by Lauren Piester | Tue., Jan. 23, 2018 10:00 AM
The Flash's Iris West (Candice Patton) is not a superhero, a scientist, or a cop, but she is—finally—their boss.
The role of a superhero's girlfriend has always been a difficult one for movies and TV to get right, and for its first few seasons, the CW's The Flash often shared that struggle. But then season four came around, and not only was the show lighter, funnier, somehow even quicker, but it had also found a role for Iris that was more than damsel in distress or her frequent job of hanging out in STAR Labs and worrying—and it wasn't just an upgrade from superhero's girlfriend to superhero's wife.
When Barry (Grant Gustin) sacrificed himself to the speedforce at the end of season three, Iris made the jump from being about to die to being in charge. She took control of Team Flash in the absence of the Flash, and when the hero (and her fiancé) returned, she kept the job. And while we're all still waiting for Iris to get back to her dream (and future) job as a reporter, this is the gig it feels like she always should have had.
"She had to step into that position, but I don't think it was anything she was planning to do," Patton tells E! News of the character's evolution. "She didn't know when [Barry] was going to come back, and Iris just kind of stepped up and became the team leader to kind of keep everyone together and keep everyone moving. It's a position she ended up being really great at, and lucky for her, the rest of the team embraced her in that role."
While this funny boss Iris is actually ideal, anything would have been better for her than what she went through in season three, when Savitar (also known as alternate future Barry) killed her in the future.
Barry witnessed this future death, and then spent a season making rash decisions in an effort to save Iris' life. Iris spent a season making plans for both a wedding and her will, all while watching Barry spin a little out of control in his efforts to save her. It was some incredible dramatic work from Grant Gustin and especially Candice Patton, but it was often exhausting to watch, and to do, according to Patton.
"I mean, all that stuff is fun to play and I ended up getting a Saturn award for that season, but it was exhausting," she says. "Just a lot of emotional stuff. I like being the leader."
Patton also liked Iris as a reporter, but she understands the constraints of the show.
"In the comic books, she is a reporter, and that's kind of how we started on the show, and I think it's ultimately how we should have continued," she says. "But for whatever reason I think it was complicated to integrate the two storylines—the STAR Labs side of things and the ‘Iris being a reporter' side of things. It was easier, I think, to have us all in STAR Labs, and it took a while for us to find a place for Iris to have agency."
"I think she should go back to being a reporter at some point," she continues, acknowledging that we've seen that future article written by Iris West-Allen. "So we'll see. I mean, Iris has done a lot. She was a barista, a reporter, and a leader at STAR Labs. She's got an impressive resumé."
When you think about Iris as a character, and when you ask Patton what the character's strengths are, it does seem strange that it took so long to find Iris her place in STAR Labs.
"I mean everyone is so cerebral. Iris is more heart," Patton says. "She's good at rallying and cheerleading everyone and keeping everyone focused on moving forward and being a team. I mean she really is, in a lot of ways, a coach for a lot of people. She keeps the morale together and she encourages a lot of the team members."
On The Flash and across the whole of the Arrowverse (including Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow), Iris is one of the few main characters without a superpower or super-skill. She's also not a scientist, or a cop with a licensed gun like her dad, and she's not a skilled archer like Arrow's Oliver or Diggle. She's also not a computer expert like Felicity, and she doesn't have a particularly fancy gun. Of every hero across the four shows, she's probably the most like a regular person, and the importance of the fact that she's so important—and not just as personal motivation for other characters—to the success of Team Flash can't be oversold.
"I mean, it's great to have smart people, but if they can't get along or remember why they're there doing it, it's going to be difficult," Patton says.
Iris has been particularly effective at keeping the Flash himself from falling into annoying dude superhero tropes, like believing he that he not only could do everything on his own, but that he had to, for noble reasons. Barry Allen (mostly) no longer makes life-altering decisions by himself, and he's no longer the only hero making decisions at all.
"I think it's important that the leading lady of the Flash not always be captured, and I think it's important to see her be the hero of her own story," Patton says. "A lot of times she takes the reigns in trying to protect herself and to protect others and I think that's what makes Iris so special. And we'll see even more of that later in the season how Iris steps up and becomes a superhero to the team in her own way."
Off camera, Patton herself has also been stepping up in recent months, making her voice heard more than ever before and even starting a collective for female empowerment, all inspired by the fans she's met through The Flash.
"I think the more and more I meet fans and realize the impact this kind of show has on people across the world, I feel empowered and I feel responsible to speak up and speak out for people who may not have as big of a platform or as big of a voice as I have," she says. "And I think even in our political climate, I think it requires all of us, whether you have a platform or not, to speak up and to not be afraid of saying what is good and what is right. So you know, even if it's an unpopular opinion, I'm no longer going to be quiet about things that I feel are important and are right."
Around the same time that a new era of The Flash arrived, a reckoning had arrived in Hollywood, starting with sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein and continuing with names coming out on a near-weekly basis, even hitting the Arrowverse itself. Co-creator and executive producer Andrew Kreisberg, who worked primarily on Supergirl and The Flash, was fired after being accused of sexual harassment by 19 people in a report by Variety.
Right around the time that those reports surfaced, Patton and Legends of Tomorrow star Caity Lotz launched the collective Shethority, which was born out of a conversation during a hike in Vancouver.
"We were just talking about these conventions we go on a lot, and you know, we meet fans, we sign autographs, we take pictures, and we go home," Patton explains. "A lot of our fans are young, they're women, they're women of color, and we don't really get to have a dialogue with them in that medium at a convention. It's two minutes and they're ushered on and the next fan comes up. And we saw a desire from them to want to talk about seeing us on screen and the importance of being a woman and empowerment, so we wanted to create a place for young girls, women, and boys to speak on female empowerment."
Patton says they started with videos of themselves talking about "how we deal with certain issues as women in the workplace and other stuff," encouraging fans to send in their own videos of what they're dealing with in order to create "a safe space online where we can all have a dialogue about female empowerment."
The collective has already started to evolve, and Patton has high hopes for what it could become.
"I hope it's a huge nonprofit," she says. "I see mentorship programs where women in successful careers, whether it be film or TV or doctors or lawyers or people in STEM, reaching out to some of these young girls and being able to mentor them through Facetime or emails or short texts."
There are also plans to incorporate a book club and various tools that Patton and Lotz have found useful in their careers, like meditation, yoga, and other ways to stay "calm and focused."
"We have so many ideas, it's just focusing them and getting each one done at a time, and we'd love to work with other organizations like Time's Up," Patton says. "I think, you know, it could be a really powerful force for a lot of young women in the world."
Nearly the entire female cast of the CW's DC TV shows have gotten involved—including Supergirl's Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh, Arrow's Emily Bett Rickards, Katie Cassidy, and Juliana Harkavy, The Flash's Danielle Panabaker, and Legends of Tomorrow's Maisie R. Sellers and Tala Ashe—creating a kind of united front across all four shows, which Patton says has "totally" changed the vibe on set.
"I think female relationships are different on set. I think we stand up for each other a little more. We have each other's backs. We encourage each other's opinions in male-dominated environments because we know how difficult it can be and how silenced we can be often," she explains. "It's interesting—I think it's a really positive thing to know that we all have this gang of girls kind of looking out for each other and sharing information and speaking up about what we're going through, whether it's in the workplace or at home."
It feels especially powerful to see not only a group of actresses, but a group of actresses who play superheroes of all kinds, banding together to support each other and their fans, but Patton says it's really about all women of all kinds, all over the world.
"It's a weird time where I think this movement just kind of happened naturally, I think, for all women in the industry, and I think it started a dialogue between women," she says. "We're no longer afraid, and I think in these private conversations we're having with each other, we're realizing that staying silent is what keeps us marginalized. So the more that we have a dialogue about what we're going through, the more I realize that we're in this together, and we are stronger together. And so we, Caity and I and some of the other girls in the DC TV universe want to create a space for young women to feel that empowerment too—that we have their back, that their voice matters, and they have a space to speak up and speak out."
As for the future of the movement and the industry, Patton says she hopes this is a permanent change.
"I see more women in positions of power, more female directors, more female writers, more female producers, heads of studios. I think when you have diverse people in areas of power, that is reflective of the work that you see in television and film. I think people are tired of seeing women playing just the love interest to a man, are tired of seeing them assaulted in films and TV. I think the results of this hopefully will be great storytelling for women."
Whatever happens, Patton says she's on board for the long haul.
"I'll continue hopefully fighting and being a part of that change," she says. "I think like any current, you can't stop it once it's started."
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.
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