Her bio-engineer Dr. Caitlin Snow has lost a husband, discovered she was a meta-human who’d been experimented on by her own father (who also faked his death, by the way), realized that beau Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) was actually speedster villain Hunter Zolomon, developed a rage-induced deadly alter ego named Killer Frost, and then wound up physically separating from Frost. Last week, Frost turned herself in to the cops after an icy baddie named Blaine (Jon Cor) framed her for a murder that forced Frost to realize that she was, in fact, responsible for a bunch of other cold-blooded crimes.
Yet even with all of the angst — and the added pressure of playing two characters who are often on screen together — Panabaker remains a complete sweetheart who sees the upside in Frost risking everything to face her past, as well as the benefits of getting to pull double duty on the drama. Or triple duty, if you count her return to directing this season. We chatted with the delightful actress just after she had locked her latest episode and much like both Snow and Frost, she was cool AF.
Good lord, with all of the split screens and extra Frost stuff, they are keeping you busy!
Danielle Panabaker: [Laughs] That’s for sure. It’s been good. It’s been challenging, obviously. And the technology they use, they tend to do two different things in terms of filming both characters. One is where the camera doesn’t move, while I run and change, or we shoot with a robotic crane that records the movements while I do the takes, generally as Caitlin. And then our timing has to match almost impeccably when I turn around and play the other character, which can be a challenge because it’s my first time doing the scene as Frost. And yet I have to match the timing. So, it’s certainly been challenging, but it’s been fun. I think it’s so great that even in Season 7, we’re doing something new and different.
And how are you as a scene partner?
Pretty good! I’m very prepared. I always know my lines. [Laughs] It’s hard though because one of my favorite things about working alongside the actors on our show is that sort of give-and-take, the relationship between them, or seeing what crazy thing Tom Cavanagh [Harrison Wells] is about to do that you didn’t expect. And this is the opposite. I know exactly what my scene partner is going to do/did.
And when you first started doing that, Frost was the antithesis of Caitlin. Now you’ve gotten to layer all of the great things about Caitlin into Frost.
Absolutely. And it’s been fun, because both characters have grown and evolved over the last couple of seasons, too. I mean, Frost, in particular, I’ve always seen her as a little bit more childlike as she gets to feel her feelings for the first time and get in touch with them. She can be a little bit more emotional and she makes more mistakes. It’s been fun to explore all that.
Now, Frost is this taking this huge step and owning up to her sins. Walk me through this episode, “The People V. Killer Frost” — are we going to get to see her greatest hits?
I don’t know if we’ll see her greatest hits, but she is going to have to take accountability for her actions. Even though she has tried to counterbalance her bad behavior with some of her good behavior, I do think it’s important that she is held accountable for what she did.
So she’s turned herself in, stands trial — and there’s a possible sentencing that could be very dramatic?
Yeah. She’s on trial. Cecile [Danielle Nicolet] is her lawyer and representing her, and people will speak on her behalf, trying to defend her and show all that she’s done over the past few years to make up for the bad things she did. But I don’t know if that’s enough. It’s up to the judge to decide. I don’t know that the story is going to have the happy ending that some people are hoping for.
When they started to ramp up this storyline and introduced someone else with Frost’s ice powers, did you feel any defensiveness? Like, “Hey, that’s my thing!”?
[Laughs] No. I love this storyline with Chillblaine (Jon Cor). I think it’s great. The ego check for Frost of, ‘maybe you’re not all that,’ is good and fun for her. But also, Frost is having a new experience, which is the best thing to get to play with.
Their fight sequence was amazing. That was probably your biggest, right?
It was really incredible. I’m really proud of that. And yeah, definitely, in a while. And a lot of times on our show, we have such amazing visual effects, that they really highlight those. And we don’t as often get to do the stunt stuff and it was a nice treat to have those moments. It was really fun for me to get to do it.
There was also that moment during their battle, where we got this look, like, “she’s so into this guy.”
There are definitely sparks flying. Absolutely.
Well, he’s not dead.
He’s not dead. That is not the last we see of Chillblaine, if that is where you’re going. [Laughs]
And you’re also directing another episode this season? I love that the Arrowverse is so open to letting the actors get behind the camera.
I did. I just turned in last week, Episode 714. It’s been great. I mean, it’s such a testament to Greg [Berlanti, executive producer]. He was the first person who asked me about directing. It’s why he’s such a great leader, he empowers everyone around him to work at their best and to be their best selves. So, I just think it’s a testament to him that he supported so many of us in this way.
And this year, I got to do an episode that really heavily features Kayla Compton, one of our newer series regulars, which was great for a variety of reasons. To get to tell that story with her was really special and meaningful for me as a woman, as someone who is an actress as well, to collaborate with her and guide her through that episode was a real treat.
Can you give me a tease about what the story is?
Barry [Grant Gustin] and Iris [Candice Patton] are out of town, so Team Flash is not at their full force, and Allegra [Compton] is on a mission of her own that will take her down a darker path than I think she anticipated.
What was it about directing that appealed to you?
It was through watching Tom Cavanagh do it. I’d had an interest, but never believed I could do it. And then I watched Tom direct so well, so gracefully, and I started [to reconsider.] And quite frankly, I was just incredibly determined. I kept showing up in the production office and asking questions and taking advantage of the opportunity I had of being up here in Vancouver on this show. I was learning and absorbing as much as I could and I love it.
I also think it’s a nice opportunity for me to help and encourage everyone on our show to do their best work. I’ve seen what they’re capable of and rather than having an ego about it and saying, ‘No, this is my way. I want to do it my way,’ I definitely try to operate from a place of the best-idea-wins.
Most shows have rotating directors that come and go, but you have been there all along, so it must be easier to say to Grant something like, “Okay, just in the way we did during episode so-and-so…”
Exactly. I think I honestly make the crew crazy because my memory is pretty good for things like that. The first time I directed, I remember I would say to our locations guy Alan, “Well, what about such and such place that we shot at, in Season 3?” And he sort of did a double-take. He was like, “All right, you’re going to keep me on my toes.” [Laughs] I think that was also a good moment because everyone knew I was taking this seriously and wasn’t just showing up to just yell action and cut. I was deeply invested in telling the best stories that we could.
Now, can you give me a hint as to how this development with Frost tonight impacts Caitlin’s role with the group?
Yes, so Caitlin’s role has always been as the doctor, and I think she and Cisco [Carlos Valdes] work really well together. What’s been challenging about COVID in a variety of ways — and there are so many things that have been challenging about filming during a global pandemic — is that everyone’s sort of in their own pods. And [showrunner] Eric Wallace’s done a great job of that to keep everyone safe. So, we don’t necessarily have big Team Flash scenes in the way we historically have, in an effort to keep fewer people around each other and minimize the risk. And I think Caitlin is going to have to grieve [certain things] in her own way, but wait for Episode 712. I think the Caitlin-Barry-Cisco fans will enjoy that one…but it also may break their heart a little bit.
The Flash, Tuesdays, 8/7c, The CW