Interview With Hartley Sawyer | Looking Inward
It is fascinating how our focus, conscious or unconscious, attract thoughts that evoke emotions which in consequence shapes our perspective of every event in life. When we put our best intentions in every thought, word and action, we will experience those emotions that harmonize most with us. In that state, we are at best in giving and uplifting others.
“(…)Looking inward, past the ego, is something that takes a lot of practice and even more mistakes. If it’s just about seeing yourself on the screen, then you’ve missed the whole point of the endeavor. (…) If you let it, it can drive you to find many passions in your life that are truly meaningful, and most of all: how to be of service and to give back,” says actor Hartley Sawyer who portrays Ralph Dibny aka The Elongated Man on CW’s series The Flash.
- Please introduce yourself briefly. Who, in your own words, is Hartley Sawyer?
A highly advanced, mostly hairless primate. Fueled by plants and more comfortable with dogs than people. I’m a very fortunate human.
- Do you remember the moment you became aware that you wanted to be an actor?
It was something that, I think, had a sort of bubbled in my unconscious since I was a little boy. I had a very active imagination and still do. Daydreaming as an escape was my childhood – along with watching movies. I did a play as a freshman in high school, and my friend and I developed a variety show and dance routine that was horrible, but that was the point. We performed it during the last week of rehearsals for the whole cast and crew. Imparting levity and laughter onto others was intoxicating. Watching movies and using my imagination became an outlet for so many things as I matured. In hindsight, it all makes sense – we have to find constructive outlets for everything we carry within ourselves.
- Why do you think the audience is so driven to watch TV shows and films with Superhero characters?
The same reason I grew up with a trunk full of comic books. These are our stories, our present-day allegories for our hopes and fears. I also feel that a big part of it is that we have been living, and are living in, a world where acts of war and violence and terrorism have tragically dominated the news around the world. I don’t think that’s unrelated to the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. The films are a masterpiece, which I say as a massive Batman fan, but it’s deeper than that. Specifically, The Dark Knight is a crime drama about a terrorist. So I think entering the 2000s and having the entire Western world altered irreparably, in an entirely different way than we’ve seen in the past people wanted to see Bruce, Kal-el, Diana, Peter Parker and so on “save the day.” Comic book characters are our modern day mythology – the villains reflect what we fear we can be or do, and the heroes reflect what we hope we can be or do.
- You portray Ralph Dibny aka The Elongated Man on CW’s series The Flash, which has premiered its fifth season. What resonates most between you and your character?
Quite a bit. Ralph is all heart, at his core. Even when we first met him in season four, he’s empathic, but at the mercy of his fears. His humor is his defense. He seems utterly relatable to me when I look at the Team Flash characters as a whole. Like Ralph, everybody makes mistakes and has to learn how to do things for the first time – even things they ultimately become quite good at. Above all, he doesn’t know how to give up. Run him over with a tank or whatever, and he’ll come back for seconds if it’s in the service of making the world a bit better.
- Are there any characteristics that Ralph kept after becoming The Elongated Man that you like and why? Please elaborate.
I would love to explore this at some point, but he spent so much time in the underbelly of Central City. It reminds me of the guy who’s now on the straight and narrow, but he will always have the experience of when he was running with the wrong crowd, which Ralph certainly did.
- Has the dynamic of the relationship between Ralph and Barry (Grant Gustin) influenced in any way his relationships with Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes)? If so, how?
Ralph finding a true friend in Barry, and someone who believes in him has given Ralph a whole family. Team Flash is a family and in season five we see his bond with the rest of the team deepen – in particular, Caitlin and Cisco.
- How would you describe the connection between Joe West and Ralph?
There’s an undercurrent of a mentor and almost a bit of a father figure there. We want to explore that more. Joe is “Papa Joe” to really everybody on the team, of course. And Jesse is beloved by us all, and a wonderful human being. But for Ralph, not growing up with his dad and having worked in the police department years before the audience met him – Joe and Ralph knew each other that whole time. Joe knows Ralph is a good cop and a guy who wants to do the right thing. Joe West is somebody Ralph Dibny wants to be like in a lot of ways. And on a long enough timeline, he will be a lot like Joe.
- What was the most crucial moment for you as an actor in relation to the development of Ralph in the show so far?
Season four, episode ten comes to mind. When I read the scene where Joe wanted Ralph to help him plant evidence in DeVoe’s house I was thrilled. It invited the audience into Ralph’s experience off screen and before he showed up in the world of Team Flash. He lost everything – his job, his friends, his family. Everything. Behind all the defenses he puts up and the humor, there’s a very painful experience that drives the guy.
- How do you think the process of Ralph’s self-discovery as a metahuman in the previous season had added value to himself and made it find his place within the team?
It’s another thing I really like about Ralph because it’s something that I think almost everyone can relate to. We are all largely the product of our nurturing, or lack thereof. Ralph was alone – he was pushed off to the fringes of society and ostracized. Everyone has felt that way, at some point or another. And everyone has relied on that person or persons who help them out of the rough and back onto the path.
- The Flash’s cast is spectacular and you all seem to have a great chemistry on and off screen. Is the mindset of having fun and enjoying yourself on set while co-creating the reason for the success of the show, in your opinion?
I do, yes. That was one of the first things I noticed on set. It sounds like a really nice thing to say in an interview, but it’s true. There’s a chemistry between the cast that is evident immediately on set. When I recognized that on like, day two, it explained why the show has done so well.
- Did you learn something about yourself you weren’t aware of during the process of becoming Ralph Dibny? If so, please describe.
I have put in a lot of work into “evolving” as time has gone on – being a better friend, boyfriend, dog dad, son, neighbor, volunteer and so on. I make a lot of mistakes at all of those things, pretty much every day. But that being the case, Ralph will always have the side of him that’s an enormous ten-year-old boy – and so will I. It gives a sense of silliness and play, and also a sense of wonder and empathy that I hope everyone can maintain into old age.
- How amusing is it for you actually see yourself in The Flash as The Elongated Man?
It’s surreal. It’s fun and funny. To me, he’s always Ralph, though.
- How did being an actor contribute to your personal growth?
When a young person sets out with a big goal, there’s a precious unawareness of what the journey will really entail. I’ve worked pretty much every sh*t job, even in between gigs on television, just to keep going on auditions and keep food in the fridge. I’ve been completely broke, a few times. That pushes a person to a survival mode that to me, is feral. You start to find out you can survive a hell of a lot more than you once thought. Depression kicks in, and usually, that’s like trying to outrun pouring rain in an open field. Like so many, I’ve been told “no” a hundred times for every “yes.” At a certain point, it occurred to me that the whole pursuit is meaningless unless it becomes a resource for looking inward. Looking inward, past the ego, is something that takes a lot of practice and even more mistakes. If it’s just about seeing yourself on the screen, then you’ve missed the whole point of the endeavor. It can be a rock you break yourself against, or it can be running water that slowly carves you into something that has all the little unique divots and dents that only come from being still for the ebbs and flows. If you let it, it can drive you to find many passions in your life that are truly meaningful, and most of all: how to be of service and to give back.
- What’s your definition of a Superhero?
Marc Ching from Animal Hope and Wellness. My friend Rebecca Corry who tours the country to put on shows advocating for pit bull type dogs and to raise tens of thousands of dollars in donations for animal shelters. The young lady who doesn’t read as well as her peers in school but keeps showing up and working hard to improve. Parents working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. The dogs I’ve met, most of them, pit bull type dogs, who have been subjected to abuse and unspeakable cruelty by human beings and still express unconditional love to their rescue families. Firefighters humble me deeply – that’s a superhero.
- Are you involved in any charity organization or humanitarian cause you would like to mention?
A few! I’ve been a volunteer at the South LA Animal Shelter for a few years now. Whenever I am in LA, I make time to go there and put in work. That shelter, in particular, is overlooked and overflowing with more wonderful and adoptable dogs than any other city shelter. We need help. We need volunteers. We need people to help particularly with the large dogs. There are hundreds of dogs there right now; some kennels are doubled up (and more) with dogs.
It’s heartbreaking to see a wonderful dog sit in their kennel for months and months, never getting out of the kennel even for some yard time – and many of them eventually decline mentally and are then euthanized because of that mental decline. It’s completely fixable. We HAVE to do better as a city. We have to focus on humane sheltering for our companion animals – not just on getting the adoption numbers up! It’s great to get a dog adopted (if it’s actually a good home) – but why aren’t we paying more attention to the quality of life these animals have when they are in our shelter system? Where is the widespread community outreach, and the low-cost spay and neuter (particularly in low-income areas)? As it is now, we as a city are failing these animals. What does it say about us as citizens if we don’t look after our own (four and two-legged alike)? We need to examine that on a deep level. Our actions must always be guided by what is best for the dogs. Everything else is secondary.
I also want to mention Stand Up For Pits – Rebecca Corry is tireless and does incredible work advocating for pit bull type dogs all around the country. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep love for dogs – especially pit bulls because they are such gorgeous souls, yet get the worst press. Folks need to wake up and realize the mainstream narrative that pit bull type dogs are inherently dangerous is utter bullshit. These dogs are born inherently good – and they make the best furry family member you could find. People have forgotten that if you go back sixty years or so, the middle class and the working class family dog was the pit bull type dog. The stigma against pit bull type dogs is nonsense – and it’s demonized a group of loving animals – a stigma that leads to unspeakable abuse and cruelty. Our laws for animal cruelty and neglect need to be completely overhauled the USA – they are a bad joke. People need to be held accountable – not dogs. It is our duty and our honor to care for them – and in return, we get unconditional love. Pretty good deal, if you ask me. My dogs have saved my life.
Alex Tonner and Paws for Life K9 is a tremendous group doing great things. They have incredible programs and do the work.
And I want to shout out vegans everywhere, too. I’m vegan for the animals. There is a lot of other benefits to it, as well. But I don’t ever want to contribute to an animal’s pain and suffering if I don’t need to. It’s that simple. Eat more plants.
- The spirit of The Hedonist Magazine is “The Essence of a Joyful Living.” How does Joy during the creative process affect your own experience and in consequence the final manifestation of your actions?
When I’m really in a creative place, I don’t necessarily notice joy. There’s a flow that takes over. It’s like magnetic levitation – there’s just no friction. Smooth. But what I like about exploring the spirit of “The Essence of Joyful Living” is that as individuals, we are all responsible for the energy that we bring. That can be into a situation, a relationship, or a gaze in the mirror. It is a natural human flaw to try everything we can, consciously or unconsciously, to outsource that responsibility. I’m grateful for this question because it reminded me of that innate ownership of my own energy.
- When you hear: “You can be, do and have anything you want,” words by Abraham Hicks. What is your take on such a statement?
That’s a hard one for me. That statement is a paradox. The world and our experience in it is far more complex. But it’s also simple. I am here, right now. If you’re reading this, so are you. That’s all you can be and do at any given moment. That’s the truth. If I focus on something that I want, there’s a cost that interrupts that truth. But that’s the task of being a human animal, maybe? What I want to be is a decent person. What I want to do is protect animals and improve the world around me. What I want to have are the resources that allow me to do those things as effectively as possible. But don’t be fooled by the allure of grandeur or goals that are actually just veiled forms of ego. You have everything you need to be, do and have everything you want right now, within yourself. But just be here in this moment. It all returns to that.