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Interview: Hartley Sawyer on the second half of The Flash season 5

The Flash has had many guest additions to the team along the way, but most recently fan favourite Hartley Sawyer, who plays Ralph Dibney/Elongated Man, has been made a series regular – joining the team full time. As a character who first appeared in season four as a bit of an unscrupulous private investigator, he’s since come full circle as a bonafide superhero in an impressive arc. 

We had the chance to chat with Hartley Sawyer on the phone earlier this week to discuss what fans can look forward to when The Flash returns from the mid-season break, as well as what’s in store for Ralph. He also chatted about starring in the Arrowverse crossover as well as his first experience at a comic con in London!

NA: How do you feel about having such a huge positive response from the fans and being made a series regular? It’s been a great year for you!

HS: It’s been really terrific, and it’s funny now I look back on when I first came onto the show and started on episode four of season four and it’s funny because in hindsight, I realise now how much that went into it and that they really tried to establish the character. It’s just been a great ride, and the fans at the airport with signs and stuff like that, are just great. It’s so much to interact with and so many people tell me that they love the show, and that they watch it with their family every week. It’s fantastic to be a part of that.

NA: Have you tried a Flash suit on yet?!

HA: Have I tried a Flash suit on? No! I mean I actually really want to, I would love to, but there isn’t one with the right fit and there’s no way I would fit into Grants, but every time I look at that thing I’m a little tempted to put it on!

NA: Did you get any input with your costume at all? Because you had your grey one first, and then you went on to your proper costume.

HS: I probably had more input on the grey one honestly than I did on the second one, the second one I didn’t feel like I had to. I didn’t give a lot of input on the purple suit and it’s in part because when I saw the drawings, I thought it looked really cool and good. And then when I put it on, I didn’t really have any notes because they did a great job of it, and I think they do a great job with all of these super suits, so that it was something that I just thought worked really well, and my only concern was that they would do something that was kind of goofy given the nature of the character, but I liked that they didn’t do that. They gave him kind of a real super suit and I love that, so that was super fun for me to see and that was a real thrill to try it on in the first time.

The Flash — “Elongated Journey Into Night” — Image Number: FLA404a_0227b.jpg — Pictured: Hartley Sawyer as Dibney — Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW — © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

NA: How do you act when you do the whole elastic thing?

HS: So, that stuff, the visual effects team works all the time on that stuff and they do a terrific job, but there are a lot of things where I’ll do things with the body, and things to sell it, and then there’s some stuff that is just almost like contorting myself a little bit to do these things. I’ve done everything from being hung upside down to on wires to be blown back to every different little thing or just a tiny movement here with the fingers, it’s every level of things. That stuff gets to be time-consuming because you have to get it just right, so they can do the work or maybe do it with the effects stuff, but it’s really fun to bring that physicality to it.

NA: I mean how did you do the peach?!

HS: That was all effects! Basically from the neck down, they were like “we got it!” and for the neck up I just kind of did what I needed to do up there. But ironically enough last year when I did the Santa Clause thing, I think it was in episode nine, that was practical, so we do both – it just depends really. When I did the peach/pear that was visual effects, but last year when I grew a belly to be Santa Claus, and I think it was episode 9 in Season 4, that was actually kind of a balloon that was strapped to my waist in my chest that the guys, who were just hidden off the frame so you couldn’t see them, hit a button and it just went just PEW! like an air bag going off.

NA: And this is your day job – how amazing is that!

HS: I know! Every time I go to work, I’m like, this is easily the best job in the world, if not one of the best jobs in the world for anybody. You just get to go to work and have fun!

NA: Definitely! You’ve had an amazing arc this season, you’re really embracing what it is to be a hero and helping Caitlin out. Where would you like to see Ralph progress next?

HS: I think the thing that I really want for him is that in the comics the detective aspect of the character is such a big thing for him, and that’s something that we started to build up to this year and that’s when I really wanna see more and more of. I love the idea of this guy who always says kind of the wrong thing and gets his ass kicked or gets the side eye from everybody. But in the comics the detective aspect of the character is something that I love because he’s really, really good at it, he’s really got a skill there. So we started to explore that a little bit more, and that’s something that I really wanna see more of too. And I also love with the way that we introduced the character last year, he was in a world of criminals, you know? The world of not very good people in a world with people doing good things, and so this year we kind of talk about that. Like there’s this whole world out there that Ralph came from before he was part of team Flash and wouldn’t it be fun to go back to that a little bit and see what happens with that? So we’re actually doing a little bit of that in episode 13 coming up – we need to find something that’s gonna help us fight Cicada and nobody knows where to look and Ralph does, because he knows where the black market is and he knows where the underworld is and all that stuff – so that was really cool to see. I love that aspect of him, because everybody else in team Flash is great, but they’re pretty much squeaky clean and it’s nice that he’s not, you know?

NA: Would you like to see a spin-off detective show with Ralph and Sherlock?

HS: I would love that actually. What was the show with Lucy Lui and the other guy, I’ve forgotten the other actor’s name. But I would love that. I love working with Tom, he’s a friend of mine too, so any time we get to work with each other is always a ball! He’s such a wonderful actor, and just a great guy. I also love these two characters together too, and that stuff was fun earlier on in the season, you know in episode 4 or 5 where they both did their detective stuff. I would love to see those two together as much as possible – I love it!

NA: How much fun was it filming the Elseworlds crossover? You managed to punch Barry in the face!

HS: That was so much fun because when you start to think about it, I punched Barry in the face but also kind of knocked out the Green Arrow too in a way, and how people get to do that, right?! I know it wasn’t Stephen so I can’t really lay claim to that, but it was like hey Ralph’s knocked out the Green Arrow – that’s not too bad! But I loved being a part of that crossover and I didn’t get to do it last year and I got to do some of it this year, and I’m hoping to do even more of it in the future. They are such huge undertakings to shoot, this year in particular, for me, I thought it turned out wonderfully well and I thought it was just so much fun! When I started to see the footage I’ll tell you when I read the scripts early on, I heard the idea, I loved the idea of the body swap thing, the Freaky Friday, and then when I read the script, I was on a plane, and I read all of them at once and I was like, man I’m 10 years again with my trunk full of comic books in my bedroom upstairs, because this is what it feels like! It felt so much fun to me, it felt like hey let’s set up this stuff, but let’s just have a good time, and it felt like a special run of comic books and a great graphic novel where it’s like “What If: Wolverine” and that kind of stuff, so it felt like a “What If?” kind of thing. And it was just so much fun; it appealed to the kid in me and the adult in me! Then when I saw the finished product – it was just pure fun and pure joy and you could tell that everybody had fun doing it, for example Stephen and Grant together, they were just great, they were having so much fun and their chemistry was just through the roof and I just loved it!

NA: Yeah, and I mean it was weird to see Grant trying to do the whole dark brooding Arrow thing wasn’t it?

HS: Do you remember that moment, I think it’s when they first meet Ruby Roses’ character, and somebody says, maybe it’s Melissa or Cisco? They say something to Grant, who they think is Oliver, and he says “Oh no, I would never compare myself to a badass like Batman” and he kinda looks at Stephen and Stephen kind of glares at him, and it was just a brilliant moment! It genuinely made me laugh out loud because it was just the two characters coming together for that moment of you know, will you shut up right now, and I thought it was just brilliant. It was almost like a last year. I liked last year’s crossover, it was so big and there was just so much going on what with the wedding and all the other stuff, and this year it was just a little cleaner, a little more simple and just pure fun.

NA: You must have so much fun on set, you’ve got a cracking cast. Do you have a favorite story you can tell us?

HS: The thing about a lot of the stories on set is that they happen spontaneously when you’re on like hour 11 or 12 and me and Tom and Grant or whatever, get in good it and it always becomes like the bit of the day where you just play that for hours, and hours, whether it’s a game or somebody came up with a catch phrase or something like that, but it’s a very spontaneous thing and it becomes very fun. In terms of a specific favorite story I don’t know if I have one that would be suitable, a lot of them are definitely not PG-13! It’s just always a hoot, and it’s also useful too in the sense that having so much fun together and laughing so much and so genuinely with each other before you hear action, it carries over into the scene and it carries the energy into the scene, and it makes everybody just kind of come alive, there’s more light in the eyes, because you’re trying keep it together because Tom just said something that’s so funny and you can’t even stop smiling!

NA: So what can you tell us about second half of season five when The Flash returns?

HS: What I can tell you is we come back next Tuesday night and I think they’re doing an international thing the next day, I can’t remember exactly. But we’re gonna see the whole thing with Cicada start to ramp up and all of that, and obviously we’ve revealed now that Nora is working with Thawne in the future. And I was really excited to see that because I love that character of Reverse Flash version and I think he plays it so well and to me, that’s such a great, great villain – I would put that up there with any of the movie villains and comic books and stuff like that. It’s a great performance, and a great villain so I’m excited to see more of that play out. And at some point, it will be revealed to the entire team that Nora is doing this, Sherloque is figuring it out. Nora’s going to have to own up to that at certain point and the rest of the team will find out and that’s gonna be in an atomic bomb, particularly I think for Barry and Iris. And in terms of Ralph going forward, there’s some great stuff coming up in episode 11 that he’s involved with, there’s some more stuff with Ralph and Killer Frost, those two characters together and also Ralph really stepping up to be a hero to save some meta-humans. Episode 13 is a really fun one, it’s pretty much all Ralph and Barry for the whole episode and that’s something that Grant and I had so much fun on because he and I worked a lot together last year, and we had a blast, so we always laugh a lot when we’re together. And then we just started shooting and I’m excited for this one, I think they teased it a little bit at Comic Con, we’re now getting into King Shark versus Gorilla Grodd which is something that I’m very excited for as a fan because I love those two characters. I Think they pulled that off so well in this world, I’m really excited to see that.

NA: The VFX team are fantastic when it comes to those effects!

HS: Yeah, I can tell you as a fan of comic books a few years ago before I was on the show, I heard they were doing King Shark, my first thought was like “Who do you think you are, and how are you gonna pull that off?!” And again, this was before I worked on the show and I said there’s no way this is gonna work. And then I saw the King Shark episode and I was like – holy crap, this is awesome! I think this works so well and I just bought it hook, line and sinker. And so ever since then in Season 3 when the team went to Gorilla City, the visual effects in the Gorilla scene where Barry fights Savitar, if I remember correctly, and the visual effects in that scene were just out of this world! So they do just a fantastic job with that stuff and I’m really excited for that.

NA: Are you working on anything else at the moment? And are you gonna be doing any conventions?

HS: That was my first one in London last year! And so, right now what I have coming up is my schedule for the summer for the hiatus, because obviously shooting keeps us very busy 10 months of the year, so I did one in San Jose last month in early December, and I’m looking at one in Virginia, Canada coming up and then try to schedule the rest of the summer around hiatus and see where that lands. But I love doing them! It’s a privilege to do those conventions and to meet people and I remember being so nervous the first time I did it. Everybody from all over Europe were just fantastic. I was worried nobody was gonna show up! I was like who’s going to care about me and then you get there and you have this big line and just people come in all day long and it was just wonderful because it’s person after person and they just love this. They love the show, they love the world and the character. My favorite thing to hear is parents with their kids saying, “This is what we do every week, we’ve done this every week for five years, we watch the show and we love your character and we just love this world” and that to me is the magic of being on show like this. That’s probably my favorite thing, is hearing families say this is the thing we do together and as our kids become teenagers and they’re graduating high school, we still do it, we still do it every week and I love that.

NA: And it must be great because you probably don’t get to interact with your fans a lot. And to find out that you’re a fan favourite, that must be amazing?

HS: Yeah, I mean you never know! You sometimes get people at the airport and whatnot. I’ve never even been to London – so that was a whole experience for me too, and it was wonderful! It’s just wonderful to go there, and I always try to come from gratitude and to remember how lucky I am and I have the best job in the world, and I love my job, and I have a great life and that’s just as the icing on the cake for people. To enjoy what you’re doing and have it brings families together and it doesn’t get you in on that, definitely.

The Flash continues on Tuesdays on the CW.

Listen to the interview below!