This week's new episode of The Flash, titled "Godspeed," promises to be a huge one, and not just because Barry (Grant Gustin) will finally confront his time-traveling daughter, Nora (Jessica Parker Kennedy), about her lie of omission about working with the Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh). It's also a milestone because it will serve as Danielle Panabaker's directorial debut!
This won't be the first time a Flash cast member has stepped behind the camera — Cavanagh has done it three times so far — but that meant Panabaker didn't have to be the metaphorical first pancake. Plus, she had a huge wealth of knowledge to draw from when it came time to learn the ropes.
TV Guide talked to Panabaker about the daunting task of taking on an episode that packs an emotional punch for all the characters involved and the challenges that come with directing yourself in some of those big cortex scenes.
The first question when you're directing an episode is, how much will we get to see your character given how much time you had to spend behind the camera?
Danielle Panabaker: Not as much. Caitlin is a little bit lighter in [Episode 18] because, in this episode, it opens sort of with a direct cut as Team Flash is reeling from learning the news that Nora was working with Eobard Thawne. And so as they try to unpack and unravel why Nora would have made this decision, they decide to read her journal and that is our portal into going back to the year 2049 — well, flash-forward to the year 2049 — and understanding Nora and how she came to be this way and how she came to be working with Thawne.
This is obviously a huge turning point in the season, so was it intimidating be to given such a big episode to direct?
Panabaker: Absolutely. Intimidating, yes, but also exciting. I was very lucky because I got a fantastic episode with a lot of great stories to tell, so that was really a challenge, but it was also exciting. You know you step up to the plate when something like that is asked of you.
And was the rest of the cast supportive since this was your first time directing?
Panabaker: Yes, I was very lucky. I think they all trusted me and understood that I was working incredibly hard on this episode, but I also wanted to allow them to really shine and to hopefully do their best work. On a TV schedule, it can be tough at times; there's a lot of things you're trying to accomplish in a day, but the performances are actually vitally important in this episode. The characters and the actors' performances are very important, so I really just wanted to create an environment where the actors could do their best work, and I think they really shine — Grant, Jessica, and Tom, in particular, in this episode.
From what's been teased, it seems like there's just so much emotion packed into every second of every scene.
Panabaker: Yes, and there are some lighter moments as well. We were fortunate enough to get Kathryn Gallagher to play Nora's best friend in the future, and she's a dream. There's a lot of great stuff I hope fans enjoy.
What was the biggest hurdle you faced having to direct yourself?
Panabaker: Um, I did not enjoy it, which is something you don't know until you try it. It's these big cortex scenes with everybody in them, so it was certainly a challenge to try and set everything up because we're working with three cameras and to not be able to sit behind the monitors and sit and watch to make sure we were getting things. So I was trying to pay attention while I'm in the scene and also trying not to forget my lines. It was certainly a challenge, but I made it through.
Were there any directors that you'd worked with before that you drew inspiration from or asked for advice?
Panabaker: I asked for advice from every director I ran into for a year. Ever since I knew I'd be directing an episode, I was like, "What are your tips? What do I do? How do I succeed?" I've been very lucky in my career — obviously over the past few years, I've been incredibly supported by my Flash family and everyone who works there as I've tried to learn and understand more. One of the first things I ever did was a miniseries for HBO, and I remember the director of that miniseries, Fred Schepisi, allowed me to watch him edit. He was watching dailies, and that was a wildly informative experience for me, because as an actor you're sometimes so focused on your own performance that it's sometimes hard to see the impact of what you're doing in a larger sense. So I'll never forget watching him edit, and it's certainly changed and shaped me as an actor.
I know you're also very involved in the #Shethority campaign to support women in the industry, so were there any female directors you looked up to?
Panabaker: Yes, we had an incredible female director directing Season 4 named Tara Weir and she generously gave me great advice, which was valuable as a woman, as a female director, just in a variety of ways. I asked Lexi LaRoche... who used to be a script supervisor on The Flash, for advice. Everyone I could reach out to, I did. And I'm grateful to all of them.
Are there any moments in this episode that you felt particularly proud of and are eager for fans to see?
Panabaker: I mean, I think it's a really great episode. I was lucky to get a fantastic script and there are so many great moments. A lot of them start to come toward the end of the episode. There are some really gut-wrenching moments between Grant and Jessica, also between Grant and Tom. There are some epic fight scenes. I hope it's got everything in it that a Flash fan would want.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
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