‘The Flash’s Hartley Sawyer on Ralph’s Backstory & Visit From Mama Dibny
In Season 6 Episode 3, “Dead Man Running,” we meet the woman (Amy Pietz) who raised our favorite malleable hero and find out more about how he became the mess we first met. The hour also illuminates just how much the guy has grown since he arrived in Season 4, so of course we wanted to chat with Sawyer about Ralph’s ongoing emotional evolution and maybe see about maybe getting some Crisis spoilers (no luck).
We did, however, get to talk about Sawyer’s pet project, which is where he gets to be a true hero.
Congratulations, we finally get more of Ralph’s back story!
Hartley Sawyer: Yeah, it’s fantastic. We’ve been building up to this for a while and talked about bringing in this guy’s mom. Something we talked about early on in Season 4 was “What if we met his mother?” and I loved that idea.
And once we do, it kind of fills in some of the blanks as to why this guy like this guy.
[Laughs] That’s really well-put. It’s sort of like, “Oh, OK. Two plus two equals four. OK, I get it now.” I felt the same way when I read it, too.
And Amy Pietz is awesome.
She’s fantastic! Such a good actress and so much fun… she was just ready to play. She has this thing about her that just worked brilliantly for the character. And she’s so easy to work with.
It totally makes sense that his mom would be like a gambler and a bit of a con.
A con with a heart of gold, right?
Exactly. This episode also feels like the writers are really developing his emotional side, since we know his search for Sue Dearbon will change his life. How has that been for you?
It’s funny, with his mom coming in, when I read it, there were so many things that she was doing that reminded me of how Ralph was in Season 4 and that’s what helped me fill up the gaps to say, I can totally see why this guy is the way he is…because this is his mother. And the fun of it has been that, over the last 30 or 40 episodes, seeing how he has grown and what he’s become and how he’s matured. With us meeting his mother, we have kind of looked in the mirror and are realizing how far he’s come.
And what he has been doing for Killer Frost (Danielle Pananaker), trying to help her adjust to her new life, that has been such a sweet development, too.
Yeah. We did this a lot last year, too. Ralph’s kind of become like, in some ways the heart of the team. I think so, at least for me. I know I’m biased. [Laughs] But he’s always making sure is everyone okay, he knows when someone is not OK. He’s always paying attention and he’s always there to help. He’s like a big puppy dog of a character. And I love Killer Frost and Ralph together.
We saw a lot of that dynamic developing last season, the fun brotherly-sisterly banter with Caitlin, but now you get to change it up with Danielle as Frost.
And I love it. One of the great things about Ralph working with Killer Frost is that he’s not thrown by her at all. He addresses her the same way you would address Caitlin, the same way he’d address Cisco. He just approaches people on that level of equality and that’s really cool. It brings out these fun dynamics to play.
He’s not even thrown by the fact that the first name is Killer!
No, I know! It’s very fun. [Laughs]
OK, so what can you tell us about what is coming up for him in regards to the search for Sue Dearbon?
I mean, for him it’s just about the mystery. It’s about being a detective and tracking her down because that’s what he wants to do. He has no idea what’s about to happen.
And what is about to happen? Have you filmed those scenes yet?
[Laughs] I cannot comment on that at this time. But what I can tell you is that, leading up to the next few episodes, he’ll be following these bread crumbs tracking down Sue and it’s going to build to something very, very big. There is going to be a very fun episode, maybe the most fun one that I’ve shot so far this year. So that’s gonna be really exciting to see. And there’s gonna be some [things] in that process that are going to pay-off really big in the last half of the season. And I don’t think people didn’t expect it because they’re going to think some of these things are not things and then they’re gonna realize, 10 episodes from now, “Whoa, I had no idea that that was going to be as big as it is.”
Awesome. Now there’s a line in tonight’s episode about what life after Crisis may be like, but currently, you are living in Crisis, right? It’s filming now?
Oh yeah. I got to go to work in, like, an hour. It’s an absolutely surreal experience. I mean, I’ve seen some of the [set photos] circulating out there online and as a fan of comics, it was cool to see those things in picture form. But on the days where I’ve gone to work and some of the individuals that I’ve been working with? I mean, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that. And I don’t think people fully understand the scope and scale of what they’re doing here with this crossover. It is massive and it’s going to be so cool. I had a day on set the other week where where there was like 12 of us and 10 of them were people that I’d never get to work with. And we’re laughing in-between takes and then just doing the work too. And it’s just, it’s such a different cocktail. We need to do this all the time, it’s so much fun.
And I can only imagine the conversations. Like, whose costume is more constrictive or which show has the best craft services?
Exactly. Because some of the folks that we’ve had on come from other shows that have not even been part of a crossover before and one of the first things I was looking at was somebody’s costume. And I was like, “Wait, your mask does…Oh my god, wait a second! That’s such a good idea!” So we were kind of comparing notes. People were asking, “How’s your costume in the hips? Not too bad?” and “How’s your back feel after six hours in it?” That kind of thing.
Last time we talked, there was some discussion of the effects and what has to be done to make it look believable that Ralph is stretching. Have they streamlined this to a point where you know exactly how the effects will look so you know what to do?
Yeah, I think so. It’s all just another day at the office at this point for a lot of things. But there’s also a couple things that we’re doing with Ralph this year, powers-wise, that we haven’t really seen before. We’re always trying to add in new things, right? Like, He hasn’t done this before [on the show], but he’s done it on the comic-book pages, so what do we need to do to sell this for effects?”
And how are the dogs doing? I know you’re heavily involved in pit-bull rescue campaigns.
Oh, it’s going well. We have a big event coming up. A friend of mine has an organization called Stand Up for Pits and there’s a big event coming up on November 3rd in LA at the Mayan Theater that I’m very, very excited about. It’s all to raise funds for shelter dogs and to continue to help change the narrative—a lot of people view these pit-type dogs in a negative way—and to help them understand that dogs are dogs and they’re all inherently good. I volunteer with the South LA Animal Shelter whenever I can…it’s one of the six city shelters in Los Angeles. It’s also one of the biggest ones in the country, so it’s challenging work and we need more help.
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I hear that. And since they can’t speak, we have to be their voices and, and I’m glad that you’re raising yours.
I will always be a voice for the voiceless. And, you know, I was a volunteer for this before I started on The Flash and I will never stopped doing it.
The Flash, Tuesdays, 8/7c, The CW