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The superhero game can be stressful without any added distractions, let alone courtroom drama. But, on Tuesday's episode of The Flash, "Dead Man Running," Ralph’s (Hartley Sawyer) zany mother, Debbie (Amy Pietz), gets into a legal jam. The two have always been close, but she throws him a curveball or two that makes Ralph question that relationship. To make matters even worse, Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) come clean about their visit from the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett).
Sawyer recently spoke with SYFY WIRE about Ralph’s evolution, his family ties, the impending Crisis, life without Barry, and costume changes.
Ralph isn’t the same guy we met back in Season 4. What do you attribute his growth to?
Hartley Sawyer: The big reason for the growth is the bond that he has with Barry, that sort of brother/brother relationship and how that impacted him in Season 4 and made him realize what he’s capable of and brought him back into the light, for lack of a better word. I love the growth this guy has gone through the last couple of years. It’s been a great arc to play. Ralph came in as this jackass. He’s still kind of that guy, but he’s matured and grown over the last 40 episodes that I’ve been playing him.
Last year, he got into the territory I always saw Ralph Dibny, and how that would be. When I came in in Season 4, the way that he was written and the way they wanted him portrayed and the way I wanted to service that material that they had written, I was sort of, “I saw this a little differently.” They were like, “No, no, no. We are going to get there. We want to start him here, so we can arc him to there.” It was cool to play that up knowing where it was heading.
Viewers haven’t learned much about Ralph beyond his professional life. How exciting was it to delve into his family side in tonight’s episode?
It was very fun to do. That was something we talked about towards the end of Season 4. The idea of meeting his mom came up. We didn’t talk about specifics, but I just loved the idea of… I want to meet the woman who raised this guy, to see what she’s like and where he came from. For me, reading the script and then playing the scenes with Amy, who knocked it out of the park, I was like, “Oh. Yeah. This totally makes sense. This is his mom. I totally get this. This completely tracks for me.” I thought they executed it exceptionally well. It was fun to see where this guy came from and why he is the way he is.
Tease us about the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s reunion with his mom.
They are not necessarily ideal in terms of how she comes to be orbiting Team Flash. It ends up being a good thing for them. Ralph and his mom have always been close. I think we’ve alluded to that here and there in scripts. There’s a deep love there because we know that Ralph’s dad walked out on them when he was very young. So, it’s always been him and his mom for many years. There’s a very deep mother/son bond there, which is something that a lot of us can relate to.
One of the themes this episode punctuates is lies. How does Ralph handle the big secret that his mom has been keeping from him?
For him, it’s the realization that he has evolved past what his mother is capable of. I don’t think he sees that in a negative way. That makes him love her and understand her more. She’s reached her limit of what she believes she deserves in terms of joy or love. The beautiful thing about that is another gift that she gives him is the realization that Ralph is ready for more for himself than his mother is ready for herself.
Barry also drops the bombshell that in order for billions of people to live during the upcoming Crisis, the Flash must die. How does that affect Ralph and the team moving forward?
Barry is the reason that Ralph is where he is. Barry is the reason that Ralph is not still living in the gutters, literally and figuratively. Barry represents to him the family he has now through Team Flash. Barry is the leader. The idea of having to face the loss of Barry Allen is totally going to take the wind out of Ralph’s sail, and it will for the team as well, but it’s going to hit Ralph very hard because he really loves Barry. I don’t think Ralph can imagine what his life would be like without Barry Allen.
What’s it been like filming the Crisis crossover compared to last year’s big event?
This year is so big. It’s so much bigger and it’s so cool to see it all come together. I walk on set with 15 other characters, some of whom I have been watching for years and looked up to for a very long time. It’s very surreal. The scripts are fantastic. I think people are sort of clued in, but I don’t think there’s any way they can prepare themselves for the scope, the scale, and the fun of what this is going to be.
How familiar were you with the Crisis on Infinite Earths source material, and how it could potentially alter the show’s trajectory forever? Spoiler alert: Barry Allen sacrifices himself in that comic book event.
I had read it when I was younger. I grew up with comic books. It’s such an iconic storyline. Nothing is cooler than opening up a great comic book and all of your favorite heroes are lumped together on one big world. It’s this humongous catastrophe that they all have to face together. That, to me, is so fantastic and so much fun. Just seeing it come together and reading the scripts, they are really doing it right.
Comic book readers associate Ralph with a couple of trademarks. What are your thoughts on introducing the love of his life, Sue?
We are getting there and have been building up to that for 40 episodes. We hit the gas on that in the Season 5 finale. That’s the question I’ve gotten more than anything else with playing this character. “When are you bringing Sue in? When are you bringing Sue in?” In Season 4, we had a conversation about that. They said, “We’ll do that. All roads lead to Sue, but we want to put Ralph through this growth and arc.” Todd Helbing said to me last year, when he was the showrunner, that we can’t have Sue come in until he’s ready for it because of what that relationship represents. That was such a smart way to play it out and such a good way to do it. He has to be ready for this. Otherwise, if Sue had walked in in Season 4, Ralph would have screwed it all up.
Ralph’s current costume hearkens back to his original suit. Have there been any conversations about transitioning into the red outfit?
We have had discussions about that. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. It is going to happen at a certain point. I don’t know how we will play that out. To be frank, we run into tricky stuff there because it’s the Flash, and because of the guy who sort of has the market cornered on red. Out of all the costumes in the comics, the red one is my favorite and I think a lot of people feel that way. That becomes the challenge. We’ve got the Flash, the Scarlet Speedster, so how do we make Ralph’s red costume and design work? I think there’s a way to do it and we’ll get there. We just haven’t figured it out yet.
Lastly, how will the team be putting Ralph’s super-sleuthing abilities to good use in the upcoming episodes?
There are a lot of things that Ralph is going to get dialed into and follow the breadcrumbs of in the first half of the season. There are going to be little nuggets, while he’s tracking down Sue and trying to find her, that people are going to think are throwaways or this and that. I don’t think people will realize how much some of these little nuggets — and they have to watch very, very carefully because there are some small things that have already happened and are going to happen leading up to Episodes 8 and 9 — that are going to surprise people. They are going to pay off in a very big way in the back half. Ralph has already found a couple of those breadcrumbs and he’s going to find a few more in the next few episodes. Viewers are going to say, “Oh, yeah. Cool. He found this and that.” But, then, we get to the big half and it becomes a huge story point.