Grant Gustin and Candice Patton tell EW in our latest cover story that they both came to the decision to leave The Flash after season 9 regardless of whether the series would end at that point. Gustin actually tried to leave sooner at multiple points but was convinced to stay a little longer. "Initially when we all signed on, it was a six-year run that got extended to seven," he says. "I got married in season 5, I had a kid during season 7, so obviously you start thinking about life changes at that point. Arrow had ended with season 8, so I thought, 'Let's end with season 8.'" After a conversation with executive producer Greg Berlanti, the man behind all the Arrowverse shows, Gustin was convinced to stay for season 9.
Colin Bentley/The CW Grant Gustin as the Flash
When Gustin decided two weeks after wrapping season 8 that season 9 would be his last, he had no idea if the show would continue on without him as the titular hero, or if his decision to leave would also mean the end of The Flash. "I just knew it was time for me to step away, have more time with my family after season 9, and just enter this next chapter of my life," he says. "But I think I would've really questioned my decision if they had done a season 10, and I knew the whole family was still together and I was somewhere else, so I'm glad we all finished at the same time. I'm not really a FOMO person, but I would've for sure had FOMO about that."
He was relieved when it was decided that The Flash would end with a shortened, 13-episode final season rather than continue on without him. "It was just really nice to hear because I had given everything I could to this show, and it was through super early formative adult years of my life," he says. "I grew up doing this show and it was my priority No. 1 until I started a family, which is when my perspective started to shift on everything. But I took a lot of pride in the role. I knew how much the show meant to so many people before I even had anything to do with this character, and I took that really seriously and put probably at times too much pressure on myself to show up and do my best."
When Gustin broke the news of the show's ending to the entire cast, he started with Patton, his partner-in-crime for the past nine years who plays his onscreen wife Iris West-Allen. "Grant gave me a call around summer of last year to give me a heads-up," Patton says. "I knew it was going to be my last year too, whether the show continued or not, so I was definitely relieved that Grant was on the same page about ending the show. This is a good time to wrap things up, and I definitely didn't want to leave the show before everyone else — I wanted to end it with everybody else, so I was just really glad."
Bettina Strauss/The CW Candice Patton on 'The Flash'
Patton had also been struggling with the same thought process as Gustin for years, wondering if she should follow the lead of original cast members Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, and Jesse L. Martin, who all stepped away from the series at different points over the past few years. "You don't really realize how much of your time in life you're taking up and giving away and your relationships struggle," she says. "I had conversations with other actors who had left before me, about if they missed the show, if they regretted leaving, how did they know when they wanted to leave, when was a good time? It was good having those conversations with Tom and Carlos and Jesse."
Patton ultimately came to the same conclusion as Gustin to leave after season 9, unaware that the show was going to end. "I was just thinking about how much longer can I give to this character, how much longer can I live in Vancouver, away from the States, and how much longer could I keep this going and have a positive contribution and attitude toward the show?" she says. "I feel like I was living out of a suitcase for nine years, never having a sense of normalcy. I get teary-eyed knowing that when I buy groceries now, they're in my fridge, and I get to eat them without them spoiling or going to waste because I have to get on a plane. I knew in my heart that I was ready to pack it up and end on a good note."
Knowing that season 9 would be the last allowed Patton to appreciate the experience even more. "I just kept thinking about the good times and the fun moments, and I'm really glad I made all of those memories," she says. And on her final day of filming the series finale, she got more emotional than she expected.
"When they say, 'That's a series wrap on Candice Patton,' it's just the weirdest thing to hear, that it's really over and tomorrow I won't be coming to work," she says. "I made a little speech just to say thank you, and mostly it was to the crew — often I can be having the worst day ever, and the crew doesn't know that those small little conversations they'd have with me really got me through. Crew members are so selfless, they're always trying to help, they're there to make us look the best, and we reap the benefits of that. I just wanted to give my gratitude to them for treating me really kindly over the last nine years and really trying to make a not easy job and not easy circumstances for me as easy as it could be."
Katie Yu/The CW Carlos Valdes on 'The Flash'
In the months since the show ended, Patton's had many dreams about going back to set. "I'd be waking up like, 'Oh my God, my alarm! Am I late for work?'" she admits with a laugh. "It's taken a month or so for me to relax into it and really realize that it's over. I'm not on hiatus and I won't be going back in July and it's time to move forward. It's nice living a normal life, waking up whenever I want to, going wherever I want to, whenever I want to. It's really nice to just relax and make my own schedule and do a lot of things in my personal life that I haven't been able to do for a decade."
Patton doesn't plan to watch the series finale when it airs on Wednesday. "I haven't watched the show since season 1, and I don't think I'll be able to watch the finale just because it's such an emotional ending for me," she says. "I definitely want to watch the series maybe five years down the line when I'm separated enough from it so that I can just enjoy it for what it is and give myself a pat on the back."
Meanwhile Valdes, who exited The Flash in season 7 and did not return for the final season, tells EW of his decision to leave, "I really did feel a heavy tug inside me of fan service and really trying to honor the show by sticking with it and seeing it through. But ultimately, I had to do what was best for me and my mental health."
Valdes explains that he eventually realized he had given the show "everything [he] was capable of giving" after seven years. "I just felt like I hit my spot with that show, and it really felt like the time that made the most sense for me to go off and do other things," he says. "Even though it was a really tough decision for me, you have one life to live. Life is too short. I have to keep moving. So I really had to follow my personal compass on that one."
Jack Rowand/The CW Tom Cavanagh returns in 'The Flash' series finale as Eobard Thawne, a.k.a. the Reverse-Flash
While making that choice was difficult in the moment, Valdes has never regretted it. He has since gone on to star in Hulu's musical rom-com Up Here and landed a recurring role on Starz's Gaslit. "I made the right call, and that's not to say I didn't have pangs of missing the process and missing the people," he says. "I met some amazing people courtesy of working on that show, and not just my co-stars, but crew members. That really broke my heart, not really being able to wake up in the morning and get to work and see everybody that makes that show possible, hair and makeup and grips and camera. That was really tough. I definitely had those pangs of missing those pieces every now and then."
As for Cavanagh, who exited as a series regular after season 6 but has returned every season since then including in the upcoming series finale, he's grateful he's been able to step away and come back as often as he wanted.
"There's only a few that pulled a decade of duty, and I'm not one of them," he says. "Carlos and I made a decision to head out at the same time, both of us proceeding from gratitude at what we've been given, but also the sense of trying not to overstay your welcome. And that sometimes is difficult, but in my case, because I'm the Reverse-Flash, I've got to stir the pot and destroy Central City now and again."
Knowing that his character would always be needed made it easier for him to leave after six years. "Lex Luthor, Joker, and Reverse-Flash — there's only so many huge archenemy nemeses out there," he says. "And I never would've expected that I'd be tapped to play one of them and to put on a supervillain suit. It's still boggles the mind that in a course of an acting career that started doing a decade of musical theater, then I got to do that. To be invited back over the course of season 6, 7, 8, and now 9 made that in many ways an ideal situation. I didn't have to overstay my welcome, but also I got to come back and play with my pals now and again, and the finale was that. I'm grateful for it."
The Flash series finale airs Wednesday, May 24, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.