Jensen Ackles at Vancon: Why Dean Makes Him (and us!) Happy
We had the pleasure of catching up with Jensen Ackles at his Q & A at the Vancouver Supernatural convention yesterday. The convention was one of the best we’ve attended, both fans and guests comfortable enough with each other to kick back and let loose. More on that in our next blog post, including the wild and crazy karaoke, which we couldn’t bear to leave before it was officially over, even though we’d had about an hour of sleep the night before. It was worth it!
The small group of fans at the Q & A was more laid back than usual too – in fact, when Jensen came in and said “What’s new?” he had to prod us into giving him a bit of a run down of what had been happening at the con, and then invite questions with a sincere “I’m at your disposal.”
Never one to turn down such an invitation, we asked how Jensen’s perception of fans had changed since we first interviewed him for our book back in December of 2008. At that time, we talked at length about fans’ perception of Jensen and his view of fans, and how those expectations don’t always reflect reality on either side. Had his perception changed over the past almost three years, and was anything about that evolution surprising?
Jensen: I think just the relationships that have formed. I come here now and it’s like “Hey, good to see you again”, there are all these familiar faces – and that wasn’t something I necessarily expected, and it’s a very happy result of this. On a lot of movies or shows, you don’t get this kind of consistent interaction. So I think the fact that I get to see all you people five or six times a year is a really unique thing. I think with that comes a degree of comfort.
It seemed Jensen was reading our minds, since we’d just been writing about the uniquely reciprocal relationship between fans and the creative side of Supernatural. When we think back to the first conventions in 2007, neither side was particularly comfortable. Fans were nervous; so were actors. No one knew quite where the boundaries were, and both sides worried about inadvertently crossing them. The level of comfort and familiarity now is striking – apparently both to us and to Jensen.
Some of our fellow fans came up to Vancouver early and trekked out to a location filming earlier this week. They stood for two entire days watching the boys and the Impala and some pretty exciting guest stars whose names we won’t divulge for the spoiler-phobes out there. At the end of the second day, director Phil Sgriccia said to the cast and crew, “Let’s turn the cameras on the fans!” And that’s exactly what they did, incorporating the real fandom right into the gag reel. The cast and crew applauded the fans; fans applauded back. Reciprocal relationship? Sure sounds like it.
The Q & A went on with a question that was right up Jensen’s alley: What are your favorite old western movies?
Jensen said he liked Hang ‘Em High and Appaloosa, because of the two main characters. One of his favorites is Once Upon a Time In the West, especially the scene where Charles Bronson is cornered by three horsemen. A train comes by and stops, and nobody gets off, and then when it moves off screen, there’s Bronson, and three guys on horses who’ve come to get him.
Horseman: “Looks like we didn’t bring you a horse.”
Bronson – okay, Jensen, doing his best Charles Bronson: “Looks like you brought two too many” – and then he’s like Boom Boom Boom! And it’s awesome.
The impromptu rendition certainly was!
While Jensen took a quick break for eyedrops (“Don’t want you to think I’m doing drugs….”), a fan said “This is a random question….”
There was a time when such an ominous preface would have made a guest look nervous, but Jensen gestured her on.
Fan: Why are you carrying an offensive weapon in your pocket?
(It should be noted that this is only a random question if you didn’t see Jensen suddenly whip out a rather substantial pocket knife in the middle of the breakfast stage appearance with Jared that morning, to the surprise of the audience. It was a bit like watching Jensen morph into a very badass Dean unexpectedly. Frankly, we weren’t complaining.)
Jensen explained that his granddad and his dad always carried a pocket knife, and that as a kid he had fond memories of looking up at his granddad at holidays and Christmas, and his granddad would hand the knife down to Jensen to open boxes, so he started carrying a Swiss army knife too. “A man always has a knife on him,” his granddad would say. Alas, airline regulations forced Jensen to give up on carrying Swiss army knives in his pocket when he started flying so much — so he just started stashing them everywhere instead — in LA, in Dallas, in Vancouver.
Jensen *grin*: And they got a little bigger….
Fans: *grin back*
Jensen: In fact, this one’s similar to the one that Dean carries on the show – it’s the same brand, a Kershaw. It’s a guy thing, Clif has one, Jared has one, and it’s not really for protection, but you’d be surprised how useful they can be. You know, I use it to open things . . .
Fans: *nodding far too seriously*
Jensen: . . . to get things out of my teeth . . .
The next question, though, actually was more serious. A fan asked what he was proud of, when he thought about his second time directing an episode of SPN.
Jensen: I was proud of – and this might sound weird – of my time management.
He explained that he had managed to get a few shooting days finished in under 12 hours, which for a television show is a rarity. As he has so many times before, Jensen talked about the significant influence that Kim Manners has had in his life, including his directing. The reverence with which Jensen and everyone else on the show speak about Kim never fails to bring tears to our eyes.
Jensen: Kim always said, if a director comes on and they shoot from every angle, they’re not directing – they’re guessing. They’re just hoping they get what they need. Kim knew every shot he cut together in his head. A camera operator or someone would sometimes say, “Do you wannna just take this shot tight now?” and Kim would go, “No – they’d be expecting that.” He was always prepared, and he inspired me to be prepared, to do my homework. If a shoot goes over, it costs the studio money, and studios don’t like to lose money.
Apparently WB exec Peter Roth phoned after Jensen’s second directorial stint, saying he was just calling to pat him on the back. Not too shabby!
So, speaking of directing…
Fan: Which will you focus on then, directing or acting?
Jensen: (without skipping a beat): Acting.
Another fan, overcome with curiosity: Because??
Jensen: Because I’m still new at it, I still get the jitters. And I have a crew who I know and trust thoroughly that surrounds me, they’ll do anything they can to help me, and that’s rare. If I was asked to direct an episode of Fringe, I’d freak. But if they asked me to guest star, I’d be like “Sweet!”
It’s clear that Ackles prefers the creative side.
Jensen: With actors, there’s a unique sensation, when a director calls “action,” it’s like in the movie For the Love of the Game, when the crowd just goes quiet, and it’s like, ‘clear the mechanism.’ I’m not thinking about anything else, just working with the other actor and being in the moment. And it’s really cool, I enjoy it. So I guess it’s good I do what I do for a living.
When asked if he’d thought about producing, Jensen said he didn’t have much desire to be a “situational problem solver,” that he loves the creative problem solving side instead. Like how can we tell this story the best way we can? How can we compose this shot? How do I motivate this actor to get him over there, in a way that makes sense to the audience? He added that Jared actually was much more of a technical problem solver, and would probably be a great producer.
As most fans know, Jensen struggled with his character’s storyline on Season 6, and came close to succumbing to burnout in the first half of the Sam-centric but Dean-heavy storyline. So when a fan asked what his favorite scene in S6 was, he groaned and said, “I just knew I was gonna get asked about Season 6!” He reiterated his struggle with the first half of the season, when the story was about Sam, without much real exploration of Dean’s character, yet told from Dean’s perspective, so Jensen was always working.
Jensen: So when Sam finally got his soul back? THAT was my favorite episode. I could get back to being Dean, with Sam and Dean.
Fans seemed to concur. And hey, that was one epic hug – almost worth waiting all that time for!
One of the more interesting questions was about how easy it is after seven seasons to “put Dean on in the morning and take him off at night”. Is it harder after all this time to let the character go?
Jensen: Actually it’s easier, which might be surprising. The longer I’ve played Dean, the more of a character he’s become. When I look at Season 1 and 2, I can see Jensen being Dean, whereas now when I watch Season 5 or 6, it’s just Dean. That toggle switch has become very easy to use.
Fan: Do you ever find yourself thinking oh, that thing I did just seemed like Dean?
Jensen (laughing): No, but Danneel does. She’ll say “You sounded just like Dean just then,” and I’ll be like, “Did I?” So it might be a bit of an unconscious thing. If I had to play an awful character, it might be different – but I like Dean as a character. I love playing him. I get to explore emotions with him, and humor with him. Dean makes me happy – so if I have to be him all day, it doesn’t change me.
Fans: Dean makes us happy too!
Ackles also gave us some insight into the mini backpack cameras they now use to get difficult shots, noting that before they had them, photographer Brad was sometimes crouching in the trunk of the impala with a full film camera, shooting up at Jensen and Jared. (This is not a crew who isn’t willing to do what it takes to get the job done, that’s for sure.) Jensen used some of the backpack camera shots for the episode he just directed.
Shortest Q & A exchange of the afternoon:
Fan: Will you sing again?
Jensen: No. Only on my couch.
Entire room: (silently) WAHHH!
Another interesting question was about the fight scenes that Ackles has had with his costar. Is it difficult to have such violent fight scenes with a good friend, like the one at the end of “Swan Song”?
Jensen: No, I prefer to have fight scenes with Jared, because I know he’s so good at it. He and I have been doing this so long, and this is gonna sound (like we’re) gay, but it’s like a dance partner, if you dance with that partner long enough you just know how to go along with their moves, and it’s kinda the same stage fighting with him. He sets himself this way, I’m prepared to take the hit this way, so it’s really more a dance. We prefer to work with each other because it’s so easy between the two of us.
Jensen then increased the ‘awww’ factor by sharing that he got a call from his brother after the scene where “Jared was beating the piss outta me” aired.
Jensen: My brother called and was like, I’ve never gotten emotional with your show, and I was like, “Were you crying?” and he said no, I wanted to jump in the tv and help you. And I was like, “Okay, now I’m crying!”
Jensen: And it’s a testament to Jared and how good he is.
Fans: Even MORE ‘awwww’
Jensen shared an amusing story from the meta episode, “The French Mistake”, saying he was glad he didn’t actually have to play himself, but could stay in character as Dean being mistaken for Jensen. When he saw the set trailer, he was like, “I want a trailer like this!” Then he spotted the helicopter, and was just reaching out to touch it when he was unceremoniously slapped on the hand and given strict instructions not to touch the $10,000 “toy”. We’re not sure he’s entirely over it yet.
The last question of the afternoon was, fittingly, about Jensen’s future plans. Any movies?
He answered no, but added that the desire was there, and that while he felt it was a bit weird to say it out loud, some film producers were aware of him. He had a meeting with Michael Bay’s company, and was assuming that of course he’d have to explain to them who the hell he was. Instead, when he walked in they all said “Hey congratulations, we love your show!”
Fans: Obviously producers with good taste.
So when Supernatural does end (which won’t be for a very long time….right??) there are people who are interested. As Supernatural and film producer McGee told Jensen, “You keep riding that wave, and as soon as it dissipates, I’ve got your back.”
Jensen: Hopefully it’s not just a bunch of industry bullshit.
Seems like the new CW president is actually a fan of the show and knows who its actors are, in stark contrast to the previous regime, so that bodes well. There are no guarantees, of course, but everyone seems to be anticipating a Season 8 – or at least hoping for it.
As Max the always empathic Creation volunteer had the thankless task of calling time on the Q & A, Jensen turned back to the room on his way out, and added a few thoughts of his own, with obvious emotion.
Jensen: I know I probably don’t say it enough, but it’s getting this kind of passionate feedback from people who are really interested in the Show and what we do . . . It’s very gratifying, and really means a lot. So thank you.
Supernatural and its fans: Reciprocal relationship? We think so. In fact, we’ve written two whole books about it. And we’re ridiculously excited to announce that our first book on Supernatural and its fans, Stalking Fandom, will be published in early 2012.
Stalking Fandom is all about the reciprocal relationship Jensen referred to – so we talked to both sides. Many of you have contributed your fannish insights and passionate feedback, and Supernatural’s showrunners and writers and actors have contributed their thoughtful insights about what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence. We hope you guys will find the view from both sides as interesting as we have — and enjoy the incredible photographs of Jared, Jensen and the rest of the gang as much as we do. Let us know!
More from Vancon to come…..