Jensen Ackles at ChiCon: What Would Dean Do?
Jensen Ackles arrived at his meet and greet to find a Tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies at the foot of his chair, courtesy of a thoughtful fan. They turned out to be one of his favorites (along with the tsnicker doodles that his mom bakes). Yes, this is essential information.
A fan kicked off the Q & A by asking for some clarification about something he’d said in a previous interview that really surprised her.
Jensen: Uh oh.
Fan: You said when you’re acting that you go blank and calm. Did that develop because you’ve been doing this show for 8 years or has it always been that way?
Jensen: Let me clarify, I don’t go blank, because that would be horrible! Then I’d just be like…. (does a comically blank face)
Jensen: It’s weird, it’s like when they say action, everything goes away. It’s kinda hard to explain, but everything, worries with family, friends, did I take the laundry out and put it in the dryer, to I have an injured elbow – all of it goes away. It’s like this heightened sense – I kinda have a spatial awareness or recognition as far as lines. I study my lines and Jared and I will read our lines in the hair and makeup trailer and get a feel for the dialogue. But they don’t really set in for me until I start the blocking, coming over to here (he helpfully gets up and walks across the room).
Fans: (are appreciative of the demonstration….)
Jensen: And that’s what triggers those lines. I know that I’m supposed to be in that spot when I say those lines. And it becomes subconscious, I don’t have to think about it, my body knows where to be, my mind knows what to say when I’m there. And what that does, is it frees me up for those “happy accidents” within the scene, those nuances. I can always tell when a guest star has been running their lines over and over and over into the mirror, because no matter what I’m doing, they’re saying the exact same thing the same way. If I pretend to know how the other actor is going to play, I’ll react accordingly, but what happens if the other actor doesn’t play it that way? I worked with Michele Williams (in Dawson’s Creek) who really threw me off…..
(Fan starts coughing and Jensen interrupts himself…)
Jensen: (to the coughing fan) You okay? Want some water? We don’t wanna lose you!
Other fans (silently): Awww
Coughing fan: (recovers, but is now blushing over Jensen coming to her rescue)
Jensen: So, I would read a scene and I’d feel like I had fairly good instincts of how it would be played. And she would just do it totally different, the way she’d say the words, the connotation, the way she’d deliver the lines was a lot different than I had expected. It changed the way I would play my lines. But if you’re not open to that, you’re going to deliver your performance and it doesn’t matter what the other person is doing. Having it (the lines) and then forgetting it – allows you to be in the moment, which is a cheesy term, but — alot of what makes a really good scene between actors is the availability that they have to give each other. Jared and I – that’s one of the reasons I have good on-camera chemistry with him — is because he and I listen to each other and respond accordingly.
The next question was about Frank Deveruex, who seems to have met an untimely demise.
Fan: Whoever played Frank, I loved every scene with him. Will they bring him back?
Jensen: He’s a busy man, I don’t know if you know who he is. He actually wanted to do our show because his daughters are huge fans. Trust me, he definitely didn’t NEED to do our show, but he approached us and we were like absolutely, we’ll find something for you! Kevin is great. I hope he comes back.
Obviously Kevin’s kids have excellent taste in television shows.
The next question was about Dean from season one to now. What has changed?
Jensen: (dryly) He was much younger.
Same fan: You have become even more stunning.
Other fans: (are nodding enthusiastically)
Jensen: (is blushing)
Same fan: (who I think might have meant his acting, but whatever…) What has been the biggest progress you’ve made in your acting?
Jensen: That’s a good question. Any actual experience is the best. You can do acting classes and workshops, fine, but nothing prepares you quite like doing it. I’ve been working consistently for over a decade now and that’s been the best teacher that I could have. Doing a character for 8 years can be a challenge for some people, and I learned that early on when I was on Days of Our Lives, because there are characters who have been on for 25 years or something. I remember Alison Sweeney said how they have to constantly reinvent themselves so the character doesn’t get stale. You want to change it up so the audience doesn’t lose interest. I don’t feel like I’ve had to reinvent Dean, because the writers do a really good job of doing that within the story and keeping it fresh and new. But it’s given me a rare opportunity to grow as an actor and a character at the same time. It’s gonna be interesting when I do something else after, to see if I can ‘shed Dean’.
Fan: (quips) Will your voice go back up?
Jensen: (laughing) What’s funny is, it’s like the Supernatural curse. Ty? Ty doesn’t speak that low, Misha doesn’t, I don’t, everyone gets on set and is like okay, I can go lower (and he does….).
Fans: (silently) Mmmm, do that again….
Jensen: I think I originally got it from John, from Jeffrey Dean, who had a lower register. I remember thinking ok, if he’s gonna be Dean’s idol, then Dean would want to emulate him. Not just wear his jacket and drive his car, but talk like him. So that was a character decision I made season one. People always say, ‘why do you talk so low?’ but it was a character decision, because Dean’s dad did. Umm…so what were we talking about?
Jensen: Oh right, so it depends on what I do next. I don’t wanna ruin it for some people, but if you watch half hour comedy shows, there’s a cadence to that medium. A lot of times, people’s voices will go up at the end of a line, everything kinda goes up – gets just a little funny (he says, going higher at the end). Whereas dramatic, everything goes down. It’s a little tool that actors and directors do, tricks of the trade that define a genre. It will be interesting to see if I can get Dean out of my head.
Fans (silently) It will be interesting to see if we can get him out of ours too….
Jensen: The character Tom in My Bloody Valentine wasn’t that different – not like Priestly in Ten Inch Hero. But anyway, being on set and challenging myself has been the best lesson and has helped me as an actor, including all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. That’s why I fell into being a director a little bit, the more you’re around it, the more you absorb. Advice I got from the soap opera was ‘when you get on set, be a sponge, absorb as much as you can and the better you’ll be.’
He certainly seems to have done just that.
Fan: So speaking of TIH, the tampon scene – I feel this flush of embarrassment every time I watch that.
Jensen: I hated that scene. Because it actually was embarrassing. Not because of the subject matter, but because I had to give this like speech, and there was a crowd of people outside who had walked by and saw the lights and camera crew and just stopped to watch. This was a low budget film, no security, no cops helping us out, so there were 25 or more people outside the open door – I had like 30 bystanders listening to me and I was like ohmygosh, I’m talking about tampons, and these people are like WHAT?
Fans: In a kilt…
Jensen: Right, and the appearance didn’t help much.
Fans: (silently) Actually it helped us quite a bit.
And while we’re being shallow…
Fan: What are Dean’s two best assets?
Lynn: (slaps hand over her mouth before she blurts out her own answers)
Jensen: I’m tempted to say his car and his gun, but you probably mean on a character level. I’d say loyalty, and his decisiveness. How quickly he can make a decision. He seems like the kinda guy who a) doesn’t even look at the menu before he orders, or b) it takes him maybe five seconds to say yeah, I know what I want. I’ve always liked that characteristic. Somebody gave me a book called How To Be A Gentleman… Obviously it didn’t work…
Fans: (are vehemently disagreeing)
Jensen: But it said ‘a man should never stare too long at a menu’ – be decisive! That stuck with me, and Dean is that kinda guy.
Fan: You did an amazing job on the Angeles cover. Is there a thought process if you do a cover or take over a role, to make the original your own?
Jensen: Well, music and acting are different to me – I don’t consider myself a musician, so that wasn’t a thought out project. I’ll come home and pick up a guitar, and I’m decent enough to entertain myself, but not a group of people.
Fans: (are disagreeing again)
Jensen: Elliot Smith does that song technically intricate and difficult, and I can’t play the guitar like he can. I don’t know what drew me to that song, but I found the general chords to play it. Steve encouraged me to lay it down – I said this is how I can play it, so… But as far as acting goes, revisiting a role, I’ve done it in My Bloody Valentine and I didn’t watch the original on purpose because I didn’t want to copy, I wanted to make my own decisions as an actor. And I did the stage play A Few Good Men, and I knew that movie and the Tom Cruise role, to the point of hearing him say it in my head. I tried to read it from a fresh perspective, but there were probably some lines that I took verbatim his delivery. Writing like Sorkin’s, a brilliant writer, is so fast it can only really be done a couple of ways.
Lynn: You mentioned at breakfast that there was a line that a new director wanted Dean to say, and you felt that it wasn’t right, not something Dean would say. I’m always fascinated with your input into the character. Can you talk about what that was?
Jensen: It wasn’t necessarily a line, it was more of a direction in adding some business to the scene. It was essentially Dean and Sam sitting in the Impala having a chat, and Dean shows up with some burgers and sits down and is like ‘c’mon, let’s eat’. Sam is on the phone and goes, you know, ‘there’s trouble in River City!’
Fans: (dramatically) dum-dum-dum!
Jensen: So the scene quickly shifts to okay, what’s the problem, let’s assess the situation, what do we need to do, and it becomes a heavy scene. And the idea he had was
New director: Why don’t you hand the burgers off when you sit down, and you start eating yours, and halfway through the scene you realize you got the wrong burger and you reach over and take Sam’s burger?
Jensen: Um, where is this in the script?
New director: Oh no, it’s not, it’s just to add a little something to the scene.
Jensen: Uh, listen, I’ve gotta be honest with you, this turns into a tense scene, and this might dilute the intensity of it, might take the air out of the scene by throwing a wrench in it.
The director apparently thought it added a fun element – but it was not a fun scene.
Jensen: Once Dean gets this kind of information, he’s not gonna sit there and be distracted even though he can be the guy who’s distracted by a burger, this particular dialogue he takes very serious. So I said how about you watch us do one rehearsal, and if you think there’s a moment in there where you think this shenanigan can take place, then we’ll work it in. I didn’t even get to pick the burger up, Jared and I have done this so many times, and we fire off two pages of dialogue, and the scene’s over. And the director is like yeah, I don’t really think….
Lynn: Good decision.
Jensen: That said, he also had some really good ideas, and it’s very tough for a director to come in to a show that’s so established and try to bring new ideas. I think he probably hasn’t watched all 160 episodes, he probably watched a few key ones, and directed like he’s directed the last five shows he’s done. But he had two actors who are very protective of the show and their characters and the story, so we were able to help him out a little bit.
Fan: What other character did you enjoy playing most?
Jensen: Probably Dark Angel, I was sad to see that end, I was hoping for another season.
Fans: Us too!
Jensen: I wanted to flesh out the character more. The first character I played was a one episode deal and he was dead. So it was kinda funny when they called me up to say they wanted to make me a regular. I was like, ‘um, but I’m dead.’ And they were like, ‘clone’. And I was like, ‘okay, that works!’
Fan: Other than going on forever, how would the series end if you could write it?
Jensen: That’s a tough question, it can’t go on forever.
Jensen: My idea has changed from year to year. Originally Jared and I thought it would be cool to go out like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – like we’re up against it, and there’s no making it out this time, and we come out from behind the Impala guns blazing and go out in the blaze of glory. I’m sure Jared would love to Thelma and Louise the car off a cliff. I don’t think ending it in victory is the way to go, them cruising off into the sunset. I think it needs to end tragic.
Jensen: (to the fan who asked the question) See what you did!?
Fans: (pleading desperately) Come on, AC/DC can be playing as they drive away….
Jensen: Really? Well, we’ll all have to wait and see. I won’t be writing the ending – and neither will you.
Fans: (are grumbling)
Fan: Do you think that Dean still idolizes John? And why don’t Sam and Dean have a hunter’s journal?
Jensen: I think maybe technology, all their research is done online, they don’t have to keep notes, plus they had Bobby for so long with a wealth of knowledge. But who knows, maybe we do add stuff to it every now and then. And to answer the first one, I think there will forever be a part of John that’s within Dean. He’s a product of his father’s dream and will forever be. I think his ideology might have changed over time – and that’s an amazing thing that I get to say, that this character has evolved in his ideology because the show’s gone on so long, that’s such a great thing — but I think Dean has grown, but there’s a base principle learned from his father that he reverts to. He’s also come into his own, he’s his own person, it’s not What Would John Do, it’s What Would Dean Do.
(Man, we love it when Jensen talks about Dean. He knows this character so deeply, which is wonderful when it’s a character you adore.)
Fan: Season 8 is almost a reset to Season 1 for Sam and Dean. How do you feel about that?
Jensen: I like it. I mean, there have been massive motivation shifts from season to season, a reversal from S1 to S2 in the characters’ motivations, and then S3 to S4. I think it makes sense to switch it up, if it was one note, it would get very boring very quickly. I liked Season 1, the story lines and the characters’ motivations. I like that Jeremy Carver has gotten it back to basics, to what made the show popular originally. And I think it gives us places to go.
Fan: What was it like working with Kevin Durand on Dark Angel?
Jensen: He’s one of the most talented and genuine human beings I’ve ever worked with. I was talking about actors who aren’t really listening to other actors – he’s so good, he just pours his heart out to you both when the camera is rolling and when it stops. He’s so giving as an actor. It was funny because I worked with him for three months nonstop before I ever saw him without his prosthetic face on. And I ran into him in a bar in LA on a weekend, and he came up to me and was like ‘JENSEN!’ and gave me a big hug, and I was like AAAAH! (screaming….lol) Because he’s massive, he makes Jared look small!
Fans: No mean feat!
The last question was one that put a smile on Jensen’s face.
Fan: Any chance you’ll get the Impala after the show ends?
Jensen: (with a definite twinkle in his eye) It’s not in writing but every time I’ve inquired about it, I’ve gotten a little wink and a tip of the hat by the producers, so….
The powers that be then whisked Jensen away, but not before he took his chocolate chip cookies – and gave us a heartfelt thank you.
More from ChiCon soon – including our chats with Emily Perkins and Rob Benedict. Jared Meet and Greet report coming up from our partners in crime, The Winchester Family Business – fandom teamwork!