In the Oct. 27 episode of “The Flash,” titled “The Fury of Firestorm,” the team learns that recruiting a superhero is harder than it looks.
When Professor Martin Stein’s (Victor Garber) health begins to fail following the loss of his partner Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) — aka the other half of the heroic entity known as Firestorm — it’s up to Barry (Grant Gustin), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes) to find a genetic match to take Ronnie’s place and help stabilize Stein.
Two candidates emerge: Dr. Henry Hewitt (Demore Barnes), a fellow scientist, and Jay “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh), a former high school athlete whose career was derailed by an injury he suffered during the particle accelerator explosion. If you’ve been paying attention to promos, photos and casting notices for “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” you won’t be surprised to learn that Jax eventually gets the gig, but in this case, the journey is just as important as the destination — especially since Jax plays pretty hard to get when initially approached about being a potential match for Stein.
“Stein and Barry Allen turn up at Jax’s garage, and they kind of trick him, essentially, into coming down to the lab to meet these guys who can help him, he thinks, fix his knee, because he injured it in the particle accelerator explosion,” Drameh says. “He gets there and they tell him all this stuff about how he’s been changed and can be this Firestorm, and he wants no part of it. He is not interested at all. They have a bit of a tough job to bring him around and convince him that this is a good idea.”
As for what’s behind his character’s reticence, Drameh has a few theories: “All he ever wanted to be was a pro athlete til he was injured, and I think that really shot his confidence, so he wants what little he has left of a life of normalcy. To essentially throw all that away and become a superhero is a very daunting thing, and a responsibility that he’s not sure he can handle.”
As two halves of the same hero, the chemistry between Stein and his new partner (and by extension, Drameh and Garber as actors) was of the utmost importance. Luckily, Drameh says, “We got on straight away; we’re always bantering with each other, always having a laugh. We get on really well. I always try to get him to play ‘Would You Rather,’ which he absolutely hates — like, ‘I’m not playing this game’ and I’m like, ‘come on, just one! Would you rather be a tomato or a cucumber?'”
That chemistry can also be combustible — at least on screen — as Jax and Stein get to know each other in future episodes. “With Jax and Stein, it’s a very love-hate relationship. I think there’s a lot of differences than with Stein and Ronnie, where they both come from a scientific background, whereas Jax does not in the slightest,” Drameh previews. “He’s essentially a jock and mechanic, against a quantum physicist professor, so they’re at loggerheads quite a lot and it can tend to get a little tumultuous sometimes, but they work it out.”
Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg says the differences between Jax and Ronnie were part of the attraction. “We decided to use it as an opportunity to introduce a different kind of Firestorm. What worked so well in the comic books was the idea that they were so different, Stein and Ronnie. In the comic books, Ronnie was a dumb jock. Obviously, Robbie and the character we created for our Ronnie was an engineer and was more mature and has a girlfriend and is more of an adult. So the idea of a second Firestorm being somebody who is just in his early 20s and somebody who was radically different from this Firestorm [made sense].”
Having the opportunity to “have another African American superhero with superpowers” was also appealing, according to Kreisberg — sister show “Arrow” just introduced Echo Kellum, who will play DC hero Mr. Terrific, while this season “The Flash” will debut Wally West, who becomes a speedster in his own right in the comics. “For a whole generation of kids who are growing up [and] this show is their entree into the superhero world, for them, Firestorm will always be African American and we’re so proud of that.”
For Drameh, the chance to join the DC universe was a dream come true. “I remember being on set and I was saying to Grant, ‘this is literally like being a kid again.’ It’s the stuff you do as a kid: ‘I’m this one!’ and you’re running around, pretending to shoot fire out of your hands, pretending you can run really fast; it’s absolutely great make-believe.”
Variety also caught up with Garber to find out what Stein thinks of his new partner, and what he’s most enjoying about filming “The Flash” and “Arrow” midseason spinoff “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”
Who knew that finding a potential Firestorm match could be so much like going on a blind date? What do you think Martin was looking for in an ideal partner?
He’s interested in someone he thinks is more educated, more worldly, more someone that he can have dinner with. [Laughs.] Jefferson is not that guy, and that’s what makes it interesting, of course. He’s so different from Robbie [Amell] in terms of the casting, and so unique. I miss Robbie, I love Robbie and I was very concerned about who [would take over] — literally I, the actor, was concerned. So it was not so different from Martin Stein, and it turned out very well.
We’ve seen the physical effects of losing Ronnie, but how is Martin dealing with that loss emotionally?
Martin does not always reveal his feelings, and interestingly enough, the scene I’m about to do on “Legends” really deals with it much more, so I won’t give it away, but it’s a deeper wound than one would have thought.
At this point, Martin is the only one who knows that Cisco has developed powers of his own – how does that progress between them?
Some of Martin’s better qualities come out in that instance, and his sense of wonder and also his paternal instincts are more in play in terms of his relationship with Cisco. I think that’s what really shows.
One of the most appealing aspects of “Legends” is how eclectic this roster of heroes and antiheroes is. How does Martin react to so many disparate personalities in one group?
That’s, to me, the interesting and unique part of this series – you have this dysfunctional family all together and traveling through time and trying to combat the worst possible evil history has ever known. In every situation, every person has their own idea that they think is the best, and Rip Hunter, played by Arthur Darvill, is no exception. He’s sort of the captain, but you find out so many things about each one of them as we go on — that’s the reason I wanted to be involved in this, because it’s really fun. Like on “The Flash” — and it’s part of why I thought “Alias” worked — because they are a family who happen to be superheroes, as they were a family who happened to be spies. That’s what, I think, keeps people watching – that connection, and they do that really well on “Legends” as they do on the other shows, and that’s what keeps me interested, frankly.
For someone with Martin’s scientific background, getting to explore time-travel and all these abilities must make him feel like a kid in a candy store.
Yes, literally – going back to a time when Martin was young, it is like being in a candy store, and also, the melancholy, sentimental aspect of it as well, which they bring out. That’s a really interesting thing to play as an actor, and also for the audience to witness. It’s unique.
Anything you can preview about the upcoming “Arrow” and “Flash” crossover that will set up “Legends”?
I honestly have not left this lot where I am, but I know that the other characters have, and even though I don’t really know what happens, I know it’s all part of the same world and the lead-up to the premiere of “Legends.” By the time it hits, I think people will be really excited and ready for it.
You’re also working with an organization called Beyond Type 1 — what prompted you to get involved and why is it so important to you?
This is very recent for me, but Sarah Lucas is the woman who contacted me about it, with Nick Jonas and some other people, they are trying to educate people on Type 1 diabetes, and I was diagnosed when I was 12 years old, so that was a long time ago. I’ve lived with it my whole life, obviously, and it’s very different from Type 2 diabetes, which is what people think of as diabetes, like “just don’t eat that” — but it’s way more complicated. Type 1, most people are diagnosed at a young age, sometimes in their infancy, so mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters are all dealing with an infant who has to be given insulin shots, has to have urine tests and blood tests on a regular basis — it’s very serious and very hard to manage, and some people develop complications, and complications can cause death. So I am a face — basically the old guy who’s still living with it. Mary Tyler Moore, people knew she had it, and she’s still with us, but she’s had some terrible complications with it, so it’s really education and to say that you can live with this and you’re not defined by this disease; you are more than a Type 1 diabetic, and that’s what this organization is trying to instill in people, and also to raise awareness and money so we can cure it. It’s why I’m on Instagram, it’s really the reason, so that I can tell people about it and hopefully affect change.
“The Flash” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.