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From The Flash to Legends Of Tomorrow: meet the Reverse-Flash

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Matt Letscher isn’t evil, but, man, can he tap into it when he wants to, whether it’s keeping the head of one enemy in a jar on his desk, or murdering the mother of another. Frankly, you might want to avoid this guy’s bad side.

Or you can simply acknowledge that he’s an actor who has done these horrid things on screen, respectively in the film The Mask Of Zorro and on TV in The Flash. And, for the record, actually a nice guy.

A native of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Letscher made his film debut in 1993’s Gettysburg and has continued in a wide variety of projects, most recently 2016’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi. On television, his first guest-starring role was in a 1993 episode of Saved By The Bell: The College Years, and he became a series regular on Almost Perfect, Living In Captivity, Good Morning, Miami; Eli Stone, and The Carrie Diaries. He first portrayed Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash in season one of The Flash, and has recurred over the run of the show. This year he’s a regular on DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, Thawne becoming a part of the so-called Legion Of Doom. In the following exclusive interview, he provides an overview of his career with a focus on his experience as the Reverse-Flash and becoming a part of the DC mythos.

Is it odd to be back with this character? Didn’t you think it was kind of over?

When I was shooting this stuff last season on The Flash, I kind of thought it might be over, but it's just weird how different people can look at things in different ways. I said to Grant, "Well, this looks like it's going to be it.” He was, like, "What are you talking about? I think this is just going to be the beginning. I see this totally the opposite way.” I think the character is significant enough in the Flash canon that it's something that they want to have stick around. So I am, yes, sort of surprised and at the same time happily so.

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Is he a different guy? The reason I ask is, you get somebody like Tom Cavanagh playing Wells under the influence, so to speak, of Thawne in season one. And the return of Thawne is part of Flashpoint.

There's a fair amount of confusion there, because Tom ostensibly started with the role and so there is an impression that was made by Tom and then I came in and it was discovered that I was actually the guy beneath the skin of Dr. Wells. It's not a different guy. It's the same guy and he's the same guy on Legends as he is on The Flash. In fact, a lot of what happens to him on The Flash is what's fueling his actions on Legends. The two storylines do have a connection. That's fascinating to me. I've never been in a position before as an actor where you get to play the same character on two separate shows, let alone have the shows actually have some relation to each other. A lot of work for the writers, but a lot of fun as an actor to play.

It’s amazing to watch the growing tapestry of this universe that they're creating. It's stretching out to these different shows. Now it's four shows.

Absolutely. And it's only going to get more intricate this season. These crossovers are a complicated dance. I know during the major crossover episodes they're breaking new ground in terms of production scheduling. When you're trying to coordinate four separate shows together, it's pretty Herculean. It'll be interesting to see how it works out.

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How do you view this guy? In your mind, who is he?

In my mind, the facts are simple. He's a guy from the 25th Century who wanted to be the next incarnation of The Flash, and was denied that possibility for good reasons. He is someone who has lost his sense of self to the idea of who he thinks he should be. Does that make sense? He's actually suffered something of a psychotic break from whoever Eobard Thawne was at the beginning of his life. That person has been subsumed completely by this idea of who he was supposed to be. The fact that it was denied him has driven him to the point of obsessive madness that really is his one abiding and pure goal in life. He states it as clearly as he possibly could in the episode last season, to become the reverse of everything the Flash represents. “As good as you are, I want to be as evil. As many people love you, I want that many people to hate me. I just want to annihilate you from existence. I want to be the negative that takes you out of reality.” It's great as an actor that your task is simple.

The flip side of this obsession, now at this point, is the reality that Barry Allen started off as a man that he idolized and loved. I think of any kid with his greatest sports hero or whoever; it's somebody that was in some ways the love of his life. There is deep seated love there for Barry Allen that's been buried over by strata after strata of pain and self-loathing and all sorts of other complicated things. I think in the performance it comes out that there is this base of, "God I love you. I wish I could be you. I would give anything to be you". It's fun to be able to look at our arc, the Eobard/Barry arc together from both sides of that coin.

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There's sort of a relationship gone wrong element there where you've got the psychotic guy who'll sit there and say, "I love you so much I have to kill you, because I can't stand the thought of you being with somebody else.” It's Fatal Attraction with superheroes.

I was going to say that: 25th century Fatal Attraction. That's exactly what I was going to say.

Great minds. So what was it that Barry did that makes Thawne hate him so much?

I'm not sure I know that. Disclaimer: Eobard Thawne doesn't grow up knowing Barry Allen, because he grows up five centuries later. He only grows up knowing The Flash and the different incarnations of The Flash. He knows Barry Allen was the first Flash, so in his quest to destroy The Flash, he goes back to try and destroy him at his birthing point. That's his relationship, as far as I understand it, in totality with Barry Allen. So that’s yet to be revealed in a new season.

In talking about the way you view the character and his obsessive need to destroy Barry or The Flash or both, how difficult is it to create a nuanced performance out of that so you're not just playing the evil, crazy guy?

You especially want to strive for that nuance on a show like The Flash, which is different from Legends in the sense that it's really, at its heart, a smaller show. It's a more intimate show in a way. You don't want to completely override that part of the world. You want to be a part of that. I do try and look for the surprises. I look for the stuff that Eobard saw and is not expecting to have happen. That's when you tend to see, especially in this kind of setting, a villain's real vulnerability. They have this superego, this idea of how everything is supposed to go and when they're thwarted, then you start to see who they really are and what's really driving them. I look for those moments in particular. Outside of that, I just follow the cues from the cast, because they're all such fine actors and the vibe they have going now is so finely tuned that if you just hop in and let them take the lead, they'll take good care of you.

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What’s the experience of Legends been like? You’re used to, as you said, the more intimate show in the form of The Flash, and this insane, wild ride that is Legends Of Tomorrow.

Like I said, the show is very different tonally. The same sense of fun and play that The Flash has, but on a much broader, grander scale. I think you're going to see in this season that that sense of fun has expanded and become much broader. Now that the Time Masters have been destroyed, this group of misfits are the guardians of the timeline and it turns out there are quite a few fires that need to be put out across the centuries. They are really given the opportunity to travel far and wide and put themselves in all kinds of amazing situations, and I'm right there with them. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a lot of fun to see where they're going with the show this year as opposed to last year.

Is it also fun for you playing off of characters that aren't The Flash?

This Legion Of Doom they’ve assembled is really fun and there are some great actors in it. It’s nice to have a little family, to have some company in this regard.

Have to know: what’s it like being in the costume?

One, it's thrilling, because it's the type of scenario you think about when you think of telling big stories or making big movies, whether you're a kid or whether you're a young actor. My first movie was The Mask Of Zorro and that was all swords and horses and swashbuckling and I thought, "This is what movies are.” Obviously I never made another one like that again; those are very rare. To be in this position where you're entrusted with a character that's this significant in the canon, and you're given this incredible uniform to wear, it's thrilling and an honor. But on a real level, it's completely claustrophobic and it freaks me out.

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Does it really?

The cowl is this latex ... I don't know how to describe it. I feel like one of the creatures from Alien is sucking my brain out through my ears. You can't hear anything. I googled a story about Grant's first Flash outfit on the pilot. Before they really figured out how to make these outfits so you could move a little bit, it was so tight he literally couldn't run in it. All he could do was stand there. They've really figured out how to make it a little more workable, but I've got to say, someone who has never been in this position before can definitely get a little claustrophobic after a while.

Does it feel silly at all, or, as an actor, is dressing up just something that you do?

I have that thought all the time, every single day. Sometimes it can feel silly in a great way, like, “It’s so crazy that I get to do this.” Other times it's just, like, "Really? You couldn't go be a doctor or do something useful with your life?" I've resigned myself to the fact that the world needs clowns, too, and I was born to be one of them. And it is an important role in our society to play. I try to embrace the silliness of it. Definitely feel silly, especially when you're trying to do an action sequence for one of these effects shots. You're pretending to run at super speed and really you're just picking your feet up and down in place and they add all the running later on. It's pretty darn silly.

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Are the visual effects fun or a pain in the ass?

It’s really fun seeing the end results and it’s pretty incredible how far they’ve come with that stuff. But doing it is different than you might expect. There was a bit last year where Flash and Reverse-Flash are running side by side as they prepare to jump through the time continuum, and in that sequence they’re racing and one would pull ahead and the other would fall behind. They basically tied a rope to each of our waists and threw it over a pipe in the ceiling, and then had us lean forward into the rope. Then one of us would walk ahead of the other and the other one would then walk ahead. It was so bizarre. The execution of it in some ways is so rudimentary and so straight out of early 20th Century filmmaking, but the end result, after all the effects are put in, is remarkable. You really get the best of both worlds.

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To watch them shoot something like that and compare it to the finished version must be funny as hell and exciting.

It's really hard to visualize while you’re doing it, because so much is added later on. They do these 3D body scans so they can basically have any part of your body available to them to do whatever they want with it at any time. They have my face cataloged so they can take it and put it on my body in any effect shot anywhere.

Did you ever imagine yourself saying that your face had been catalogued?

That goes right up there with, "I'm going to buy a Volvo station wagon.” I never thought I would say those words in my life either, and yet they've both happened.

There you go! A few minutes ago you touched on the fact that you had become part of the canon. On a personal level, how do you feel about becoming a part of this legacy? Does it register at all or is it just another job?

It definitely registers for me. I am always really respectful of anything that has the kind of longevity and fan base that something like DC Comics has, and The Flash series in particular has. I'm very aware of how... I don't think important is the wrong word to use. I'm very aware of how important this world is to a lot of people. It has an emotional resonance for a lot of people. It's played a part in their life at some point that means something very real to them, so it is very important. I'm honored to be able to step in and work in it.

You asked if I ever feel silly. Yes, I feel silly sometimes, but I approach the work as seriously as I would if I were doing Chekhov or something like that. I understand that this character and this material hold a place in people's hearts and it's my job, it's my duty, to execute that to the best of my abilities with all of the people around me. I can also say that the same is true for Greg Berlanti and everybody on the production side. They are extremely respectful of all the source material and at the same time, trying to put on the best television show they can for everybody. It's a tricky line to walk at times, because everybody has their favorite stuff that they want to see, but at the same time it's hard to fit everything in and still have episodic television. All I can say is that everybody is very aware of what they're taking part in and doing the best they can to make it as entertaining as possible.

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Looking back, what was it that made you feel you wanted to be an actor?

I started in high school, because I hit a patch in my life where I needed something else to do with myself. Sports had kind of run out for me. My family was not an artistic family, but somewhere in my head, I thought I might be good at it. I don't know why I thought it. I had no evidence to think I might be good at it. I knew that there were auditions for this play, it was a Woody Allen play called Don't Drink the Water, which if anybody screams Woody Allen, it's me. I walked into these auditions and I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember being on stage auditioning for people, hearing the laughs I was getting and this instantaneous feeling of, "I belong up here. This is a place where I really belong. I kind of know what to do already." Which isn't to say there wasn't a lot of learning, and still a lot of learning to do, but I remember that feeling of I found a home, and pretty much after that, that's all I did. The rest of high school, all through college, my focus for the most part was on acting and learning how to become a better actor. I'd like to say that I saw a Scorsese movie or something like that early on and it inspired me, but there really wasn't any touchstone when it comes to an actor, a director or a movie or anything like that that made me feel like I've got to get into the movies. I just felt like I might be good at it, and then I was.

How difficult was it to transition from the kid in high school to college to actual, professional acting? Was that a tough road?

It was kind an embarrassingly easy one, in the sense that I was just given ... I wouldn't say I was given a lot of breaks, but I caught a lot of nice breaks early on. I was very fortunate to study with Uta Hagen, who is one of the legendary American acting teachers. I took a couple of summer workshops during college with her, and my understanding of what the actor's craft was and what your job entailed as an actor completely changed as a result of my work with her, and really set me on the path towards becoming a real professional in this regard. Then, the summer after I graduated college, I met Jeff Daniels, who lives about fifteen minutes down the road, and he cast me in a play of his that he had written and was doing at his theater in his hometown. Out of that, I got a small part in a movie that he was doing. You really can't have a cushier intro to the business than that, in a way. After I did that, I got some great experience, really learned a lot. I moved out to L.A. on my own, just knowing a few people. I did that thing that every actor does where I sent out a mailing to about a hundred agents with my headshot and resume. I got about three calls back and then I got one agent who said they would sign me. About six months later, I started getting TV work, guest stars, stuff like that and, knock wood, it's just been rolling ever since. I'm definitely one of the more fortunate ones when it comes to being in the right place at the right time.

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And it seems to be paying off with this role of Thawne that’s expanding beyond what you probably thought the original parameters were.

You know, when it comes to Eobard Thawne, earlier you hit on the thing that fascinates me most about the guy, which is what is the real nature of his relationship with Barry and what's the spark? What was the moment where he crossed over from the guy who had wanted to be The Flash to this monster? There's certainly enough modern parallels that make it fascinating to me.

Not to get too geeky here, but maybe Thawne looked at the historical records and came to the conclusion that he just couldn’t measure up, and that in itself could push him over the line from love to hatred.

There had to be something already wrong. There had to be something missing for him to cross over like that, and that's always the mystery with our monsters. What is it? Where did they first go wrong? Was it at birth? Did mommy not love them enough? That fascinates me just as much with Eobard as any of the rest of them.

In Michael Mann’s Manhunter, based on the novel Red Dragon, there’s a moment where the Will Graham character is talking about the Tooth Fairy killer, and he says, “I don’t feel hatred for him. I feel pity, because somewhere along the line this child was turned into a monster.”

Which is why somebody like Charles Manson or others can actually find so many sympathizers, or can find women who want to marry them, because there is a strain in us that deeply wants to understand what drove this person to this place. We don't want to believe that anyone was born bad. We don't want to believe that, so if you can't be born bad, then something awful must've happened to you to make you this bad. Nobody deserves to have something like that happen to them. This weird kind of sympathy kicks in that's fascinating.

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When Jeffrey Dahmer was caught, his father was so heartbreaking on the news, because he couldn't understand how his child became this.

That's a common thing you'll see. Most of us experience that, too, and we don't have to be the person's parent. You can look at it from afar and go, "I don't recognize a person there. I don't recognize somebody that I would qualify as human operating here. This is somebody that is beyond my experience when it comes to our species," and that's terrifying, to think that that exists in the world. You don't want to believe it, but it really does.

The Flash and DC's Legends Of Tomorrow air on the CW in America, and will respectively debut on Sky 1 25 October and 3 November.

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