The Flash: Andy Mientus
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