‘The Flash’: Tom Cavanagh Talks Returning for Series Finale & Pitches His Own Spinoff

After nine seasons, The Flash crosses the finish line tomorrow night with “A New World, Part 4,” which sees Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and his team taking on a threat that literally draws on their past foes for power.

Since Central City has always been a safe place for friends of the show to return time and timeline again, of course fans should expect some callbacks. Key among them is Tom Cavanagh, who may be as integral to the Arrowverse as architect and exec producer Greg Berlanti. Not only has Cavanagh played (at our best count) nine characters on The Flash, but he has also appeared on and/or directed episodes of Supergirl, Batwoman, Superman & Lois, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow.

Tom Cavanagh Directs 'The Flash'

Katie Yu/The CW

So clearly, when we heard he was up for chatting about his return as original baddie Eobard Thawne/The Reverse Flash for the series finale, we strapped on our gold boots and bolted for the phone! Little did we know that he would be so quick to catch us up on his hopes for continuing his run. Plus, watch an exclusive sneak peek of Barry and Iris (Candice Patton) facing off against an unwelcome visitor above.

Tom! How are you?

Tom Cavanagh: So good. Thanks for asking. Hey, how are things with you?

Things are well. I mean, it’s always sad when you cover a show from the very start and then you start doing those series finale interviews.

Yes. And now it’s over, right? Although, I have a pitch for you to write about and you can tell me what you think of it. Here’s what I think: Reverse Flash, the spinoff, OK?

Into it.

OK, you’ll like this because you’ve been with the show forever. So around the time when I was like throwing a number of different Wellses at the wall and seeing which ones would stick, it was our first season on The Flash and there was such screenwriting, such simple and clean storylines. You know, when you start a TV show, you have the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head that you may get canceled. And this was no different — although with the success of Arrow, it felt like we had some breathing room — but at the same time, you never know. Shows get killed and canceled all the time. And when we were filming the first six, seven episodes, it hadn’t even premiered yet so you just don’t know whether an audience will show up or if anybody will see the same things that you see. And often in television they don’t and then you’re canceled.

So it invests the things that you do early on with a certain intensity, in a good way. You’re sort of all in this thing together and nothing is promised. It’s different than you’re in Season 6 and you know that Season 7 is [happening]…there’s a different feel to both those things. The former has a level of excitement to it that you cannot duplicate. And it makes for, I think, really great storytelling.

And I remember Greg Berlanti saying, “I just love this show so much…I just wanna have one season at least, one DVD on my desk.” You know what I mean? And he couldn’t have been more genuine about that sentiment. And as someone who’s done a number of shows with him, some of which were canceled relatively quickly, I understood that emotion.


Cavanagh filming the Season 1 finale

I remember him saying the same thing back when the show launched.

And so you know, the red herring of “Eddie is actually Thawne,” will Iris and Barry get together and what will happen when Caitlin finds out that he is Thawne? And how the hell can Thawne kill Cisco in Season 1? How can we lose that guy? We love him. Right? That all built to this climax of Flash versus Reverse Flash and The Flash prevails because the show’s called The Flash. [Laughs]

It was so exciting to be a part of it. And then when we were trying to figure out what to do when you’re invited back for a second season? You can’t have Reverse Flash versus Flash year after year because we did that story. And hence the idea of Wells. There were so many that I had in the back pocket, but around the era of, maybe it was Sherloque, I had this idea I took to Greg, that was basically “What if the villain, this Reverse Flash, falls for a civilian on planet Earth as he’s trying to get back to his own time and his own home?” And how does that complicate matters? Like, does he become more languid and less villainous? Does he pay the price in pathos? Ultimately if you wanna step in and really dig in to tell a story like that, you can’t do it on The Flash because the television show is about The Flash. [Laughs]

But there is a storyline there that I think is worth pursuing. And, you know, the people are still interested in the multiverse and now with The Flash ending, thus my pitch for us to hear more writing and collaboration, but this time on a Reverse Flash spinoff.

I support this. Even more than something set within the World of Wells.

And here’s the thing about it, and you can understand this because you’ve been involved with the show: He’s not just the dark that you put the light in. He takes enjoyment out of his activity. The Reverse Flash does, Thawne does. He is up for it. He delights in it. He’s not filled with a rage that blinds him, right? He’s like, “If I’m going to blow up Central City and kill The Flash, by God, I’m gonna have a good time doing it.” And I think that is a signature characteristic to the Reverse Flash. And then I think, if he is enjoyable to watch, then this is one of the reasons [to explore his story], because he delights in the anarchy and the mayhem. For somebody like that, who has a level of charisma to then embark on a different journey, even as a villain? That is something that people might watch.

He does have true panache.

Good word! Thank you. That’s great.

Legacy - Tom Cavanagh as Eobard Thawne

Jack Rowand/The CW

You understand that this would mean you’d have to suit up again? I would imagine that’s actually the bonus of this show coming to an end, not having to suit up again.

Well, you know what? [Laughs] “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” is the quote. And so it’s always been great to stay ready [for this role]…you gotta stay in shape. I don’t wanna have to go on the donut diet now that they’ve shut The Flash down after nine seasons, so if there was a Reverse Flash show in the offing, well, that’s going to be beneficial to my health.

True. This is very true. And now, they clearly gave you the perfect line in this finale, where you say “You didn’t think I wouldn’t come back to see how this all ends?” When did this all fall into place, the idea that you would be part of the final battle?

Going back to that first season we just spoke of, as we were realizing that the show was successful enough to merit a second season, we knew we couldn’t repeat ourselves. But the understandings always seemed to be that [I would be] there for the denouement of his tale.

I love that you and Rick Cosnett [who plays Eddie] are back for the finale— we don’t have Carlos Valdes back, but we have pretty much all the original Season 1 players back…

I will say just because it’s you and I think you understand this, that you can feel the absence of Carlos Valdes. I certainly feel like the audience will share this sentiment. He’s always been the warm heart of the show and he’s obviously irreplaceable. So not having him in it meant that we had to work even harder to try and delight the audience. But yes, even without Carlos, there was still a large showing of Flash OGs and I think the audience will embrace that.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but how did you feel about how the show closed?

For the story to conclude with a nod to [past characters] was, well, the word I would use is generous. And not only for me, but for audience members that have been along for the ride.

As one of those people, I really do appreciate you coming back. It means something to the fans to see, basically, family come together for the end.

Yeah, I think so too. It’s hard for me to see it from that perspective, but I also do understand it, as a person who watches shows where it’s like that. I always come back to the M*A*S*H finale. Like, I just think, by God, they nailed it. They got that emotion of “I don’t wanna say goodbye and nobody wants to say goodbye and the audience didn’t wanna say goodbye,” you know? And so B.J. put the rocks together and spelled goodbye. He didn’t say goodbye, but oh yeah. I just feel like it’s one of the all-time great television moments. And the other thing I love as an actor is “show, don’t tell.” Like, just be inclusive of everybody. And to be a part of a show that has a long-running history and be able to say goodbye like this, it’s wonderful.

The Flash, Series Finale, Wednesday, May 24, 8/7c, The CW