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Grant Gustin stars as Barry Allen in The Flash, which is filmed in Vancouver.
Grant Gustin stars as Barry Allen in The Flash, which is filmed in Vancouver.

What life is like for U.S. actors working in Vancouver’s booming TV industry Add to ...

As the title meta-human superhero on television’s The Flash, Grant Gustin runs around his beloved Central City at hundreds of kilometres an hour, protecting the innocent and punishing the misguided. But when Gustin takes off the suit and slows down, he lives in Vancouver with his fellow cast members of the series, which has been filmed in B.C.’s largest city since 2014.

And Gustin, previously featured in a supporting role on Glee, likes what he sees. “[Vancouver is] kind of separated from whatever success the show has or popularity the show has,” he said. The Virginia native said he never fell in love with Los Angeles and prefers the pace of Vancouver, which allows him to focus on his work without the distractions of being in Hollywood. “It’s got this nice, different appeal.”

U.S.-funded TV productions are a major piece of British Columbia’s robust film- and TV-production sector. The City of Vancouver is touting boom times for the film and TV production sector, with a 40 per cent increase in activity in 2015 over 2014. While that includes the feature-film hit Deadpool, it also includes 309 TV episodes filmed in the city last year. Indeed, foreign film and TV productions, most developed for Hollywood, account for 80 per cent of total production spending in B.C., according to the latest B.C. Budget and Fiscal Plan.

In a statement, the city described Warner Brothers as “Vancouver’s biggest TV client,” with seven productions filming this year. Overall, said the city, Warner Brothers spent $70 million in Vancouver on labour, suppliers and locations for productions that employ over 2,400 local crew and cast.

While the actors in those series have high-profile roles, there is rarely an opportunity to get a sense of what they make of actually living and working here. But a recent two days of micro-news conferences – 15 minutes with each of 22 actors for members of the international press and some Canadian reporters – allowed a chance to raise the question. The actors are from four Warner Bros. series: The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, iZombie and Lucifer.

Down the line, the actors spoke of relishing the professional opportunities that come with gigs in Vancouver, but many ruefully added that there is a personal price for committing to a city that is far from family, friends and the welcome vibes of either New York or Los Angeles. One Flash cast member noted that the series shoots for 10 long months.

Carlos Valdes, who plays the Flash’s associate Cisco, said the series has been a great opportunity, but being in Vancouver is a challenge. “It has been very difficult at times just because I am young. Being young, I set my expectations for where I want my life to go and where I want to be, and all of a sudden, next thing I know the plan for my life is set. ‘You’re moving to Vancouver,’” the 26-year-old said.

Valdes added that Vancouver is beautiful, but he acutely misses New York. He flies home when he can, and works on his own music when not working on the series.

The industry compensation is notable, of course. While none spoke of their own salaries, The Hollywood Reporter noted last year that newcomer TV actors can expect to earn $15,000 to $20,000 an episode, with experienced actors making $75,000 to $100,000 an episode.

The L.A.-based Lesley-Ann Brandt, who plays a demon in Lucifer, said she was getting married as production began. “It was a bit of spanner in the works when we found out the show was here,” she said. “They allowed me to run away for a week, get married and come back and do some fight scenes here. It was like, ‘Hi honey. I do. I love you. Bye.’”

Some of the performers spoke of the Vancouver region’s natural beauty, but they said it’s a challenge to revel in it, given their grinding schedules, which one compared to making a mini-movie in about eight days.

“My experience of being here really is being here just to work,” said Tom Ellis, who plays the devil himself on Lucifer. Asked about what he takes away from Vancouver, he said, “I’d love to say the beautiful landscape, but I haven’t had time to explore it.”

Brandon Routh, who played Superman in Bryan Singer’s 2006 film Superman Returns and now plays Ray Palmer in Legends of Tomorrow, said the mountains are lovely and unobscured by smog that is routine in Los Angeles. Asked if he has been out to see them, he replied, “Not so much, but someday.”

Asked if anything about Vancouver makes The Flash a better show, cast member Candice Patton, who plays Iris West, the true love of Gustin’s character, quipped, “Tax incentives,” before adding that “those are important. There’s more money to spend on effects, which is important.”

D.B. Woodside, who plays an angel on Lucifer, said that being in Vancouver is like a homecoming. Earlier in his career, about 16 years ago, there was a period in which there was a lot of work in Vancouver – his 2000 film Romeo Must Die was shot in the city – followed by a cycle through Atlanta, Louisiana and Toronto. “Now, all of a sudden in the last two years, it seems like every show in the world has moved back here.” If only the weather could be more accommodating: “One of the reasons why it’s so beautiful, why it’s so lush is because of the rain, so you have got to take it.”

But Rose McIver, who plays a crime-fighting zombie struggling to hold onto her humanity in iZombie, said there is an upside to the rain for her show, which is set in Seattle. “Vancouver has been brilliant to play for Seattle because of the rain,” she said. “I, actually, coming from New Zealand, love rain. It just makes the city feel cleaner and the air quality feel so much better.”

The acting community in Vancouver also provides a good supply of day players for the series, she said. “We watch them pop up in all other shows as well, and that’s been quite cool.”

London-born Rahul Kohli, who plays a doctor in a coroner’s office in iZombie, said he has given some thought to giving up on Britain and moving to Vancouver permanently. But he said he would miss British dairy products, which he said taste better than what is available here.

However, he still is making the most of his time here. “I feel like America and Europe had a baby, and it’s Vancouver.”

WHAT IT’S LIKE TO WORK AS A RELOCATED TV ACTOR IN VANCOUVER

What is it like to work as a relocated TV actor on a big American series shooting in Vancouver? Some actors offer their perspectives on various aspects of the experience.

Caity Lotz, Legends of Tomorrow

Lotz, who plays resurrected martial-arts warrior White Canary, said the Vancouver region has been good for the series – as well as Arrow, in which she previously had a key role – in providing varied settings. Given its time-travel premise, Legends has used the region to play Norway and for stories set in the Wild West and the 1950s among other settings. “[Vancouver] has got such a city vibe and then we drive out to Squamish and we’re in the South China Sea,” she said, referring to an Arrow setting.

She calls having to relocate for work “the most difficult part” of her job. “Imagine that you have your life, your friends, your relationship, and now you’ve got to go, leave it all and be by yourself,” she said. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be here. I had a really hard time doing Arrow at first because I didn’t know how long I was going to be [here] and I was living in a hotel.”

Still, she likes Vancouver. “Of any place to have to move, this is definitely a cool city.”

Lauren German, Lucifer

Graham, who plays a LAPD homicide detective associated with a vacationing Lucifer, said she spends most of her working time indoors because the production focuses on interiors when in Vancouver. “It’s tough for us to get the sunny L.A. look when you go outside [in Vancouver],” she said.

Exteriors are largely shot in Los Angeles, where the series is set. During the recently wrapped first season, the production returned to L.A. for three days to make the most of filming city landmarks as a backdrop for the characters. “It’s about fitting as many scenes when we’re in L.A. for this in a short period of time that can be filled into each episode to make it look like the episode is in L.A.”

Graham, who previously worked on Chicago Fire, said she had never before been to a city on the ocean with mountains in the background. “It’s really cool.”

Danielle Panabaker, The Flash

Panabaker said it takes about 10 months to do a season of The Flash, working from July through April in Vancouver. She takes May and June off. During her break, she sleeps, catches up with friends and travels.

Malcolm Goodwin, iZombie

Goodwin said he likes the energy of Vancouver and figures he could live long-term in the city. “I am from New York so I like being downtown. You can have that city vibe, but then you can go to Granville Island. You can go to Victoria. You have these islands you can go to. You can go to Grouse Mountain. You can go to Whistler. And it feels like different places. It feels like you have really travelled when you have only gone a few minutes,” he said.

Keiynan Lonsdale, The Flash

Australian-born Lonsdale said his sister lives in Toronto so he often travels there. “Everyone told me Vancouver was beautiful, and all the mountains and stuff. I was super-excited about that,” he said.

But he expressed reservations about one characteristic. “There’s a lot of rain so I had to get used to that. I miss summer back home because, obviously, it’s summer now. But that’s okay.”

Ciara Renée, Legends of Tomorrow

Renée, who plays Hawkgirl, said she committed to relocation from New York, where she is from, when she signed to test for the role. But she didn’t give the possibility of moving much thought because she didn’t think she would get the part. “It has been a difficult transition just because I am so far away from my friends and family,” she said. “But it’s not like this is a bad place to be, despite the rain. It’s beautiful. And I get to work all the time, which is good. It keeps me busy.”

David Anders, iZombie

Anders, who plays key antagonist Blaine DeBeers, said that being raised in Oregon prepared him for Vancouver’s climate. “I take to the weather here quite easily. I can deal with the drizzle. I can deal with the cold,” he said.

If he is to shoot anywhere in Canada, he said would prefer Vancouver. “Being a West Coast kid myself – Oregon and L.A. – Vancouver makes all sorts of sense,” he said. “I don’t trust anything east of the Rockies.”

Franz Drameh, Legends of Tomorrow

The London-born actor, who has had roles in feature films Attack the Block and Edge of Tomorrow and plays superhero Firestorm in Legends, is a comics buff who appreciates Golden Age Collectables, one of the city’s key stores on downtown Granville Street. “They’ve got a decent little selection,” he said.

Drameh, 23, said his current gig marks his first visit to Vancouver. “I like Vancouver. It’s a cool city. I am downtown. I like how I can see all the skyscrapers and tower blocks, but then I can see the mountains and the distance as well. It’s nice having that balance.”

NOT JUST ANOTHER DETECTIVE

No more detectives. After nine years playing Detective Ed Green on TV’s Law & Order, Jesse L. Martin’s one professional goal was not to play any more police investigators.

But the 47-year-old actor, who has had roles in Ally McBeal and The X-Files, is now playing Detective Joe West on The Flash, which has been filmed in Vancouver since its 2014 debut.

The turnabout came after the series’ producers pitched the part of the foster father of series hero Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash, played by Grant Gustin.

“It was like watching little puppies that had to pee. The way they pitched it, I was kind of blown away,” said Martin, who is not a fan of comics and had only a vague sense of who The Flash is.

“They said, ‘We know you’re kind of over the whole detective thing, but [we] can guarantee you this is going to be more about family and those sorts of things than it will be about you being a detective.’”

A comics-nerd friend also urged him on. “He said, ‘Dude, if you don’t take this job, I’m going to kill you.’”

Having taken the job, Martin said he has come to appreciate its balance of family drama, science fiction and action. “I feel really lucky to have this gig,” he said. “As much as there is superhero stuff, our show is definitely a lot more about the family.”

As for Vancouver? He has made friends he would miss if he left. “The city itself? It’s all right. It’s not New York City. That’s home for me,” he said.

“It’s not tough to live here. It’s beautiful. It’s really nice. Once you get used to the rain, it’s all good.”

Martin’s long-term career goals do not include Vancouver, but rather using his TV earnings to fund a long run in theatre, which he said doesn’t pay as much. “I will be able to do theatre for the rest of my life and not worry about paying rent,” the original cast member from Rent said.

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