Barry Allen may be the fastest man alive, but he’s certainly not the quickest thinking, a point proven this season on The Flash as he’s gone up against Clifford DeVoe, AKA The Thinker, whose goal is to continually enhance his own intellect while reducing that of the rest of humanity. He calls his goal “The Great Enlightenment,” and it’s up to Barry to stop him while having to deal with the fact that his opponent is always six steps ahead of him.
“One of the greatest challenges for me was I’m working in my second language,” explains South African-born Neil Sandilands, who plays DeVoe. “My first language is Afrikaans, and most of my body of work is also in Afrikaans. So now you get to play a character called The Thinker, and he’s written in a very sort of highbrow, academic, scientific way. So you’ve got to contend with that and you’ve got to have some sort of mastery so that it lives in your mouth. You cannot consider what he is saying; he just has to know what it is. So getting that was a challenge for me, because it doesn’t come naturally.”
Obviously, it worked out for the actor, but after spending a season of putting Team Flash through their paces, it’s all wrapping up on Tuesday, May 22nd with the fourth season finale, which will see Sandilands bidding farewell to Central City (presumably). “You always negotiate with a little bit of melancholy, eh? Without giving away too much, the format is that each season they do introduce a new villain or a big bad, though this season is a little open-ended,” he says. “Leaving is always a bit sad, you know? I spent nine months in Vancouver. You get to know the environment and the people, and then it’s like the circus: You pack up and go to the next project.”
Which, he admits, can be difficult. “There is a loneliness to it that a lot of people don’t really understand,” explains Sandilands. “They seem to have a very idealized, sort of romantic notion about the entertainment business, but the reality is I’ve been, by and large, living like a nomad. At one point in time, I had to give up my pets. I had two beautiful Boxer dogs and it was just becoming an impractical thing. And, yes, I think of romantic relationships, certainly. It’s had an influence on that as well, because you are, by and large, a project worker. You work in Koala Lumpur, then you’re in New York, then you’re in New Orleans, then you’re in Canada. So, yes, it does take a strain, and you need to know the pacing of it.”
Despite all of that, and the success of his career in South Africa, he was drawn by a desire to see if he could make it in America so that he never had to look back at his career and ask, “What if?”
“There were pull factors and push factors,” he notes. “I don’t want to be 86, or however old we get these days, and say, ‘Man, I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.’ In terms of push factors, South Africa is a really small market, and for very obvious reasons we don’t always get to play with the big toys. We’re limited. I felt I had a bit of energy, and hopefully resilience and tenacity to try something else. That’s the long and short of it. But I didn’t know how exactly it was gonna be. I didn’t know the people that I was going to meet along the road. It’s very difficult to predict that. But on a very personal level, it’s up to you to just kind of keep going. At the same time, it is also existential. If I can tell you all the lovely things that happen along the way, I can also say that there are the moments where you sit in your room and you stare at your big toe, and you doubt yourself and your talent, and you go, ‘What am I doing here?’ Those also come, and you’ve got to survive both.”
And survive he did, ultimately coming to the attention of The CW from his portrayal of Titus in the series The 100 (“It’s like William Golding, you know; it’s Lord of the Flies. There is a gravity to it”), which led, of course, to The Flash.
“It took me a while to understand all these different narratives and universes, but I became intrigued by it, because I didn’t grow up with comic books,” he points out. “It took me a while to find my feet with that, but basically everything that you can imagine is possible these days. It’s a very exciting genre to work in. My audition was as Clifford DeVoe, a university professor, and I think they wrote the scene specifically for the audition. I did not know fully or understand fully what the character was about, but I assume they saw something that they thought they could explore, and I’m so happy for it.”
Being immersed in a show that so extensively involves visual effects would seem to be a whole new world for him, but Sandilands notes that “I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to do a lot of characters that had an action element to them, fighting, horse riding, getting pummeled, getting set alight — I’ve done a lot of that. I’ve got a really good or expansive sort of action reel of just these kinds of things, and I enjoy doing them. The cerebral side of it is fantastic, of course. You’ve got a good script and whatnot, but I guess as a little boy, if you want to become an actor, you do it because you want to be Bruce Lee. And I’ve played rugby before a fair amount of my life, so I’ve always had a very pleasant experience with living in the physicality of certain characters. Obviously, on The Flash we get the opportunity to work on the highest end of visual effects, and I worked with an incredible stunt team, though I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to do stunts. However, in the latter episodes, there’s certainly a fair amount of them and a few very intensive graphic scenes. I cannot wait for people to see the season finale. We did some pretty damn amazing stuff.”
Getting a handle on DeVoe as a character wasn’t always easy. In fact, when the show took a holiday hiatus at the end of 2017, he found himself filled with doubts.
“I was saying, ‘Okay, you’re playing this dude who’s the Thinker, that requires a certain something,’ and I was going, ‘I don’t think I’ve got the marbles to cut this,'” he reflects. “It does become a little bit of an extensional thing, but then you kind of move through that, and you try to have fun with it. You try and view it with the skill set that you have. I couldn’t view it as one-dimensional or perhaps a two-dimensional thing. This guy’s angry, and he’s evil, and he’s bad, but I just had to view him as a fully-rounded guy. And, there is a beautiful idealism about Clifford DeVoe, especially a younger Clifford DeVoe, and how he viewed the world. His ideals were fairly romantic. And to imagine a sublime world like that, I had to like the character, and I think in the latter episodes I really got into the enjoyment of playing him.”
Look for The Flash season finale on May 22nd.
Images: The CW