Why Supernatural’s Alpha Vamp Gets Under Our Skin: A Chat with Rick Worthy
The Supernatural Creation convention in New Jersey last month was a great place for more than one Interview With The Vampire. We caught up with the Alpha!Vamp himself, Rick Worthy, over a couple of root beers in the hotel bar. Rick turned the tables and did the first part of the interview himself.
Rick: So tell me about you….
Kathy: Umm. Well, we’re professors who research fandom. And big fans of Supernatural [note: this is an understatement]. We have a book on Supernatural called Fandom At The Crossroads – and we have a new one coming out in October.
Rick: Congrats! That’s very cool. What’s the new one called?
Rick: (grinning) I like the name!
Lynn and Kathy: (are beaming)
Rick: So I’m sitting here with some very smart people at this table.
Lynn and Kathy: (are now beaming rather stupidly, proving Rick very wrong…)
Rick: (laughs) I always said that I do one thing decently, and that’s acting.
Lynn: Well, you do that really well! But I’m pretty sure you have to be smart to be a good actor.
Rick: I think you do. I think there are a lot of people out there who act, but a few who take it as an art.
Lynn: When my son was acting as a kid, his manager told me that what she looks for is a kid who’s smart, because you have to be in order to be a good actor.
Rick: I think that’s a great piece of advice, and I think it’s true. You have to read the script, you have to understand what the character wants, and how to approach it. I do a great deal of homework before I portray any character. When I did the Alpha Vamp, I locked myself in my apartment for probably four days, with a minimal amount of contact with anyone. I had to read the script, I had to get on the plane to Vancouver within three days, so I was at home back in LA for 3 days reading, taking notes, doing a lot of research on vampires. And then when I got to Vancouver, I still wasn’t ready to actually say the words.
Lynn: You didn’t feel like you had a grasp of the character?
Rick: Not yet, no. I needed to get an understanding of where he was emotionally. When I get to an understanding of where the character is emotionally, the heart of that character – what their objective is – then I can start. I remember I landed in Canada, checked into the hotel, and it might have been 5 pm when I got in, and I put my cell phone on vibrate because I have a dog, and if there’s an emergency I need to know he’s okay, and I need to know my mom and dad are okay.
Lynn and Kathy: (silently) Awwwwww.
Rick: Then I ordered room service sent up to the room and studied for another 6 or 7 hours before I was really ready to say okay, I can start now. Thankgod with modern technology like smartphones, you can make a video on your camera now, so I recorded myself doing some lines and then I’d play it back. I probably did it 40 or 50 times, and then right around that 50th time, I was like all right, I think that’s in the right direction. Now I can go to work.
Lynn: Wow, that’s a lot of preparation.
Rick: It’s funny, because I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years and they’re like well, I haven’t really read the script yet, I’m just waiting for lightning to strike. And I’m like, you know what? That’s probably not the smartest thing to do.
No wonder the character got under our skin so much – Rick put so much into him!
Kathy: You mentioned the Alpha Vamp’s age. Is it harder to think about a character who’s thousands of years old, to get in touch with him emotionally? Your emotions would have evolved so much over that length of time.
Rick: (nodding) It’s kind of like Neil Armstrong, when he went to the moon. When he came back, he was deeply depressed, because he couldn’t relate to anyone anymore. He’d done something that no one else had done, he’d walked on the moon. I read an interview that he did and he said, I just locked myself in my house for weeks. I just couldn’t relate to anyone, how could I talk to anyone when I’d actually set foot on anther surface? The Alpha Vamp is a lot like that, in that he has seen and done things that no monster or human has seen or done. He’s the oldest monster that’s ever lived, and the most cunning. And the smartest – knowledgeable and wise and all these things. Sort of the Yoda of the monster world.
Lynn: He is. And he has no cohort. Everyone needs someone who’s like them, and he has no one.
Rick: Exactly. He has no one. And he’s sort of used to living this kind of lonely, solitary life, and even though he’s been doing it for thousands of years, with various people and others he’s turned into vampires around him, I’ve always thought that he was maybe a bit depressed and lonely and trying to find his own place in the world. It’s kinda like that song, what’s it called? “If God was one of us…”
At this point, we all burst into song. “What if God was one of us….just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home…” (I think the original song was ‘her’, but we adapted it. Good thing we were having lunch in a noisy bar, since Rick can most definitely sing, but us? Not so much.)
Rick: God would be lonely too, even with the whole universe, and I think the Alpha Vamp is still trying to find his way home as well. Which is why I need them to bring him back, so they can finish his story!
Lynn: You know, you’ve really invested in the character’s vulnerability, and I wonder if that’s why the fans have liked the character so much, because villains come and go, not everybody is latched onto. But from the first time your character was on, I was fascinated – he has that whole still waters run deep thing going on. And I think a lot of people reacted that way.
Rick: I think you’re right. It’s kinda like when someone gets the role of the bad guy, the villain, you don’t approach it as he’s the bad guy. Even Don Corleone, he doesn’t think of himself as a bad guy, he’s trying to take care of his family, and this is how he’s gonna do it. And I approach the Alpha Vamp that way as well. He’s evil like a scorpion is evil, he’s just naturally dangerous, if you will. This is who he is. And he doesn’t think of himself as a villain.
Lynn: And I think that comes through and then WE don’t think of him as just a villain. When you had that line last year of ‘see you next season’ I turned to my daughter and said with glee ‘OOOH, the alpha vamp is coming back!’
Rick laughed – which he does a lot. It’s thoroughly infectious, which resulted in our table making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun.
Lynn: Fans interpreted that line to mean that the Alpha Vamp really would be back next season – did you?
Rick: I sure as heck did! It was scripted, but – have you met Guy Bee yet?
Lynn and Kathy: (are nodding enthusiastically)
Rick: He’s a great guy. He’s like the one director who goes to conventions and does karaoke. He does “Dirty Deeds and They’re Done Dirt Cheap” and sings his ass off. He’s a fun guy to hang out with. He tried to find out how to say that line, because I read the script and said, we’re totally breaking the fourth wall by saying this, and I don’t mind doing it – I don’t mind breaking through the tv screen and saying that to the viewers if it’s gonna bring me back!
Lynn: After all, SPN does that all the time.
Rick: I know, that’s what I love about the show, they do stuff like Mystery Spot and the Japanese game show, and I so enjoy those. So I was trying to find out a legitimate way to say that line without losing the character and becoming Rick, and having it sound like, well I need a job, so –
(more laughter – and our sweet potato fries arrived, which resulted in no interviewing and lots of ohmygodtheseareincredible exhortations)
Rick: We’re easy.
Lynn and Kathy: So true.
Rick: (picking up the interview while Lynn and Kathy are still distracted by the delicious fries) So we were filming and — I love Guy so much, I wish he was here – I said, ‘Guy, I wanna say the line as it’s written, ‘See you next season’ – but let’s try an alternate version where I say, ‘See you soon.’ Like, let’s not give it away, and we’ll leave it up to the producers which version they want to use. So we did two takes and he said I like them both, so it’s up to the network. And the network chose ‘See you next season.’ So we’re back in LA, and I’m waiting for them to call me! And in the meantime, Vampire Diaries called and I got offered the job to go to Mystic Falls.
Lynn: That is a great role….but it’s not the Alpha Vamp….
Rick: (nodding) It’s not the Alpha Vamp!
Kathy: I get the idea that you’d like to come back and tie things up with Benny.
Rick: I would. So I get home, and I’m watching Supernatural, and I’ve worked with Ty, we worked together on a miniseries 8 years ago called Fallen. We only had one scene together, but he was in it quite a bit, he played a bad guy who was hunting down angels. And to make a long story short, for weeks I’m waiting for my phone to ring saying ‘they’re ready to have you back’, and the phone never rang. I really like Benny a lot, he’s a great character, the whole New Orleans Southern thing is perfect.
Lynn: And Ty plays him with that vulnerability too.
Rick: He does, yes. So I still hope they bring me back. If they don’t do it, I think it will be a shame. Tweet hashtag #Bennycomehome, that’s my whole thing, because there needs to be a reconciliation. The proper word is reconciliation between him and Benny.
Lynn: And they’re both still there, with Benny now back in Purgatory.
(Are you listening, network reps?? Bring back Benny and the Alpha Vamp!!!) It’s obvious how well all of the actors get along – check out their onstage reunion at NJCon —
Kathy: So how did you get your start in acting?
Rick: I was a dancer first back in the 80s.
Lynn: No wonder you can dance like that at karaoke!
Rick: I was a dancer, back when Michael Jackson was doing the moonwalk and all that, my brother and I formed our own break dance company, and we taught ourselves to dance, spin on our heads, that kind of stuff, we were break dancers traveling around in different talent shows. And it all culminated with us appearing on a dance show called Dance Fever with Denny Terrio. By the time we did it, Terrio had left the show, like 1985. I had just graduated high school and was a freshman in college, and the summer between high school and college we competed to get on the show, and we got on and they flew us to Hollywood.
Lynn: So cool!
Rick: Yeah, it was one of the coolest things that my brother and I did. So we got on Dance Fever, and I humbly say this, but I thought we were great.
Kathy: You’re still pretty good.
Rick: Back then I was doing things I can’t do now, but we lost the competition to another couple, and you know, I think we should’ve won, my mom thinks we should’ve won (laughing), but it kinda put the bug in me to be performing. We came back home to Detroit, and I wanted to continue, so I started acting. I auditioned for plays, and for a tv show that came to Michigan, and I auditioned and got it right off the bat. I was horrible in it, but it got me started.
Lynn: You couldn’t have been that horrible or they wouldn’t have given it to you.
Rick: I guess, I guess. I was the physical type they were looking for. Everyone has a learning curve, but that got me started. When I went back to college that fall, I started doing theater. So I became a stage actor, and when I finished college, my dream was to go to NY and be an actor there, but my brother and his wife were living on the north side of Chicago, and my brother said you should come live with us and see if you like Chicago, there’s a lot of actors here, so I did and that’s how I got started.
Kathy: So there’s a big acting scene in Chicago?
Rick: There is, and in Philly and Seattle, a lot of terrific regional theater happening all across the country. There’s Second City in Chicago, and of course Steppenwolf theater, you’ve got John Malkovich, Joan Allen, William Peterson from CSI started in Chicago. Plus I could afford the rent, so I ended up there — I was so poor, I had no money. After a few years, you make a decision about whether you want to stay in LA or go to Chicago, so I went to LA. People have asked me, what’s the difference as an actor living in LA or living in Chicago, and I’m like, the only difference is 2,222 miles, that’s it. It’s the same process, it’s just bigger. It’s a bigger pie, and it’s big enough for everyone to get a piece of it.
Lynn: Though of course not everyone gets a piece of it. When my son was acting, it traumatized me to hear some of the hurtful things that were said to him at auditions. Your ears are too big, you have no eyebrows – he was a kid!
Rick: I know, I know. If my mom had been at some of my first auditions sitting there next to me, she would’ve punched someone in casting – it’s like, that’s my baby! The first casting director I met, and to be fair it’s very rare that this happens, but I’m sitting there auditioning for this tv show, and she’s reading lines and I’m reading lines, and then she’s just staring at me, like looking at my face, just scrutinizing. And I was like, okay, maybe I have a few bumps, a few scars, but I was like, I can do the character!
We told Rick about Chad Lindberg’s experience, chronicled in the hard-hitting documentary film My Big Break, and his struggle to come to terms with what The Powers That Be thought he should look like to be ‘a leading man’.
Rick: Oh, it’s horrible. It’s definitely something that you have to fight.
Acting isn’t an easy profession, certainly not from a psychological standpoint. As Rick pointed out the next day when we were chatting with him and Ty Olsson, unemployment comes with the territory.
Rick: We’re more unemployed than employed.
We’re hoping Rick ends up with lots more employment opportunities in the near future – and that one of them is returning to Supernatural as the Alpha Vamp!
Before we ended the interview and Rick went back to work, we took a few photos. For the first one, Rick automatically posed with his arm around Lynn.
Lynn: (shrieking unattractively) No no, I don’t wanna be in the picture! We try never to be in pictures!
Rick: (using his Alpha Vamp voice, which? NO FAIR!) You will now, darling, you will now.
Lynn: (shivering – which results in a great photo of Rick, and Lynn looking…. Well, shivery.)
We gave Rick one of our promotional “Fangasm!” buttons, which he immediately put on his shirt, thereby making us very happy indeed. What a great guy! Seriously, in six years of writing about this Show, everyone we’ve interviewed has been amazing – smart, thoughtful, creative, and wonderfully candid. We’re grateful every day that this is the Show we fell for. And now that we’ve had two Interviews With The Vampire(s), we want nothing more than to see Benny meet up with the Alpha Vamp on Season 9 of SPN – so both of them can feel a little less lonely. Remember to tweet #Bennycomehome to make it happen!
Stay tuned for more interviews from NJCon and some book news and giveaways as we all do what we can to survive Hellatus…