Supernatural’s Emily Perkins Gets Real – About Actors, Objectification, Jared and Jensen
Part 2 of our conversation with Emily Perkins, aka Becky the Fangirl in multiple episodes of Supernatural. Emily shares some thoughtful insights about what it’s like to be an actor and working with Jared and Jensen. See previous post for Part 1!
Lynn: So we were talking about Becky putting herself down, and you said in your Q & A that you’ve also played the “ugly stepsister”. But you’re a very attractive person!
Emily: I get calls for like “not necessarily attractive” or “unattractive.”
Lynn: If that’s the definition of unattractive, this is saying something really horrible about our culture.
Emily: Male dominated, right? It’s a very narrow definition of beauty, and everyone knows it, but no one’s willing to challenge it. I do think some shows now are more character driven, people have different kinds of looks. And in the UK too, there are lots of older female actresses, but Canada is different because we have the US and Hollywood as our neighbor, and we’re always trying to attract them. So the casting directors – I worked as a casting assistant where I would read opposite actors auditioning for roles – there’s this huge pressure to show that we have actors that look like they’re from LA with the bleached blonde hair and the big boobs and the no hips at all – so it’s almost harder in Canada to get an audition if you don’t fit that narrow definition of beauty than in LA. In LA there’d be more opportunity for someone like me who’s more of a character actor.
Kathy: When we spoke to Samantha Ferris, she was talking about being considered too old for some parts and feeling like “the big one”, when she’s like a size 4 or something!
Emily: You have to have that certain body, like a teenage girl. The casting director will say they look too old even if they’re like 16 and it’s because they have hips. That’s code for you have hips. You’re not allowed to have hips.
Lynn: Even though it’s developmentally appropriate for women to have hips! In that last scene with Becky, there was a self-disparaging line that she said, and I just thought, WHAT? Look at her, she’s beautiful! Why can’t we acknowledge that?
Kathy: For me, it was that you were given that line, and should we really be giving any woman that line? We’re creating this scenario where women are criticizing their own appearance in ways that are damaging. Of course I’m a loser if I’m not the Hollywood ideal — what kind of message is that?
Emily: I don’t know any actresses – or actors too – who don’t have some kind of insecurity. Young guys are like, is my hair receding, or they worry about their ears, or who knows what. Actors are the most insecure people. In some ways, I’ve had to do what you guys do, intellectualize a bit more. I have that level of detachment for sure, but I also try to find those roles where I don’t have that shame.
Lynn: I think Becky needs to come back and be kickass again.
Emily: I’ve thought about how she could potentially re-enter the show.
Lynn: She’s still alive, and she’s still a Supernatural fan, so…
Kathy: I still think she should be with Garth and part of the hunting life. Maybe Garth ignored the advice and said screw you to the Winchesters.
Lynn: I think even the fans who were unhappy with your character might like to see her redeemed.
Emily: And I guess that a controversial character isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not bad to have people not liking you, because it actually generates discussion and interest. So that’s a positive in itself.
Lynn: Not many people were neutral about Becky, that’s for sure. So what’s going on for you currently?
Emily: I’m busy parenting, I have two young kids at home, so they need a lot of my attention and I’m not a nanny person, I can’t see myself hiring someone to take care of my kids. So if the right job comes along and I don’t have to travel for it, that’s great, but usually you don’t have that kind of selection, and if you start saying no, which I have been saying a lot, they start to not call you. They want you to be hungry. It’s difficult to balance an acting career and family life, and I’m trying to figure out ways that I can express myself creatively. I find what you guys do so interesting, I’d love to do an MA on fandom. My husband is an academic, a film studies guy. His specialty is reception studies. But how do you do a fulltime MA with 2 kids?
Kathy: Well, if you want sleep….so you’d like to be an academic too.
Emily: A lot of the parts I play, like Ginger Snaps, did get academic attention. That’s actually how my husband and I met, he was researching the film, at a film festival in Brussels. He was like handing out research questionnaires and we were at a panel discussion together and it was like a really plush festival and they drove us everywhere we wanted to go and we went to Bruges and for dinner — it was awesome. Academics are really integrated into the whole experience with fans because they can comment intelligently on stuff too – they should have that kind of discussion at these cons too!
Lynn: They totally should! Also, that’s an adorably romantic how-we-met story. Academia and fandom and celebrity all mixed together into a happy ending.
Emily: (turning the tables as all our interviewees seem to sooner or later…) So what about your fandom? How did that start? Are you fans of other tv shows too?
Lynn: (aghast) No! I’m fandom monogamous. SPN all the way. Kathy cheats though.
Kathy: (elbows Lynn) It’s not cheating. I just like a few other shows, that’s all.
Lynn: (scowling at Kathy) That’s cheating. But seriously, I don’t tend to be super fannish very often. Supernatural just really struck me. Like lightning or something.
Emily: Why do you think?
Lynn: From a psychological perspective, I think it was about finding myself again after being a wife and mom and psychologist and professor – it was about waking up one day and saying that’s all great, but who am I? What do I want, what makes me happy? Fandom is a great way to explore that and find a way to be real. It’s powerful, finding like-minded people and sharing a passion.
Kathy: For a lot of people, it’s a transition time in your life, and that’s also why adolescents are such big fans, because that’s a really difficult moment and a big transition. For me, too, it’s times of high stress, transition times, when I tend to be super fannish over something and invest so much into it.
Lynn: It’s partly the show, it draws people in with the themes it tackles, but it’s not all about the show. Sometimes it’s about the person too. Once this has run its course, I don’t know if I’ll be fannish like this again for a while. I’m not really a consecutive fan, at least I haven’t been consistently.
Kathy: I’m still a Byron fan though.
Emily: You kinda have his hair.
Kathy: (beaming) He was the first literary celebrity. Girls would break into his apartment and hide under his bed, and he had that whole bad boy thing going. Byronomania. He was handsome and athletic, but he was insecure, and he only ate vinegar and potatoes.
Lynn: (making a face) Ewww.
Kathy: I don’t think they had the whole food pyramid down then…It was his persona.
Emily: He worked it. I think Jared and Jensen do a really good job with that. I think they really care.
Lynn: In our interviews with them for our book, we actually talked a lot about how they negotiate the idea of persona, and they were both quite thoughtful about the subject.
Emily: Yeah, they are very thoughtful about it, and I totally thought they’d be kinda arrogant because they started off doing a tv show when they were young, but they weren’t. Because I was playing Becky, I could tell that, coming in there I did represent the fan, and even if you don’t think about it, subconsciously it’s there. But I kinda felt like they really wanted me to like them too, sort of just as much – well, maybe not just as much, but – There are certain things they did, like Jared was like, ‘You sound really smart, I bet you’re really smart.’ And he was like, ‘Did you know my mother’s an English teacher?’ And we were just talking and he’d say ‘No, actually you should say Jared and me, not Jared and I – like he started correcting my grammar! And I thought, why is he doing that? But actually it was a compliment.
Lynn and Kathy: (grinning) Awwww.
Emily: Did they read Fandom At The Crossroads?
Kathy: They did! We gave them copies to thank them for their interviews, but we thought, of course they’re not gonna read it.
Emily: Oh, Jared would definitely read it.
Lynn: He told us that he read every word, and that it really helped him understand fans and conventions better, so he thanked us for writing it. He insists he’s looking forward to reading our next one too. Which has pretty much made our year.
Lynn: Possibly lifetime.
Kathy: When we went to the set to interview them, we were sort of having this moment, there was so much build up and we thought, are they really gonna answer these very academic sort of questions, will they go there? And we walked out of there going like, woah. So open and thoughtful.
Emily: I can totally see that. They’re smart guys, yeah. Then it just makes you like them more. (sighs)
Lynn: (sighing too) Both looks and brains.
Emily: I know! It’s just not fair.
Kathy: I like what you said about the last Becky episode also being about fame, with the love potion being like fame, like a drug.
Emily: It took me a while to put that together. I think it was when Jared started correcting my grammar that I was like wait a second, because he was so – he would give me these lovesick puppy dog eyes and he just turns it on like that and off again – and I had like a Eureka moment, like wait a second, the love potion is real! (laughs)
Lynn and Kathy: (picturing Sam Winchester’s lovesick puppy eyes….)
Lynn: It works as a metaphor for fame and celebrity, how people develop an addiction to them.
Kathy: A lot of people we’ve interviewed talk about how weird it is to be in a certain situation, like a convention, and get all the attention, and then outside of that space, you don’t.
Emily: You’re so infantilized as an actor, and people don’t realize it unless you’ve been on the other side and seen what it’s like. Every moment of your day is regulated, it’s like ‘you’re going to the bathroom now, you have to tell someone.’ It’s like you’re three years old again, and someone is putting on your jacket for you, and someone’s doing your hair. There’s no aspect of your person that you’re responsible for anymore. They’re like ‘oh are you cold, do you need a jacket?’ They’re constantly doing all these things for you, and so you just kinda relax into it, you become this totally passive creature. And then you walk off the set and you’re like, how do I put on my coat? How do I choose what I wear?
Kathy: We were at a party at Comic Con, and one of the actors was sitting with us and had lost his handler, and he literally asked us to tell him where he should go. He said, I don’t even have to know my own address, people come to my house, they get me, I do what I’m supposed to do, and they bring me back to my house. And now my person isn’t here, so where do I go?
Lynn: It was sort of disturbing.
Emily: Even at this convention, there was this labyrinthine green room and I’d gone to the bathroom and then come here and then to the green room and out again and I asked if one of the volunteers could tell me where the washroom is, and he said oh, I’ll take you there. So he took me like winding all around and then I was like, can you tell me how to get back? And he said don’t worry, I’ll wait here for you. I was like, if you left it would be a pretty good joke on me, wouldn’t it? Especially if you could watch on closed circuit tv, I’d be like opening every door, where am I supposed to be?
Lynn: But then of course you’ll leave the con and go home on a plane by yourself.
Emily: It is absolutely weird. That’s why I was surprised, with Jared, he was so young when he started. Usually like the younger you are when you start, you just think that’s normal. Like Natalie Portman said, she hadn’t even walked down a street by herself ever in her entire life until she was in her 20s. How abnormal is that?
Kathy: You started pretty young too, right?
Emily: I started when I was 10. But things are a little bit different in Canada, we don’t have that celebrity culture thing, people don’t recognize you. I’m sure even Jared and Jensen can walk around Vancouver. They’re probably occasionally getting recognized but not getting mobbed, it’s just a different kind of people. Even if someone did recognize them, they’d probably be a little bit embarrassed to go up to them. We’re very reserved people. So I didn’t really have that. And also in Canada you don’t really make the money, we’re paid like a small small fraction of – and this is no comment on Supernatural at all, I have to say – but we make a small fraction of what American actors make. So in terms of fans, I did have one fan that was really quite scary and quite threatening. He was from Texas and he was saying he was gonna come and make my husband realize that I belonged to him, so that was scary. But I don’t live in like a gated community, I don’t have a driver, I don’t have all those things that an American actor living in LA would have, those safeguards, like you call the restaurant and they give you that private corner or whatever. That’s not my world, I live in suburban Vancouver, I’m a normal person. Even the Canadian set is very different from an American set. No one cares whose chair you sit on, it can have someone else’s name on it and you can still sit there. You don’t have the same rigid hierarchies. Everyone pals around with everyone else. Whereas on an American set, it’s different. Jared and Jensen are so nice, they wouldn’t care if you sat in their chair, they’re never there anyway, but with other people it’s more like umm you should just mind your p’s and q’s a little more, be more cognizant of that hierarchy being there. I think it’s a function of money, there’s just more money involved.
Lynn: And we all buy into it. The first time we interviewed Jim Beaver, he invited us to just come over to his house, and our reaction was instantly, What? Is he crazy? Which is ridiculous because, who were we trying to protect him from? Ourselves? We were writing a book challenging fan shame, and buying into it ourselves.
Emily: It must be about us, that we need to keep those boundaries , like Rob was mentioning, you don’t wanna meet the person because you don’t wanna shatter the ideal image you have, we want to keep this barrier, because it’s doing something for us. I think it goes back to the religious impulse, we want to believe there’s this perfect being. I’ve often thought this is why I’m a lit fan, it gives me this impression, that there is a god – in Supernatural’s case, Rob’s case, he’s the writer who is god – and that’s how I think of writers. When you’re in that universe, the writer is god. And I like to think there’s this order to the world because I’m not a religious person in my real life, so it gives me this refuge from the chaos to believe someone else is in charge.
Kathy: So you’re not a fan of reader reception theory. Every reading is a valid reading, and it may not line up with what the author intended, once it’s out there, it’s us making meaning.
Emily: I don’t think the two are incompatible, but I think it’s more like 50/50. I think you can still believe that the writer is in charge of that world, but once it’s out there, like if people have a religious belief, their actions are important too, they are the ones who influence this material and it’s about the choices they make, which are important because there’s this great god in the sky. There’s still choice, and those choices are maybe even more important because this perfect being has created this world.
Lynn: That totally sounded like half the themes of Supernatural.
Emily: So, is there an issue with legitimacy in academia with the kind of research you’re doing still? Studying fans?
Kathy: Definitely. Actually where we started from, there was theorizing going on, but there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of correlation between what academics were theorizing and what fans were really doing. They weren’t talking to the fans, or when they did, it was sort of like ‘let’s go into the community and see how fans live in the wild.’
Lynn: Sort of like look at them through a microscope, but we’re not them.
Emily: My husband wrote on global reception of the LOTR. I haven’t read the books thoroughly, but I listen to his interviews about the books, but to me it was very detached research, they gave surveys to fans all over the world. They weren’t necessarily the questions I would ask.
Lynn: We wanted to do it differently, because lots of researchers were taking that detached stance. We wanted to fess up our fan sides too, and write from that perspective.
Emily: That’s a very gendered kind of response, don’t you think? But to me it’s much more interesting what you guys do.
Lynn: It is pretty interesting! And speaking of interesting, before you filmed the first episode of Supernatural, did you know about fanfiction? Did you know what Becky was writing?
Emily: I knew that fanfic was out there. I hadn’t read any of it for Supernatural. I have a friend who writes fanfic, but it’s about the sci fi fantasy books she reads, so I’d read that, but I hadn’t read fanfic from a tv show. And I used to write about Star Trek.
Lynn: Did you know what Wincest was, or did someone have to tell you?
Emily: No, but I kinda figured it out from the lines. I was like, what is this? Actually it made the show really attractive to me, I was like ooh, this show is like fucking with itself, that is so cool.
Kathy: It is!
Emily: It was so brilliant. I mean, look at how far we’ve come, here are two guys – Jared and Jensen — who are able to laugh at their own performance of masculinity. It’s like admitting that masculinity itself is a performance, or it’s like one hair’s breadth away from admitting that. I wonder if Jared and Jensen see it that way. Do you think they see it as like questioning masculinity and femininity as intrinsic qualities of human beings? Do they see it?
Lynn: Well, there’s so much about gender roles and sexuality in Crossroads, so they must have thought about it when they read that.
Kathy: And I think they get it to the extent that they are objectified, and there are even lines in the show that have played on that – Jensen coming down the stairs in a tux looking gorgeous and this woman’s staring at him and he says, don’t objectify me – so there’s that sense, and you can’t be an actor and not think about it.
Emily: I think that’s really symptomatic of here and now, this cultural moment that we’re in, which is so far removed from 30 years ago. There are some actors, some men who are able to like laugh at themselves, play with the idea of themselves being an object, which is traditionally a female role. Although maybe I’m wrong, maybe there were some examples then too.
Lynn: When we interviewed Jensen, there were times when he was resisting being objectified as the only reason for fans watching the show, he was invested in ‘fans don’t just like the show because of how we look’ – which is true, that’s definitely not the only reason fans watch the show.
Kathy: Chad Lindberg, on the other hand, when he was an up and coming actor, was aware that he wasn’t being objectified in those ways, because he kept getting told ‘you’re not leading man material’, or whatever, and he was constantly being told that it’s a problem if you’re not.
Lynn: Actors seem to have a love/hate relationship with objectification. It’s obvious what it can do for you, but also obvious that if you buy into it too much, there’s a cost.
Emily: It’s like wanting to make those right career moves so you can show you’re a serious actor, not just a piece of meat.
Lynn: I remember Jared was telling us that he doesn’t even want to hear about how fans feel about his hair, not even if they love it, because then he’d worry about it, or it might change his way of playing Sam. Actors have to negotiate all that physicality.
Emily: I think if people just realized, it wouldn’t be so attractive. Like I kinda wonder why do young people want to be actors? I think if I hadn’t started as a child, there’s no way I would’ve wanted to be an actor. Even at 16 or 17 I think I was aware of the issues for actors, but because I started when I was a child and so innocent… I would never want my kids to be actors. People think that celebrities are at the top of the pyramid, but really it’s not that way at all. Actors are the ones that have the least control on the set. Talk about being infantilized, having someone do everything for you, the other side of that is you’re not able to control or make your own decisions, everything, your hair even. So you really are the object, even on a physical level you’re the object of attention of like 70 people, all their attention comes down to you. You can’t be late. The show cannot go on. There really is this intense focus and pressure.
Lynn: And unlike the director, it’s all on you physically.
Emily: Yes, you as a person.
Kathy: One of the actors in the film My Big Break – a great documentary on fame – Wes Bentley, and it’s right after he catapulted to fame in American Beauty, and there’s a moment where he’s talking about how people started treating him differently, and he says “It used to be if I said shit, people would tell me. Now I can say anything and no one’s gonna question me or say hey you’re being a jerk, stop it.”
And with that, we turned off the tape recorder and headed out for some dinner, still chatting about what a unique show Supernatural is. We all agreed that Jared and Jensen have somehow escaped many of the traps of celebrity and stayed grounded and down to earth. Maybe that’s because they do call each other on their shit. And, like Dean and Sam, they keep each other human.
[Please credit photos to Lizz Sisson and FangasmSPN]
We’re headed to VanCon in a few weeks – stay tuned for convention coverage and interviews. And follow us on Twitter @FangasmSPN for live tweets and pics from the con!