The Flash: Andy Mien­tus

GT (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS JOHN MARRS IM­AGE LUKE FON­TANA

Al­ter the ap­pear­ance of a clas­sic comic book character at your peril.

That’s the les­son pro­duc­ers of TV show The Flash learned when they dared to in­tro­duce su­pervil­lain Pied Piper to the show with an out­fit that dif­fered from his tra­di­tional in-print green. And when a pho­to­graph of ac­tor Andy Mien­tus, who plays Hart­ley Rath­away – aka Pied Piper – leaked wear­ing black, comic book en­thu­si­asts, blog­gers and purists were di­vided.

“The big con­tro­versy was not a bi­sex­ual ac­tor play­ing the Pied Piper but the fact I wasn’t wear­ing green,” laughs Andy. “But I don’t read user com­ments on sto­ries. In­evitably there’s go­ing to be some ass­hole who wants to make a noise and fight with oth­ers on­line. There’s Su­pervil­lains are known more for their bad boy ex­ploits than their sex­u­al­ity. But when comic book The Flash re­vealed in 1984 that their vil­lain Pied Piper was gay, it be­came a gamechanger. Now fans of Sky 1’s The Flash are about to meet the Pied Piper on screen. Openly out ac­tor Andy Mien­tus tells GT just how im­por­tant his role is for the gay com­mu­nity – and for all comic book adap­ta­tions def­i­nitely some kids out there who are pissed that Pied Piper’s gay, not wear­ing green or that I’m play­ing him and not some­one else. But the over­whelm­ing re­sponse has been pos­i­tive and sup­port­ive.”

After the suc­cess­ful launch of Ar­row onto the small screen, The Flash be­came the lat­est DC Comics character to get his own show late last year – and it proved an in­stant hit. With his su­per speed and su­per­hu­man re­flexes, he’s al­ready taken on Dan­ton Black, Leonard Snart and Roy Bivolo, but Pied Piper is a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish. First off, he’s a gay su­pervil­lain, and se­condly, he’s deaf.

“His character first ap­peared in 1959,” be­gins Andy, “and what’s re­ally awe­some is that in 1984 he

was an out gay man, I think one of the only out su­per­heroes in the DC Comics uni­verse. It was a brave move to make him gay and, I think, un­prece­dented at the time. His com­ing out was han­dled re­ally, re­ally sen­si­tively with­out be­ing heavy-handed or stereo­typ­i­cal. His sex­u­al­ity adds a hu­man el­e­ment, so you get to know him not just as a mous­tache-twirling vil­lain. And they’ve kept that story very much in­tact for the TV se­ries.”

With many main­stream US TV se­ries now hav­ing at least one gay character, it’s still rel­a­tively un­char­tered ter­ri­tory to find one of us in su­per­hero films or TV adap­ta­tions. “Oh this is huge,” says Andy. “Peo­ple don’t ex­pect a su­per­hero show to go there. When you think of a comic book su­per­hero au­di­ence, it’s a much more di­verse crowd than peo­ple as­sume. I think it’s re­ally great to see a pow­er­ful, out gay character giv­ing The Flash a run for his money.”

While Andy was fa­mil­iar with The Flash grow­ing up, he ad­mits comic books were not his spe­cial­ity. “I was a nerdy kid play­ing video games,” he re­calls. “I’d def­i­nitely have been into comic books too, given the chance, but my par­ents had to draw the line some­where. But I come from a gen­er­a­tion where it feels like th­ese char­ac­ters have al­ways ex­isted. Even though I’d never read a Flash comic, I was still fa­mil­iar with him through his me­dia pres­ence.”

Andy first came to the at­ten­tion of pro­duc­ers after au­di­tion­ing for the part of Barry Allen, aka The Flash. Although he wasn’t cho­sen for the lead role, they recog­nised his po­ten­tial in­ner bad boy. “I didn’t know the Pied Piper at all, but the writ­ing was so strong, I knew ex­actly who this guy was,” he ex­plains. “DC sent me lots of comics with sticky notes telling me ex­actly what to read. It was a crash course in Pied Piper that re­ally got me ex­cited.

“In those orig­i­nal comics, he’s born deaf and his wealthy fam­ily buy him spe­cial hear­ing aids so he can hear as well as any­one else. Our story is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I know the gay com­mu­nity is al­ready go­ing to be watch­ing, but it’s cre­at­ing a character on screen that’s ex­isted for decades with an in­cred­i­bly de­voted fan base… that’s where the pres­sure is, not be­ing a gay character on a TV show. I want to do him and the fans proud.”

Andy has been open about his bi­sex­u­al­ity since first springing to fame state­side in mu­si­cal drama Smash. “Somebody asked me the ques­tion and I an­swered it,” he says mat­ter-of-factly. “I was never in­ter­ested in be­ing se­cre­tive about it and I’m not wor­ried about be­ing pi­geon­holed in terms of cast­ing. As an ac­tor, the way I look and the way I am means I’m not go­ing to be cast as the ac­tion hero. I’m like the Pied Piper – I’m a lit­tle an­gu­lar, I’m a lit­tle weirder. I fore­saw be­ing re­ally em­bar­rassed later on if I tried to keep up one im­age and then the true im­age got out, which it in­evitably would. I thought, why not come out of the gates swing­ing?

“But I don’t judge any­one who chooses not to talk about their per­sonal life, there’s a lot of value in keep­ing it sep­a­rate from your ca­reer.”

And on stage and screen he’s also happy to mix it up, play­ing both gay and straight. “I’m an open and fluid per­son in life so, to me, sex­u­al­ity is the last thing I think about when ap­proach­ing a character,” he adds. “Like for most peo­ple, their sex­u­al­ity is not their defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic, it’s just some­thing about them. I like to switch it up be­cause it proves be­ing an out ac­tor doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily limit op­por­tu­ni­ties. Peo­ple are still will­ing to buy me as a straight, ro­man­tic love in­ter­est just as well as they can buy me as a gay su­pervil­lain. And I wouldn’t see only play­ing gay roles as some­thing neg­a­tive – I’d just be glad to be work­ing!”

For most of his youth and un­til his early twen­ties, Andy dated women. “I guess I came out pretty late at 24, be­cause I didn’t fig­ure it out til then. I was never clos­eted or hid­ing, I was dat­ing women but I recog­nised

I like to switch it up be­cause it proves be­ing an out ac­tor doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily limit op­por­tu­ni­ties. Peo­ple are still will­ing to buy me as a straight, ro­man­tic love in­ter­est just as well as they can buy me as a gay su­pervil­lain. And I wouldn’t see only play­ing gay roles as some­thing neg­a­tive – I’d just be glad to be work­ing!

I was at­tracted to some boys. I was lucky to grow up in a house­hold that was open and ac­cept­ing – and in the the­atre com­mu­nity no one cares at all. It never needed to be a big deal.

“There’s a line in [TV show] Girls which says, ‘Peo­ple are so prej­u­diced against bi­sex­u­als. It’s like the only group of peo­ple you can still make fun of.’ A lot of straight and gay peo­ple don’t re­ally buy it, and they’re almost angry. It’s an an­ti­quated fear that if peo­ple aren’t on your side then they’re against you. That bi­sex­ual peo­ple are keep­ing one foot in the closet for safety’s sake and do­ing a dis­ser­vice to the cause. Time is prov­ing the cause is go­ing to keep march­ing on re­gard­less of a few bi­sex­u­als.”

Andy has been in a re­la­tion­ship

with Michael Ar­den, a fel­low ac­tor, fa­mous for his stage work and TV se­ries like Anger Man­age­ment and The Good Wife. Friends for six years un­til they be­gan a re­la­tion­ship, they an­nounced their en­gage­ment on In­sta­gram in June last year while on a trip to Babington House, Som­er­set. “Since we were friends for so long there was no hid­ing be­hind the im­age you want to present to somebody,” Andy smiles. “We skipped to be­ing our­selves and de­cid­ing if it was some­thing that was go­ing to work. And it has.

“We’ve al­ways been on the same page psy­chi­cally. When we got en­gaged we were both try­ing to pro­pose to each other on the same day, but in­de­pen­dently. We had no idea what the other was do­ing but I beat him to the punch!”

As they plan for their in­ti­mate wed­ding in au­tumn this year, they have spent much of their en­gage­ment in a long dis­tance re­la­tion­ship – Andy work­ing seven days a week play­ing Mar­ius in Broad­way’s re­vival of Les Misérables, and Andy busy on stage and screen, and liv­ing in their Los An­ge­les home.

“It’s re­ally hard, es­pe­cially in our first year as an en­gaged cou­ple, as we couldn’t ride the high of that,” Andy ex­plains. “We went straight back to re­al­ity and did the long dis­tance thing, but it’s worked be­cause we’re sure we’re do­ing the right thing in get­ting mar­ried. We re­spect each other’s am­bi­tion and we know that while we’re dat­ing each other, we’re also dat­ing each other’s ca­reer. Some day this dif­fi­culty will be a small drop in the well.”

Andy took a month out of Les Mis to make The Flash. And with plans to leave the mu­si­cal soon, does this mean we might see more of the Pied Pier?

“I don’t want to give too much away,” he grins, “but there’s a strong pos­si­bil­ity we will see the Pied Piper again.”

The Flash, Sky 1, @andymien­tus

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