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Interview: The Flash’s Danielle Panabaker Tells Us What It Was Like to Direct Tonight’s Episode

Danielle Panabaker looks into the back of a camera on the set of The Flash.

The next episode of The Flash won’t only showcase the backstory for Nora West-Allen (Jessica Parker-Kennedy), but it serves as the directorial debut of original cast member Danielle Panabaker, who plays brilliant scientist Caitlin Snow (and part-time antihero Killer Frost). Panabaker took some time out from shooting the series’ season five finale to talk about her first trip behind the camera.

The Mary Sue: How long has directing been a dream for you?

Danielle Panabaker: I think I’ve always paid attention [to directing] in a really particular way … I don’t think I knew it was in me until I watched Tom Cavanagh direct in season three. I watched him do it, and I was really inspired and started asking questions and seeing if I could make it happen, and here we are.

TMS: What sort of preparation did you do in terms of shadowing and studying?

Panabaker: I shadowed extensively on The Flash. It’s funny. I was talking to Jesse [L. Martin, who plays Joe West] last night when we were working late, and somebody asked me ‘did you shadow?’ … And Jesse laughed and said, ‘I feel like you’ve been shadowing for years.’ I formally shadowed twice in season four. I shadowed Tom Cavanagh and then David McWhirter when he did our finale. And then Warner Brothers as well offered a directing program that I did all last summer.

TMS: Did Tom give you any specific advice?

Panabaker: I think he more tried to lead by example, but he certainly did remind me that, as an actor, it’s an unbelievable gift to get to do this, but also, when your directing time is over, you have to go right back to standing next to your cast … A little reminder that, while some directors have the luxury of showing up for one episode then leaving, I’m still going to be held accountable.

TMS: Was it tough switching mindsets between directing and acting?

Panabaker: One of the really special things about actors, and good actors in particular, is that they are such guardians of their character, and a good actor has done their homework and has made their choices and that is a gift unto its own. And as a director you are bringing everything together …

It’s a little bit musical, trying to see which elements of the show need to be highlighted in a particular moment. Is this moment about the emotion and the storytelling? Is this moment about the action and the stunts? So a director is just a completely different skillset, although effectively always looking at being the best storyteller you can be in both roles.

TMS: Did you coordinate, with the writers, for this episode to be lighter for Caitlin?

Panabaker: I did not coordinate with the writers, but I think it was certainly something they considered. Episode 17 I was quite light in because I was prepping episode 18. For Team Flash, [Episode 18] is a lighter episode for them because it’s Nora’s origin story.”

TMS: What was it like working with Jessica Parker-Kennedy on such a big episode for her?

Panabaker: She’s unbelievable. I feel so lucky that I got an episode that was so Jess-heavy. I was excited about it. It was a moment to really let her shine because it was effectively her pilot … She carries the story, and it’s her journey, and you get to see her feel an incredible array of emotions. And she gave me so much, and I’m so grateful and I hope she’s proud.

TMS: Were there any particular challenges to this episode?

Panabaker: Every episode has its own challenges … We had scheduling issues. I was worried about the snow. We were trying to find locations and sets that could conceivably be 2049. It was all of those things. My friend [and Arrow showrunner] Beth Schwartz gave me the advice that it’s all about problem solving and being malleable, and it proves that you just sort of attack every problem one at a time and effectively and efficiently solve it.”

TMS: How important do you think it is, especially right now in our culture, to have women behind the camera?

Panabaker: I think it’s incredible. I think Warner Bros. and Berlanti have done an unbelievable job at really pushing diversity, both on camera and off camera and behind the camera. I think it’s so important, and I’m so glad.

TMS: Do you have any specific female directors that you look up to? I know you’ve had Rachel Talalay direct The Flash and she’s done so many incredible episodes of so many shows.

Panabaker: Yes, she’s one of the many women I went to for advice before I started filming … Karen Nicole Weir, who directed in season four gave me advice. Lexi LaRoche, who is also our script supervisor, gave me advice. They’re all incredible directors.

TMS: What was some of the best advice you received?

Panabaker: I got a lot of different advice, some of it practical: wear comfortable shoes. I feel like it’s just been absorbing and researching and studying and doing everything I could for the past year, quite frankly, to be as prepared as possible. I really tried to emulate Tom Cavanagh in a lot of ways … his generosity, and his enthusiasm, so a lot of different advice, that hopefully I took, to have it be a successful experience.

TMS: Do you hope to direct again next season or direct outside of The Flash?

Absolutely both. I definitely threw my name in the hat as soon they started considering directors for next season, and also, I would love to direct another show. Peter Roth at Warner Bros. has been incredibly supportive, and I’d love to keep working on his shows because he has such an incredible roster.

TMS: You’ve had a great season as Caitlin, and as Killer Frost, who has been so instrumental this season in fighting Cicada. San you tease what’s in store for them?

Panabaker: Yeah, I think it’s been a great season. She’s had a lot of incredible storylines … Caitlin’s father returns in the next episode [19]. They have some unfinished businesses, and we certainly see more of Caitlin’s family dynamic. And I love that Killer Frost is such a powerful force against Cicada.

TMS: Speaking of, Caitlin’s main relationship drama this season hasn’t been romantic, but it’s been between her and Killer Frost, and I’ve really enjoyed that.

Me too. That was something that was really important to me: considering Killer Frost as her own character unto herself and exploring how Caitlin feels abut Killer Frost and how Killer Frost feels about Caitlin. And I think it’s been a really beautiful evolution as they’ve sort of battled for control of this same body, and kind of found a way to coexist. And I’m excited to see them continue growing and evolving and learning together.

Danielle Panabaker’s directorial debut on The Flash, “Godspeed,” airs Tuesday, April 16, at 8:00PM on The CW.

(images: Katie Yu/The CW)

Jessica Mason is a writer and lawyer living in Portland, Oregon passionate about corgis, fandom, and awesome girls. Follow her on Twitter at @FangirlingJess.

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