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Small Screen: Cavanagh shows sinister side in The Flash

It’s only when you sit down to transcribe an interview with Tom Cavanagh that it makes sense why he’s part of The Flash. The man talks faster than the average human being. The comic book-inspired superhero series bowed to great numbers Oct.
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Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh, left) wants to help Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) understand his super-speed on The Flash, tonight at 8 on CTV.

It’s only when you sit down to transcribe an interview with Tom Cavanagh that it makes sense why he’s part of The Flash. The man talks faster than the average human being.

The comic book-inspired superhero series bowed to great numbers Oct. 7 both in Canada and the U.S. On The CW, the drama zoomed out of the gate to an overnight audience of 4.54 million viewers, The CW’s highest-rated series debut in more than five years.

In Canada, it did even better, proportionally, on CTV, where it sped past time-slot rivals in all key demos, drawing 2.3 million viewers in overnight estimates according to preliminary data from Numeris (formerly BBM Canada).

Critical reviews have been positive, too. It’s a promising start for the series and for Cavanagh, an Ottawa native and popular actor who has enjoyed a steady career in U.S. television despite never really being part of a hit show.

The Queen’s University grad spent four seasons as the star of Ed, a sweet little comedy co-starring Modern Family actress Julie Bowen that ran from 2000 to 2004. Other U.S. network tries include Love Monkey, a 2006 CBS music business-based sitcom co-starring fellow Canadian Jason Priestley that barely got sampled. He teamed with another Canuck, Eric McCormack, for Trust Me, a 2009 ad industry effort airing on a U.S. cable channel. In between were several guest-starring stints on Scrubs as well as holiday-themed TV movies.

The Flash gives Cavanagh a chance to show a sinister side and play someone a little less charming than his usual on-screen persona. His character, Dr. Harrison Wells, is the — some would say — evil genius behind S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator. An accident at the labs causes a thunderstorm, which causes a chemical explosion. Young Barry Allen (played by Grant Gustin) is knocked unconscious in the blast but awakes to find he somehow has superhuman speed. Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett and Carlos Valdes also star in the series, which is produced in Vancouver.

Last summer at the TV critics press tour in Los Angeles, Cavanagh says he was gobsmacked by all the explosive storylines in the scripts. He feels the executive producers, including Greg Berlanti — better known for touchy-feely family dramas such as Everwood and Brothers & Sisters — have really “swung for the fences” in crafting a comic book drama. “They’re taking chances and they’re going for it,” says Cavanagh.

The actor worried that so much was crammed into the pilot that the producers would run out of story. When viewers see what’s in store for the first nine episodes, he says, they’ll be amazed.

“Every episode is like a season ender,” he says. “I think the feeling is, we have an opportunity here, let’s go for it.”

Dr. Wells is confined to a wheelchair — not the first time Cavanagh has acted sitting down. “I did a movie called Sublime — it’s like an indie filler — where I was missing a leg,” he says. Cavanagh recalls he had to hide one leg throughout the movie and says the process was really arduous. “It hurt, you know?”

So he had some reservations about playing Wells. Those fears disappeared once he got a look at the sweet wheels the producers cooked up for his character. “They come in with this plush, top-of-the-line, five-speed automated thing,” he says. “This is luxury!”

All the other actors are on their feet for 15 hours a day, says Cavanagh. “I’m booting around in this little thing so I let anybody use it anytime they want.”

Cavanagh, who turns 51 later this month, has been married for 10 years. The couple have a daughter and two sons and that’s about as much as you’ll learn about them from him. “I don’t talk about my family,” he politely but firmly tells a reporter from People magazine.

But does The Flash allow Cavanagh to feel like a kid again? That would be yes. “It’s fun,” he says.

8 p.m. tonight, CTV