The Flash' Hartley Sawyer On Ralph Dibny, Meeting Kid Fans & Beyond


It’s no stretch to say that actor Hartley Sawyer is once again a scene-stealing delight on the current season of “The Flash,” even as his character Ralph Dibny aka The Elongated Man has evolved from his introduction as a disgraced ex-cop with a talent for saying the wrong thing in the most crass way possible into the far more noble Stretchable Sleuth – complete with ever expanding deductive skills – made famous by the comics.

From his increasing ability to crack the conundrums of Central City’s crimes to his empathetic rapport with Caitlin Snow’s less lovable alter ego Killer Frost, Ralph has emerged as a crucial, always engaging member of Team Flash – something that’s left Sawyer with plenty to talk about when he sat down with ComicBook.com, where he tackled a wide range of topics – including the seemingly inevitable arrival of Ralph’s well-known better half from the comics.

ComicBook.com: It looks like you're having a really good time this season.

Hartley Sawyer: I've been having a great time this season.

I love that you're really getting to take this character from one place to another place – from sleazy to heroic – and do it in such an organic way.

That's one of the things that I love, the way he is this season is kind of how I really saw him when I auditioned for him. And when we talked about it when we first started in Season Four, the whole plan was to start him where he was when we met him in Season Four so we had the room to really take this character on an arc over Season Four, have him grow, go through all that. And that's really what's going to endear him to Team Flash and endear Team Flash to him, you know. And it's been great. Playing him this season, he's just more mature, but he's still very Ralph to me.

What was fun about figuring out how to evolve him in a natural way for the long game and not just seem like he shifted over the course of an episode or two?

I think in some ways, my job was made so much easier by the reality of what I was dealing with, which was coming onto a great show that's about around for years that has a huge fandom. And episode by episode you get more comfortable, you understand how things are, and you fit in more and more and more. So it kind of helped the process of playing that because I was living that as it happened. I was just becoming more ingrained with my colleagues and my costars and developing bonds with them. So I think that kind of comes across on screen, too.

I really think that's why this show is so successful and so special, because those dynamics between the people that come across on camera – those are there when the cameras are off, too. All these people get along really well and they, by and large just love working with each other.

He's still very funny, but you don't get to be quite as delightfully crass as he got to be in the early days. What do you miss about that, and what's uniquely fun about playing the more stalwart, steady version of Ralph?

Well, what I like about the stalwart and steady version of Ralph is that he's now making observations that are valuable observations, and we've seen a little bit of the detective thing this year, which is something that I've been chomping at the bit to do since day one. And we're starting to bring that in and we're going to bring that in and even more. So I love that aspect that he's now more concerned with progressing the goals of the team than he is with, you know, cracking the crass joke or whatever.

I do miss sometimes saying…He still does it, but like I miss saying the wrong thing that you're absolutely not supposed to say because when I'm, one of the things I love about Ralph so much is, you know, he can get shot in the face with a bullet and bounces out of his skull, and he needs that because he's always going to be the kind of guy who says something that's going to get him shot in the face. He's always going to say that thing like, "Oh, my grandma would wear that." Great. Yeah, boom. So he's always, he's still got that, but it's a little more mature.

Most recently we've seen this great rapport develop between him and Killer Frost, - specifically her, even more so than Caitlin.

Yeah, I think so.

What's been enjoyable to develop that relationship and to see that character have him as an ally on Team Flash and finally have someone she can open up to, in a way.

What I love is that it's something that I don't think viewers expected – and I wouldn't have expected on paper – to work as beautifully as it does. I mean, they didn't talk to me about it beforehand, but when I read the scripts I was just like, “Oh, this is a really interesting thing,” because he doesn't know her whole history and he's not thrown by her. He's not intimidated by her or afraid of her. Some of the things I love about Ralph is he sees her as just another person who's worthy of, "Hey, are you okay? Hey, what's going on with you? Hey, let's hang out." You know, just another member of Team Flash to him. He doesn't judge her and he doesn't really judge people a lot. And I think that's one of the great things about him.

I think it was last night's episode, 5-11, where we saw that conversation where he sat down [with her] and I think Ralph always knows more than he lets on and he's always kind of observing the rest of the team and I think his main concern is the team staying together and keeping that family together. He's very, very concerned with that. That's one of his main, I think, motives, because he didn't really have a family until he came upon these people.

Does their dynamic continue forward in episodes ahead, like specifically in the same way we saw it?

There's a little bit more of that. I can't remember which episode, but that will continue. We all like that dynamic and that combo, so that will continue on.

And we didn't really see any romantic angle there – it’s really an allies kind of a relationship, right?

Yeah. You know, people ask me that question all the time specifically about Caitlin and Ralph. I think most people know that was never really part of the discussion, for that to be a romance. I think people assume that's where we would take it, but the kibosh was put on that pretty early on because Danielle [Panabaker] had kind of done that, I think, in her trajectory on the show, so she wasn't interested in doing it again. And frankly I think it's a far more interesting choice for Caitlin and Ralph to be friends and care about each other in that way ,without the romantic aspect of things. And then I think that carries over to Killer Frost as well.

So give us whatever teases you're able to for the next few episodes, for Ralph in particular.

For Ralph, coming up in Episode 12, I had a lot of fun. I always love working with Carlos [Valdes] and I love the character of Cisco – I mean, who doesn't? And Cisco and Ralph go kind of out for sort of a night on the town, which Cisco doesn't really know is happening when Ralph kind of orchestrates it. But it continues to develop that friendship a little bit and I like those two having a friendship. And they go out and some things go wrong, but they have a real heart to heart moment and it leads to some really good stuff for Cisco in particular.

Is Ralph going to be the glue for Team Flash these days?

I think he kind of is in a lot of ways, honestly. I think he really is. He's always the one who's, you know, floating around making sure everybody's okay and everything staying together, you know? He cares about them deeply. And I think that comes across in these little moments we have with Killer Frost and in the next episode we'll see with Cisco. Yes, he wants to save the city, but he also wants the friendship and the family aspect and the community of it. It's something that he's been longing for and has finally found.

Any other characters that we see Ralph develop a deeper relationship with?

In Episode 13, we're going to go back to a lot of Ralph and Barry, which is a dynamic that I love and has always been fun. It's always just so much fun to work with Grant [Gustin]. We get along very well and enjoy working together. And I like those two characters together because it feels very brother-brother to me, that dynamic.

So Episode 13 we had a blast on, and I think that's going to be a really fun one and it's something that's very different than anything we've done before. And something I wanted to do for a long time specifically about Ralph was pretty much everybody on this team is pretty squeaky clean except him. He's still got some dirt on him. And I've wanted to explore that, like, “Hey, there's this whole other world, this whole underworld where Ralph knew all these bad people. Can we go back to there a little bit?” In Episode 13 we will, because there's something that we need to get to help us further trying to defeat Cicada and we're going to see that. And it was so much fun to shoot and I've seen some of the footage and it looks great.

Do his detective skills get sharper and sharper as the season continues?

Yeah, they continue to progress.

You guys must have a lot of fun filming the effects because there's always some goofy visual element that you get to play when you're showing off his powers. So give me your favorite experience setting up a power shot to date.

I mean, this was one of the first ones I did, but I will never forget. It was episode four of last year, Season Four. Tom Cavenaugh directed and I think it's when we first see Ralph's powers, when the two henchmen guys are holding him upside down off the roof and his legs begin to stretch and I was in harnesses and hauled up and down and you know, Tom was just hanging me upside down for a couple of hours while we shot that. And that was a real trip because I had the belly on as well and all that stuff, and that was just a blast for me to do.

As you've now been with this character for a while, tell me about the discoveries along the way about the comic book character that continue to give you some inspiration, to give you some excitement for what might be coming around the corner for him. Things that have been elements of that character over the years and his personality and relationships that you've either applied to the show or hope you're going to be able to apply.

I think in a lot of ways with Ralph, all roads lead to Sue at a certain point, and that's something that we actually did talk about very early on. And we will get to that. We will definitely get to Sue and that's something that I'm very excited for because he has to be ready for her. He has to be ready for that. It's one of the great romances in comics, really, so I'm very excited to potentially get into that sooner rather than later.

It must be fun, too, thinking about finding the right Sue because that banter, that Nick and Nora Charles quality that they have is gonna be really important.

I'm looking forward to potentially the process of reading with some of these people and seeing how it is because it's all going to boil down to I think that dynamic as well. That's a very important aspect. It's kind of a tricky thing to cast I think, but we'll do it.

You mentioned too, what the show's doing with Ralph and Barry and there was a lot of that in the comics’ Silver Age era.

Tons!

It’s almost been forgotten how closely connected Barry and Ralph were in the comics, from original introduction to the character and beyond. Did you look at that to kind of find little cues for your performance and how that relationship was going to play?

I didn't look at it a ton. I was aware of some of that and over time I've looked at it here and there, but certainly last year when I was trying to establish the character, I didn't want to get too caught up in a mental idea of how I thought he ought to be. And I just thought that I had a sense of who he is and who he was in the comics. I had heard of him and I did a little bit of research on him, but I wanted to let it play out in terms of working with the other actors and, I think particularly because the show was so established, coming in and seeing what became of just fitting into this and playing off of their established characters they've been playing for four years, seeing how that affects me and my ideas of what I have for Ralph. And I think it's worked out really well.

But I didn't get a stack of comic books and read them all and everything like that. I mean I did look at “Identity Crisis,” which is obviously an extremely dark storyline, but that was good for me to be aware of that one and I had read it in the past and I read it again because that gave me the idea of how broad the spectrum is for this guy. And I think nobody had ever seen at any writers do that with Ralph, where we saw this real side of him that was extremely emotional, extremely dramatic. And that's where I kind of thought, “Oh, the playing field is so wide open for this guy!” So that informed that.

Is there another character or another actor in the Arrowverse that you're eager to have a scene with Ralph and that person and see those two, that kinda certain dynamic you're looking forward to?

They had an interaction briefly in one of my early episodes, but I always thought that Felicity and Ralph would be really, really funny together, because they're both kind of doing that quip thing and I thought they would get along really well. So I would like to see more of that. I don't know that it'll happen, but that would be fun.

Now that you've had some time in the role, tell me what the experience has been like beyond just the making of the show - to kind of be representing the DC Universe, to go out and meet the fans, to run into people who love the show in your everyday life. What's been the fun of being in The CW/DC world?

You just feel very lucky and I feel very lucky – and how could I not? I run into people at an airport or I run into people at conventions or on the street or whatever, and one of the things that I kind of keep hearing that is easily one of my favorite things about being lucky enough to have this job is fathers with their daughters, mothers with their sons, moms and dads with their kids saying to me, "We've done this every Tuesday for five years now. You know, when we started she was 10, now she's 15. She wants to go do 15-year-old things, but still she's there every Tuesday night.” And to see how it brings families together that way, that's a very special thing and I feel very lucky to be part of that. That's one of my favorite things about it for sure.

Tell me about meeting the kids fans!

It's super, super fun to meet the kids. I ran into a guy at a grocery store, at a Trader Joe's and he was like, "Oh my God, I gotta get a picture with you. My little boys love you, they're not going to believe this." And once in a while they'll be like the kid hiding behind the mom's leg, like peeking out and have to bend down and say hi. Meeting the kids is so much fun because sometimes they're just speechless, too. And sometimes they ask really poignant questions, kind of alarms you. "Why did you do this? How to do that? Can you really stretch?”

But my favorite is when they're just kind of like, "He is real." I remember seeing Santa Claus, you know, that kind of a thing. That's really, really fun. And it's really fun to observe – I've seen this when kids see Grant when we're shooting out somewhere. It's like time stops, you know? Their jaws just drop when they see their favorite character, and I love experiencing that.

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Tell me what you see for Ralph's future. Could you see him carrying his own show, or is he best as a team player?

Oh, that's a tricky question. That's a tricky, tricky question for me to answer. I don't, I honestly don't know how to answer that. I mean, Ralph will always play well with others and will always need some sort of support system around him, and I think now that's what he wants and he will always have that, whatever form that manifests in.