Jensen Ackles’ meet and greet started out a bit strangely. For some reason, they set up two high chairs for Jensen instead of the customary one. Jensen came in, cocked an eyebrow, then attempted to straddle them both, much to the amusement of the gathered fans. He then gave up and scoffed.
Jensen: Umm, I’m not *that* fat!
Fans: Umm, no…. From where we’re sitting, everything looks pretty much perfect.
After removing one chair, he kicked off the Q and A with a story.
Jensen: So, Jared and I have been known to put back a few cocktails in our time. We had one last night –we went to this place because we’d read about a cocktail that they made there, and it’s $45, for one drink. So of course Jared and I are like, we’ve gotta go see what this is about! So after dinner at Boca, a great Italian place, we went over there and we step up to the bar and we’re like ok, what’s the deal? And the guy’s like, it’s pretty amazing. And we’re like, really?? $45?? So we ordered two of ‘em, and we didn’t know… (chuckles). So it comes out – it takes like ten minutes to prepare – and it’s like a manhattan, vermouth and bourbon and bitters, but it’s their take on it so they have all these other ingredients they put in it. It comes out and it’s sitting on an iron pedestal – with a glass jar on top of it, so the whole thing stands like this big off the bar.
(At that he jumps up to demonstrate that it stands freaking two feet tall or something – who can tell when you’re watching Jensen leaping around??)
Jensen: And the glass jar is completely filled with smoke. There are hickory chips inside that are smoking – the cocktail is on top of this bed of smoldering wood that’s filling up this jar and smoking up the drink. So now the entire bar smells like a campfire. We’ve got four ladies at the other end of the bar going like choking – and we take the jar off and it’s like David Copperfield with all the smoke. And I will say that it was probably the best drink I’ve ever had. Though I don’t know if it was worth 45 bucks! Anyway, I just had to tell someone about that.
Fans: Feel free to tell us anything….
Jensen: So, any questions?
Lynn: (who was just about jumping out of her seat dying to ask this one….) Fans were sort of surprised that Sam didn’t look for Dean a little harder – and it seemed like you played Dean as if he was also kinda hurt and miffed. What is your take – how is Dean making sense of that?
Jensen: He’s not, and you’ll see him struggle. It will unfold in the next few episodes, we’ll start showing it, giving the audience a little more insight into what happened to Sam and what happened to Dean when they were separated, through flashbacks. So it starts to kinda show you what he was doing but it doesn’t really explain why, and I think that will be a big thing that gets revealed eventually. And they fight about it. Dean’s very upset about it. He’s like, how the hell can you have gone a year and not tried to find me?
Lynn: (practically bouncing out of her chair) Yes! Exactly!!
Jensen: So we’re now filming episode 8, and it hasn’t fully been revealed yet, and it’s added to their struggle, amongst other struggles that they’re going through. Benny being one of them.
Lynn: Oooh, great character!
Jensen: Benny is a great character, and you’ll see more of Ty in future episodes. He’s a great actor, he instantly became part of the family. But the relationship that Benny and Dean forged in Purgatory has now made it topside, and Sam doesn’t understand why. It’s always been very cut and dried for Dean, black and white. So you’ll see that struggle, both Dean struggling with it, and also Sam saying ‘look man, if you’re not gonna take him out, maybe I will.’ And Dean doesn’t want that. He’s protected Benny and Benny has protected Dean, and there’s some really tough lines that Dean says about this situation.
Lynn: Sounds juicy.
Jensen: (grins) It is.
Fan: So how was directing again?
Jensen: It seems to be increasingly difficult, and I think maybe that’s because ignorance is bliss the first time. The more I do it, the more I understand it, the more I know, the more things I have to think about. It’s not like I just went in shooting from the hip for the first one, I knew what I was doing, but there are so many intracacies to directing. It really is an art form, and to find the artistic value in it is unique to everyone. I’m still finding that, as opposed to doing it as a formula that I’ve used in the past. The more I do it, the more I realize there’s so much between the lines, adding to the complexity.
Fan: So you’re developing your own style?
Jensen: Absolutely. It’s the same as when I started acting. I knew I’m supposed to memorize these lines and sell them on camera. And the more I did it, the more I realized that it was also what was happening in between the lines, the moment when I wasn’t talking, is important.
Fan: So you’ll do it again?
Jensen: Yeah – if they let me. I always say, if they let me.
Fan: Last convention, someone asked if Dean was a real person, would you get along with him. And I don’t know if you were joking, but you said no.
Jensen: (deadpans) I was joking.
Fans: (are laughing. And possibly relieved)
Jensen: Because I think I would get along with Dean. He reminds me not of one friend in particular, but of friends that I have in my life and love. I think I made Dean out of a collection of people that I know. And then he just kinda took off with a life of his own. I think we’d be friends, I mean, the guy drives an awesome car….His brother’s a little weird, but…
Marilyn: What is Dean’s most attractive asset?
Other fans: (silently) Oh, let’s list them, shall we? Oh wait, G-rating here, isn’t it?
Fan: His leather jacket?
Jensen: Not anymore! First one was stolen, and the second one got beat to hell in Purgatory. Dean I think moved on. But I’d say his loyalty is, it’s one of the biggest things Dean has that he can’t shake no matter what. Whatever he’s going through, there’s a sense of loyalty. Right or wrong, he’s gonna be loyal to the people he made promises to. And I think that’s an admirable quality. But I also like that he’s flawed, I like him better because he’s not perfect. He can be a jerk, he can be short-sighted, and hard-headed. People aren’t perfect, and to have a perfect character doesn’t make sense. I’ve always gravitated toward the flawed characters, the reluctant heroes.
Fans: *are nodding*
Fan: When you first saw the script for Supernatural, what did you think of it? Did you ever see it getting a successful as it is now?
Jensen: I knew it was special. I remember reading it and thinking, this has got a shot at being successful. I originally had to read for Sam because they wanted to cast Sam first, he was going to be the focal point, the Luke Skywalker character, so they wanted to cast him first before they found Dean. And after reading the script, I just immediately gravitated toward Dean. I hope that videotape of me reading for Sam never comes out – it’s out there somewhere.
Fans: (silently) Note to self: scour Youtube.
Jensen: But as soon as I read for Kripke and David Nutter, I asked if there was any way I could read for Dean, and David said that’s very funny, because while I was reading for Sam, Eric leaned over and was like, (whisper) he’d be a better Dean. So I never even read for Dean until the final test, which is the last stage of the audition process. They bring you in for the network people, in a room twice this size with 30 execs and you audition for them. And Jared and I were the only actors that day – usually there are about ten – I read Dean, he read Sam, and they sent us out of the room, talked for about five minutes, then brought us back in and were like, (claps) congratulations! So initially the relationship between the brothers I thought is the crux of the show, what it all revolved around. I knew that if that relationship worked on camera, the Show was going to work.
Fans: And damn, you were right!
Next was a burning question we’ve all asked ourselves when watching SPN.
Fan: How do you do that one perfect tear?
Jensen: The OPT?
Fans: (are impressed with his knowledge of fannish parlance)
Jensen: I don’t know! I wish there was a button, but there is not. It’s honestly, when I’m doing scenes like that, I’m really into them, I’m using as much real emotion as I can possibly muster. I’m thinking about the situation that Dean is in and putting myself in that situation. I treat it as reality when they yell action, and because of that it makes it easy to get the emotion. It’s weird because for the longest time I could never do that on camera. I guess I figured the trick to it was – you know, when you’re about to cry, your face heats up, your heart rate goes up, your body starts to react to this emotion that’s gonna make you cry. And your brain knows it’s not real, but your body is reacting to real emotion. I remember whenever there was a scene I thought I needed to cry for, I would get that feeling and I’d think c’mon, just squeeze one out! And it didn’t work. And I remember one time I started getting really emotional during a scene where I didn’t want to cry, and I tried to not cry, and boom!
Jensen mock cries. Fangirls go boom.
Jensen: So I think it’s one of those things, when you get emotional, you try to hold it in and you can’t – that’s how it happens. I don’t know if any of that made sense.
Fans: Actually it made perfect sense.
Jensen: Sometimes when I’ve had a really heavy emotional scene, when there’s tears coming down my face, they yell cut and I have to take a walk. I’m like (sobs and sort of hyperventilates again).
Fans: Umm, we could console you if you want….
Jensen: Your body doesn’t know it’s not real, and it’s hard to wipe it off. I remember one time it was a scene when Dean was telling Sam what 40 years of hell was like, and I got so emotional that I had to walk away. And J. Miller Tobin was directing, and he caught up with me about a hundred yards down the road and I was still in tears and he just wrapped his arms around me and gave me a hug, and I was like, thanks man. It’s tough, and it’s amazing, I remember those scenes. We’ve done 158 episodes and I don’t remember all of them, jokes etc, but those emotional scenes have left imprints on me.
Marilyn: In your eight years, what is your special moment?
Jensen: Well, off the show, I’d say getting married.
Fans: Good boy.
Jensen: (mimes speaking into a hidden microphone) Is this thing on?
Jensen: On the show, I think there are certain moments that really stand out. One of them was AHBL1, where Dean is talking over dead!Sam. I remember that scene very vividly, because it was a very emotional scene. I went to Kim Manners, who was directing that episode, who we lost a few years ago, and that was part of why it was so memorable for me, there was such an intimacy between myself and Kim filming that scene. I was really the only one performing, because Jared was just laying there like a lump.
Jensen: And I do remember, one of the takes that I did, Jared rolled a tear out while he was laying there, so I knew I was on the right track.
Fans: Awwwwww *sniffle*
Jensen: I remember going up to Kim at his office and saying hey man, this scene, I don’t know how many takes I have in me. I want to know what you’re thinking camera wise, because it’s gonna be tough to get through. So he wrote it all down that night and I would only have to do it three or four times, and I thought, okay, I can do that. And he tented off the whole set – we were on the stage, but a lot of the time you’ve got 30 sweaty crew guys staring at you, and the camera guys, but he tarped off the set so I could barely even see the camera. He set the camera up about 15 feet away, whereas normally it’s like right here, and there was a black backdrop and all the camera guys put black shirts on, so they basically disappeared into the black, so I literally felt like I was sitting there alone in a room with Jared. And there was just something very unique about that experience.
There was literally a moment of silence after that, with Jensen and all of us remembering both the gravity and despair of that scene, and the very real loss of the Show’s – and fandom’s – beloved Kim Manners. Finally someone broke the silence….
Fan: So about that amulet….
Jensen: You know, there’s the politically correct answer that Sam could’ve picked it up out of the garbage can and we’re waiting for it to return.
Jensen: And then there’s the what you don’t wanna hear, which is the writers got sick of it. But they did make it available to return if they needed that to happen. I think Bob Singer was like so sick of trying to explain why it was, where it came from, what its powers were, it became too much of burden. They said let’s shelve it for a while, and if we need it we can bring it back
Fans: (emphatically) We need it.
Jensen: That’s kind of the unfortunate collateral damage of doing a 42 minute show. Characters get shelved, plots get shelved. If it was a two hour show, we’d have more time to explain things and flesh out characters and storylines. But I agree, I think there’s room for it to come back.
And since we were in Canada….
Canadian fan: Where have you been in Canada?
Jensen: Not that many places – obviously we shoot in Vancouver, and here, I love Toronto. Calgary once, but I don’t remember it. I’d really like to go to Montreal.
Fan: That’s what Jared said too!
Jensen: And this might sound weird, but I’d also like to go to Nova Scotia, the coast over there, Newfoundland, yeah. All of Canada – even Thunder Bay. My buddy Kevin Durand, who played Joshua in Dark Angel, he’s gone on to have a really successful career and he’s a lovely man, and he’s from Thunder Bay.
Fan: So I’ve seen a lot of videos of you singing….
Jensen: (protests) What? There’s ONE!
Fan: Okay, one.
Jensen: Unless there’s like a karaoke thing out there.
Fans: (additional note to self to keep scouring Youtube)
Jensen: That wasn’t my idea.
Fan: But you like to sing?
Jensen: As much as the next person – in the shower, whatever….
Fans: (zone out imagining….) Um, what?
Jensen: I do love music, I play guitar a little, but it’s more just for myself. When I get home from a long day, it’s very relaxing to sit down and pluck a guitar and sing a little ditty, just kinda get lost – it’s probably healthier than just hitting the bottle, which some people in the industry do. And I have musician friends who probably pull it out of me a little more than otherwise. If I didn’t have Steve and Jason in my life, you probably would have never heard me sing.
Fans: (sending thank you notes to Steve and Jason)
Fan: Like all great actors, you fill the space that you occupy even when you’re not speaking, the emotions that cross your face, the little gestures, it’s mesmerizing…
Jensen (cracks up) Like staring into the sun….
Fans: (are cracking up and TOTALLY agreeing….)
Jensen: The editors have thanked me for that, for ‘not turning it off’ as they call it. To me it makes sense, because when you’re shooting a scene, there are different camera setups – but I figure, if I’m on camera, I might as well do something. If it’s over my shoulder on your coverage, I’m asleep. But when the camera is over your shoulder looking at me, yeah, I’m gonna react and I know that the editor is gonna be on you when you’re talking, but I know if there needs to be a reaction of something they can cut away to it. It’s something I never realized until about season four, how clear my mind gets when I hear ‘action’. I don’t think about anything else. Not troubles in the world, not injuries I might have, it just all gets blurred out and I’m extremely focused on playing Dean, and making Dean as much into this moment as I can. I think the little nuances and stuff in between lines goes along with that.
He paused, and smiled.
Jensen: And thanks for noticing.
Sole male fan in the room: My sister and I watch tv, and we find that when we see actors in other series, they’re not as good as they are on Supernatural. Is that something that’s sort of infectious?
Jensen: It can be. Jared and I hear it a lot, when guest stars come on, that this is funnest set they’ve ever been on. It’s relaxed, and I’m not saying that’s the reason, but there’s a comfort to our set that people don’t have to worry whether they’re going to offend the lead actor. I’ve been on sets where it’s very stiff. A lot of that is the top down. If the lead actor is – pardon my French – an asshole, then that’s gonna be infectious, everyone will be walking on eggshells. Actors will come in and won’t want to get too comfortable, just do the job, and that makes for a very rigid performance in my opinion. If you can have a relaxed comfortable work environment, that sets a palette for being able to shine. And I think that Jared and I – we talked about it in Season 1 – that if this continues, it’s important that we set like a tone on this show that’s fun, exciting, comfortable – because there’s 150 people here who we work with every day. Why make it miserable for everyone? And there were a couple of bad apples on the crew early on that they got rid of. We spend way too much time together not to get along. So that might have something to do with it.
It might indeed. And with that, Jensen was thanking us and heading out to his next event. We caught up with him later and thanked him for his thoughtful answers. He grinned.
Jensen: This is FUN. I should thank you guys!
Stay tuned for more from TorCon!