EXCLUSIVE: ‘The Flash’s’ Candice Patton Discusses Becoming A Superhero, Diversity on Screen

In this exclusive interview with EBONY, Candice Patton, leading lady in CW’s hit series The Flash discusses her role as Iris West Allen, the importance of diversity within the industry and how important the latest episode is to young girls.

So Iris is getting back into journalism, why was that an important thing for her to do at this point in her journey on Team Flash?

Well, I think this episode clearly shows that…having Barry’s powers for an episode really made her realize what she’s passionate about. She understands Barry having speed is what gets him up in the morning and what he’s passionate about and I think it reignited for her that she still has to find that and that journalism is the thing.

What did that feel like to see this evolution of your character Iris go from journalist to now being the matriarch of the show?

It felt good, and not just for me, but for all the fans that look up to Iris. I think it’s been a struggle for whatever reason in the writing and developing of the show in giving her a purpose.

I think they are making really great strides in giving Iris her own storyline, her own agency. Again, it’s a lot of the fans saying they want more, they want a full flushed out characters. It’s not enough to be diverse in your casting; you have to service those characters, you have to make them fully well rounded because people are watching.

Did having superpowers reevaluate anything about your character? 
Patton: It kind of reignited my love for the character, not that it ever went away, but you do these shows for four years, 23 episodes, it kind of can feel monotonous.

It just reignited my love for her and her tenacity and courage and strength and I think what she means to me and what she means to a lot of fans.  People that love Iris were just over the moon [when they heard found out she was getting superpowers] and it reminded me how big [her] impact is.

It’s always something that you know I could use a reminder of and it’s always something that makes me excited to go to work.

Candice, how’s it being a part of the CW network and their initiatives on diversity?

This pioneering role that I have got to do, I feel like my community, the black community, doesn’t really know about me and I also feel like we haven’t been able to reach them in a correct way, which is unfortunate.

We have so many diverse actors and so many interesting things happening on the network, and I just wanted to make sure we have more diverse outlets being involved to know what we are doing.

My character is traditionally white in the comic book and I feel like our community doesn’t know that. There’s a bunch of diverse comic book fans who may not even know about our show, or that they did some race bending, for the time, that was 2014, that was before we started seeing a lot more African American women pop into comic books and TV shows.

I feel like CW was at the forefront of trying to change that dynamic.

In today’s episode of The Flash, your character, Iris West Allen, develops superpowers, when you found out she gets superpowers, how did you first react?

I thought they were joking, only because I have been joking about it for the last three years. I didn’t really think it would ever happen, so, I was pretty shocked that they were actually going to go through with it but super excited at the same time.
You being a black woman in this space especially in The Flash Universe, how does that feel for you to be a  black female superhero especially during this time with films like Black Panther.

It felt amazing. I had just seen black panther for the second time and for me to be able to strap on some leather and be a hero in the CW world it’s really cool, really important.

I know what it means for black women to see ourselves in those kinds of roles where we feel empowered and can be the heroes of our own stories.

Prior to the show, were you a big fan of comic books, movies, television shows? 

I was a big fan of comic book movies, so like the Batman franchise. As far as reading comic books it was something I didn’t really know about. I didn’t grow up with comic books I didn’t know it was [a] thing that people still went out and bought. Once I booked the show it was something that I kind of found my way into, and I didn’t know much about The Flash, the character, so, all of it was pretty new to me.

Iris was never a black character in the comics, so what has that been like in representing her?

We changed the race of Iris for the show and I think it had a huge impact. I think it was successful, I think you see that happening a lot more on film and TV shows.

I think at the beginning people were hesitant, they were like we want to see Iris like in the comics. I think over the time, season after season, me showing that Iris is so much more than her skin color. Iris is about her heart and her character, so for me, it was really important to create a character that people could love regardless of what she looks like.

You’ve done a lot of television, any plans to do movies and if so who would you love to work with?

I’m dying to do movies. It’s really hard to during the show, working nine months out of the year in Vancouver, Canada.

My time is eaten up a lot by the show, which I am very grateful for, but I am definitely eager as an artist to dive into something else, hopefully soon. I am just waiting for the right project, that’s shooting at the right time and its definitely something I have my sights on.

As far as someone who I would like to work with, this is super out of the box, and I have put this on my twitter, Pam Grier. I love her. I just love her fierceness, and she’s kind of, for me, one of the first black superheroes. I would love to have a chance to work with her.

You appeared on two episodes of another superhero show (Heroes) in 2009. What’s the difference between working on that show and having this job on The Flash?

I wasn’t on Heroes very long to get to sink my teeth into anything [The Flash] is different, this is bigger. I feel like my character has a bigger purpose.

Heroes was great, but I was like the sorority sister, the friend. So often, we as black women, we are cast as the best friend, we are rarely the leading lady. So, for me being on The Flash it’s been so important for me to be the leading lady, to be the woman that is desired by the superhero, to be the hero herself. This is much different.

In this episode ‘Run, Iris, Run’ your role of being Iris who’s a wife, struggling journalist, leader for the entire team, and now a speedster. How did it feel being the black woman to have to balance it all on this episode?

You know what you didn’t feel that deep to me because I feel like that’s what women, that’s what black women do every day, we balance it all; we wear so many different hats, we have to, we’ve had to for a very long time. Iris [has] to be the wife, daughter, friend, it feels like what women do already, we wear all those hats and we do it with such grace.

It’s Women’s History Month! So what did it feel like to have Iris be the superhero on The Flash?

I understand the importance of being a black woman. It’s so important for young girls of color, young girls of any color to see diverse women as the heroes of their own story.

It’s been a long time coming and we’ve seen that in little ways with Iris and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and the other female characters on the show kind of saving the day without any powers, but there is something cool about going to movies and seeing a strong badass female superhero. It gives young girls something to aspire to.

I walked out of Wonder Woman with Caty Lotz (Black Canary) on Legends of Tomorrow [feeling that] ‘this is what white men must feel like every day’ because you got Batman and Superman. You know it’s important for young women to walk out of the movie theater, walk out of watching these tv shows and just feel strong and empowered. I hope [this episode] does that for someone watching.

On the show, you guys play a close-knit group of family and friends, what’re your interactions like off the set?

Amazing! I mean some of us are closer than others but we all get along really well.  Jesse Martin is a dear friend of mine; those are the relationships I will have twenty years after the show is done. He’s family to me at this point. It’s nice to have been on the show and develop such great friendships.

Iris having a superpower is checked off on the bucket list, what’s next?

I think the next step, I don’t know when that could possibly happen,  [is for] Barry and Iris have a kid. For me, the bucket list is checked, I think if they cut me off tomorrow, I had a good run.

Who are some women that inspire you, Candice?

My mom, first and foremost, for so many reasons. Michelle Obama, just because of her class and grace, which is something I try and carry with me.

My mother always tells me to have grace, and someone that I think does that exceptionally well is Michelle. What does she say, “When we go low, we go high!” No one is going to be hating on their mama and Michelle Obama!
What are your thoughts on the #Metoo campaign and the #TimesUp initiatives?

I think its long overdue. I think it’s a sign of the times. I think women are finally banding together and standing up and speaking their truth. I think what we have all learned, as women, is that we are stronger together than divided.

Keeping women divided, keeping women in competition with each other keeps them away from the task at hand, which is that we are powerful together.  We can take down whole institutions together, we have a lot of power and I think the ‘me too’ movement is a sign of that. I think its time for everyone to be on their best behaviors, be a decent human being because gone are the days where you can be a jerk and be inappropriate and get away with it.

There is this movement we are calling the Black Golden Renaissance, what do you see happening in TV & film for black creators and what’s so exciting about it in your opinion?

Seeing not just black, but many diverse backgrounds being the leads of shows. We have our struggle, but our Latino brothers and sisters have a similar struggle, and similar to the Asian struggle. So anytime, I see any of diverse backgrounds in a lead of the show, where they get to tell their stories, I think that’s a sign of the times changing, it’s important. I want to see stories about people I see in the grocery stores, and not everyone I see in the grocery store has blonde hair and blue eyes.

You’ve been acting for many years, have you ever wanted to get behind the camera? Would you ever want to direct an episode of The Flash?

I don’t know if I’d ever want to direct an episode of The Flash only because there are so many technical aspects of it. It’s something I have very recently started to play with the idea of doing. The more experience I have on set the more I start to say, ‘Hmph… I can do this!’ Also, just the way the industry is moving, I have a strong desire to write my own stuff, and just create the stories I prefer to see. I think that’s what true change is, someone with a diverse story tell it.

What other genres do you hope to get involved in after The Flash?

Well, I have always known when the series end, whenever that is, I have always wanted to go back to the basics, just raw storytelling. I think being in the sci-fi world for so long I have a hunger to tell stories, simple stories. That’s something I’m really passionate about, and I hope that’s an avenue I can explore at some point.

What is your message to your fans about the “Run Iris, Run” episode before it airs tonight?

This episode is for the young female fans! I want them to imagine themselves in this role, in whatever endeavor they are pursuing in their life. No matter what roadblock gets in the way. We are magic; we can hunker down and figure it out.

Mostly the message is that it’s their episode and they can hopefully enjoy it.

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



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