Ethan Sills talks to Matt Letscher, star of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, about playing the villain and what it’s really like to wear a superhero costume all day.
Superhero shows are unavoidable these days. With basically every American network and streaming service trying to launch their own brand, and comic book adaptations continuing to dominate the global box office, cape-wearing, latex-costumed heroes are such a dominant force around the world they are starting to get blamed for some of its problems.
For nearly five years now, the ‘Arrowverse’ has become one of the fastest growing entries in the continuing battle for superhero attention. Consisting of four (soon to be five) DC comic adaptations, this little world has made a name for itself with its glorious crossover events and by balancing drama and comedy in a way that its big screen rivals have yet to crack.
Matt Letscher is one man who has benefited greatly from this growing universe. The 46-year-old has been acting for over 20 years, starring in as varied projects as The Mask of Zorro and The Carrie Diaries, but has found a stellar role in Eobard Thawne aka Reverse-Flash, a villainous speedster running his way between The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow over the past two years.
Letscher is in the country now for the Armageddon Expo, and found time ahead of his trip to talk to us about the joys of being the villain, keeping the world grounded, and why those superhero costumes are truly awful to wear.
Can you talk to me a bit about being a part of the Arrowverse/DC TV universe and what that experience has been like for you?
That experience of being a part of the whole DC TV world has been informative. There’s a lot of background material to work with, obviously, there’s a whole canon that addresses each of these characters and the storylines. It’s been an education for sure. Not just in the source material, but the education and passion of the fan base.
Overall, it’s exciting to be part of something that the fans are really passionate about. It’s exciting to be part of storytelling that really seems to resonate with people on some level.
What has that fan reaction been like for your role? I guess playing a villain, some people can probably be a bit antagonistic towards you at conventions.
I’d say the people who are antagonistic are outnumbered by the people who are positive, probably 50:1. People seem to really enjoy the villains because they are so outlandish. They seem to enjoy the freedom that those characters have, hopefully without identifying with them too much.
You definitely feel as though you are making an impression – of course so much of that has to do with the writing and the way these shows are shot. I’d say the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
What about you, do you enjoy playing the villain? You’ve had to do a lot of dark things – do you have fun with it?
It’s always fun to play villains because there are literally no boundaries, especially when you are talking about someone who is a psychopath. There are no rules for him and that really opens up a delightful number of possibilities for how he’ll behave to get what he wants.
When the role ended on The Flash, were you expecting to move on and get another opportunity to play Thawne on Legends of Tomorrow?
No, I wasn’t. That came quite by surprise last year. I knew that the character would be back, but I had always assumed he’d back on The Flash. You know, he’s a pretty significant figure in the Flash-verse.
When it was first pitched to me they said, “we’re going to keep bringing you back because it’s just one of those characters that are really pivotal to the story.” I’m sure he’ll be back at some point from some other timeline to cause Barry trouble. But Legends was a sweet moment, that was a lot of fun.
I imagine one of the good things about being in a superhero show is that you can’t really die, you have that opportunity to keep coming back as we all know no one really dies in comic books.
That is wonderful but it’s also challenging, from a storytelling perspective, because if no one can really die then there’s never really any stakes. That’s great in the sense that you get to bring these characters back over and over again, but as then as the actor you have to remember that you’re not invincible, no matter how many times you might be able come back from other worlds or other timelines.
You have to play the moment that’s happening to you now as life or death. When you forget that, that’s when you fall into the realm of cartoonishness. These shows, for the most part, do a good job of avoiding that.
As an actor though, it must be nice to have that kind of constant job security.
Yeah, knowing that there’s always an escape hatch doesn’t hurt, for sure!
You’ve had a long career and worked on quite a few shows and movies over the years in different genres. How does your experience in the Arrowverse compare?
It’s interesting because The Flash and Legends are very different shows. The both feature some of the same characters but tonally their much different. The Flash is much more of an intimate family show, and while Legends is I guess a show about misfits that become a family, the tone of the show is much broader, much more adventurous, much bawdier. Having to adjust to that moving over to Legends was a bit challenging, but it was just fun, it was a different kind of experience.
When you have to dress up as someone in a yellow leather suit, you’re always aware that you’re playing someone outside our reality. That can be really fun, but at times you can feel kind of disconnected. You really have to work harder to root that character in a different reality; he’s not living in one that we can relate to. That’s just some of the challenges this character has presented compared to a more straightforward warrior show.
On that suit, is it comfortable to wear?
No, it’s not comfortable at all. It’s extremely tight and there’s about 12 different zippers that have to align perfectly in order for the thing to fit on my body. And then you’ve got gloves and boots, and then when I’m wearing a cowl on top of that, the mask that they built, it’s stuck to my face like saran wrap. You feel like you’ve been shoved in a bag and placed in the freezer, it’s very uncomfortable.
When you have to do stunts in it, it’s sort of ridiculous and uncomfortable. If people could see these shots before they put in the green screen and all the special effects stuff, it’s quite ludicrous, it’s really funny to watch us running in place pretending to be running at super speed in these tight leather suits that don’t allow us to extend our legs completely.
It’s fun. The suit does give you this feeling of power, when you’re in a big leather suit. It gives you these feeling like ‘I’m a badass’ – and then you remember you can’t take a full step in it.
I did read one interview you did where you talked about these stunts, and how you were basically being tied to the ceiling and running in place.
There was this episode in season two of The Flash and we were supposed to be side by side through the speed force, and one pulls ahead of the other and then the other one pulls ahead, so it looks like a race.
The way we shot it was: they got a rope and tied the either end of the rope to one of each of us, and there was somebody holding the rope off camera and they’d let out one side of the rope so one of us would move ahead and then let out the other end so the other one would. It was just the simplest cheat in the world to create the shot. Charlie Chaplin probably did this at some point. Once they put in the green screen, of course, you’d never know anything and it all looks terrific. The glamour of television.
What would be your favourite memories from the two shows? I imagine, given the different tones, they’d be quite different behind the scenes as well?
It is quite different behind the scenes, although they are both busy shows. To pull off shows with this amount of special effects and the time period we shoot them in, you are moving at a breakneck pace all season long, so there’s not a lot of time to breathe.
I really enjoyed working on The Flash, partly because the people on that cast are a lovely group of people, but I really enjoyed loved the relationship between Eobard and Barry. I think it was especially well drawn and the scenes that wrote towards that were really layered were really fun to play.
With Legends, tonally it was a different show, but what was so great about that show I got some pals. I got Merlyn, Damian and the Legion of Doom. So my experience with those guys was really, really fun, we had a great time on set, we really enjoyed what we were doing. It was definitely worth the ride to be able to share it with those guys.
Finally, I think for a lot of people, all they know about these DC TV shows is that original poster from Arrow where Stephen Amell is shirtless and very ripped. Was there any sort of pressure to match those standards?
No! First of all, I could never match Stephen Amell standards, that is impossible for mere mortals. I was approached by Andrew and Greg, who I’d worked with previously, and they knew they were not hiring a muscle man by any stretch of the imagination.
I tried to stay fit and tried to keep up, but this is another area where you can let the suit do a lot of the work. You can let all those fake muscles be as strong as you want.
Matt is at Armageddon Expo in Tauranga May 27-28th and in Wellington June 3rd-5th
Click below to see Matt Letscher in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, available on Lightbox
This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.