67-year-old Canadian-born actor, Victor Garber, is one of the American film industry’s go-to character actors, with a long list of film (Milk, Argo, Sicario, Legally Blonde) and TV (Eli Stone, Alias, Power) credits to his name. Garber has received three Emmy nods for his role on Alias (2001-2006), and has also earned Emmy nominations for the mini-series, Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows (2001), and for his guest roles on Frasier (2000) and Will & Grace (2004). He is also an accomplished stage actor, boasting lead roles in both plays and musicals, and four Tony Award nominations, for his work in Damn Yankees (1994-1995), Lend Me A Tenor (1989-1990), Little Me (1982) and Deathtrap (1978-1982).
In an unlikely career flip, the very refined Victor Garber has now become one of the ComicCon set, thanks to his role as Dr. Martin Stein – a great scientific mind who forms one half of the conjoined and transmuted meta-human, Firestorm, alongside Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh) – on the superhero TV series, DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, which spun off successfully from The Flash. Though bringing gravitas and intensity to the role, Victor Garber is no committed pop culture aficionado. “I don’t have time to watch a lot of shows,” the actor says. “I don’t even watch our show. I watch news programmes. I’m a news junkie. If friends are on, I’ll record things that they’re on. But I don’t binge watch. I’ve never watched House Of Cards.”
Did you know much about the DC world before you started? “I knew nothing. I still know nothing, just so you’re aware! This is not something that I had ever been familiar with or aspired to be a part of. Then it came up because Greg Berlanti, who I’d worked with on a show called Eli Stone, contacted me about playing this character Martin Stein on The Flash. And I didn’t know anything about The Flash or Firestorm. So I watched a couple of episodes of The Flash, and there were my friends, Jesse Martin and Tom Cavanagh, and I thought that the show was really funny and charming. I thought Grant [Gustin] was amazing, and I thought, ‘That will be fun.’ I did four or five episodes of The Flash. By that time, I was hooked. And when Legends Of Tomorrow was pitched to me, there was no pilot, and no script, but we all signed on in blind faith. It was a big deal – it meant leaving New York and moving to Vancouver and getting involved in this other world. It’s been really interesting and fun and sometimes very challenging.”
Can you talk about your relationship with Greg? “When I met him, he seemed like a teenager. He’s a savant, I think. He has this enthusiasm and love for this world and a passion – you have to have those elements in order to do what he does. And he knows how to pick people that can implement his vision. And he has a vision. His mind is so fertile. How many shows has he got? Seven, eight? I loved Eli Stone – it was a short-lived show that I thought was very special and ahead of its time. I trust Greg – that’s why I did this.”
Do you feel paternal to your cast mates? “Yes, is the short answer. I was the first one on the list for this show. Like Franz [Drameh], who is my other half, Firestorm – he’s 23 and from East London. He’s this wildly talented, brilliant kid. I’m always saying, ‘Buck up! You’re late. Why are you late?’ He laughs and we laugh, but I’m actually serious. I want him to have a lengthy career. And he’s really professional, and brilliantly gifted, and he always knows his lines. But I just expect people to be professional. The cast is great – some of them have had a lot of experience and some of them have had very little. The other thing is, I’m as immature and silly as anyone. I do like to have a good time – I like a stress-free, tension-free set. I’m not happy if people are [difficult]…and nobody is like that on our cast. Nor would I put up with it! I’m only interested in having a good time. I love to work hard. We’re all there as equals; without everybody there, that show wouldn’t happen. I’ve been aware of that since I was a child – it was the way that I was brought up.”
Were comics in your life before The Flash? “No. I looked at Superman as a kid. Archie comics, maybe. My brother was more comic-orientated than I was. I didn’t know these already existed…I thought Firestorm was a new character! When I did Alias, I remember J.J. Abrams talking about Comic-Con in San Diego. He described it and I said, ‘That sounds like hell!’ And now I’m part of that! I haven’t done any conventions, other than the first Comic-Con because I was required to do it when we started filming. We were on a panel and nobody had seen the show, including us. So I got my first taste of Comic-Con!”
What were the fan reactions like? “It’s all hilarious, frankly. Each person that comes up, you think, ‘I can’t believe you’re dressed like that.’ And there’s a sweetness about it too. If you can get rid of your scepticism and judgement, you realise that in the world we live in, there’s a need to escape from our reality. These worlds are not where I’d want to go to next, but people love the idea that you can blow smoke out of your head or whatever. It’s just an escape, and we seem to need that more than ever.”
Is this the most visual effects you’ve worked with? “Yes. Before, there was Titanic obviously…but I never got wet in Titanic! I might have been the only character [that didn’t] – I had the best part! This is obviously major, major effects. And they’ve come so far in the last few years. It can be strange [to work with them] – it’s difficult. Oftentimes you’re looking at something you don’t see, but that’s acting. You’re always imagining. Sometimes it’s more challenging than others, and depending what the scene is. I rely on my fellow actors to tell me where I am, what year it is, and what I’m supposed to do – because I can’t follow it!”
What is the main motive of your character, Martin Stein? “He is a man of a certain age who is just so intrigued by learning more about life, and I just find that very moving. In a way, I have that in me – I would never want to do what he’s doing, but he’s fascinated by the mystery of life, and he’s trying to understand how much more there is than we think there is. I hope that they can write more of that in the next season. That’s what I’m hoping.”
What role do you get asked about the most? “Titanic. That’s still the one. An odd disparate group of people have come up about Legends Of Tomorrow – like truck drivers and teenagers! I have a broad fan-base.”
Are you aware that you’re a gay icon? “No. But why not?! Well, I try to…I came out a couple of years ago. I never thought that I was in, but a journalist asked me about a relationship and I said, ‘Oh, yeah…’ I don’t talk about my personal life, in that I didn’t think it was anyone’s business or worth talking about. I always thought that the mystique of an actor is part of the deal. I don’t like to know a lot about actors. I like to be taken on the ride. Now I’m talking about juvenile diabetes because I’m a Type 1 diabetic. I’m using whatever I can to get awareness out for people to pay attention to each other. I’m not politically involved, but I believe in certain things, and I talk about them if people ask me.”
Do you miss being on stage? “Yes, I do. I’ve been thinking more about it lately. I’m trying to see if there’s a way that I could get to do a short run on Broadway if the timing worked out during the hiatus. The longer I stay away from the theatre, the more frightened I am of going back. It’s been almost eight years since I did a play. But my goal is one day to do another play – so I’m hoping that will happen.”
Do you know much about the crossover between the DC shows? “I do! I know when it affects my life. I know they’re planning to do them. Supergirl has moved to Vancouver, but we’re not all on the same lot. It’s a very challenging nightmare, frankly. In order for Grant…he hasn’t done our show…but in order for him to do a day on our show, we have to schedule everything so they don’t need him for that day. It’s a nightmare for people. If they can do it properly, it’ll be great. And I think it’s a great idea, in theory, but it has to be done well. I haven’t done any crossovers yet.”
Next year is Titanic’s 20th anniversary. Are you expecting it to be revived? “My God! Alias just had its tenth anniversary and that took me by surprise. All it means is that you do a phone interview with People.com: How do you feel? It was great! Who cares? I mean, it’s great…and I’m still alive, so that’s a good thing. But I don’t understand the whole, ‘Oh, it was twenty years ago.’ Only because it just makes time seem so crazy. How could it be twenty years? I don’t know what more can be said about Titanic than has been said. Every time I see a picture of me in Titanic, I think, ‘Who was that?’ I was so young. But it’s nice to be a part of that, I have to say. I really do acknowledge how great it was to be a part of that movie.”
Do you keep in touch with James Cameron? “No, but we did run into each other a couple of years ago and had a really lovely time. He’s calmed down. He’s a vegan now! He was great to work with. He’s got quite a reputation. He is a director; he really directed me. People like that performance, and it’s due to him.”
DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow: The Complete First Season is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.