Kim Rhodes – On Fans, Joking with Jared and Why Jensen is a Great Director
We here at Fangasm have been very busy – which we’ll have more to say about very soon. But for the moment, that’s our lame excuse for the delay in posting one of the most enjoyable interviews we’ve ever done – with Supernatural’s own Sheriff Jody Mills, actress (and fabulous writer) Kim Rhodes. We joined Kim for lunch at the Nashville convention, shortly after she started her successful blog and just after her last episode (“Time After Time”) aired. Kim had also recently become active on Twitter, quickly amassing a healthy following of SPN fans and delighting them with her sense of humor and willingness to be real.
Lynn: The Q & A you did this morning was just about perfect – just like your participation in this fandom. Were you aware of that?
Kim: (looking a little worried) Even with the kids there?
Kathy: (in her best reassuring voice): No worries, Misha demolished the no-cursing rule at cons years ago – the vast majority of people at cons are adults.
Kim: I’d imagine that the reason people want to be physically present for this is because they want to interact with the human beings that we are, as opposed to the characters we play. So I would think that the worst thing you could do is to start editing yourself and try to conform to this ideal – like a politician. Instead, it’s what you see is what you get!
Lynn: You said the exact same thing that Misha said.
Kim: Well, that clearly has worked well for him, just being the crazy person he is.
Kathy and Lynn: So true.
Our first book, Fandom At The Crossroads, had just gone up for sale on Amazon, so Kim asked us what it was about.
Us: It’s about how much of fandom is celebration and joy and belonging and acceptance – and how much that “safe place” is also impacted by shame about being a fan, and shame about being a woman doing something for FUN, and fear that the rest of the world will judge you for both. Fans are protective of their fannish practices, even though they love interacting with the creative side – like you do on Twitter or in your blog or here at cons.
Kim: And in my opinion, that’s their right, to be protective. What I do for a living is create something that even though it looks like me and sounds like me, it’s independent of me. It’s a part of a tv show and the fans have more right to it than I do. So what they do with that character is – as long as I’m not supposed to endorse it – what they do is about creating fantasy and telling a story, so if they want to expand on that storytelling, it’s their right.
Us: Absolutely. That’s what the book is about.
Kim: Whereas, in this communication class I took in college, it had this diagram of communication with one silhouette of a face here and an arrow going “message” and an arrow down here that said “response” – so the concept that communication is a cycle instead of one-way, and I think with the television industry, it’s easy to fall into that trap.
Kathy: Exactly, there’s not just one response.
Kim: Right. I actually went to college to become an English teacher.
Lynn: Oh boy. You’re totally going to get along with Kathy, she’s an English professor. Writing books together is a challenge, since I’m not. Psychologists see the world differently.
Kathy: I’m all about the text, she’s all about the people. I see text, she says no, that’s a human being, and I’m like, no it’s not.
Kim: (looks confused, and perhaps slightly alarmed)
Kim: Perfect example of what I’m still every day wrapping my head around – there’s the product and then there’s the creators and receivers of the product, who are independent of the product but without whom it wouldn’t exist. If I’m the best actor in the world in my shower, that’s not acting.
Luckily for all of us, Kim’s acting has transcended her shower and enriched Supernatural for the past few years. Was she surprised by fan reaction?
Kim: When my manager found out I was coming back to Supernatural – I did a movie, like a universal Christmas movie, but it was nothing compared to Supernatural!
Lynn: So your manager was aware? We often find that The Powers That Be are clueless about the power of fandom, or they misunderstand it at the very least.
Kim: Oh yes. This fandom is now the prototype for what they’re trying to create. This morning, Gabe (Tigerman) was saying that his wife is on a show that hasn’t started airing yet, so she had a meeting that was the whole cast set up with the network telling them, here’s your responsibility for social media, you have to tweet about it. They’ve finally gotten a clue.
Kathy: The Vampire Diaries seems to be following that model as well.
Kim: Sebastian (Roche) was saying that this morning, because he’s worked on that show too. The only ones more passionate than Supernatural fans are teenagers. They have more time on their hands, so there’s that wicked combination of a show of a fantastical nature that you can really envelop yourself in and skewing to a slightly younger audience, but what they forget is that this (SPN) audience is mature and influential.
Us: (representing SPN fans everywhere…): That we are.
Kim: My manager is constantly surprised, like “Really? That many followers on Twitter?” Somebody asked me once, why do you think the fans like you? And I was like, I really don’t think it’s me. I think they finally wrote a female character that IS the fanbase, as opposed to an unattainable fantasy. We’re all constantly inundated with images that we’ll never achieve.
Us: It’s depressing.
Kim: It is! So the only response we can have is being depressed or getting angry. And the actress then becomes the focus of that anger.
Lynn: And most fans don’t really want to see anyone come between Sam and Dean.
Kim: Right! So then they wrote this character that wasn’t intended to come back, was just gonna show up once – but then they needed someone to bust Rufus out of jail and were like hey, let’s have a cop do it, bring back Sheriff Mills.
Lynn: So I’m curious – you said they actually wrote it into the script for this latest episode, that your character didn’t have any “chemistry” with Jared/Sam.
Kim: There were scenes originally where we were in the truck together, and all these little sub-comments were there (in the script), like “very wry and sterile”, and there was a goodbye scene where she gives him “a very chaste mom kiss goodbye.” I was like, first of all, okay I am significantly older than they are, but I couldn’t really be their MOM! I could’ve babysat them though.
Lynn: That’s pretty fascinating, they didn’t want to mess up the character.
Kim: And my emotions were there too. I was committed enough as a fan and as an actor to the relationship that Jody had with Bobby. It would’ve been like, “Really, Bobby’s dead? Okay then, what about you, Sam?”
Us: (are laughing) Fans would definitely have seen it that way too.
Kathy: That scene in the episode, with so much silence, that was such an emotional scene, and the two of you played that moment so full of meaning.
Kim: I love that they left it in, that’s the kind of thing that often gets edited out.
Lynn: Jim Beaver told us once that you could do a whole episode of Supernatural without dialogue, because the actors are just that good.
Kim: The writers are that good too, they let the actors do their jobs and write for them in a way that allows them to really do it.
Kathy: The episode was really beautifully filmed too, I felt like it was going back to the early days of the show, the way it was edited, everything.
Kim: I remember reading that they were like okay, not so much on the noir anymore. In my experience, I’ve never worked for a producer that could look at an erroneous decision and say oh, not so much, let’s change that. They tend to be, I’m gonna shove it down their throats until they cancel us. But in this case, they said ‘we thought this direction was a good idea, but it didn’t really work.’
Lynn: The reciprocal relationship, that’s what we call it in the book.
Kim: Now you’ve got much more two-way communication. It’s getting more reciprocal all the time. Which I think is great – and it’s funny, because the networks don’t get it. The people who make the financial decisions are so far away from the people who make the artistic decisions. But I think this evolution is putting more power back with the people who make the artistic decisions, because they now have data they can point to and say, look, I’m not an idiot!
Lynn: Any amusing stories about working with the boys this time?
Kim: I got one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten from Jared. I hadn’t worked with the boys before, so I figured the last thing I wanted Jared to feel like when I met him was “hi, I think I’m your new best friend” or “I’m gonna be your girlfriend,” or whatever. I had a really good relationship with Jim, but hadn’t worked with Jared and Jensen much. And it’s their home. I’m not gonna walk in and change the music or rearrange the fridge. So also, as a female, I didn’t want to be like “Hiiiiii, how ya doin??” So I made it a point in the dressing room of saying something about my age, that I’m old enough to play his mother. And Jared is clear down at the other end, and he goes, “WHAT?? How old are you??” I said, “I’m 42,” and there was a silence that was literally like nearly a minute while he just stared at me. I could see the Rolodex of possible responses going through his head, and finally he goes, “Good for you!”
Lynn and Kathy: (cracking up)
Kim: From then on, we were golden. I got to make cougar jokes, he got to make Oedipal jokes, we were fine. That was such a great compliment.
Lynn: That was the perfect thing to say to get rid of all kinds of wrong expectations. You’re good at figuring out how people will react to what you put out there.
Kim: Which is funny, because I spent so much of my life screamingly in need of acceptance. I think it’s why a lot of people become actors. Nobody becomes an actor for a healthy reason. It can turn into a healthy artistic expression, but the initial impulse is a need for attention and acceptance.
Lynn: How did you learn to deal with the rejection that inevitably comes with acting?
Kim: I spent time and money on therapy just learning ‘okay, it’s none of my business what someone thinks of me, and you can’t control it. I’m powerless over it and it’s making me miserable, because no amount of people liking me is going to take away the pain that I think I’m fixing by trying to make people like me and failing at it because I’m trying so hard.’ It’s interesting that you said before that the more I stop editing myself, the more I just realize we have things in common.
Lynn: And how to really connect with other people. The weird thing is, when you try to connect to someone else and you’re not being real, even if it works, it doesn’t feel good – because it’s not the real you that they connected to and liked. That’s what fandom often does for people – you put your real self out there, maybe for the first time, your genuine imperfect self, and find out that other people like and accept you anyway.
Kim: It’s changed the way I audition, the way I walk into a room. I’ve been booking more consistently because instead of trying to do it right, I try to do it the way I want to do it. This is what you get if you cast me.
Kim’s friend and fellow SPN fan Michael joined us at this point, and talk turned to a comparison of all of our tattoos (Kim totally won), sharing photos of our kids (nobody won this because we all have incredibly adorable kids, but Kim’s daughter wins for best Halloween costume….), and why George Takei is so cool.
Kim: So what other books are you working on now?
Us: One of them is Fangasm, sort of our roadtrip through Supernatural fandom for the past five years, and all the incredibly stupid things we’ve done….
Lynn: Like the time I almost threw up on Jim Beaver’s sneakers.
Kim: (moves her chair a little farther away)
Kathy: The other one is for a series called Fan Phenomena, with volumes devoted to the most iconic fandoms of all time. Supernatural wasn’t one of them – but we eventually convinced the publisher that it should be.
Kim: It should be! This entire growing upswing of supernatural concept shows – friggen Twilight even – can all go back and point to this!
We all agreed that SPN has the most passionate fans – and that passion is a good thing. And that passionate fan does not equal ‘crazy stalker chick’!
Kim: That’s the thing that gets me. In my experience, the only death threat I ever got was somebody who was a fan of the Disney channel show! The only time there’s anything inappropriate when it comes to SPN fans comes from “this is really important to me”. Maybe other people are jealous of how passionate fans are, because so many people have it drummed into their heads that their voice means nothing, only their wallet means something. So for fans to say, no, I believe my voice means something – then it’s “well you’re just crazy.” But passion is healthy – why can’t we go “yay, I’m happy that you’re happy about something!”
Lynn: There’s no higher proportion of crazy fans than there are crazy people in general.
Kim: The most egregious sin I’ve come into contact with are people who just forget that they’re one of a lot of people. And while I wish I could say yes to you and make you an exception, I can’t do that, and they become frustrated with me for not making an exception. But it’s because it’s so important to them.
Us: (are nodding) It’s been pretty laid back here today, but Sundays at a con are a bit different. Security is a lot tighter, for one thing, when the boys are here.
Michael: Yeah, I went to use the bathroom at a con but Jensen was in the bathroom, so I couldn’t use the bathroom!
Us (are giggling)
Kathy: It’s one of the things we talked to Jared and Jensen about when we interviewed them, how weird it is to be famous at a Supernatural con and the rest of the world is like, “Jensen who?”
Kim: I was prepared for my first con – you’re Elvis in the building, and the garbage man outside. And I don’t think it’s ME anyway, maybe my brain has just put that up as a defense, but it’s what I represent to another person. So when I show up as me, I just kinda augment that.
Kim, like every single person we’ve interviewed, had nothing but praise for what it’s like to work on the Supernatural set – and for ‘the boys’.
Kim: I think it starts with the boys – them, and the showrunners and the writers – they set the tone for how it’s gonna go They’re very impressive guys. Professionally and personally, I admire them both. And Jensen was a very good director. He was really good.
Lynn: (realizing that she’s nodding and doesn’t really have a clue what that entails) What makes him a good director? What makes you say that?
Kim: I’ll tell you the things that made him good for me – it’s the things that make him a good actor as well. He doesn’t over explain and he doesn’t under explain. He doesn’t give notes, but he makes what he wants very clear, and he wasn’t afraid to because he’s an actor. There was a moment when he came up to me and he just pulled me aside – which is really classy – and asked “Where you say x, what are you doing there?” And I said, “saying it really fast so I can get to the next part where I know what I’m doing.” “And that’s what it looks like,” he said. He totally got it, but there was no judgment in it, there was just “it looks like that”, so he didn’t come in and say, you’re doing something wrong. The first thing he asked was “Are you doing something there that I’m not getting, so I can help you hone it? What are you doing with this moment, because I’m not getting it, so how are we gonna get it together?” And when I went uhhhh, it was like “allright, so let me give you some information so that you can make an informed decision about this moment.” And then he was like, “Just remember….” And so I was like, “Riiiiiiight, got it!” When we did it again, he just kinda gave me a thumbs up and a nod, and we moved on. He wasn’t a hand-holding director, he wasn’t condescending, but that really awesome mixture is hard to find.
Lynn: So it’s partly because he’s an actor too?
Kim: I’ve had some awful directors who were actors, because they try to do your acting for you. They can’t make the transition. But he just was like, what’s your process, how do I support you in it?
Kathy: Kind of like a good teacher – I’m not gonna lecture you, like I know everything and you know nothing. It should be that collaborative thing, and you bring out the best in each other.
Lynn: Kind of like a good therapist too, you don’t tell people what to do, you ask what do you think is happening, and how is that working for you?
The three of us have something else in common too – we all love to write. In fact, writing is something Kim would like to do a lot more. We pointed out that SPN fans are an incredibly passionate and loyal bunch, who would relish more of her writing.
Kim: I feel so maternal toward so many of these fans. There’s a gal who has this physical condition that I also have, and I did some research and checked it out and then re-tweeted it, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve been through this surgery for it, get me her email and I can hook her up with my doctor because he’s saved my life twice’. This is a great fan story too – that’s really all I did. Supernatural taught me a lot about fans. I try to answer as frequently as I can on Twitter, and I blog, but this one action of me saying I’d get her to my doc, I got 300 new followers all with a “thank you for helping her.” And I seriously didn’t do anything else – did they think I was gonna pay for her surgery? All I did was send her an email and my doc info.
Lynn: You connected with her. That’s the power of fandom – it’s community.
Kim: I loved the fact that the biggest surge of new fans I got came as a result of their love for another fan. It is such a community. I feel like we’re starting to circumvent a lot of bullshit, the network telling us what we wanna watch, the commercials telling us what we wanna buy – what’s coming up is people.
Kathy: What’s your husband’s take on everything?
Kim: He’s more enthusiastic than I am (about my writing). He says, “Write. You love writing. You have a fan base now.”
Us: (proudly) The most passionate fan base in the world!
Kim: What I’d like to do is be writing scripts for television, so getting the feedback from the fans, to find out what works – the fans could be a built-in barometer. If I walk into a room and someone says, ‘oh, that will never fly,’ I can say ‘you know what? You’re wrong. You don’t have to buy it, I just wanted you to have the opportunity to be one of those people.’ It’s like I won the lottery (with the fans) – but I want their opinions, and their support, not the money.
Us: Pretty sure you’ve got it.
By that time two hours had passed, so we paid the bill and turned off the recorder.
Us: So, thanks so much for the interview.
Kim: Wait, I didn’t feel interviewed at all!
Be sure to check out Kim’s blog here. And give her your opinions and support!
And stay tuned for more news on our two new books!