We wanted to kick off the New Year with a post full of love and gratitude and optimism – what better way to do that than a chat with Supernatural’s version of God (or Kripke, if you prefer), Rob Benedict? Rob has had a tumultuous year, which is ultimately very inspiring. An update on that in a bit. But first, Lynn caught up with Rob at the Dallas Supernatural convention, both a little tired from karaoke the night before (which was so worth a little next-day fatigue, btw). Rob had recently debuted his short film, The Sidekick, and we were dying to ask him about it.
Lynn: I can’t wait to see it! My psychologist side is fascinated by the thought process that must go into always feeling like the sidekick. Especially when you hit, like forty, and you say okay, I probably am what I’m going to be. And you ask yourself, how do I feel about that? Am I giving up on some dreams forever?
Rob: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what it was born out of. Part of it was turning 40 and realizing, this is what I do. As an actor, I’ve made some sacrifices to do this thing, and it’s not really a tangible career, you can’t rest your laurels on a resume. Even though I did go to school, I got a theater degree, but it doesn’t really mean a whole lot.
Lynn: It’s not like other careers, in some ways. If you’re a psychologist, you go to school, you go into practice or you teach, your whole career is laid out for you – but with acting, you never know where you’re gonna go. I’m not sure I could deal with that uncertainty.
Rob: It’s hard, every day you have to settle yourself to this is what I do – but I realized that I wouldn’t really be skilled at doing anything else – and it’s like too late for me, even if I went back to school, people are hiring younger people, and it would be hard, it would be a challenge. So it was sort of that crisis that this idea was born out of.
Lynn: I don’t mean to make it super serious, but even though it’s a comedy, I think The Sidekick has an important message.
Rob: Yeah, you know, I did some interviews and I was talking about it very seriously – it almost came out of a crisis that I was having – and you’ve gotta laugh, and you put it in a metaphor…
Lynn: Yeah, because then people can hear it.
Rob: It’s an allegory, an allegory for where I was at and how I’ve always seen myself. It’s that reality of when am I the guy, when am I the number one? How do I wear that and what does that look like?
Lynn: And is it ever gonna happen? That’s part of midlife crisis, it used to be that possibility was stretching out endlessly, and all of a sudden it’s like okay, maybe not infinite, maybe I’m halfway there.
Rob: And you know, my generation was raised in this, I don’t know if this generation today is different, but I was raised with this you can do it, you can be whatever you want to be. And so that’s the rhetoric, but the reality is different, know what I mean?
Lynn: I do.
Rob: And the other side of it was, my brother is 6’ 4”, I grew up as his buddy and I always felt like I was the buddy.
Lynn: He’s older than you?
Rob: He’s three years older. And every relationship I have, I’m that. I’m that to everybody!
Lynn: There’s a lot of research that holds that sibling relationships really define you.
Rob: And even in acting roles, I always seem to end up ‘the friend’, you know? So it was those two things merged together. This idea of this guy who was a sidekick his whole life, and he gets fired. And he has no tangible skills.
Lynn: (making a horrified…and somewhat frightening… face) That must be a panic-inducing situation!
Rob: (nodding) His only ability is to be the trusty sidekick, who can say, “get in”, “good catch”, “look out”, so…
Lynn: Ouch. When I heard the concept I thought, that’s brilliant. The second thing I thought was, that’s gotta be based on some personal experience.
Rob: It really was. It was this sort of passion project for me, to write this, and I was really happy with it. It was conceived as a short film because I thought, that’s doable. Though it’s sort of a long short film. So I gave it to a friend of mine, not even with the intention of him coming on board, but just to look at it, this guy Michael Weithorn. He directed me in a movie a couple of years ago (A Little Help), and he directs the King of Queens, so he’s a big comedy guy. So he looked at it, loved it and said, I wanna direct this, let’s do this, let’s make this. It’s a featurette, a 30 minute movie, and again, there was no end game, I just said okay, let’s do this. So I put the call out to all these friends, actors I worked with over the years. And I’ve never really done anything like that, put myself out there and said hey, can you come join this thing I’m making? So this was my thing, to go out to every actor I’ve worked with and become friends with, and people stepped up and wanted to do it.
Lynn: Did they all read it first?
Rob: Yeah. I sent it to them and said I’m making this, and everybody came back yes. I originally went to Jensen for the role of the superhero who fires me, and he wanted to do it, but we were filming it in December and they’re working. He could only do it if it was the first couple weeks of the year. He wanted to do it, he was bummed.
Lynn: (heroically shaking off the image of Jensen in superhero tights….) I bet he was. He did a little indie movie called Ten Inch Hero a while ago, and it was like that, a passion project. When we talked to the director, he told us how passionate Jensen was about doing the movie, how much he believed in it. And that film was hard to get made too.
(By the way, both Jared and Jensen could pull off superhero tights, don’t you think? I mean, they’ve definitely got the legs for it…)
Rob: You’re putting a lot of your money into it, and your heart, and your time, but at the end of the day, we’re artists. And there was never any end game, so everything that’s happened since then has been just icing for us. We took it to Comic Con!
Lynn: And got really good reviews!
Rob: Yeah, it was great. We filled this room and had 2800 people to watch it and it was great. So now we’re pitching it as a tv show. We feel like that might be the next incarnation, that it could be a series about this guy who’s got one foot in this world and one foot in another world, trying to figure out who he is and who he’s destined to be.
Lynn: Does the film end with some sort of resolution?
Rob: Yeah, there’s a resolution. It’s set in a world where being a superhero is just like any other profession. Some people are superheroes, some are plumbers, some are accountants, that’s just the world it’s in. It’s not like Gotham City or anything like that, just the normal world.
Lynn: (laughing) With some superheroes….
Rob: (laughs) With some superheroes, yeah. So he meets this girl who’s a teacher and she ultimately gets him a job in the real world and it makes sense to him.
Lynn: And he’s not a sidekick anymore…
Rob: No, he’s not, he’s a real guy.
Lynn: And he discovers who he really is? Because the thing about being a sidekick is, a sidekick is defined by someone else, so they’re not sort of their own person.
Rob: (nodding) She says to him, haven’t you ever wanted to be the main guy? And he’s like I don’t know, I never thought about that.
Lynn: It’s such a universal story, figuring out who you are. Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, the book we just published, it’s a memoir, so it’s our fangirl story – but it’s about figuring out who you are, after you’ve been defined by what you are to everyone else. A girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a professor, whatever. But who are you really? What do you like, what do you want, what turns you on? We figured that out when we fell head over heels in love with Supernatural and started asking, what the hell is happening to me?
Rob: (laughing) That’s so funny.
Lynn: Oh yeah, it’s definitely a comedy, but it was a passion project for us, studying fandom and then writing the story of us studying it, our wild and crazy roadtrip through fandom and SPN. We wanted to tell the world how incredible fandom is, and how awesome the people who make Supernatural are – the whole SPN Family. It’s been great that so many other fans tell us they can relate to the story, that it rings true for them as fangirls.
Rob: That’s awesome! And that’s so great, because it’s so hard to describe this world to people – it’s so different, and outside of this circle, people who don’t even know the show have no idea! I’d love you to see The Sidekick – now that we’re done pitching it, we’ll release it.
Lynn: One of the things we write about in Fangasm is the idea of celebrity, how weird it is. Outside of this con hotel, you can go to Starbucks, do whatever you want. But in this hotel during a con, you just walked through the lobby and were stopped by fan after fan, which is awesome, but must be super weird.
Rob: (nodding) Super weird.
Lynn: In this space, you’re quite famous.
Rob: It’s really weird, and it’s hard to find a balance. And it’s bizarre too because when it happens outside a convention too, it’s like another reality, it’s like one person who’s a Supernatural fan gives you that big reaction and then everyone else is like wait, who are you? Richard said he was in New York having drinks with someone he had just met, they spent the evening together with a couple friends, and after dinner, they’re walking down the street and suddenly this girl comes up and gushes over him and says OMG I love you, and they take a picture and everything. And then she turns to the person he was with all night and says “you are so lucky” – and this person turns to Richard and is like, who ARE you??
Lynn: (cracking up) It’s very weird to be friends with someone who is famous too, because you can’t really conceive of them as famous – they don’t seem special to you – but people project so much onto anyone who’s famous.
Rob: It’s very weird. All of my friends, we’ve all had bouts of it – we’ve been on a show or whatever – I’ve got a couple of friends right now who are on a show who are receiving a lot of attention, and it’s odd. It changes everything. It changes your conversation with them. And you’re fighting it, you’re like, it’s still your buddy.
Lynn: Especially because it’s such a scarce commodity business, so up and down. One of your close friends is doing very well and then you are, and on and on. So is your experience on Supernatural the most famous you’ve felt? There must be people who recognize you from the band too, Louden Swain has become quite popular.
Rob: Yeah, we’ve received a lot of attention. When I was on ‘Felicity’, I got a lot of attention – and then I did a movie called ‘Waiting’ that got a lot of attention, so then I was that guy from ‘Waiting’ – it just shifts.
Lynn: Isn’t that interesting, you keep being redefined. Now it’s, oh you’re that guy from Supernatural.
Rob: And as a character actor, you become that guy from that thing, not oh, you’re Brad Pitt. So there have been various things, but this is another sort of peak in that rollercoaster. But the band has sort of taken on a life of its own.
Lynn: We’ve talked to Jason Manns and Steve Carlson and Brian Buckley, who all felt like SPN fandom gave a boost to their music. Do you feel that way too?
Rob: Oh, for sure. If we were on a graph, and you looked at the popularity of the band, you’d see a huge spike as soon as I was on the show.
Lynn: Did it kick in when Creation invited you to the cons, or did it start before?
Rob: That helped a lot, but I think it started before that when people caught wind that I was in a band and then they heard us live, and it continues. You always go to these conventions and you think that everyone’s heard every story and that they know everything, but 50% of the people here have never been to a convention, had no idea I was in a band!
Lynn: I know! When Richard was onstage and said hey, I don’t know if you know this, but Rob is in a band, and I could hear people around me go “What!?”
Rob: I know, often when I answer questions, I’m like, haven’t you heard me answer this? But often the answer is no.
Lynn: Supernatural has had an interesting progression as far as popularity. It wasn’t at all popular for a few seasons, then it had an upturn, and then it sort of leveled off and everyone was afraid of cancellation.
Rob: Around season 6 or 7?
Lynn: Even before then, more like 4 and 5. It got hurt by the writers’ strike in season 3, so it was a bit iffy in 4 and going into 5, but then it went into syndication and onto Netflix and zzzzoooom!
Rob: I’ve noticed it with the conventions even. I felt like they sort of plateaued, and then this last year, it really changed – karaoke is off the charts!
Lynn: (nodding) Karaoke is off the charts. We brought a couple new people to karaoke last night, and they were like, what the hell, this is awesome.
Rob: It is! It’s like a rock show, and it’s crazy – so yeah, that and the amount of people who are new to it, it’s remarkable. And it’s a testament to where we are with technology too – a show like this might have been cancelled four years ago.
Lynn: That was the time when social media really took off, and so many new fans discovered SPN.
Rob: (laughing) Yeah, Misha with a million twitter followers, and then Supernatural wins the People’s Choice awards – and I think even the network is now like huh, people seem to like this!
Lynn: Yes, the network hasn’t always understood the show very well…
Rob: Literally the network seems to be like oh, people seem to like that show, I guess we should bring it back… And it’s not really about what the network is about – they’re all about pretty faces and not about substance.
Lynn: And they still seem to think it’s mostly men watching the show.
Rob: (cracking up) I know, I mean, look around – they should come to one of these, they should come to Burbank and see! Richard and I always say we feel like we’re doing free publicity for them really…
Lynn: You are, and I guess we are too.
Rob: Yes! You are too. I get the feeling they kind of look at people like me and Richard as kind of feeding off the cash cow a little bit, like riding on the coattails kind of thing.
Lynn: I’m sure that’s how THEY look at it…
Rob: Which is not at all accurate, really we’re helping their product…
Lynn: It’s really just the opposite.
Rob: Yeah, Jensen always says they’re like the bastard stepchild of the network. It’s funny too, when you just talk to some people in the industry, the Show is just not on people’s radars. It’s very weird… but in a way I almost feel like this thing that we have here almost thrives on being, you know, like we’re all sort of a band of outsiders.
Lynn: (nodding emphatically) Yes, I think everybody feels that, like we’re all sort of a band of outsiders, the whole SPN Family.
Rob: And even the actors get that. They’re on a show that is that. So they feel that too, and we’re all in this together, and we’re all going, at least we’ve got each other.
Lynn: (still nodding just as emphatically, because YES) It sounds like that should be hokey and not genuine, and I think sometimes from the outside people are like, come on, that can’t be real, but we know the fans, and we know you guys, and yes, it’s really true.
Rob: (nodding almost as emphatically as Lynn, which at this point probably looked quite amusing…) It is.
Lynn: And I only research this show, I don’t have time to immerse myself in any other shows, so maybe it’s like this with other shows, but I don’t think so.
Rob: You know, my take on it is that it’s not. Sebastian is also on The Vampire Diaries, which has a big fan base, but he’s like, guys, it is like night and day. Their relationship with the fans is a little more like look at me look at me.
Lynn: Creation has said that the SPN actors really remember people’s names and actually recognize and know their fans, more than other shows.
Rob: Well, we end up seeing these people five or six times a year. And you know, the other thing is, this is not just fun, it’s funny – we laugh so much at these things, and we dance and sing, we do karaoke.
Lynn: We were with some people last night from Stockholm, who flew over because they read about the SPN conventions in our books, and they were just like, I can’t believe the actors are up there doing what they’re doing, and we were like, see? You can’t really describe to someone what it’s like– it creates this wonderful feeling of oneness
Lynn: Which is what Richard wanted to do from the beginning with karaoke.
Rob: And he did it, transformed it – we went to Burbank to take pictures last year with Chris (Schmelke, Creation photographer and contributing photographer for all of our books), at a Star Trek convention, and it was huge, all the Star Treks together, last year before Vegas. We went there to take pictures of the Elastic Waist Band, and Matt and Richard in their Elvis outfits.
So we met with Chris and we took pictures, and Chris was like, you’ve gotta see this. So we went to see their karaoke that was going on, and there were like ten people in the audience. And no stars, just a couple of fans sitting there. And we were like WOAH, that’s what karaoke was, and now…
Lynn: Supernatural karaoke is off the charts! We have a new book on Supernatural coming out in 2014, and Richard wrote a chapter for it on the evolution of SPN karaoke.
Lynn: Misha wrote a chapter too, and Serge…Cast, crew, fans, scholars – we wanted all our voices in it. And Richard’s chapter is all about how he transformed karaoke – he’s a great writer.
Rob: Oh that’s great. He’s really turned it into something amazing.
Lynn: And you’re right, this show, top to bottom, is so much fun. You can see it when you’re on set watching filming. Actually we were on set when you filmed your very first episode of SPN.
Rob: I remember that!
Lynn: That was a long time ago, but it’s still the same vibe on set, still laid back and just fun.
Rob: I know, I stopped in too, and everyone was goofing around. Has Kripke ever come to a convention?
Lynn: He has, he came to the LA con, the first one.
Rob: So he wrote that other episode I did (The Real Ghostbusters) having gone to one?
Lynn: He did. And we’d already interviewed him a few times, so he knew a lot about fandom. When we came to the set to watch the one you filmed, Monster At The End of This Book, some of the PA’s came up to us and said this is all your fault, you told him too much.
Rob: (cracking up) I remember when they had just aired an episode, and Misha was online looking at people’s reactions and kinda fascinated with seeing this whole other world out there of people who watch the show. It was still new to them then. And Misha was relatively new to the show.
Lynn: He was. That trip was the first time we interviewed Misha too, and Castiel was a brand new character. I asked him, what does Castiel want? Does he want to help Dean, does he want to take Dean apart… And Misha just deadpanned, “Does he want to take Dean to bed?” (now both Rob and Lynn are laughing) I was like, okay, you know more than I thought you did!
Rob: Oh yeah, he was checking. What he’s done is remarkable. You know, ‘Fangasm’ could be a documentary. Your friend Night (Shyamalan) should do it!
Lynn: He should direct an episode of SPN too.
Rob: (nodding) That’s gotta be a no brainer.
Lynn: Jensen and Jared would be up for it. And Kripke too, if he came back.
Rob: My completely uneducated uninformed opinion is that Kripke would come back at some point. Maybe the end of the show, for the series finale?
Lynn: (with a rather blissful fangirly sigh) Maybe, that would be awesome.
Rob: Whenever it is the last season, I wonder if he’d come back and do a two episode arc or something, because I keep telling people, if I ever come back on the show – I feel like that would be the way.
Lynn: (excitedly) Because it’s very meta! You ARE him!
Rob: Right, exactly…
Lynn: So if he came back, I could totally see him bringing Chuck back….
Rob: (just as excitedly) Yeah, he could play it like oh, I was away working on this other series…
Lynn: Like I’m sorry I haven’t been around, but there was a revolution going on…
Rob: (laughing) EXACTLY!
Lynn: I think it would mean so much, not just to the fans, but to the cast and crew, who still have a soft spot for him too.
Rob: Yeah, oh yeah, totally. And fans would totally come out. This [Supernatural fandom and cons] is such an amazing thing, I was talking to my wife and she was like, how was yesterday? And it’s hard to describe.
Lynn: It is, you should bring her to a con. What does she do?
Rob: She’s an attorney, something completely different. I think that’s one of the secrets to our long relationship. She’s very successful at what she does and also travels a lot, and when we’re together it’s still, we have such an intense connection…
Lynn: Kinda fresh.
Rob: Yes, exactly, fresh. Because we have such different careers. We got married when she was in law school and it was crazy. And now it’s crazy, she’s a partner now and has to travel for these cases, but she’s doing well and she loves it. So that’s another reason I think [coming to a convention] would be mindblowing for her.
Lynn: Definitely. So, small world, I heard you ran into my friend Night last month.
Rob: I did! Jensen and I had dinner when I was in Vancouver for the convention. So Saturday I had something in the morning and then I was free until the cocktail party, so Jensen and I went out that night and he had told me before that him and Night had flown on a plane together and had a friendship now and he was like, he’s having drinks across the street, he wants us to come meet him after. So we finished dinner and went across the street and Night and Matt Dillon and some people who worked for Night…
Lynn: On ‘Wayward Pines’, right, the Blinding Edge crew, they’re a great bunch….
Rob: (nodding) So we went and had drinks with them and it was so fun! And your name came up right away, Night said that he knew you.
Lynn: (fervently hoping that Night didn’t share any embarrassing stories….then again, they’re all in Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls anyway, aren’t they?) I’d been saying to Night and to Jensen for years that I thought they would really hit it off, so I suggested we have dinner when we were all in Vancouver and I’d introduce them – and then Jensen and Night sat next to each other on the flight coming up the day before and totally hit it off.
Rob: He’s such a nice guy, and Matt Dillon too.
Lynn: I spent a little time on the ‘Wayward Pines’ set in Vancouver too and got to know Matt a little – you’re right, he’s a really nice guy. He was in ‘The Outsiders’, right?
Rob: He was.
Lynn: (laughing) I saw a tweet from SE Hinton that week saying that Jensen and Matt had met, and I thought, well that had to be through Night, since he knows both of them now. And of course it was.
Rob: But what does Susie Hinton have to do with SPN?
Lynn: She’s just a big fan of the show – obviously a smart woman with good taste.
Rob: And she’s S E Hinton! We had that conversation that night too, Jensen brought it up and Matt and Jensen talked about it – that must have been that tweet. And I said, Susie – is she S.E. Hinton’s daughter? And Jensen was like no, she’s S E Hinton! The reason she had to be S E was to mask the fact that she was a woman.
Lynn: Yep. Books written by women didn’t sell as well.
Rob: That’s insane…
Lynn: Still true today, unfortunately.
Rob: But don’t women read more than men?
Actually Rob is totally right, women do. We’ve been blown away by how many women have read Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, and are so thankful for all the support – for two women writers, no less! We’re also blown away by how many fans have told us that the book made a difference in their lives – that it freed them from shame and helped them realize they’re not the only one who feels this way about a television show (far from it!) That makes our day, every single time we hear it. What Rob said, about all of us feeling a little bit like outsiders, but that we’re all in this together – that’s what Fangasm is all about. If you haven’t read it yet, there’s a link at the top of the page to order – last we checked, it was still at a sale price for the holidays at amazon.
Most of you know that Rob appeared at the Toronto Supernatural convention a few weeks after this chat, and at the close of that convention, Rob suffered a stroke. Luckily, Richard Speight was able to get him help quickly, proving that the term “SPN Family” is a very real bond, between fans and between actors. We’ve all come to know and respect each other, and to care about each other. Over the eight years we’ve been in this fandom, we’ve seen countless examples of fans coming to the aid of other fans — Richard and Rob’s friendship, created through their shared bond of Supernatural conventions, is just as strong and just as life-changing.
Fandom immediately showed their support for Rob online, tweeting with hashtags expressing our love. Our friends at @CarryOn_SPN collected messages of support that they’ll give to Rob at the Vegas Con. In November, Rob appeared at the SPN convention in Burbank to thank fans for their support, with Richard and Matt having his back, as always.
And they weren’t the only ones. Jason Manns stepped in to front Louden Swain at the concert that night, and just about every actor there at the convention and many of their friends also took the stage in support of Rob. It was heartwarming and inspiring, and made us cry more than once. It was also everything we’ve come to love about the SPN Family.
We checked in with Rob today to say happy holidays and see how he’s doing – He asked us to let everyone know that he’s improving every week, and that he should be back in business in 2014! That’s some of the best news we could hope for as we head into the New Year. Rob also let us know that they’re planning on releasing ‘The Sidekick’ online in the next few months, most likely via a free link. So get ready to check it out and then spread the word, the way only the SPN Family can!
And he asked us to pass on a message to the SPN Family.
Rob: Lynn, please pass on to everyone how much I appreciate all the support – the thoughts and prayers and donations to the American Stroke Association I’ve gotten from everyone. As always, the warmness and generosity of this fan community never ceases to amaze me.
Couldn’t have said it better! Please leave a message of support for Rob here in the comments, and have a very Happy New Year!