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Tom Cavanagh Reveals What it’s Like Playing a Supervillain

The Flash is all about superspeed; here, we slow down and catch up with its most villainous character

The Flash, based on DC Comic’s beloved hero with superhuman speed, has become one of many superhero storylines to get The CW’s TV network treatment. But one of its sticking points, one of many which earned the show this month’s third season premiere, is Tom Cavanagh’s dynamic character Dr. Harrison Wells. The cat is already out of the bag in terms of Cavanagh’s role as a supervillain, and again, in its newest season The Flash gives its fans a new world, and Tom Cavanagh, to follow. Here, the actor reflected with DuJour about his role in the show and life on set of The Flash. 

We’re three episodes in and already season three is no stranger to elements, like time travel and multiple worlds, that we’ve seen in past seasons. Does your head spin when a new script comes in?

I wouldn’t say we’re jaded veterans but we’re definitely used to the idea. When it first happened in season one, Barry sees Barry for the first time and I definitely think there was a pulse that went around the room that was tremendous.

One could assume that the opportunity to play such a range of characters on one show might be a real privilege for an actor. Is that the case?

Those are two words that really describe what I’m doing here on this show. Usually you can paint yourself with playing the role you played on the pilot and you’re grateful for it. You know Seinfeld’s going to be Seinfield for nine seasons. But my starting point for everything is the Reverse Flash, and what’s the opportunity and privilege is to be able to fashion a new character with the same face and the same name, but with a completely new set of characteristics. Any actor will tell you it’s truly a privilege and a delight. For wardrobe, not so much! They’re running around going, “okay which guy now?”

And entering season three we’re savvy to Dr. Harrison Wells’ villainous identity. How was that, knowing you’d end up playing a “bad guy?”

This is my third show with Greg Berlanti, who is kind of the golden boy right now, and when Greg calls you need to listen. When we started this it had to be a secret because we were still trying to figure out who this Reverse Flash was; when they cast the role, Reverse Flash wasn’t a ‘bad guy’ yet, he was Barry’s mentor. Now we’re in a time when everyone’s talking about the villain. I love it.

This cast is unique in that you all seem to actually like each other. What is life like on set?

I’m hesitant to talk about it because I’m aware of what it looks like when actors say, “we love each other!” but the fact of the matter is we do. Just yesterday Carlos Valdes and I had both my guitar and Tom Felton’s guitar out and, without having practiced, we’re cranking out – maybe not the best – rendition of “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” You know, it’s joyous. There’s laughter, there’s dance, there’s practical jokes. It’s a very vibrant, lively fun place to be. If you could see Grant Gusten take on The Flash post-cut and pre-action, we could probably do a Larry-Sanders-type show.


Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.