Keiynan Lonsdale is living every kid's dream as Kid Flash.
When Keiynan Lonsdale was 15, he became obsessed with the idea of living in Los Angeles as a performer, and began researching how to get a U.S. green card. Ten years later, Lonsdale is living that dream.
The Australian actor, singer and dancer now stars as Wally West (aka Kid Flash) on The CW’s hit series, The Flash, a role that came after gaining international attention for his portrayal of Uriah Pedrad in The Divergent Series films Insurgent and Allegiant.
This spring, Lonsdale, who starred on the Australian teen drama series Dance Academy from 2012-13, will reprises his role as Ollie Lloyd in Dancing Academy: The Movie. And lest anyone think he’s resting on his laurels, the singer-songwriter who released his single “Higher” on SoundCloud last year, is getting ready to debut another single (currently untitled) later this year.
TelevisionAcademy.com contributor Dinah Eng recently spoke with Lonsdale about what it’s like to play a superhero on The Flash, recently renewed for its fourth season, and the responsibilities that come with fame.
Playing Wally West must be great fun. What’s it like, stepping into the shoes of a superhero?
It’s surreal. Every kid imagines flying and having powers. Being an adult who gets to play that dream-come-true role is awesome. We film 10 months out of the year, and the sets are huge. Flash has technical elements with special effects that we’re always rehearsing.
When I became Kid Flash, it was great to be able to watch Grant (Gustin, who plays Barry Allen, aka The Flash) at work. Having to freeze mid-scene, or wear sliders under our shoes when we run into a scene is really fun. A lot of the time we’re running, which is also super tiring.
But stepping into that superhero costume is great. It wasn’t that long ago I was coming to L.A. to audition during pilot season for guest roles and getting rejected at every turn.
Talk about that journey to Hollywood.
My first pilot season was in 2013. I came on a tourist visa, and you’re only allowed to stay for 90 days. Everyone was telling me, “You’ll get three auditions a week, and it’ll be crazy.” I was staying with some other Australian actor friends, who auditioned constantly, but I only went out on five auditions.
My manager let me go after six weeks, so it was a huge wake-up call. The next year, I returned and started getting callbacks, but still didn’t get work, so I went back to Australia to teach dance classes.
Then you signed with a new manager, and things turned around.
Yes. Suddenly, the Divergent sequel Insurgent came through. The director and casting director were in Atlanta and did Skype sessions with me, and my manager said, “We need to expedite your visa because you could be the guy.” I had never gotten that close to a film before, so I refused to get excited until I got on the plane.
But it happened. Then, while I was filming Allegiant, I auditioned for a part on the show Legends of Tomorrow, a spin-off of The Flash and Arrow. The producers asked me to come in for Wally West instead. I realized Kid Flash would be the sidekick, so it was very exciting.
What did you do to prepare for the role of Wally West/Kid Flash?
I didn’t read comics when I was a kid, but I watched 15 episodes of The Flash before I auditioned, and fell in love with the show. After I got the role, I bought some of the comics, and watched episodes of the Young Justice animated series, which Wally West was in.
Why is Wally West such a popular character?
People love him because he’s loyal. He’s a good person, and has the weight of the world on his shoulders, yet is having the time of his life. He’s very endearing.
But he’s not a shallow person.
He’s got a family dynamic that’s very heavy. Wally grew up in Keystone City with just his mother, Francine, who had just gotten clean of a heavy drug addiction before giving birth. Wally's father, Joe West, never knew he had a son, as Francine kept their son a secret until Wally was about 19. When she became terminally ill, it forced Wally to confront his father and also meet his sister, Iris.
He felt betrayed by everyone in his life, and once his mother passed, Wally was left with a father and sister he didn’t know. There wasn’t much room in his heart to accept others, and he was very protective of himself. Over time, getting love from his family and being part of Star Labs brought something out in him that made him feel more himself. People can relate to that.
These characters have to face super villains, but they’re dealing with real losses and heartbreak in their lives and family situations. The favorite part for me is the growth the character had and is still having. There are so many roadblocks for him to get over, and as an actor, it’s challenging work.
How much of Wally West is in you?
The idea of finding something that fulfills you is something I relate to. Being able to sing, dance, and act fulfills me. I don’t know how to be happy if that’s not part of my life. Helping people is Wally’s passion.
How has playing a superhero affected your life?
I feel the pressure and responsibility of what it means to be a hero, helping other people. The things actors do with our art can affect and inspire other people in their real lives. It’s easy to forget that we have a responsibility in that regard, with strangers who see our work, and may follow us on social media.
In reality, you come from a large, diverse family.
I have 11 brothers and sisters. My dad is Nigerian and my mom’s Australian. I didn’t grow up with my dad. I was with my mom and her 5 other kids. When I was 8 or 9, I met my dad, who introduced me to his children. I’m the link between my mom’s kids and my dad’s kids.
It’s great to have so many family members to connect with, but it can also be tough since I’ve only met some of them in the last few years.
Now you’re part of a diverse cast on The Flash.
Diversity is incredibly important. Kids should be able to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them. It tells them you can be whoever you want to be, no matter what. I love that we have a black female lead. There’s so much diversity in our show that is unspoken, and it should be. That doesn’t happen often enough.
Have you felt any pushback about playing a superhero who’s traditionally been portrayed as a Caucasian?
Wally West is pictured as Caucasian in the early comic books and animated series. When they decided to make him black in the updated comics and on the show, some people didn’t like it. I’ve learned to have thick skin and not take it to heart.
People are anonymous online, and I’ve gotten pretty aggressive comments sent to me. I’m not going to respond to it or give it the time of day. A lot of times, people are frustrated that the Wally West they grew up with isn’t what they see on the screen. They say they wish Wally was white on the show, or more hurtful things that I won’t repeat.
It comes from ignorance, and racism grows from a lack of understanding. We are challenging people’s perceptions about these characters. We say Wally West is still the same person. He’s just black.