Todd Stashwick on being an actor and a fanboy and on the Twitter “global party”
Finally well rested from our trip to the Rising Con, we promptly headed to The Big Apple for the premiere of The Last Airbender last week – which, by the way, was incredible. We were blown away by the film (take that critics! True to the spirit of Nickelodeon’s original, visually stunning (and no, we don’t mean the 3D – the amazing fight scenes, the frozen vistas of Greenland, the bending of the elements effects, were all seamless). Novice Noah Ringer personified Aang, and the supporting cast was perfect, nothing overwrought and everyone striking just the right tone. Dev Patel was particularly adept at portraying Zuko’s ambivalence, part hurt little boy and part vengeful young man. Also, Bradley Cooper has nice hair and a dozen young women followed Jackson Rathbone around everywhere he went during the after party.
We also caught up with one of our favorite Supernatural guest stars last week, Todd Stashwick (Dracula from “Monster Movie”). We first met Todd at the Creation con in New Jersey a year ago, where we ended up having a few hours of conversation with him at some ridiculous hour of the morning – he was that entertaining.
Todd recently attended his second SPN con, Asylum 3 in the UK, and we wondered how that came about. Turns out the fans had a lot to do with it.
Todd: It was very humbling in a lovely way. I was sitting at home and got a call from my manager, who said she had just got a call from Wayne in England saying an actor had dropped out at the last minute. Apparently the folks who were attending and a bunch of people petitioned to have me be the replacement through Twitter and through Facebook, and they persuaded Wayne to call my manager and he invited me!
Todd seemed quite mystified about his continued popularity with Supernatural fans, so we clued him in.
Lynn: You’re a fan favorite. Even though you were only on once, they continue to talk about you and actually Jensen continues to talk about you. Whenever anyone asks him about embarrassing moments, he relates your infamous comment to him when you were dressed as Dracula and he was in Lederhosen, and you said, ”just remember we’re two grown men.”
Todd: The joke is, I was quoting a story from Michael Keaton — he was dressed as Batman and Jack Nicholson was dressed as the Joker and he had him in a big fight scene and he pulled in Jack Nicholson and he said “We’re both grown men.” So here’s me dressed as Dracula and Jensen in Lederhosen strapped to a table and I was reminded of that event. I just leaned in and said it to him.
And so it goes down in fandom history….
Todd compares the experience of doing a convention to being a political candidate, handlers ushering you from room to room and scheduled to a “t”. Other than meeting the fans, we’ve heard many guests say the best part about cons is getting to know the other actors, often for the first time. Asylum brought together Todd, Mark Pellegrino, Alona Tal, Rachel Minor, Katherine Boecher, Tracy Dinwiddie, Jim Beaver and Kurt Fuller, and put them all up at an 800 year old estate. It was Rachel and Katherine’s first convention, and a “galvanizing experience” for all the actors.
After the con, there were some interesting photos floating around the internet of Todd and Mark canoodling on a bed somewhere. Of course, we couldn’t resist asking Todd for the scoop. Nobody who reads this blog expected that, right?
Todd (laughing): No, what it was, in the green room, because we were going so like crazy and we were jet lagged, they brought in a bunch of comforters and pillows for when we each had like a 45 minute break, somewhere we could just crash. So Mark was sleeping there and I went up to take a nap and then I jokingly cuddled into him like we were bunkmates, like he was my teddy bear . Then of course, what a photo opportunity that creates, so Katherine comes running up and takes pictures and Mark’s wife comes running to take her photos. At that point it was just for fun. I actually twittered that photo, and I think Katherine may have posted one as well.Yep.
This is a fandom that approves of both brotherly bonding and slashy subtext, so however you choose to look at it, Todd once again scored points with the fans. He told us the fans are more than welcome to enjoy the fantasy, though he did say that his photo fun had some unanticipated consequences.
Todd: One girl on Twitter keeps asking me who would I rather date, Sam or Dean? I said Pam.
Lynn and Kathy: *snort*
Todd: I did twitter out the photo of me and Mark cuddling, but it was winky and it was tongue and cheek. But having known what I know about slash and seeing that question pop up, I went, you’re kind of baiting me into that world… trying to pull me into your private world. You’re not asking which would Dracula rather be with. That’s when I go “I’m abstaining from this question.”
This turned the chat towards Supernatural’s propensity for shattering the proverbial fourth wall.
Todd: I like the fact that Eric winked at it on the show.
The fandom is far from unanimous in that particular sentiment, as we explained, but we tend to agree. Speaking of fourth wall breaking and increasingly reciprocal relationships between the creative side and the fandom, we asked Todd, a frequent Tweeter, if there were other ways that his presence on Twitter and FB has changed things with how he interacts with fans, and how does it factor into the life of an actor these days?
Todd: Well for me, my FB and Twitter followers just jumped in for that convention, and again it was really humbling that people on whatever level care what I have to say or what stupid photos I post. My big fear is that just because I did one episode, I’m going to run out of stories. Like these guys that are on set and on set and on set are going to have all these anecdotes and I’m going to be like, uh oh, I’m recycling the same ones.
Lynn (smirking, though Todd can’t see this, as he’s on the phone….): I guess Kripke is going to have to write you back in.
Todd: I’ve been thinking, the fans are so kind, they want me to be in season six, but I’m like HOW??? And I kept thinking wouldn’t it be interesting if something happened to Jensen that he starts seeing visions of people that he’s conquered? Of course I would appear in black and white … and just having conversations with him, and he knows the whole time that I’m not really there.
We like it. Fandom, what think you?? Let us know in the comments!
Todd: And to the life of an actor, it certainly, it’s literally created employment with the invite to the convention. It literally gave me a job because I wasn’t working that week. Wanna go to England next week? Absolutely! And some fans created a Todd Stashwick Facebook page – again, really humbling.
We also got to pick Todd’s brain about something we write a lot about, both in Fangasm and in our more academic publications – fan shame, and in particular, female fan shame.
Lynn: Last time we chatted, we spent a lot of time kind of pondering why it is that there’s so much shame in fandom for women. You were talking about it’s cool to be a geek, geeks have a lot of power, and being an out and proud geek. I remember how you said your wife has a Torchwood tee shirt, and she’s sort of out and proud too. What we’ve come up with is that women are often fearful of expressing a lot of emotion or expressing any overt sexuality and for them that’s where a lot of the shame in fandom comes from. What are your thoughts?
Todd: Here’s what I think it is. I think the fandom attached to Supernatural and the fandom attached to say like Twilight stuff, generally male driven fandom like Buffy or Battlestar or Dr. Who, they’re male driven fandom. I think if a girl lines up for Sex and the City, that is socially acceptable. But if a girl is geeking out about video games, there’s something not acceptable about that, those are guy things. Those are boy things. They’re traditionally boy driven… know what I’m saying?
Lynn (still pondering why anyone would line up for Sex and the City….) When you say male driven, do you mean that Supernatural was originally conceived as sort of a horror action show to appeal to males?
Todd: That’s exactly what I mean. I think the Buffy fandom, because there was a hot chick, and there were vampires, blood and hot girls, I think it was a very boy driven fandom. I think for the most part shows like Battlestar and Star Trek, there are female fans but the loudest ones have been the male fans. When you think about the Big Bang Theory and the image out there of the geek, it’s a boy thing. It’s not a feminine pursuit to be inspired by or to be turned on by genre things. For the most part, I think society is like, leave the action figures to the boys and you go play with Barbie. I think to say ‘Yes, I’m way into the horror movies,’ traditionally speaking I think a lot of people would go “well, that girl is weird.”
Kathy and Lynn (totally owning the ’that girl is weird’ accusation): Yes, and also women who are into a show like Supernatural , people assume “Oh, you’re just watching it for the hot guys.” Which, okay, absolutely, we’ve noticed Ackles’ green eyes and Padalecki’s biceps. That’s not the only reason we’re watching – let’s face it, there are plenty of hot guys on television. But women are ashamed to say they’ve even noticed (which is pretty damn unlikely if you’re still breathing, in our humble opinions).
There followed a long intellectual discussion about why certain characters appeal to viewers, which led Todd to put his geek on and talk about one of his passions, Battlestar Galactica.
Todd: Oh I know. I was having a conversation with Tricia Helfer and I said I think the reason the character Starbuck was so appealing on Battlestar was because she’s the first female character men wanted to have sex with and be them…. a guy wanted to hang out with her, have sex with her, and also have her job and be as cool as she was, in a viper.
Todd ponders, then asks: When they’re watching Supernatural , do the girls wish they were Sam or Dean???
Kathy and Lynn (nodding enthusiastically even though Todd can’t see us): YES, absolutely.
Todd (still pondering): Guys would probably wish they were Buffy and also having sex with Buffy.
Kathy and Lynn: And the girls would like to have sex with Sam and Dean, watch them have sex with someone else (Lisa, Anna, Castiel, Gabriel, take your pick — or possibly each other, depending on what online community you’re currently reading) and be them at the same time.
Todd (now he’s the one nodding, we’re sure of it): Publically for a guy to go “yes, I want to do Buffy” that’s completely acceptable. But if a girl says she wants to do… or be…. I think you’re right, it’s that whole overt expression of sexuality that isn’t connected to “look at my micro-mini dress and my $500. Shoes!” It’s a different kind of sexuality. It’s easy for teenagers to watch Twilight because they go “Oh look, I’m Bella too.” But Supernatural doesn’t have that. There are no girly girls.
We’ll spare you the long discussion of Twilight and its depiction of adolescent female sexuality that followed. Let’s just say all three of us were on the same page and leave it at that.
Todd also shared his thoughts on fame and celebrity, another major theme of Fangasm and our academic writing. In our earlier interview with Todd, he shared his theory that the reason why celebrities have a certain kind of ‘power’ is because they invoke involuntary emotion in people. That creates a difference in status that then translates to power (as in Neil Postman’s idea that celebrities possess god-like powers to be in two places at once and to appear to be 50 feet tall. )
Todd: That’s fascinating to me. I’m looking at Tom Cruise, I also know he’s not here but he is affecting me, I’m interacting with him. He’s physically larger than life, his head is like the size of Mt. Rushmore in the movie theatre. That is another reason I think they’re sort of invoked with a status. Again, when someone comes up to you and says “I loved you on blah blah blah”, you have in some way touched them or reached them and I wasn’t even there. That’s fascinating to me, it’s like I go into Vancouver, I go wherever, a studio, and I do this thing for a week with a group of 100 people and then it gets blasted out into the world and then the echoes of that go on. How long ago did I shoot Supernatural? It was like two years ago. Then you do this thing, they blast it out there and it affects people, they get touched by you, by your performance, by Eric’s words. There’s also that disconnection like well I don’t write the stuff but I’m so glad that I was able to interpret it in a way that emotionally moved you. If someone has the power to make you laugh, make you cry, make you angry, they have “THE POWER” literally.
He went on to agree with us that the ‘relationship’ with television actors is even more intimate – they’re in your living room, once a week they come over, and you feel much more sense of ownership.
Kathy: Speaking of intimacy, and getting back to our discussion about Twitter, do you feel there are any ways in which Twitter can actually hurt? If fans are feeling so intimate are you losing something as an actor?
Todd: It depends on why you’re in it. Why I choose to be an actor. I’m not choosing to be an actor to be put on a pedestal….With the amount of Oscar winners who are twittering, Kevin Spacey is twittering, is he losing any power? I don’t know. I think it’s just changing the nature of celebrity. I don’t consider myself a celebrity, I’m a working actor. If you go to the Midwest and yell my name in a mall people are gonna say WHO???? If you say, Tom Cruise is here, everybody in that mall will know who that is. To me that’s a celebrity.
Todd guards his privacy and keeps his family off the internet, but as he said: Twitter has fed my family – literally. How can I complain about that? My goal is to have as many eyeballs on my work as possible because if there’s interest in my work that would lead to a certain level of job security…. (and) the connection is lovely, not just when I’m killing time at the airport or something. I’m still amazed that people are interested in what my favorite movie is it blows my mind….it’s just a global party.
We finished up our chat, which was a very pleasant way to spend an hour or two, with an update on the new project that’s got Todd geeking out with all the passion of a true fanboy – he’s personally launching an online comic, working with the artist who drew his character in the Heroes comic, which he’ll be taking to Comic Con later this month.
Todd: I’m certainly going to be leaning on the fan base to hopefully generate interest in this. It’s certainly along the lines of the kind of show that I like to watch, like Supernatural, True Blood, those kind of shows. The title is “Devil Inside”. Basically the idea was I have spent so many years playing villains, I wanted to write something that allowed the villain to be the protagonist, like Dexter or like The Shield. So I created a story that I could play the lead character in… with element of the supernatural in it, like Heroes, like Supernatural, True Blood, Buffy, something like that for myself that would be a cable ready TV show, for AMC or SciFi or HBO or Showtime or something like that. You can keep your Emmy, I was drawn into a comic book! I got a trading card from Buffy, somebody made me into an action figure from Angel, and now I’ve been drawn into a comic book.
Lynn and Kathy (total fangirls): You win!
Apropos of our conversation about the power of Twitter, the project happened after Todd started following the artist on Twitter, and when he said he was going to be in LA and did anyone want to have coffee, Todd took him up on it. Turned out they were big fans of each other’s work, and the rest is history. A Twitter-facilitated partnership. And the perfect ending to our intellectual conversation, until next time.
Check out Devil Inside…..and if you’re at Comic Con, stop by and give Todd and Dennis some love in Artist’s Alley!