A Chat With Jared and Jensen – On Living Sam and Dean, Costars Who Smell Bad, and Looking Ahead to Season Six
We were lucky enough to join a small group of fans at last weekend’s Supernatural convention in LA for a ‘private Q&A’ with Jared and Jensen. Private is a relative term – it’s not like we were having alone time with the boys, alas. But talking to someone sitting right across from you, without an intervening microphone, is a lot more informal than asking questions in a packed auditorium with security flanking both sides of the stage, so this was fun – and an excellent opportunity for some more Fangasm questions!
Jared and Jensen pulled up chairs (Jared immediately spun his around and straddled it, leaning his elbows on the back like a big kid) and were laid back and eager to chat. The small group of fangirls (and one fanboy), on the other hand, were surprisingly quiet – and maybe not so surprisingly nervous. Some had their questions written on index cards, presumably in case the sight of the boys up close and personal and engaged in normal conversation was too distracting to allow higher brain functions to work properly – which we can completely understand. Lynn was the only one partaking of the appetizers that the con thoughtfully provided – hey, free food! — though she managed not to talk with her mouth full for the most part.
We were thrilled when Jensen brought up his admiration for Serge Ladouceur’s talent during the Q&A on the main stage earlier (you can read about our own admiration in our two-part interview with Serge here). In the private Q&A, Jensen brought Serge up again, saying that he’d even lit the two Dean’s differently in “The End”, a subtle but crucial difference.
So we were glad to have the chance to tell Jensen and Jared what Serge had said to us about his admiration for them – and their amazing ability to emote without resorting to artificial tears. The boys seemed pleased, and then we asked, “So, how do you do that?”
Jensen jumped in to answer first, saying that it’s changed — in the beginning, when he and Jared didn’t really know each other that well, and neither of them really knew their characters, they needed to think about something from their real lives in order to ‘get there.’ Jensen talked about how Jared thought about having to put down his own beloved dogs, Sadie and Harley, when Sam was faced with killing Madison the werewolf in the episode “Heart.” The parallels made the emotions even more powerful – so much that Jensen got choked up for real thinking about how much it would hurt Jared to do that. So both Sam’s anguish – and the heartbreaking image of Dean’s single tear of empathy – were both genuine. Jensen added with empathy of his own that it took a long time for Jared to calm down after shooting that day.
Now neither actor has to think about something from their lives outside of Supernatural. As Jensen said, they know these characters well enough to actually feel their emotions. He knows what Dean will feel in a given situation, and Jared knows what Sam will feel. When Sam died in Dean’s arms in “All Hell Breaks Loose”, that anguish was all Dean’s, because Jensen knows how Dean would feel if Sam were dead. Jared knew exactly how Sam would feel seeing Dean “ribboned” (Jensen’s words) by the hell hounds at the end of Season 3. Sam was devastated, torn apart, and his reaction was simply the natural result of that agony. They’re living these characters, and understand what Sam and Dean are to each other. And that knowledge – both of their characters, and of their characters’ bond – allows them to just feel, and the camera captures the results.
Jensen went on to say that being able to feel as your character makes a difference to how emotions look onscreen, because you’re allowing yourself to feel what you would feel without trying, instead of saying in your head, “okay, I have to cry here.” Neither of the actors has to do that on Supernatural, and that’s what gives their understated acting such an emotional punch for viewers. As Jensen said, most of the time when you’re that upset in real life, you’re not trying to cry, you’re trying not to cry. And if Dean is really feeling that anguish, then he can try to hold it together too, and Jensen can show that because he’s really experiencing it. “It’s hard work, your body doesn’t know the difference,” he said again, as he’s noted before. “It can mess you up inside crying like that, sometimes for the rest of the day”.
(Jensen also gave the example of how tempting it is to overact when you’re trying to convey being drunk – when in reality, if you’re drunk you’re usually trying not to look it! This was accompanied by a hysterical demonstration of inebriated overacting, complete with ungainly sprawls in his chair and a few slurred words. We were reminded of the time we were interviewing him and he decided to act out an airport encounter with a twelve year old girl. Of course, he played both parts. Perfectly. Never try to drink something while you’re interviewing Jensen Ackles, unless you want to choke on it when he cracks you up).
Jared added that he and Jensen are both very attuned to when that kind of overplaying is happening with other actors. Good Will Hunting is one of Jared’s favorite films, but there’s one scene where the actor just doesn’t quite get it right – there’s a specific quirk of his mouth that doesn’t strike the appropriate expression, and it throws Jared out of the moment every time he sees it. As we sat there listening and nodding our heads at the boys in enthusiastic agreement, we realized that hardly ever happens in Supernatural – and how rare that is in film, and especially in television.
The boys answered a few questions about each other, which gave them a chance to pat each other on the back in a rather heartwarming way. Jensen said he “gets a kick out of it” when Jared gets to do lighter, more comedic scenes, because a) he doesn’t get enough of them, and b) he’s great at them. He cited “Bad Day at Black Rock” as an example, doing an impromptu imitation of Sam’s “I lost my shoooooe.” Oh, boys.
Jensen also got a chance to pay homage to Jared’s acting chops when someone asked a question about how he’d play the angel Michael if Dean ends up saying yes. Jensen said he’d take inspiration from the way Jared played Lucifer possessing Sam in “The End” – in fact, when actor Matt Cohen came to Jensen for advice on how to play young John possessed by Michael, Jensen actually took Matt to his trailer and played him the clip of Jared as Lucifer. “See?” he said to Matt, “Same guy, but different. You’re still his brother, but also this angelic otherworldly presence.” Jensen went on to say, “I was really impressed with Jared in “The End” as Lucifer, really proud of him.” He says that if he does ever get to play Michael, he’ll take Jared’s lead and try to copy how well he did it.
Jared listened with a shy grin on his face while Jensen sang his praises, which was all kinds of adorable. And Jared? We totally agree with Jensen. He rocked that scene.
Jensen also said that working with Jared as Lucifer was extremely difficult, because although he was playing Dean, he was getting none of the customary “Sam” responses back from Jared. They both talked about how much they depend on that closeness, that interplay between the brothers. As Jensen said, “Jared played Lucifer with Dean as if he didn’t mean anything to me.”
Not having that made “The End” one of the hardest episodes they’ve done, but also one they’re very proud of. Both like seeing the other tackle a different side of their character, like Future Dean or Sam/Lucifer – they seem to get a great deal of joy out of seeing the other have a chance to shine.
Their answer to our question was quite serious (and quite long – a great opportunity for an extended conversation, so believe me, we weren’t complaining!) But the boys were also playful, saying that when they read a new script what they get most excited about is figuring out if they have any days off, and telling tales out of school about costars who smell bad. (No, not just Jared. Apparently Jessica Alba and Katie Holmes have had some less-than-fragrant moments too. )
Someone asked about working together so much, and the boys talked about how close they were, not just with each other, but with the entire crew, the cameramen “right up in our space” and how they knew the crew as well or better than family and friends because they spend so much more time with them. They’ve all seen each other grow and change for five years, and most of the crew have stayed with the show even in the face of pay cuts, because Supernatural is such an amazing set to work on. One crew guy said he’d find it nearly impossible to work anywhere else. On our own visits to the Supernatural set over the past few years, we heard person after person say exactly the same thing.
Which means that we – and they – are very excited to have a Season 6! Jensen said that Season 1 and the current season are his favorites, so he’s excited that S6 might be a sort of ‘reset’ to Season 1. In fact, Jensen told us that the writers are already sketching out Seasons 7 and 8 “just in case”, which made us want to squee with delight. The boys seemed pretty delighted too.
Both Jensen and Jared talked about how this season is going to get very dark, how Sam and Dean “have to hit rock bottom” and eventually “have it out.” Somehow, sitting there watching Jensen and Jared take turns convincing us of each other’s merits (like anyone in the room needed convincing….) and listening to how intimately they know their characters and understand the strength of Sam and Dean’s bond, we’re not too worried about the outcome.