The Flash with Tom Cavanagh

EXCLUSIVE: Why actor Tom Cavanagh is happy he's not playing the Flash in The Flash

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Oct 7, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT (Updated)

Canadian actor Tom Cavanagh is glad he's not playing Barry Allen, aka the Flash, in his new series, The Flash, which premieres tonight on The CW. Instead he's taking on a mysterious, brilliant Steve Jobs-type character, which is unlike anything he's played before, said Cavanagh in exclusive interview with Blastr.

“Grant [Gustin] has broad shoulders, and he's going to be spectacular, in my opinion, as Barry Allen. But it's not easy,” said Cavanagh. “That's simply how it is when you're the Flash in The Flash. Grant is humble and eager and talented, and that's a pretty darn good combination. [But] I don't envy Grant's position, to be honest with you, because a lot of people want to see a certain thing. They've grown up with it, and they have certain expectations.

“There's not the same expectations for me, which is really kind of fun for the character I get to play. There's a mystery surrounding him ... and I think that's a wonderful thing, especially for the arena which I'm pretty much a neophyte in,” he said. That area involves material based on comic books.

'The smartest guy in the room.'

Cavanagh is playing visionary physicist Harrison Wells, the man who, along with his S.T.A.R. Labs team, create a particle accelerator that explodes and causes a freak storm and the lightning, which strikes C.S.I. Investigator Barry Allen and puts him into a coma for nine months. When Barry wakes up, let's just say he's a changed, and very fast, man.

As far as Cavanagh's character goes, “I see him as the smartest guy in the room. I know that's obnoxious, but I'm not talking about Tom Cavanagh. I'm talking about Harrison Wells. If you notice, he's dressed in black. That was a direct ripoff or homage to Steve Jobs. Not the mock turtleneck, but the idea that, look, here's a guy who has a vision. Now, Apple is what Apple is because there's a guy that had an idea to make it simple, clean, and stream that to the public. To know what they would find desirable,” said Cavanagh.

“The cleanliness of it and the streamlined Apple product we equate to, in a strange way, what I am doing at S.T.A.R. Labs as Harrison Wells, as the smartest person in the world. If you can do what he did and cause an entire implosion of a city, you've got some tools at your disposal, right? Harrison doesn't do things by accident. He's thought things through, and his cerebral powers are worthy.”

Barry Allen (Gustin) was introduced on the CW's Arrow last season, and he helped save the Arrow's life and provided the nifty new mask he sported last season. The Flash, which is based on the comic-book character, follows Barry and his origin story in becoming the Flash. Eventually, Barry discovers he's not the only “meta human” around, and some of them are not using their powers for good. With the help of Harrison and the S.T.A.R. Labs team, Barry decides to put on a mask and use his ability as the fastest man alive to help those in need ... and to try and find out who killed his mother when he was a child. The Flash comes from Arrow's team of Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and David Nutter. The series also stars Jesse L. Martin, Candice Patton, Rick Cosnett and Danielle Panabaker.

Man of a thousand pilots

“I've done like a thousand pilots, and I feel like sometimes you're trying to establish a world, so you have to answer a lot of things. The Flash is no different. You want to set up a lot of stuff for the series to come, but the series doesn't come if you don't dedicate your pilot to a good story as well. That's what Nutter has going for him. He never, ever, ever, even with all the bells and whistles of a superhero pilot, he never, ever, ever loses track of the fact that it's an intimate and personal story. He's always, always focused on that. I think that is one of the reasons he is as successful as he is,” he said.

Cavanagh wanted to take on the new role because he worked with co-creators Berlanti and Kreisberg before on Jack & Bobby and Eli Stone. “Both times I'd signed on, they had written really good characters. Both times, they asked me to do it with the promise ... because, in television, the part's never really written beyond the first or second episode that you can see. You never get a chance to look at your six- or seven-episode arc or your season arc. It doesn't happen. You have to trust that people are going to deliver. What's funny about those guys is both times ... they exceeded the promise of what the character would be,” said Cavanagh.

The character of Harrison Wells has ended up being very different from the other roles he's played, including his award-winning turn as Ed Stevens in Ed.

“I'm eager to go into an arena where I'm not experienced. I have friends who have been in the comic world, and it's an entirely different experience. The thing that I'm hoping for, and I think it can succeed in the way Arrow does ... I hope it can succeed. There's a crossover level where this is not just for fans of the genre if it's a story really well told,” said Cavanagh.

'The viewers are going to have to decide for themselves that we're worthy.'

“Like Arrow, given the fact that it's the tale of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things, and being relatable because of that, has every chance to have a lot of people tune in. Or, maybe next time we talk, it got canceled after three episodes, and I'm like, well, I guess I was wrong,” he said.

“Once you've had both success and failure with a launch of a new TV show, it really does keep you humble. The viewers are going to have to decide for themselves that we're worthy. We are aided clearly in a massive way by the fact that they've done such a good job on Arrow. So, I believe, personally, that that alone -- the fact that we are extracting some stuff from the back, some currency from the Arrow back, which you almost don't ever want to do, but we're grateful to be allowed to do that -- I think that is going to translate to some viewership. After that, I hope that they watch the pilot and go, these guys are worthy on their own. That allows them to tell their neighbor and their neighbor their neighbor and so on. I'm hopeful that that is how the viewership for The Flash gets spread. I also am fully aware that none of that is promised to us,” he said.

Whether or not The Flash survives, Cavanagh promises that they aren't playing it safe.

“I did this show this year called The Following, the Kevin Bacon show. What I liked about that show is these guys had success in year one and in year two, when I joined, they were doing the opposite of sitting on their laurels, you know? I thought, that's great. That's what you hope for for a show, that it doesn't say, 'Ah, we have a formula, this formula works, we're just going to grudgingly stick to it day by day.' Especially in this world, in the world of The Flash, we're already out there. We're already in Central City. We've already got a guy who can do this. Let's not wear kid gloves. Let's swing for the fences,” said Cavanagh.

The Flash airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

Here's a look at The Flash:

Do you think The Flash will be worthy?