Though Danielle Panabaker’s been acting since she was a child, the actress first caught the eye of genre fans in 2005’s Disney Sky High. The Kurt Russell comedy proved to be her first foray into screen superheroics, and she followed it with memorable roles in Friday the 13th, The Crazies, John Carpenter’s The Ward, and Piranha 3DD.
Now a regular on the CW hit The Flash, she helps bring the DC Universe to life each week as S.T.A.R. Labs’ Dr. Caitlin Snow. Caitlin, as fans recently saw in the show’s apocalyptic first season finale (in which she finally wed longtime love Ronnie Raymond, AKA Firestorm), is destined to become the fearsome Killer Frost. I spoke with Panabaker recently about her transformation from scientist to supervillain, as well as her new indie thriller Time Lapse, in which she stars as one of three friends who discover a means of peering into the future…
NERDIST: Your new film Time Lapse has generated some very positive buzz. How did you first get involved with it?
DANIELLE PANABAKER: It was really the script and the twist at the end of the movie. [Writer-director] Bradley [King] and Coop [writer B.P. Cooper] did such a great job writing the script. And it was exciting for me as an actress to get to layer in that secret that Callie knows all along, still hoping that the audience won’t read too much into it, but would be a little bit suspicious. That was the exciting part for me, getting to layer my performance that way.
N: It’s almost an inversion of your role in The Flash. In that, in the film, you’re almost the Harrison Wells character, because you’re the one who secretly knows what’s going on.
DP: Yeah, right! That’s a good analogy. I’ve had lots of time travel in my life too these last couple of weeks, with Barry time traveling and the characters in Time Lapse, they’re playing with time travel.
N: Are you starting to have any dreams or nightmares about this stuff?
DP: No, I’m perfectly content living this way, with one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. [Laughs.]
N: What was the collaboration like on the set of Time Lapse? The film has a tight ensemble but a pretty loose feel.
DP: There were a couple of things going for us. We were shooting this in Los Angeles, where we all live, so it was home for us. So they pushed it back a week from our original start date, and that gave us more time to rehearse and get to know each other. That sort of thing. The other thing that was really interesting about this production is we sort of made our own backlot, based on this apartment complex that was set to be demolished in February; and we were shooting in October mostly. So we sort of took it over for the last couple of months of that apartment building’s life and it turned into our own little backlot.
N: Were you a science-fiction fan when you were growing up?
DP: I wasn’t allowed to watch television or movies when I was growing up, so I didn’t tend toward anything. But that’s been what’s fun about my career, getting exposed to all these different filmmakers. Coop and Bradley did such a good job of really plotting out these different timelines. So whenever we would get confused we would just go back to the boards and see, and it would make it all clear.
N: You in turn explain it the film for the benefit of the audience via a drawing your character draws.
DP: The stick figures? [Laughs.] By the way, that’s my terrible drawing ability. That’s not a hand double. As I’m sure you could have guessed.
N: [Laughs.] You’re very honest. When we last spoke about The Flash, you told me how disappointed you were in your singing ability in the episode in which Caitlin goes to a karaoke bar. You explained how that just wasn’t your thing.
DP: Oh, no… I wish it was. [Laughs.]
N: Yet that only endeared Caitlin more to the audience. More people can connect to someone who can’t sing.
DP: Oh, I hope so.
N: In the season finale we were treated to a very tantalizing sneak peek at Killer Frost. I’m sure you’re already getting sick of questions about that…
DP: No, not at all! It was actually such a relief for me that fans finally got a chance to see it. Because obviously we’d been teasing it for about a month or so, ever since back at WonderCon. So it’s exciting for me, actually.
N: What went into that design? It’s quite a new look for Caitlin.
DP: Oh yeah. So much went into it. Actually that concept and that idea was something that Andrew Kreisberg had come up with earlier in the season. I think he had originally planned it for episode 15. But it just didn’t work at that time with that script. So they waited and pushed it to the finale, which was actually great because it gave us some more time to finesse everything. That’s not the original Killer Frost suit and design. The first suit we designed was actually a one-piece. And Kate [Main], our costume designer, had a gut instinct that we should take it in a different direction. The suit you saw is actually two pieces. You really just see the top of it in the season finale. But it’s a pretty cool design. There’s a lot of leather. There’s a lot of blue. The costume itself took months to make. It was all custom. Then the hair and makeup was also a process as well. The original wig we started out with, a white wig, was very short. It was more of a pixie cut. And Sarah [Koppes], the department head for hair and Andrew and I just had some conversations, and Sarah is absolutely amazing. She [made] that wig basically from scratch. She got as much hair as she could and she sewed it. So that’s my very own special Killer Frost wig, which I love.
The makeup too was a lot of trial and error. I felt very strongly that she should have navy blue lips, which you see. But we tried whiting her out a little bit more. I don’t know that you fully got to see how beautiful Cayley [Giene]’s, my makeup artist’s, job was. But I can’t wait for fans and the audience to see more.
N: Did you also have to wear colored contacts?
DP: Oh yes. Those are contacts. We ordered those contacts. I actually have terrible vision. So we tried on the contacts just with the color, without my prescription in them first. Then they specially made them. They’ve actually got more of a lavender, purplish hue to them… I’m really proud of that look. I’m really excited.
N: Do you have any idea when we might see her again? Have you had conversations about when she’ll have her first story?
DP: We were all scolded by email this week for giving too many spoilers away. [Laughs.] So I’ll just say no comment.
N: I guess it’s also too soon to say if Robbie Amell will become a regular in the next season.
DP: No comment. The internet has spoken about that, but… Sorry, I know I’m not giving you much! [Laughs.]
N: No worries. The last thing we want is to get you in trouble.
DP: I can just say personally that I would love to have Robbie around as often as possible. He’s a delight to work with and an amazing person. So I’d just love that.
N: Of course his presence does break the heart of many a “Snowbarry” shipper. A great number of them were no doubt crestfallen at Caitlin’s wedding in the finale.
DP: I don’t know what to say to the Snowbarry shippers… Stay tuned. Stay tuned and you’ll see what happens next season. That’s not helpful, but… [Laughs.]
N: Their dreams may yet come true. Because the finale opened up many possibilities for alternate realities, dimensions, and parallel universes. It seems like the sky’s the limit as far as the possible futures for all of your characters.
DP: I hope so. I mean, that’s also what’s really exciting about them introducing the spinoff, Legends of Tomorrow. The world that we get to play in just keeps getting exponentially bigger and bigger. I love that.
N: Going back to Time Lapse… Will we see you in other indie film roles? Are you looking at other such roles?
DP: I definitely am. I’m always reading scripts. The time restriction we’re under definitely causes some problems. But I’m just trying to keep some variety in my career. So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.
N: You have another film coming up, This Isn’t Funny…
DP: Oh sure. I can talk about that. I have a teeny tiny role in that movie that I would impressed if people spotted me in. Some friends of mine wrote and starred in it. Paul Ashton directed that movie. It was just as a favor to them that I did a day on that film. It’s a sweet love story really.
N: Any opportunity to see more comedy from you is welcome. Caitlin’s best moments this year on The Flash were her humorous ones.
DP: Thank you! I love doing comedy too. That’s something I’ve had more fun with as the series has gone on. When the show began, we were still sort of finding our footing; and when we started watching cuts we realized that they were leaving in some of our goofier, sort of improvised, natural moments. That really was awesome to see, because it gives us more freedom and it’s inspiring. You want to bring your A game.
N: It’s always great to see the chemistry you and the Flash cast have at conventions and press events. How did that grow over the course of the first season since you first started working together?
DP: It’s been an incredible journey. I love those boys very much, and I feel so grateful that we do get along so well. It’s been really interesting from my perspective, because I’ve got a few years under my belt; and to see the two of them grow. I mean, Carlos, when we did our first guest appearance on Arrow last February, and I’m pretty sure he’d never been on camera before. So to see him really absorb everything… He’s so curious. He originally would come to me with a lot of questions, and as time went on, he’d ask other people a lot of questions. He’s just really learned so much, and come so far, and grown so much. I really appreciate the fact that he’s always the first one to say, “Now, can you explain this to me?” and “What are we doing here?” That’s a great quality.
With Grant too, he’s so extremely talented, as I think you really saw in the finale. He really got to shine. He had never been a series regular before, and he’d certainly never been the title character of a superhero show before. That’s a humongous workload. I think it can be a little bit overwhelming at first. But I’m so proud of him and the way he’s handled it all, and to see him grow and find his voice as the season has gone on. I mean, we really do care about each other and trust each other. We’re very lucky.
N: What’s next for you? Do you have any plans for the summer?
DP: Over the summer I’m just really kind of taking a break and trying to catch my breath. Our season is incredibly long. It takes us almost ten months, because we do twenty-three episodes. Beyond that, we wrapped about a month ago, but we were in New York for upfronts last week, we have a new photoshoot tomorrow. So my life has been a little bit consumed by The Flash. So I’m anxious to just enjoy some down time and get ready for season 2, which we start filming in about six weeks.
N: I have one last question for you. Every time I’ve spoken with you, you’ve always been in a good mood…
DP: Oh thanks!
N: That’s not always true of actors who work on twenty-three episodes of a show per year. What’s your secret?
DP: Surrounding myself with great people. I have great friends. And I always try and be grateful. They’ve done studies about how an attitude of gratitude just makes you a happier, better person. So I always try to come from a place of being grateful.
N: I think it’s appreciated by the fans.
DP: Aw, well I appreciate their enthusiasm and passion and support!
N: Thank you so much for your time, Danielle.
DP: Of course. My pleasure.