On a show where people can travel through time, race across the earth in a matter of minutes and open up portals to different worlds, you’d think a guy like Ralph Dibny would have a hard time finding his place. And yet, since his introduction on The Flash last season, the wise-cracking, well-meaning hero has carved out a solid spot on Team Flash, both fighting for Central City as the Elongated Man and helping the team get to the bottom of things as a detective and private investigator. In the process, he’s managed to win over the likes of Cisco, Caitlin and even Sherloque, while completely turning around Barry’s not-so-stellar opinion of him. He’s also died and come back to life, squared off against Cicada, and in tonight’s all new episode, takes Barry deep into the criminal underworld in an episode that also introduces the classic DC villain Goldface.
So, when we say that the Elongated Man may be the Arrowverse’s single most underrated superhero…is it really such a stretch?
We recently sat down for an in-depth chat with Hartley Sawyer about bringing such a colorful Silver Age character to life. In the process, he shed some light on Ralph’s sometimes prickly relationship with Sherloque, shared what he has to do to bring Ralph’s powers to the screen, offered his thoughts on the prospect of a Ralph/Caitlin relationship and weighed in on whether we’ll be seeing Ralph’s famous future wife, Sue, on the show any time soon.
Ralph Dibney has come a long way since he first showed up on The Flash. How would you describe his current role this season?
I think he's now integrated into Team Flash, and he’s binding them all together in some ways. Somebody said he’s like the glue that’s sort of holding the team together, and I think in some respects he is. He's always checking in on everybody and making sure they're okay. He’s checking in on Nora, checking on Cisco, checking in on Caitlin, checking on Killer Frost. Just making sure that everybody's doing all right. He's just there to help, you know?
Ralph provides a lot of the show’s comic relief, but he also has a lot of heart. How is it balancing those two aspects of the character? Is that ever a challenge?
To me it feels organic in the character. This is something that I take from life as well, where you know you've got to be able to have a sense of humor to cope with things. One of the things I love about Ralph is he asks the questions that I think most people would honestly ask if they were ever thrown into this world. A lot of people, if they were thrown into this, they'd be like, “Wait… Time travel, that's a thing? How does that work? Wait, there's Harry Wells, but why does he also look like Harrison Wells?”
They're all reasonable questions to me.
Speaking of Wells, how would you describe Ralph's relationship with Sherloque?
It obviously started off quite rocky. Ralph had a real questioning of his place on the team and his value in general when Sherloque came in. But earlier on in the season, through a series of events, I think he was able to show that he has value too. He can actually keep up a bit with a master detective like that.
He's dealing with somebody who's so brilliant and has caught all these killers in the Multiverse and everything, and to be able to point out something that Sherloque didn't see, that's great, and we'll see a bit more of that.
How is it playing opposite Tom Cavanagh as he takes on these different roles? As an actor, does it take you time to get used to all of these new Wellses?
No, because you just accept it as the reality of what's happening. We're playing make-believe, so you just accept it as the reality of what's going on. And he's a tremendous actor and tremendously talented guy, so he believes what he's doing hook, line and sinker. That makes it easy for all of us to believe it.
We’ve seen some really nice, almost poignant, scenes between Ralph and Caitlin Snow this season, and I’m curious, have they gotten closer? Or do you think it's just a part of him getting closer to the team in general?
Well, they're definitely closer than they've ever been. I think it was episode three this year where we had to break into Tannhauser and Ralph was there to support Caitlin with that. You just know that deepened their friendship a great deal.
And he's never been thrown by Killer Frost. That's what I love about him. He doesn't have any judgment towards her or any judgment towards anybody. He just receives her as she is and is there to check in with her as if she were just another member of Team Flash, which Killer Frost really is.
Ralph’s a little more perceptive than I think he lets on a lot of times and a little more empathic than he lets on. So, he could see what Killer Frost was going through and just picked it apart. He knows how much Killer Frost means to Caitlin, and how much Caitlin means to Killer Frost, so I think that's something that he wanted to see through. But yeah, Caitlin and Ralph, that relationship has deepened this year. I mean, she was one of the first people who really showed him compassion when he first came on in a lot of ways. She was there for him and supportive of him, certainly as a doctor, but also as a friend.
Has Ralph weighed in on Cisco’s potential meta cure? Is he in favor of it?
We touched on it in one of the scenes with Killer Frost. I don't know if Ralph would take a cure if it was there, but he firmly believes that people should have the choice. People becoming metahumans in this universe is something that's thrust upon them. They didn't have a choice there, so why not give people the power of choice and see what they want to do with it? I don't know that he would take it, but he's for it.
Grant Gustin has talked about how often he has to pretend like he’s running to play the Flash. Is there anything you find yourself having to do a lot in order to play the Elongated Man? Do you have to stretch yourself out a lot?
What's super fun about getting the finished product for Elongated Man's powers is that we do everything. It's a tremendous amount of visual effects, and they work their butts off on it. So, a lot of times, I just need to hold a particular position and get the camera angle that they need because they're going to do this thing in post and need that shot. But I've also been on harnesses and wires and hung upside down, and last year I got blown back like that guy in the chair in those old Maxell commercials.
There is a physical aspect to it where, a lot of times, my goal is to figure out the weirdest, most uncomfortable position that I can put my body in. Because if this guy was like a living Gumby, that's how he would end up. That's fun. It’s fun to pull on that Dick Van Dyke/Jim Carrey stuff.
Do you have a background in physical humor?
It's something that I grew up doing for fun in high school. We would involve it when we were joking around and doing sketches. Then in college, I did do a good amount of sketch comedy that was live and on stage. I did some of that out here in LA as well, and that would lend itself to certain pratfalls and bring a certain physicality to the thing. That's always been really fun for me. That felt like coming home for me in a lot of ways, to be able to do that and sell that stuff.
As a longtime film noir fan, I’ve always really loved the private detective side or Ralph’s character. Are we going to see more of that on the show?
I feel like now we're sprinkling it in and it was something that we wanted to do last year, but they were like, “Wait… We're going set this guy up and take him on this journey in season four to set him up for more things to come.”
I've been chomping at the bit for that since I began, so I was super happy to see us start to bring those elements in this year, and I'm down for more and more of it. That's easily one of my favorite aspects of the character. I think that in some ways, that's really his superpower too—that deductive ability of his. So, I'm down for more of that, and we will see more of that develop in the back part of the season.
So, what’s ahead for Ralph this season? What can you tease?
There are a couple of things that are coming up in the last maybe third of the season that I actually can't say anything about. But I'm very, very excited about it. Outside that, there’s some Cisco and Ralph stuff happening, which is really fun and starts to deepen their relationship a little bit more. Then, in episode 13, we're going to put Barry and Ralph together and send them into the criminal underworld that Ralph knows very well. Nobody else on the team knows this world. This is his area of expertise, and we're going see Barry and Ralph go into that world to get something that that the team needs. To me, that was so much fun to read and so much fun to do because we don't see that very often. It's almost like the table's turned a little bit.
Last season, you got to play the villain briefly when the Thinker took control of your mind. Do you prefer playing villains over heroes, or is it the other way around?
Gosh, that's a hard question. Both are so much fun. It was really fun to try to get inside that Thinker embodiment. Neil Sandilands just did a great job with that role. He's a great actor, and he just ran away with it. I was just trying to keep up with him a little bit when I did that, but it was so much fun.
Where would you like to see Ralph going in the future? Both this season and just in general?
I think Ralph has to be ready for this, but I think we're getting close to the point where he's ready for some kind of a serious relationship, and to meet a girl and see where that goes because that's going to bring a whole different layer to the character and a whole different level to the character. That's something I've been very excited about since pretty early on—what would this guy be like in a real relationship? He wasn’t ready for it last year, but now he's warming up to that. He’s much closer. He's worked on himself and is ready to let that come into his life.
Well, after hearing you say something like that, I have to ask you about Sue Dibny. Are you hoping to see Sue on the show at some point? Or would you rather see him in a relationship with an existing member of Team Flash?
I can't see him with anyone in Team Flash. I mean people bring up the Caitlin and Ralph thing a lot.
Yeah, that’s why I’m asking! Is there something there?
We never discussed that as a relationship between the two, or rather, we never discussed that as a romance. I think it's actually much more interesting to let it live as a friendship. And it's a real friendship. I think with Ralph, it's like with Batman. With Batman, on a long enough timeline, all roads lead to the Joker. With Ralph Dibny, on a long enough timeline, all roads lead to Sue Dibny. That relationship is such a significant part of the character.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. For more news, features and conversation on The Flash, click here.