Jensen Ackles Loves His Job: Setting the Record Straight at ChiCon
After giving an academic presentation in St. Louis on Saturday (what were they thinking scheduling a psychology conference on the weekend of a Supernatural convention??), we spent a lovely Sunday at Creation’s Supernatural convention in Chicago with friend and colleague Alice Jester of The Winchester Family Business blog and many other fellow fans. In a welcome turn of events, we had the chance to turn the tables and NOT be the professor, instead taking our seat on the other side of the ‘classroom’ as Jensen Ackles took the professorial position for a semi-private Q & A.
“Class is in session,” he joked as he sat down to face our little group. How come our professors never looked quite like that? No way would we have fallen asleep in Stats!
Not that Mr. Ackles claims to have been the model student. He confided that eraser cleaning was in fact his favorite thing to do in school: “Yes teacher, I’d be happy to….” (an hour later) “They’re clean!”
Such a bad boy. Why does that not seem like a bad thing in this case??
Jensen kicked off the Q & A by very genuinely thanking everyone for coming, since he was added to the schedule at the last minute.
You’re welcome, Jensen. And yes, it was a big hardship for us. Absolutely.
A fan began with a question that’s been on many fans’ minds. What’s with all the Dean and babies? (cue roomful of ‘awwww’) and are there any baby-related behind the scenes anecdotes? Apparently the answer is an emphatic yes, and we can all look forward to seeing a lot of them on this season’s gag reel. They had several babies, and Jensen confided that one baby was definitely NOT a fan.
Jensen: “That baby just was not fond of me. Rightly so, since it was covered in all this goo, but when I held it up it let out this bloodcurdling scream, and finally we had to switch babies again. And he was the complete opposite – he just sat there and looked at me.”
Fans: Well, duh.
“So I don’t recommend trying to film with babies, they don’t care whether you have a line – they’re just really bad actors!”
Was it scripted to have Dean cry back at the baby?
Jensen: (laughing) “That wasn’t scripted. Actually there’s a lot in that episode that wasn’t scripted. I was just playing along, because we just didn’t know what the baby would do, and the director, John Showalter, just used a lot of the extra stuff.”
How about the whiskey finger?
Jensen: (laughing and blushing) “Not scripted. When I was little, not a baby, but a young kid, my dad would dip his thumb in his coffee and give me a little drink like that, so I just thought of that.”
Fans helpfully noted that it’s a time honored cure for teething. Jensen seemed relieved to hear this.
Next it was our turn to ask a question that we’ve been wondering a lot about this season.
Lynn: “In season 6, the characters of Sam and Dean are so different – how hard has it been for you and Jared, after five seasons of knowing these characters and having the easy chemistry between them that you could really rely on? It’s been sorta jarring for the fans, how has it been for both of you?”
Jensen: “It’s been a little more difficult – not in a bad way – but for me, Jensen, as an actor, to play this character and have a giant element of that character – that chemistry – that I’ve played off with Sam – to have that taken away, it’s difficult.”
He then took a minute to set the record straight about something important to him, and we promised to help him do that right here. So, from Jensen himself without any misinterpretation (parenthetical emphasis added for clarity) —
“I’ll take the time here to put out something. Some bloggers came on the set and there was something on the internet saying that I was upset about the show, and I was like, (exasperated) really?? There were a few things in there that I did say, but if you could have seen my face and heard the tone, you would know that I’m not upset with my job – I’m very happy with my job, the show is going fine, Sera’s doing a great job. Poor Sera saw it and called me up and was like, are you really upset? — Stop reading that crap, no, I’m not! I had talked to her about how odd it is to play Dean (this season) because Dean doesn’t have that chemistry that he’s used to having (with Sam) – or I don’t, Jensen doesn’t – so Sera knew I was having some issues. It’s a little difficult figuring it out, but I’m working on it, it’s just more challenging. It’s just a different dynamic.”
(vague spoiler alert to follow) – He went on to say he hopes things get back to normal soon so season 6 can be the gravy train it was cracked up to be (lol) and not the season he and Jared have to work harder than ever! (And so the boys can rely on that chemistry that hooked us all on the show in the first place). We’re not explicitly sharing a spoiler here because – well, because we don’t want to spoil anything! – but what do you guys think is getting in the way of the boys’ famous chemistry? It can’t be soul – oops, we mean solely — the year of separation, right?
As long as we’re setting the record straight, another fan asked whether Jensen had really said that he thought season 6 Dean “read softer on the page.”
Jensen explained: “Well, Dean was being written in this domesticated life, going to work like a normal guy, in a relationship…so he does read differently, he’s not the hardassed hunter, he’s just a regular Joe. So for me, much like was asked about the dynamic with Sam (gestures to Lynn, who nods wisely like she always tried to do in class…), this was another sort of obstacle, to find a way to keep Dean (still) Dean in this different setting. I’m not used to reading Dean as a domesticated guy, not a womanizer or a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kinda guy. So I had to find a way to stay true to the Dean we all know and love, but stay true to the script too.”
We assured him that he’s doing a wonderful job.
Mark Sheppard (who we were very sorry to miss once again – damn academic conference!) had complimented Jensen’s directorial skills, calling him a natural, one fan told him. Jensen talked again about how much prep work he did, and how seriously he took the task.
Jensen: “I came at the project in a way I thought would make Kim Manners proud. I was so prepared, overprepared really. I’d spend all night going over the shots…. I was fortunate to have Jim (Beaver) and Mark (Sheppard). Those guys – everyone really – were so supportive. A lot of times when a director comes on set, he might say to the actors well, what do you think, and I’ll say well, I’ll probably do it like this, cross over here, whatever – it’s a collaborative effort. I, however, had a full shot list set up, but I never had to convince them. They were like ‘you tell us what you want us to do and we’ll do it.’ Jared and I try to do that for our directors too. “
Speaking of Jared, one fan noted that neither Jared nor Misha were in Jensen’s episode a great deal, and wondered if that was intentional when he was trying to decide which one to direct.
Jensen (laughing): “Oh, Jared and Misha both not in this episode? Yaa, I’ll take that one!”
Actually he didn’t hand pick the episode, but it sounds like a good one. The one thing he didn’t get to do was post production, since he had to immediately begin filming the next episode. He did all the prep, even had blueprints of all the sets laid out, and would make his alterations, but he didn’t get to go down to LA like the other directors do and sit in the editor’s chair and say here, this is the shot I want. Instead he worked with Anthony, apparently the best there is, and he put together the editor’s cut. Jensen then went through it frame by frame – play, pause, write notes, play, pause, write notes – and Anthony made the adjustments. We can’t wait for next week, to see how it all worked out!
The last time we sat in on a Q & A with J2, the boys were compared to Brad Pitt and George Clooney. This time it was Steve McQueen, according to Jensen’s My Bloody Valentine director. Does he find that flattering, worrisome, or inconsequential, a fan wanted to know.
“Well, it’s flattering,” Jensen said, then paused. “Until you read Steve McQueen’s bio and realize what a jerk he was.”
He was joking, but actually it turns out Mr. Ackles knows quite a bit about Mr. McQueen – probably the sort of things only another serious actor would notice. Apparently he would do things that weren’t scripted, that were just sort of out of left field, to draw attention to himself when someone else was onscreen with him. In the Supernaturally titled movie “Magnificent Seven”, for example, there’s a scene where Yul Brynner was talking, and McQueen takes off his hat and just starts doing something weird with it, and it was so compelling, it captured the viewer’s attention.
Hmm. Maybe McQueen really was a jerk!
Seriously though, Ackles is incredibly serious when talking about his craft. Acting or directing, Jensen?
Jensen: “I do like directing, but I feel like I’m always going to be more of an actor. It’s definitely something I want to explore, but acting is where I feel comfortable and confident.”
He went on to draw a distinction between being confident in yourself and your ability to work hard to get a job done, as opposed to the confidence that comes from really knowing what you’re doing, something gained over time. A few years ago, he did some local theater in a production of A Few Good Men, and had to draw on that confidence in himself to keep going.
Jensen: “I got there and started rehearsing, and I was like oh, this is a big mistake! Because I was just so out of my element. But I had confidence in myself, and I was like, you know what? I’ll buckle down and get this done.”
Would he direct again?
“I would do it again, but it’s a lot of work. But I probably did more than I really had to do, than most directors do, because they’re so good at it, they’re seasoned veterans. But I knew I had to do the extra mile to cover my butt, so I basically exhausted myself. If you’d asked me the day after, I would have said I’ll never do this again.”
He would also love to do more voiceover work, like his recent voicing of Red Hood. Interestingly, voiceover work is very different – you’re all alone in the studio, and they say, ‘go to line 338 and give us three readings…okay, now go to line 339…’ It was a challenge to really ‘get’ the scene, but Jensen enjoyed it. He shared that it’s something his dad has always done – Papa Ackles even has a studio in his house. He’s also excited to do the anime voiceovers with Jared, which hopefully they’ll get to record in studio together for the most part.
Acting, directing, stage, television, voiceover, anime – damn, we’re tired just thinking about it!
Moving right along to less serious topics to give ourselves a bit of a rest, it sounds like the upcoming Twilight spoof episode will be hysterical. Did the boys have to wear any glitter?
“No!” Jensen answered emphatically, then added “And if they do put any on us, I’ll be walkin’…”
Despite our certainty that a sparkly Dean and Sam would be as attractive as ever, Jensen assured us that it will be a very funny, if non-glittery, episode.
Some fans in the room were apparently big Dean/Lisa shippers, which Jensen also cocked an eyebrow at.
Jensen: “Really? That’s funny, because I assumed that it would get a negative reaction, because it’s taking Dean off the road…”
Fans not down with the D/L ship: (silently, of course) Hello? And away from Sam!
Everyone agreed that Cindy’s a good actress, which makes things more palatable no matter where one’s shipping preferences lie. And if we’ve questioned Lisa’s maternal judgment and role model choices a time or two, well, any one of us might make a few mistakes when someone like Dean Winchester shows up at your door. ‘Nuff said.
Jensen was also asked what board games or online games he liked to play, which he took as a handy dandy opportunity to get in some digs at Jared.
Jensen: “I’m gonna bust Jared out.”
(Evil) Fans: Do it!
Jensen: “Jared is so addicted to playing chess on his phone that he does it literally in between takes. We’ll do a take and they’ll say cut, back in one, and he’ll take his phone out and make a move, because he’s playing with other people, and I’m like dude, can you focus on the work? And he’s like, I am focused on the work! It’s distracting.”
As for Ackles, he might break out the Trivial Pursuit when he has some friends over. Favorite category?
Fans: (silently once again) Ooooh. Brainy.
Category he’s really good at? Entertainment.
Fans: (still silently) Ooooh. Umm….Just oooooh.
In the middle of the Q & A, a fan asked if Jensen could say hi to her best friend back home, who’s going through a hard time. Fan hands Jensen a cell phone and puts it on speaker.
Jensen: “Hey Coco, it’s Jensen Ackles.”
Jensen: “I’m being forced to talk to you right now.”
Coco: “Are you joking?? Are you – OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG….”
Jensen: “Are you all right? Are you sitting down?”
Coco: “OMG OMG OMG OMG….”
Jensen: “Well, I just wanted to say hi.”
Coco: “OMG OMG OMG OMG….”
Jensen (handing the phone back to the fan in the room): “You’re a good friend.”
When the powers that be signaled the end of the Q & A, Jensen laughed apologetically.
“I feel like I just rambled on for the last half hour – thanks for listening!”
Like we said, hardship. Serious hardship.