By Wendy Southgate
Photography: Storm Santos
This heart-throb superhero with eight million followers is super sexy but oh so down-to-earth
When I first began my conversation with actor Grant Gustin, there was a Zoom snafu. Faces were bigger than others, and it took us a little time to get to the gallery view. Oh, the pitfalls of a Covid World. After a few clicks, we were on track but I was hoping he morphed into The Flash—the starring role he’s played on the CW’s The Flash for the past seven years—and fixed the problem with lightning speed precision. But we can’t have everything, can we? Gustin was in Victoria, British Columbia, filming a movie for Netflix called Rescued by Ruby, a true story about a Rhode Island state trooper wanting to be a part of the K-9 Unit who meets an unwanted dog, and well, we have ourselves a tearjerker of a film.
“It’s a really sweet underdog story about Ruby who was a shelter dog and Daniel O’Neil who is a Rhode Island state trooper,” says Gustin. “Daniel had always wanted to be a canine officer, even though he’s qualified for all these other types of specialties as a police officer, but he had struggled with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and attention issues at times, hasn’t always been the best reader, wasn’t necessarily the right temperament for the canine unit but had just always felt that that was where he belonged.
“Ruby has been returned like five times and was going to be put down because she was deemed ‘unmanageable’ and couldn’t be adopted. And right at the last minute, Daniel adopts her. A shelter dog had never made the canine unit on this police force and yes the underdog story of them trying to make the unit together and eventually becoming heroes in their own right and making each other’s lives better.” The film will be directed by Sundance Grand Jury prize nominee Katt Shea (Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase and Poison Ivy films) adapted from two short stories by Squire Rushnell and Louise DuArt, Ruby: A Dogwink Story and Dogwink Ruby. Rushnell and DuArt will also serve as producers along with Dan Angel, Jane Charles, and Brian Gott. Netflix is aiming to air Ruby in early 2022.
For seven years—the eighth season will be premiering in the fall of 2021—Gustin has been playing the superhero Flash for over 175 episodes including crossovers. Wearing the red suit and running around. He has tried to do something else every hiatus but claims “it’s so hard to fit something in that narrow window of seasons. I mean basically, my whole IMDb right now is playing Flash.” Although for Gustin, he’s up for the challenges of working with canines. “I’ve never worked with dogs especially in this capacity and the dogs are really my co-stars so it presents a different challenge, but no matter what your scene partner does it’s going to be truthful and you just have to react to it which has been a fun thing. You never know what the dog’s going to do.”
Like everything else during the past year of Covid, Flash shut down and Gustin and his wife went home to California for seven months. Recharge the batteries, take better care of himself physically and mentally and build new habits that he hadn’t had before. He had more time during Covid to lean into all of that. But going back to work this past year was the happiest he has ever been while filming The Flash. “I’m just more present and really appreciating the relationships around me and not necessarily thinking about what’s next in my life. What’s next in my career? Just understanding this is where I am now and you know the present is just really all we ever have so it’s just been a great time for me to just appreciate that in a different way than I’ve never had in life in general.”
Gustin landed a role on Glee when he was 21. After Glee ended, he went to work on The Flash, two pieces of work that have defined him so far in his career. Most actors would kill to have major television productions under their belt, and Gustin is one of them. It’s been something he has dreamed of ever since he was a child growing up in Virginia. He started tap dancing at eight and by the time he was 10 started theater and that was all that he had done before Glee eleven years later. When that ended he was about to go back to New York but got the role on The Flash which took him to Vancouver.
Acting has never been a part of the Gustin family; nobody in his family has ever been in a film or in the arts. They weren’t even really film buffs growing up or anything close to that. But early on Gustin developed an infatuation with movie musicals. He loved Singing in the Rain which was the first kind of big thing for him. Gene Kelly was one of his earliest idols in the film as was Christopher Reeve in Superman; infatuated actually. He loved Grease and would recreate scenes in front of the TV and make his brother and sister do it with him and film it. But it was Gene Kelly specifically and Singing in the Rain that he’d watch again and again and again. It was not until his mother found a copy of White Nights, the 1985 film starring tap and dance legends Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov, that prompted her to find him an all-boys tap group in Norfolk, Virginia where Gustin was raised.
He studied tap for a few years touring retirement homes, small fairs, sometimes dressed like Elvis Presley in a leather jacket, jeans, and white t-shirt. At 10 Gustin did his first musical The Wiz with Adrienne Warren as Dorothy (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical). Gustin did 20 to 30 productions with them, participated in the summer camp there and it took over his life. He gave up everything he was doing and was all in on theater, performing in summer stocks that would take him to places like North Carolina, in Charlotte, and then in Buffalo doing All Shook Up. He found out he got a part in a traveling Broadway production of West Side Story and went on tour and then Glee happened then The Flash. Not a bad run.
I can hear the passion for acting in his voice. He was always a little different than a lot of the guys he grew up with, picked on relentlessly for being skinny. A huge part of his journey is coping with anxiety and nervousness, and Gustin has a hard time watching himself on screen. His wife has been a huge help with a nightly ritual where “she makes me say something that I like about myself before I go to bed.” But the arts, especially acting, is when Gustin breaks the shell of his lifelong afflictions. Confidence grows and the thrill of performing and the response of the live crowd is something that motivates him.
“It’s a natural high and nothing else is like it. The gratification of doing what you love and the energy from the audience, yeah, nothing else feels like that, I mean there’s certain moments here and there as an actor on camera where I felt it and just like it’s kind of an unexplainable feeling where you’re in a moment, but when you’re on stage, from start to end of the show, I always feel that. I really miss it and like I said it’s the place where I’ve always felt the most confident.”
“… my wife makes me say something that I like about myself before I go to bed…”