In a way, we grew up with Danielle Panabaker.
She gained prominence through the 2005 film “Sky High,” which was also her first superhero role. It was a memorable film for my generation, as it came a year before “High School Musical,” and coincided with my own high school graduation and admission to college.
While she played a high school student in the film, she was actually busy earning her bachelor’s degree from UCLA, one that she was able to get at 19 years old. Fast forward to a decade and a half after, and she’s promoting the seventh season of “The Flash,” where she plays both Dr. Caitlin Snow and Killer Frost.
“This season has been a doozy for me, getting to play two characters,” she shares. “I’ve been playing them for a couple of seasons now, but they’re now in scenes together and filming, that has been a challenge and also a lot of fun too.”
The cast and crew have been working together for over eight years now, but only had this much time off after the pandemic hit production and in Panabaker’s case, gave her a much deserved break. Instead of being benched on Team Flash, she was able to enjoy opening the newest chapter of her life with husband Hayes Robbins and their new baby, who recently celebrated their first birthday.
Like the rest of us, she had to spend it isolated from friends and family. “I thought I'd bring my baby home and my friends would be able to come over and you know, snuggle, and support me and help me, but we've just been alone,” she shares. “None of our family has been able to visit because it wasn't safe and now we're in Canada where our family can't visit, so I think the isolation has definitely been something that I've struggled with and I think we've all struggled with. So when this pandemic is over, I'm gonna give a lot of people a lot of hugs.”
The cast and crew of “The Flash” resumed production last October. Aside from those dual roles, she has also directed three episodes from the series, including the 14th episode of this season. “I’m still learning and growing, and having fun with it. I think when you're a director, you can see the bigger picture a little bit more.”
“As an actor, you're basically just worried about your character and your performance and there are dozens of things you are worried about as a director at all times,” Danielle says. “So it is a challenge, but it is a nice way to break up the season to get to do something different for a little while.”
Asked about what continues to challenge her, the actress shares the challenges behind the numerous medical jargon she has to recite when she plays Caitlin Snow, a scientist in STAR Labs and one of the founding members of Team Flash.
“I think they just sit in front of a thesaurus and are like what are the hardest words we can think of for Danielle to say?” She shares while laughing. “I had to say something yesterday and they’re like, ‘Oh no, the pronunciation you’re using is not the one we like you to use, we’d like you to use an alternate one.’ I’d learned a scientific word but I had yet to learn the correct pronunciation so nothing like a last-minute tweak after you already memorized your dialogue to really throw you off.”
But she shares that the real challenge is adjusting to this completely different experience and atmosphere. “You’re only seeing people from here up,” she motions as her hands move from her nose to her eyes. “There’s an intimacy when an actor and director work and collaborate. A director gives notes that’s not typically something you’d want to shout across the stage, but now because of social distancing, the director can’t get close to the actor.”
“As an actor, I have to go to work and take my mask off, so there’s an extra level of fear versus the rest of the crew who wears masks. As the science says, masking is the safest thing we can do, and while the studio does regular testing, it’s just very different.”
The show has taken several different approaches since new showrunner Eric Wallace took the helm. First, they addressed the important context of Iris West being black, especially in the midst of the social and political issues they face. This goes hand-in-hand with the very socially aware cast who have been very outspoken about these issues.
Another approach that was changed was with how story arcs are laid out, which shifted from having season-long arcs to now being divided into different storylines aptly referred to as “Graphic Novels.” It’s a refreshing take especially for the vast rogues gallery of “The Flash.” “It gives us the opportunity to really delve into the villains and have a lot of fun with them,” Danielle says.
Over the course of the recent seasons, Caitlin Snow has slowly come to terms with the supervillain who resides in her body, Killer Frost. Through this, Frost has become an ally and a valuable member of their team. For a show that embodies so much of bringing a comic book into life, it’s a message that even through these dark times, this season is a gift for their fans.
Their titular lead character, after all, is the paragon of love.
“I’m excited for fans to see the rest of the season,” she says. “There is always something special about everyone being together, particularly this year because the pandemic is challenging.”
This season, they will reach another milestone — the show’s 150th episode. “I remember going to San Diego Comic Con in 2014, the show hadn’t even aired, but people were already excited to talk about the show,” she says. But now, they draw even bigger crowds, whether physical (last was SDCC 2019) or digital (as in the case of the DC Fandome, their virtual comic con for 2020.)
This level of investment has been seen through so much buzz — the show’s premise allows a lot of creativity, thus having retro themed episodes, a musical crossover with Supergirl (and Glee reunion!), and numerous retcons that have resulted in so many memes. Danielle confirms that these are present on set as well.
“When I was directing, I was joking with the writers about something and they sent me the meme of Grant in front of the gravestone. They still have a lot of fun with that one,” she shares.
Even with over two decades of experience in the industry, she is still blown away by the love and support they receive. “We wouldn’t be here without the fans. When either parents or kids come up to me and say ‘Oh, I want to be a doctor because Caitlin was a doctor,’ especially young girls, that means the world to me.”
The Flash airs at 9 p.m. every Wednesday, same day as the U.S., exclusively on Warner TV.