me, and it
remains one of my favorite stories from the series. Do you remember if
all of that was already in the script, or did they let you bring your own
ideas into that character?
They let me bring my own ideas. The character was sort of written...
first of all it wasn't one of Danny's favorites. Danny loved blowing up
things and special effects. That's really where his heart lay.
"Twin Streaks" didn't have a lot of special effects in it. It was really
sort of a character driven action-adventure episode, which is a contradiction
in terms, but I really thought if we're gonna go with this sort of nascent
superhero, I wanted to play him really sympathetically. I did not want
to make him an evil character, and I wanted to play him really childlike.
Now Howard Chaykin did have a line... actually I don't know if that line was
originally written or if that was based on the childlike innocent thing I
wanted to go for. He needed to have sympathy at the end, because if he
was just this (deep voice) "EVIL" alter-Flash, by the time he died it would be
like ho-hum who cares. I thought that final scene with Barry and this
really tragic thing that he inadvertently participated in the creation of,
that when the alter-ego was dying that was kind of a poignant moment.
There was a line in it where one of the scientists was saying "But he doesn't
understand his power." I think that line was there first, because as an
actor you look to the script, and you try to find clues to the character.
Something you can relate to. And I pitched the line "He's like a child."
I don't know if those were the exact words, but there was something indicating
that he didn't understand his power, that he didn't really get it. Even
though his physicality was far superior, or that he was... as you say
retarded. Then I started riffing on childlike and the childlike
innocence. So I went off, as actors do, on a whole journey down that
road. I cried some tears over the death of that character. It was
really a good opportunity for me. Even thought it wasn't one of Danny's
favorite episodes, he got lots of letters from people about it. I think
maybe in terms of story, and everybody takes their share of responsibility for
why didn't the show take off, I think maybe in the beginning they were seeing
it as individual movies with no through line. If I can be self-critical
at this point, I don't think the through line with the relationship with Tina
was well thought out. I don't think there were enough arcs which would
carry viewers from one episode to the next. At the beginning each
episode was very satisfying but it ended. Other than to see the
"Well I wonder what they'll come up with next week?" I don't think there
were a lot of character and plot elements that would carry you into "I gotta
watch next week!" or "I gotta watch to see what happens!" And I think
that one thing that "Twin Streaks" did have was that it did slow down long
enough for people to get involved with the emotion behind the dazzle. I
think you need that.
MARK: So when you guys
were shooting "The Trial of the Trickster" finale, did you realize then it
would be the final episode of the series?
In all honesty no. Because of the phone call I had received from the
head of the network a little less than a month before, telling me not to worry
and that the show was in good shape. It was touch and go, I knew it
would be touch and go. We finished that episode, and we were just
trying to keep up with the schedule. I finished shooting and went
back to my apartment in New York and waited. But I have to say at the
end of the day, my first reaction was surprise. Particularly since they
had already talked to me, and told me about the games and the merchandising.
There were some other elements sort of thrown in to that pot which may have
influenced their decision which are sort of behind the scenes elements and not
really things I want to go into to. There's so many little decisions
large and small deciding which shows make it and which shows don't.
Personnel at the time, upcoming personnel changes, egos, personal
distractions, and they put them in a big hat, shake it up and see what pops
out. And what popped out on THE FLASH I would say unfortunately
at this point was cancellation.
MARK: Since you made it
through an entire season, I'm sure it allowed time to think about what the
show meant to you as an actor. After finding out it was over, was it one
of those things where you were extremely let down, or did you feel like you'd
said everything there was to say with that character?
Absolutely not. It would've gotten easier the next year. It was a
real process of learning. The cowl had to be glued down on the skin of
my face, and they'd take it off with acetone. So they'd bring me in as
The Flash, I'd sweat buckets, they'd take it off with acetone and put makeup
over the raw skin, then they'd take the makeup off and put me in and out of
the suit. As it went on we got the understanding that I would come in
and shoot all my Barry Allen scenes first and then shoot all my Flash scenes.
If we were really in a bind, I'd come in and do all my Flash scenes first and
then do all the Barry Allen scenes. But then I would not go
Barry/Flash/Barry/Flash/Barry/Flash, because my face was raw, I was breaking
out. There were little things that became easier. They didn't
really want the stunt man to do anything, except if I got hurt it would delay
their shooting schedule. But there were many things like wide shots, the
fast speeded up scenes, that took forever to shoot. There was a lot of
stuff where I could've been preparing the next dialogue or the next scene, or
just sitting in my trailer staring at the wall wondering what just happened.
I was out there doing a lot of stuff that I didn't really need to be doing,
which pushed my work hours to 75 or 80 hours a week. You can't really do
that and be in prime condition to go on camera.
MARK: Did you ever
sustain any injuries while working on THE FLASH?
One thing I've been blessed with is a really good constitution. I've
been lucky. People have said "You really could've been injured."
But the thing that gave me trouble was in the first episode I was either hit
by a car or I go up over the hood of a car, then I say part of a line then
roll off of the car. And I course in those days I had something to
prove. I wanted to prove I was a tough guy. But you had to do that
like 25 times. Later on in the show, there was something in Barry's
apartment where I had to go flying back in a chair, and they had that on
ropes. They had me anchored into the chair so the chair went flying out,
and I didn't and ended up suspended in the air and crashing down. And I
crashed right into my elbow, and I had to have that elbow drained
periodically. But that's really the only thing.
MARK: Do you ever get
any FLASH jokes? You know, like if you're running late, and
someone says something like "Oh, I thought you were the fastest man alive!"
I used to. Now that the box set is out, I'm getting a lot more FLASH
stuff, which is fun now because it's been so many years. Mostly there
was the sexual innuendo jokes. That's why the big joke is with the
girlfriend where we're watching the fight, and the dialogue is "I can't
believe it was over so quickly." Of course what we were talking about
was the fight, but everyone gets a big kick out of that.
MARK: Talk a little
about coming back to the Soap scene by playing Carter Jones in ALL MY
CHILDREN. Did it feel good to get back into the type of TV you
started off with?
I love Daytime as an actor. Because if you're working with boring
comedies it can be a real pain in the ass if you aren't working with the right
writer. It was an ideal situation because I had gone back to New York to
do DANCING WITH LUGHNASA. The Irish cast had been doing it for
four months, and that was all they could legally play it. We had cast an
all-American cast. I had flown to New York to be cast for something else
that I knew I wasn't right for. I ended up on Broadway for seven months.
So I was in New York, and got a call from ALL MY CHILDREN about coming
on and playing this character, and he sounded really intriguing. It was
going to be two months, and I thought I could handle that, doing both for two
months. And it only ended when I ruptured a vocal chord, and they sent
me off to a prison for the criminally insane. But I had great time on
that show. I was doing sort of this happy go lucky, really charming guy
with a great sense of humor, beautifully written, and it was eight times a
week on Broadway. I always had tried to find, whenever I play a
psychotic character, a soft underbelly. I'm always trying to find the
vulnerability, what made the character that way, and while you're hating the
guy you're feeling empathy for him at the same time. That was really
successful I think with me doing that in AS THE WORLD TURNS. But
with Carter Jones I saw an opportunity to chew scenery, plus he was just a
sonuvabitch psycho wacko. I could go as dark as I wanted. He was
just this woman-beating, sarcastic, brilliant, arrogant, controlling... could
run rings around anybody he was having a scene with. The character was
very confident in his brain power and his ability to control and manipulate.
Then he came up against Natalie, and couldn't get her to love him. And
then he set the house on fire and got Natalie by accident. It was great.
At first they wanted me to shave, cause I had a three to four day growth for
the play, and I said "well I can't." So they decided he would go to the
hospital disguised as an orderly, and the only way she's going to find out
it's Carter is when she feels his face. It was madness! I was
Carter Jones, beating up a woman because she didn't love me and then crying
about it. Saying "Why did you make me do this?!" On the way to
theater every night I was picking splinters out of my gums from chewing the
scenery, and had a great time. They gave me the freedom... from a
writer's point there are pros and cons. When you consider Primetime is
one hour a week, and when I was on THE FLASH I was shooting 80 hours a
week, with this it was taking us one hour a day. At the height of my
storyline I was having 30 or 40 pieces of dialogue, just my scenes. But
I was always crying and beating her up, and that's where I ruptured the vocal
chord. At one point on Broadway, though it was not a musical, I was
singing in the scene and the girl I was with got this funny look on her face.
I didn't know anything was wrong. Then I began to taste blood in my
mouth. Apparently I was in the middle of the song, singing along and no
sound was coming out. Once they realized changes I wanted to make were
not ego-driven, I ended up trying my own lines if it was overwritten, and
Daytime can be overwritten. But it was a great time.
MARK: Okay, DAWSON'S
CREEK. Here's a show that kind of comes out of nowhere and becomes
this huge thing. It was also a rather different type of role for you.
How did that part come about, and what kind of experiences did you have
working on that series?
They didn't originally shoot a whole pilot, they shot like a 25-minute pilot
presentation. I was in Utah with, now listen to this cast - Lee Majors,
David Carradine, Kathy Lee Crosby, and Michelle Green doing this movie called
LOST TREASURE OF DOS SANTOS. I didn't audition for the part
originally, they cast someone else for the presentation. After it got
picked up they decided they wanted to go a different way with the dad. I
know that they had the infidelity storyline, but they wanted to go a different
way so that it wouldn't be as convenient, and so there would be a different
way for Dawson to play. It was kind of the 11th hour. So I got the
call back in the summer, and they said we want you to see this tape. And
I watched it, and you just knew as soon as you saw that pilot presentation,
the sensibility about it. The way the kids talked, and the kids that
they cast. I don't think there were many young actors that could handle
the dialogue that Kevin Williamson was writing. I remember he was
talking to Glenn Close about possibly playing the lead in KILLING MRS.
TINGLE before it was TEACHING MRS. TINGLE, since they changed that
title after Columbine. And she said "Well kids don't talk that way" and
Kevin said "No, but they would like to." I think he was really on to
something. You've got these really intelligent kids seeing things in
different ways, and subjects that I know I dealt with when I was in my teens.
It's not so odd. I think maybe it was one of the first times when the
network wasn't writing down to its young audience, it was writing up to its
young audience. And I told my manager "This is really special." We
re-shot the dad scenes from the pilot presentation which became part of the
aired pilot. I had a good time with it. People would say "Well how
do you feel about playing a dad?" and they'd say "are you really old enough to
be Dawson's father?" Not only am I old enough to be Dawson's father, I'm
old enough to be James' father, as James is older than Dawson. I didn't
really have a problem with it. Plus the way Kevin wrote the character,
both the mom and the dad, I loved his role reversal. In the beginning it
was the mom and the dad that were getting into all the trouble. That's what I
liked about. Yet the dad would come through with I think some pretty
good lateral advice. Kevin did not want any sort of 7th HEAVEN-ish
father... Mitch explains it all to son. And we got into some of that
after Kevin left the show. But I enjoyed the whole relationship between
Gail and Mitch, the fact that, at least when Kevin was writing it, we had
independent storylines. You will have independent storylines which will
be subservient to the kids, but which will reflect what the kids are going
through. They will complement each other but each will be their own, for
instance the infidelity storyline. And they reflect the Joey/Pacey/Dawson
triangle. People from different age brackets dealing with issues from a
different life perspective, and I found that fascinating. Plus it was
fun. I'm from the East Coast, and I love being in North Carolina.
I loved doing a series where it wasn't on my shoulders, where I had time to go
off and do other things. It was great to watch that young cast, and it
was great to work with young actors. I mean James had worked with Edward
freakin' Albee who wrote WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? They
were great actors, but they weren't Hollywood-ized. I think also because
we were shooting in North Carolina, they were insulated even from their own
celebrity to a certain extent. You had this really smart, really
sincere, talented cast being protected from their own egos. I mean one
day nobody knew who they were, and next day they were on the cover of every
magazine. I remember Katie being so innocent. We'd come out of our
trailers, and she'd run and jump into my arms. It was a really great
MARK: So your character
on that show, Mitch Leery, got into a car accident and died. I know that
bothered a lot of fans too. What brought on that decision? Did you
want to leave the show or was it something else?
There were a couple things going on. It was really secretive, and ended
up being the best thing for me. The show really needed a major plot
point. The writing was on the wall. Kevin left after season two.
I think in the fourth season I did 19 episodes, but the parents were slowly
devolving into the thing I had been promised would not happen, and then at the
end of the fourth season they were graduating from high school and going to
college. I saw the writing on the wall. They let Mary Beth Peil's
contract lapse, they let my contract lapse, they let Mary-Margaret Humes
contact lapse, and they wanted to renegotiate for fewer episodes. So I
said okay, I'm already unhappy. I feel like I'm getting paid a lot of
money not to work. So when they said we want you to come back six or
eight episodes, I put my episode fee really high. I mean if the kids
left the creek, what would the parents be doing? Showing up at parent's
day standing and waving in the background? And I thought if I'm going to
do that they're going to pay me a lot of money! Otherwise I'm going to
be in L.A. looking for other work. So that happened and they were
negotiating. They were already shooting the first episode and were
having to deal with me. So halfway through shooting that episode, the WB
shut the show down because they had no plot point. They had no major
motivating event, they had nothing on which to build the rest of the season.
At that point their creative team got together, and Paul Stupin called me in
L.A. to have coffee with him, and he said "I know what you've been struggling
with, and we've been struggling too." See the people who took over the
show envisioned it as a kid Soap Opera. So he said "We're in this
situation, we don't know what to do with the character of Dawson. If we
gave you the money you're asking, but instead of for six episodes, would you
agree to come back and kill the character?" And it took my breath away.
But he said "I promise you two great scripts." In the first script there
will be a misunderstanding with Dawson. I will have resolved the
misunderstanding. He will not. You will be killed before he has
the chance to resolve the misunderstanding. The second episode will be
ala SIX FEET UNDER kind of, where you get to come back leading up to
your funeral, and have final scenes with each of the major characters that
you've worked with. I was thinking to myself, okay, I've been promised
great scripts before, but if they're going to give me all that money to come
back then I'll do it. But you know what, they delivered. They were
the best scripts I'd ever had, and it made me feel like the previous four
years had been about something. I got to tie up and have my final
moments with Joey, with Pacey, with Dawson, with Gail, and they were such
beautiful episodes, and so beautifully directed. And this I've seen
happen a lot. There's a series and some people you are about to lose, or
there's a guest star the writers are really excited about. Because
they've been writing for the other characters for four years and now they can
focus on something else. I think it was so great for the show. I
mean you'd have to say Mitch was well-endowed dramatically in those last two
episodes. A lot of the audience, based on the amount of attention Mitch
was given, were very upset by Mitch's death. But it gave me terrific
stuff to play. I was told later on that people believed that Mitch's
death was where the show "jumped the shark." But it was beautiful.
It was great motivation for Dawson too, since he could deal with unresolved
feelings about the misunderstanding with his father, and his father's death,
going into therapy about his career and his life. I got two great
episodes, I got the money that I wanted, they got their major motivating
shocking event, and it was a win/win for everybody.
MARK: Do you have any
projects you're currently working on, or anything coming up?
Since DAWSON'S I did a film with Erika Eleniak called SECOND TO DIE,
I did a short film for a company named Power Up called STARCROSSED, and
an episode of JAG, stuff here and there. Right now is really
about taking time off and doing these comic book conventions, promoting the
DVD which is selling really well. But I'll be really ready to come back,
start interviewing and looking at projects again, certainly by fall.
MARK: I was so happy to
see THE FLASH finally available on DVD, but was stunned that they
didn't have a single extra feature on it. That's a show that's begging
for behind the scenes featurettes and making of videos. Did they never
even approach you about doing a commentary?
No. I was shocked too. What is there is well presented. I
think it's a beautiful presentation for the box set. It must've been a
financial decision. I mean there's no commentary from Paul and Danny,
and like you say, I mean look how long we talked about THE FLASH today.
And there are many more questions. People want to know technically what
it was like. We had this b-roll that was shot, there were scenes that
were cut, there are so many things to talk about with that show. It
didn't occur to me, my first reaction was "Oh great, they're going to be
available." Cause I would get these letters "Where can we get the
episodes?" and "Why haven't they put them out?" So I thought it was
terrific that they did it. But since then people have asked the exact
same question that you asked, and I don't have an answer for that.
MARK: Well this has
been a lot of fun for me John. I've really enjoyed your performances
over the years, and I look forward to seeing what lies ahead. I'm also
glad you'll be joining us in Dallas for the
DALLAS COMIC CON. This is the first time you've ever
appeared at one of these conventions, right?.
I've never done one of these, and the timing is great because of the DVD.
And also it's enough time between me and THE FLASH. I look at it
now, and it may have been a pain in the ass while I was doing it, but it was
freakin' good television, you know?
Thanks so much, I really appreciate you doing this interview.
You got it.
John Wesley Shipp and Mark Walters
at the Dallas Comic Con 7 - April 29-30, 2006
TAKE ME HOME