Tom Cavanagh Talks Directing 'The Flash'

Tom Cavanagh went behind the lens for Tuesday’s new “The Flash,” which will see Barry Allen travel to the future in the hopes of getting a crucial piece of information to help stop Savitar.

But, the 2024 future that Barry heads to in the new episode (titled “The Once and Future Flash”) is a bleak one, as it gives viewers a peek into the lives of Team Flash after Savitar murders Iris West in 2017. Barry will meet up with future versions of his old friends (and himself) as he looks for clues about Savitar’s identity while trying to save the woman he loves in the present.

In a new interview, Tom told more about directing the new episode, and gave us clues about what we’ll see in 2024 Central City. Was this the first time you were directing network TV since ‘Ed’? I feel like you’ve done other directing since then.
Tom Cavanagh: Yeah, I’ve done movies and theater and stuff. Most of the stuff I’ve directed, be it theater or film or television, hasn’t had the bells and whistles and digital wizardry behind it, and television hasn’t had that in a general sense, up until, say the last five or seven years anyway, you know what I mean? And I’ve been there to sort of witness that change. You couldn’t even do ‘The Flash’ seven years ago the way we do ‘The Flash’ because it would have been too expensive. And now we have … the technological advances to do it and to get to do that thing, to basically be limited only by your imagination, you know — ‘He runs across the water!’ ‘Yep, can do.’ ‘The world turns upside down.’ ‘Can do.’ ‘OK, it’s a time race, blasting through the system, coming to choke him and swing him into a wall.’ ‘Yeah, no problem!’ It’s great, and so being able to do something that looks like a big screen thing, for me, it was just joyous.

Access: Did they write you out for this episode so that you could direct it? 
Tom: No, I like being in it. We talked about that. … Most of the stuff I’ve directed I’ve been in and it’s just – it’s one less actor you have to convey a vision to. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know it. You want me to turn to the camera at this point and then kind of drive the camera by moving camera right up until I get to this spot and then turn back?’ ‘Got it.’ (laughs). You’re a vehicle for the camera sometimes as an actor, and if the two meld together well, that can make for good storytelling and a good shot. When I’m an actor in it, I don’t have to explain the way I think it is and also, if I muck it up I can yell at myself.

Access: Did you know that the episode you were going to get was one that was going to be set in the future? Did you know very long in advance that that was coming because that’s certainly got to put more on your shoulders as a director?
Tom: I feel like I got really fortunate there. I was going to direct one earlier, but I was in the episode prior too heavy. … It’s not really so much writing me out of the episode because I like being in the stuff I’m directing, it’s writing me out of the episode prior to it so that I can prep, because 90 percent of the battle happens in prep and you kind of can’t skimp on the prep. And so, that was the busiest time and so I couldn’t really be available to do the episode prior. And it worked out well. ‘OK, we can be light on the H.R. story line and take him out of some stuff and give other people his contributions,’ and just basically write me out of that show so that I could go prep and when it became apparent that we were dovetailing towards this, it was like, ‘OK, good. This will be a good fit as a director.’ 

Access: From the promos … it looks like a darker, heavier episode. [The characters] all look pretty bummed out, however far into the future we are after Iris’ death. If that is possibly the direction that this is going in, [was] this a heavy set that [you guys were] on? You’re kind of a fun-loving guy. …  I’m just curious how heavy the set was for this stuff.
Tom: It’s interesting. I’ve always felt that, and I think sometimes people are loath to do it — to combine the humor with the gravitas of a situation, but I’ve always felt like, Butch and Cassidy – ‘I can’t swim.’ ‘Well, the fall will probably kill you.’ And then, diving in the water. Those are funny lines in a life-threatening situation, but if done right, if you commit to the thing, it can just improve and accentuate everything you’re trying to do. And so, in this thing, we’ve built the future we want it to be, as you put it, like a dark and forbidding place, where Iris’ death has sort of shifted everything. It’s a mentally-apocalyptic landscape because nothing matters more than love and love has been taken away. And so, it’s created a fissure in the group that they can’t seem to come back from. The sets that we’re so familiar with, we get to rip up. Those are sort of a fourth character that we get to introduce. We’re like, ‘Remember this world that you’re so familiar with? Now, here’s what it looks like.’ That being said, I think just like you say, I’m drawn to the idea that humor is one of the quickest ways to align people with what you’re trying to do. This thing — even in difficult situation — this episode is not going to be without those pockets of humor and most of those pockets of humor show up in the most dire situations. The only teaser I will say is there’s going to be a ‘Star Wars’ reference, a ‘Back to the Future’ reference, and an ‘Indiana Jones’ homage in this thing. 

Access: So this bank robber [short film] you’re hoping to do [in the hiatus] with Grant — I just wanted to know a little bit more about the premise of the [project] that you guys are hoping to do with your IndieGoGo campaign. [Would it be you and Grant in a] heist type thing?
Tom: Yeah, exactly right. … Some of the stuff that happens after cut on our show is pretty hilarious and we kind of can’t show the public that, but we’ve created a plethora of alter egos — everyone on the cast — that we like jump in and out of while we’re playing our games or jamming to music or whatever … we’re doing. And Grant and I have these pretty dumb guys and … they’re like the world’s worst bank robbers. They’re on a stake out, they’re trying to pull a heist and it’s — yeah, we’re going to get introduced to these guys who think they know what they’re doing, and have no clue what the heck they’re doing.

“The Flash” returns Tuesday night at 8/7c on The CW.

Jolie Lash