There's a new speedster on the block and his name is Kid Flash. Better known on The Flash TV series as Wally West, he's being brought to life by twenty-five-year-old Australian actor Keiynan Lonsdale.
His first real exposure was on the Australian series Dance Academy (which has spawned a film based on the show) as well as for his roles in The Divergent Series: Insurgent and The Finest Hours. Lonsdale has, as he shares with Empire in this exclusive interview, actually overcome a number of personal issues to pursue his dreams of being a performer.
On The Flash, the Wally West character has been revealed to be Iris' half-brother and son of Joe. Introduced in season two, Wally started off as a regular human, but, as a result of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) altering the timeline and triggering "Flashpoint," he has found himself transformed into a meta-human.
On the show, Wally was chomping at the bit to become Kid Flash and get in the costume. Just wondering if that was reflective of your feeling waiting to play that part of the character.
We were both on the same page, definitely. It was super exciting to me when I got to read the script for "Flashpoint", 'cause I didn't expect to jump in the suit that quickly. And as soon as I got a taste for it, I was ready for that to be the official thing. Once I read the script where Wally got his suit for Christmas, and it was real that he was going to be Kid Flash, I was over the moon, for sure. And it's just been really awesome for me as an actor. Challenging with more night shoots, but a lot of fun. And I've learned a lot of things. For Wally, he gets to be a hero and he gets to help people, and that's what he wanted. And he wanted to have more of a sense of himself and his purpose in this world.
You mentioned that you're learning a lot of things yourself. What sorts of things are you learning, as an actor and as a person?
Even the simple thing of sliding in, or when we have to do the technical elements of things for visual effects. Luckily I have Grant there, and I get to see how he works, and it's so quick and efficient. Pun, pun [laughs]. But just the technical aspects of things, and getting to do a lot of green screen stuff, which is always fun. Yeah. It's been a good experience.
How difficult is green screen?
It depends what you're doing. If you're imagining something that's not there, that can be challenging, or it could be really fun. And funny. When we have a lot of the running, which we do on green screen, that is actually the hardest ... I swear I have, like, four separate scenes in a row running, and I'd only done one at a time before. This was only recently, and I've never been that exhausted that quick. When you're in the suit, and you really have to go for it ... We have to give it our all, you know? And then go even beyond that. It can be very taxing, but it's good. And it definitely gave me a reminder that I have to go to the gym!
Is the suit comfortable?
I feel like the pants are comfortable. The cowl, the mask, definitely isn't always comfortable. You can't hear as much, so that can be tough on your acting. But at the same time, you can move around quite a bit. It's very flexible, and I think that's awesome. But we're constantly trying to make it the best we can, so constantly tightening things and figuring out what works, which is great. It's a process.
What led you on this path of being a performer?
I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be on stage. From, like, two, three years old, I was obsessed with Michael Jackson, and just wanted to be on stage with him. And my mum put me in dance classes, but I had a lot of social anxiety and didn't want to be around people; I didn't like to look at anyone in the eye, so that was a difficult thing to get over. So I left, and I just decided to perform in the living room in my house. Eventually my mum was, like, "Look, if you want to perform, the people are gonna have to look at you at some point. Like, that's what happens!" And I really had an issue with that. I didn't want anyone watching me. But eventually, I was like, "Okay. I'll go to classes and I'll go on stage. As long as people don't look at me when I'm not dancing, then I'm fine!" And eventually, I got over that innocence, and when I went to high school, I went to a performing arts high school in Sydney, and it showed me that there were even more levels of performing than dance.
I could do acting classes, and I could do singing, and I could write songs, and I was, like, "Oh my gosh, this is just ... My mind is blown!" But I never expected that I could become a professional actor. I sort of had the idea that I would have to be dancing for a very long time in order for anyone to ... I don't know what I was thinking. It just seemed so far away and distant. Which is why I'm very appreciative of it today.
Do you know what it was that you didn't want people to look at you?
I was very shy. I could only really be around my mum. I grew up with five siblings in the house, and I was mute for, like, a couple years, if I was outside the house. And it's interesting even today. I struggle with it in a few different ways. Obviously, I'm on camera, and millions of people are potentially seeing what I do, and when we're on set every day, we're dealing with I don't know how many people on a daily basis all the time. So it's my life. But I'm still the same person. I still have a lot of those feelings; it's just that I've forced myself into this industry where that is what it is. So I'm not fully sure where it comes from; I was always just very frightened of people.
Stay away from Comic-Con, dude! That'll terrify you.
I did it once. It's very overwhelming. It's an interesting thing, because I love people. I love the idea of humans, and I think people are beautiful, but I still have a lot of mixed feelings, and can be very shy.
Having so many siblings, was performing a means of standing out for you?
I was the youngest of the house that I grew up in, so I feel like as the youngest you have it pretty good. At the same time, I guess I required a lot of attention, being afraid of so many different things. So I was never seeking attention; I wanted the opposite. I just knew that when I saw Michael Jackson on the television screen once, it was, like, "That's it! That's what I'm doing for the rest of my life." I never questioned that.
When you decided to say, "Okay, I'm dancing, and now I'm gonna try acting," how hard was it to make that transition?
Once I graduated high school, I did Fame the musical in Sydney for about a year. I was in the ensemble, and understudy to a character Tyrone, who is one of the leads, and that introduced me to theater. And then in the last three months, our lead had an injury, so I ended up taking on the role. And that was when I really became confident with acting, and I was just so excited about it, even more so than the dance elements. And from there I auditioned to be a part of my first TV show, which was called Dance Academy, which involves being a dancer anyway. So the transition was easy. I got to do a television show where I could act and dance. So I was very lucky.
That's interesting, because it does combine both of those things. It's like, "Okay, you're gonna be in front of the camera; you'll be doing this, but you're also gonna be dancing." So that's a pretty good combination.
Yeah, exactly. And it was a whole challenge on its own. You have to learn choreography, and it's similar to Glee. Whenever we weren't filming scenes, we were rehearsing and learning dances, and then you have to rehearse and learn those dances while doing the dialog, and it's kind of weird. But so much fun.
And you did the show for two seasons, right?
I joined in the second season as a guest star, and then became a regular for the third. We just shot the film for it; we did a reunion sort of thing, and that movie's coming out in April, I believe. We finished season three like four, five years ago, so it was kind of a trip to go and do a film and jump back into those characters again. I felt really comfortable, because when I started that show, it was my first role on a television show ever. And being on a set for the first time, it was all very weird, and I felt often out of place. Doing the film, I had Flash under my belt; I had other major blockbuster films under my belt; and I was just, like, "Okay, I'm excited to attack this character again and bring him to life without any inhibitions." And luckily, the writing for the character Ollie was really awesome in the film, and so I was very inspired from that. It was a positive experience.
You also appeared in Divergent and Allegiant — what was the experience of doing films of that scope like?
It was crazy. It was my first project in America, so not what I was expecting! My plan was to audition for a ton of things and hopefully get a guest role on something. I was considering doing background work just so I could get a feel for the sets in America. Then all of a sudden, I booked Insurgent, flown from Australia to Atlanta, on this gigantic set, with movie stars. I was very overwhelmed. But it was such a good experience, and such a great learning opportunity for me to be immersed in that world. I feel like I grew a lot.
Was America sort of a goal?
It was always a huge goal, if not the goal. I always wanted to move to America. I always wanted to come here and see what opportunities were around. I really only got a couple of auditions a year when I was in Australia, for acting work. I was doing three jobs at a time, constantly bouncing between work. And I just had a good feeling. I was, like, "I feel like I'm supposed to be in America and I feel like it will open doors if I'm ready for the challenge." And it took a while; it didn't happen straight away, obviously. I came for a couple of pilot seasons and did the whole audition thing, and got a lot of rejections. But I stuck it out, and it felt right, and I have a good team that believed in me, and that was huge. And it's worked out.
What is it about Australian superheroes? You gave us Wolverine, Thor, Kid Flash...
I guess the fact is, if we've moved all the way to America; gotten a visa, a green card; moved away from our family and our friends, you best believe that we're gonna work hard and make it work. So I think that's what it is. If you've made that commitment, you're obviously putting absolutely everything into this, and I think that's why we generally have a good reputation for having a great work ethic, and we take what we do really seriously, but at the same time, we have fun.
So how did all of this lead you to The Flash?
I had auditioned for Legends Of Tomorrow, not knowing what it was for, what the character would really be. It ended up being the Firestorm character. And after that first audition, which I felt went really well, my team had called me, and they were like, "Hey, you're not gonna move forward with Legends Of Tomorrow; they really want you to come in for this role on The Flash to play this character called Wally West, who would be Kid Flash, possibly." And I was, like, "Well, I've been watching the first season of Flash and it's my favorite television show, so ... Yes! I would like to come in." And it went from there. I did a few audition rounds. My final audition round I did in front of Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, and they brought in Candice Patton, who they told me would be my auntie or something. 'Cause that's how it was written in the script.
Well, the history of the comic book is that they're not brother and sister. Iris is Wally's aunt. So I didn't really know fully what this family dynamic would be, but I guess they just wanted to see our chemistry, and if they could sense real family, and it went really well. After I'd found out I'd gotten the role, I swear I didn't start shooting for another four or five months, so it was a really long time.
Is this a world you were familiar with at all?
I didn't grow up reading comic books, so that wasn't my world. Obviously, while auditioning, I bought a bunch of them and started my research. But I had been watching the TV show, and I obviously knew what The Flash was. And I've always been, like, I guess most kids, attached to the idea of being a superhero, and loved it as a kid, and loved those characters, and the potential to play those characters. So I was definitely still very much invested in the world.
Did you feel any sort of connection to the character of Wally?
I started the show as Wally being introduced to his father and sister for the first time, and that was the same as me growing up. I didn't grow up with my dad; I met him when I was probably like nine. And then a couple of years after that, I met his children, more of my brothers and sisters, who I didn't know existed! Because I had never met him, I didn't know him. And they had come over from Nigeria, and so I met them. So I definitely felt connected to that storyline. And yeah, it helped me really relate to what Wally was going through, and the confusion. Obviously I was very young when that all happened, and Wally is a lot older, so it's an interesting thing to see how we both dealt with it differently.
As you've been on the show longer, now that you are Kid Flash and all that, what sort of impact has the attention had on your life?
It makes me have thicker skin. We get a lot of love, and so many people watch this show, and it's a beautiful thing, and I think the fans are amazing. At the same time, there's a lot of sides to things that I just wasn't aware of, because I've always been quite a naïve, happy-go-lucky person. The fact that my character traditionally was Caucasian in the comics, mostly in the beginning, a lot of people just weren't gonna have it. They just didn't want me playing Wally West, and were very open and expressive to me about that. And so that was hurtful, but now it doesn't faze me at all. When you're stepping into this industry — and hopefully I'll be able to continue working and build my career — it's something I'm going to have to deal with in terms of the ups and downs. If you're gonna take in the love, you've gotta take in the hate. Or at least recognize it.
These days people feel like they can say the things you would never say in real life to somebody to their face.
Unfortunately we're sort of at this strange point where people are even saying it to people's faces now, 'cause they feel like they can. It's a weird and interesting time, obviously. But yeah, the internet definitely spurs some sort of confidence and aggression in people. But also a lot of positivity at the same time, and the fact that we get to connect with people that we would otherwise never meet is incredible, and I'm so fortunate. And there are so many times when, if I hear stories of people being inspired by the show, and what we've done, it obviously then inspires me to keep going, and it makes my day.