The Flash, the heart-pounding live-action take on the beloved DC Comics hero, has been making history since its debut last fall. Not only was it The CW’s most watched premiere ever, but now, it’s the first mainstream superhero program to introduce an openly gay supervillain on the small or big screen. That villain? Hartley Rathaway, a.k.a. Pied Piper.
Played by 28-year-old out actor Andy Mientus, who’s best known for playing Kyle Bishop on Smash, Piper is a hearing-impaired scorned genius and hypnotist seeking revenge on the scientists at STAR Labs and the folks that wronged him in Central City. Suffice it to say, he’s not one you can get rid of that easily.
Before Mientus’ second episode of the series tonight, we got a chance to talk to him about the fan response to his character, the importance of LGBTQ representation in entertainment, and what to expect next after The Flash’s credits role.
What’s the fan response been like to Pied Piper?
Andy Mientus: I try not to look to deep into it because it’s going to ruin my day no matter what, but at least on Twitter, the people who’ve actually messaged me, they’ve been really lovely and responding to the character, which makes me happy.
Were you a fan of The Flash comic books?
I was more of a video game kid growing up. But then, to the generation of kids up to a certain decade, these characters have always been around. They’re so saturated in the media and Halloween costumes and things like that that they’ve just become fairytales, like characters you know about even if you’ve never read the original source material. Even though I never read one of The Flash comics, I definitely get nostalgic about that red suit and the lightning bolt.
How did you land the role?
It was a pretty standard audition. I had gone out the pilot for Barry Allen and the producers said they liked me but I wasn’t quite right for it, so they’d keep me in mind for later. You hear that a lot and you take that as a much nicer way of them saying no, but it turns out they were serious. Not too long after that, they called me about auditioning for Pied Piper.
When you were offered you the part, what was the first thing that went through your mind?
I didn’t know the character, so all I really had to go on was the sides I had to read for the audition. It was the scene where Pied Piper’s trapped in the prison cell and he starts talking to Barry in the surveillance camera. I knew that the character was funny, sinister, and intelligent from the scene, but not much else. I was excited and nervous because the character’s a fan favorite and our character would be a little bit of the departure from the original.
Not only are producers incorporating a gay character into a mainstream superhero show, but they cast an out actor to play him. Do you think that’s important?
I don’t want to say that all gay characters should be played by queer actors because then it’s really easy for someone to say that I couldn’t play a straight character. The role should always go to the best actor for the part. But it is a nice thing when it happens because I do think that gay actors are told no more than they’re told sure. It’s not hard for audiences to buy a gay actor being a straight character, but it’s hard for certain powers that be to trust that audiences won’t have trouble buying that. Luckily, the team at The Flash is aware of how far audiences have come. This character is gay, so it doesn’t really matter, but there’s other out actors playing straight characters and no one bats an eye about it. But it’s very cool that I’m able to represent my own community.
What’s really cool about The Flash is how they’ve handled gay characters in the past. The CCPD director David Singh (played by Patrick Sabongui) is also gay, and he outs himself by casually bringing up his boyfriend in conversation. It’s not a big deal nor a main event. Do you think more queer storylines should be handled that way?
Yeah, that’s way more accurate. When you meet a gay person, they don’t walk up to you, shake your hand, and say, “Hi I’m gay.” It’s not the most defining factor of anybody. It’s much more natural to have these characters mention their sexuality when it would be important to come out instead of making a show of it.
Do you think it’s more challenging to integrate gay characters into what’s perceived as a more heterosexual male-dominated comic book industry?
You’d think. There is a perception of nerd world as being very adolescent straight male, and predominantly that would be true. But being a queer video game addict myself, and considering my friends, I know it’s actually a really diverse community. There’s more people who have more in common with those characters than others might think. Also, fans of comics — nerds if you will — are more accepting than people give them credit for. Yeah, you’ll see some trolly commenters, but when it comes down to the real people, most nerdy kids aren’t accepted themselves, so they’re more apt to be openly accepting of others. They’re not the most popular kids in school who feel the need to bully a gay character.
What can we expect from your character for the rest of the season?
I can’t really speak to what’s planned for the rest of the season, but my second of two episodes airs [tonight]. If you look at Piper’s trajectory through the original comics, you’ll see the potential for more and wonder how there possibly couldn’t be more. When you see how we leave it, you’ll see where it’s going. [Laughs.]
You currently play Marius in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. Do you feel a different kind of fear on stage compared to being on set?
Being on camera is much more relaxing because if something goes wrong, they’ll go again. On stage, anything can happen. There’s one scene in Les Mis, the Barricades, and it’s incredibly dangerous, emotional, and I’m in the whole thing. It’s about 25 minutes of uninterrupted scene. I’m now a year into my run, and every day before that scene, I have to a deep breath, look at my other actors, and be like, “Here we go.” Every day it’s a beast.
Your episode’s only been out for a week, but has The Flash opened up any new opportunities for you? It seems to be proving that you’re a pretty versatile actor.
Yeah, I’ve played a lot similar parts in the past couple years. I tend to be cast as the sweet and innocent one because I have a baby face, so I’m getting a lot of nice notes from colleagues and friends who are like, “Wow, I didn’t know you had it in you.” [Laughs.] It’s nice to remind people I can do other things.
What else do you have coming up?
I’m finishing up my run on Les Mis, which ends on March 1, so I’m psyched to complete that journey. I’m doing a concert of the musical Parade in a couple weeks at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, which has an incredible cast. It’s led by Laura Benanti, and Jeremy Jordan, who I know from Smash, is with me. And I’m getting married this year! [Ed note: Mientus’ fiancé is actor Michael Arden.]
[Photo Credit: The CW]