Joining the Family: Travis Aaron Wade on Acting, Giving Back and (of course) Supernatural
I’m always looking forward to a new episode of Supernatural (as anyone who’s ever read any of our books can attest), but I was especially excited about Girls Girls Girls after I had a chance to chat with episode guest star Travis Aaron Wade. We’ve been intrigued by the character he’s played in Season 10, the mysterious Cole. I love when Show veers far away from the black and white and paints Supernatural in shades of gray (no, not fifty…). In Season 10, Cole is given enough backstory to be an ambiguous character; we’re not entirely sure if he’s good or bad, or a complex mix of both. Which is probably what most casual observers would say about the Winchesters too, come to think of it. That only made me more eager to talk to the actor who portrays him.
Travis kept to our appointed interview time despite bumps and bruises from a motorcycle accident the night before.
[ETA Travis: Torn ligaments and a dislocated shoulder (ouch!). And a little bit woozy from the pain meds lol]
Apparently he has more than a little in common with the Winchesters when it comes to stamina.
Lynn: Just let me know if you want to reschedule and pick up at another time. Though I could put my psychologist hat on and offer a little therapy as a distraction…
Travis: [laughing] No problem, let’s see how it goes.
Lynn: Deal! So tell me about how you got the role of Cole on Supernatural.
Travis: I got a call from my agent and I was asked to go on an audition for Supernatural at UDK, which is a casting office which I’ve been going to for projects throughout the years. They called me in to read for the role and not too long after, I heard that I got the part. I was going to Vancouver for the month.
Lynn: Did you know about Supernatural before you auditioned? Had you ever seen the show?
Travis [enthusiastically] Oh yeah, it’s a tremendous success! It’s a huge show and I’d seen it. And before I started filming, I went back and watched the pilot on Netflix, making sure I was familiar with how it’s filmed and understood the tone. I do that with any show I read for. So yeah, it’s a great show. It’s shot well, the production values are high, the directing is great, the acting is great.
Lynn: [shocking no one] I so agree! I was chatting with Gil McKinney recently, who plays Henry Winchester, and we were saying that the casting agent deserves so much credit. Not only are the people they’ve cast for the show great actors, but they’re all really nice and grounded people. We’ve interviewed most of the cast for our books, and without exception they’ve been wonderful.
Travis: Yes – Ulrich, Dawson and Kritzer. Carol Kritzer, Robert Ulrich and Eric Dawson – they’re some of the best casting directors I’ve encountered in the past 15 years that I’ve been doing this. They’ve made television and movie stars. They’ve built people’s careers from the ground up. And they deserve so much credit for their ability to pick and choose the talent for the right roles.
Lynn: I don’t think they get very much credit, but I think they’re pivotal to the high quality of the Show these past ten years.
Travis: I absolutely would reach out to them, I think it would be so flattering. When I booked this role – and I do this for anybody that I get a job from or who helps me get a role – I sent them flowers but also got them each a massage from Relax Massage in Studio City. A little hidden secret in the valley!
Lynn: [silently] Classy!
Travis: And you would be surprised how many people don’t reach out to them or don’t do things for them. And yet they are really responsible for the level of quality of television. they really are the gatekeepers of great acting and they deserve to be treated well, rewarded, recognized — and interviewed!
Lynn: [nodding] I agree. And you’re the second person to tell me that so I’ll definitely do it when the holiday craziness is over.
Travis: When you talk to them, tell them I said they deserve it. Without them, no one would be on the show. They put the talent in front of the producers and show runners in Hollywood.
Lynn: I will. And really, the guest cast on this show is unbelievable. Everybody who comes on the show seems to fit in with the rest of the cast very well. Including you.
Travis, Well, it starts with the boys, it starts with the leads on television and movies. If they’re arrogant or full of themselves, it trickles down. The best way to describe it is when you’re a lead actor on a television or movie set, all eyes are on you. They’re organizing the shot on you – makeup and wardrobe and lighting, everything. Basically the focus is on the two main stars, and the way they reflect that energy back is how the crew and the entire production behaves and acts. When you get people who are really nasty and are arrogant all day, then you’re gonna get other people who are really nasty and arrogant all day. What those guys do, Jared and Jensen, is they just create the vibe and with Bob Singer at the helm plus production, that creates the family. They have a very unique and special bond and relationship over the years. I feel very lucky to be cast and added to the SPN family, because it is a family, they care.
[Case in point – a few days ago the cast and crew sent smiles to a seriously ill child. Look at them all! Best Cast Ever. Seriously]
Lynn: [perhaps a bit emotional because, SPNFamily!] It’s true. One of the things we write about in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls and Fan Phenomena Supernatural is that the cast and crew mirror what happens in the fandom too. We’ve been on set several times, sometimes for 12 hours or more, and you would think that in that length of time and with the pressure they film under, you’d see people lose their tempers. But we’ve never seen that – instead we’ve seen lots of cooperation and respect, from Jared and Jensen and Misha and the crew and the guest cast. And the fandom is largely the same. We call ourselves the SPN Family, and I’ve seen amazing things happen within the fandom. Fans support each other, and support the Show and the cast too. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
Travis: It’s like nothing else I’ve experienced in 15 years of doing this, which says a lot. I’m not an actor who’s been doing this for a few years, I’m an artist who’s been on forty projects and this is the closest group of people I’ve ever met.
Lynn: [probably grinning like a fool at this point] I never get tired of hearing people say that. And I count my blessings that this is the Show I fell head over heels for and decided to research and write about.
Travis: I’m glad you guys recognize that, because everybody, the production and the show, they’ve been the same way, and it’s like a second family, it really is.
Lynn: It really is. So you were first in ‘Black’, the season premiere – that’s a great time to have a new character introduced. You even got to overpower and outsmart Sam in the broken down car scene. I’m wondering, were you worried how that would be received by the fans, that that made Cole the bad guy? What did you anticipate the fan reaction would be?
Travis: You know, I was just explaining this to a friend. When I am cast in something and sink into a character, I look at it a little bit differently. I kinda look from the inside out. I don’t think about, you know, it’s a pilot or it’s a first episode. I don’t look at those things that are intimidating, or like working with a big actor – I really focus on the character and I really try to break down where he’s from, what he’s going through, what his story is. Cole, he knows everything about Dean, to the point where he’s basically been stalking him his entire life. So what I did is to try to learn everything about Dean and his life…
Lynn [silently] Hmm, I think I’ve done that too…
Travis: … and study him as if I was basically stalking him to kill him.
[ETA Travis: Not Jensen but Dean lol]
Lynn: [silently] Me too. No wait, kill? Not to kill!
Travis: Being a Marine, you learn how to hunt and trap. So I just focus on that, my job, I don’t think about anything outside of that.
Lynn: I can see where that would help you just stay in the character’s head and make it more realistic, because as soon as you start thinking about the audience, you’re not thinking of the character as real anymore and it must be harder to embody the character then.
Travis: Yeah, and as the years go on you learn acting for yourself, and you learn to make those decisions and you come up with your own method. There are so many different methods to acting. The craft of acting has been around as long as man has been able to perform. My method is to learn as much as I possibly can, to put myself in this person’s shoes. That’s what I think about. And I try to leave anything that would take me out of that, including nervousness or like, ‘wow this is incredible!’ Like I had that on War of the Worlds – you know, it’s almost impossible to do a movie with Steven Spielberg and hear ‘Action’ and not think OMG! DID STEVEN SPIELBERG JUST SAY ACTION TO ME?
Lynn: [laughing] OMG I guess so!
Travis: And I mean, you’re not human if you don’t go through that, we all go through it. But when you’ve been through something like that you think okay, my job is not to get excited, my job is to flesh out this character. And that takes years of practice and years of being in the business. So when I got Supernatural – people don’t really know my work, but I’ve been in the business fourteen years.
Lynn: I read up on you and learned all kinds of interesting things I’m gonna ask you about actually – you have a really interesting history.
Travis: [perhaps blushing?] That’s sweet of you.
[ETA Travis: I always blush when complimented…]
Lynn: Well, because I’m not working for a magazine but write books, my interviews are a little weird, so I might ask things other people wouldn’t… (If you’ve read our books you know that we tend to be a bit… out of the box, so to speak…)
Travis: [laughing] I can imagine, given what your profession is and your degree. I was interested in taking this call because I wanted to talk to someone with your background.
Lynn: [laughing too] I try to make my interviews not like therapy sessions, don’t worry.
(He clearly wasn’t; another example of good casting, since Wade seems to be as intrepid as his character)
Lynn: I think from the audience viewpoint, we were intrigued by the character of Cole because you see his backstory as a family man and ex military, so he’s set up to be a sympathetic character and a sort of good guy. But then you also see him tying Sam to a chair and torturing him. And in the middle of that, he gets a phone call and is sweet to his daughter. How do you make sense of the character? Do you see him as a good guy on a quest for revenge?
Travis: Yeah, I never look at any character I play as bad. I don’t ever think anybody really in life thinks they’re a bad person.
Lynn: I think that’s true.
Travis: They all have reasons for their actions, and he has a reason that’s very specific. And you know, he didn’t kill Sam. And he has a purpose and he doesn’t know who Sam is, he just knows that these guys are going around together and that one of the things they did — and maybe Sam was involved, maybe he wasn’t — was to kill his father. And he witnessed Dean doing it, but who knows if Sam was involved?
Lynn: [nodding] Sure, sure.
Travis: So he is acting on a vengeance, and I think that’s normal. If someone comes and hurts someone close to you, you want to hurt them back. And in life, you know not to take the law into your own hands, but a military guy and a guy who’s trained, maybe he will take justice into his own hands instead of relying on the legal system. You know, I think he’s out for vengeance, and I don’t think that necessarily makes someone bad. If someone came in and killed my father, as Travis, would I want to take vengeance and kill them? Yes. But would I? Me, no, because I know if I do, I put my life and freedom at risk– if I do it out of vengeance, I might spend the rest of my life in prison — If I had a wife and a kid, I don’t want to risk spending my life behind bars. So that’s the difference between me and Cole. I’m not going to risk my life and everything that I have worked so hard for in jeopardy, but Cole does and that says alot about the man he is and the damage that he most likely has caused his family. You see it in his wife’s eyes when he gets the fax. He’s already left them behind. So I do see Cole as a good guy, but very different than I am.
Lynn: That makes sense to me. I tell my grad students who are learning to be therapists that if you really listen to someone and understand their life – if you really ‘get it’ – then their behavior will start to make sense, even if initially it didn’t. If you were in their exact circumstances, you might behave the same way. That’s how I’m understanding Cole. You can’t really know what you’d do, because you’re not standing in that person’s shoes.
Lynn: So the second episode you were in, Reichenbach. What was it like filming that epic fight scene with Jensen? Was it physically hard to do? Did anybody get hurt?
Travis: No one got hurt.
Lynn: Well, that’s good!
Travis: I’ve been hurt doing fight scenes a number of times in my career, and this time I let my stunt double Dan Pelchat and Jensen’s stunt double, Jesse “Blue” Franchuck, we let those guys do the heavy lifting. One, because Jensen’s value on the show is very big. He gets hurt or injured and can’t shoot, production is lost. Two, because our stunt choreographer “Big Lou” is in charge and no one gets hurt on his watch. Jensen knows, and I’ve learned throughout the process, that you let the stunt guys do the hard work. They’re the ones who are trained for that. So when you saw someone hit the ground really hard, or a really amazing roundhouse that looks like professionals doing it, those were our stunt guys.
Travis: Yeah, very impressive, I bow down to those guys, they do some amazing work. But I will say this about Jensen. Being on the show for ten years and the amount of fight scenes he’s had, and just the confidence of being on a show for ten years, and the confidence of playing Dean Winchester, he is so unbelievably talented at stunts and fighting, and he’s just so perfect at choreographing. He just knows how to fight—there’s a way to fight on film and movies and there’s a way to fight in real life and for the camera, and Jensen is one of the best I’ve ever seen in the business and I’ve learned a lot from him.
Lynn: That’s really saying something, since you’ve been in the business a while. And that scene came out awesome. I was gasping, it looked so real.
Travis: I’m excited for next Tuesday [last Tuesday’s episode], because there is a stunt next Tuesday that you guys are gonna see that no one on set had ever seen anybody do, and my stunt double did it, and I was in awe of what he was able to do.
[ETA Travis: Okay so you all saw it and that was Dan going through that windshield!!! One take! Brilliant!]
Lynn: Anything else you can tease about Cole in that episode?
Travis: Well, obviously he’s spent some time away doing what he said he was gonna do, which is learn everything about demons, so he knows exactly what to do. Now he’s come back to fight Dean and to confront him, this time prepared. So we’ll see how that turns out.
Lynn: I can’t wait!
(And now, of course, we know – that fight scene truly was amazing. And so was the emotional scene that follows, as Dean bares his soul to both Cole and Sam, and Cole breaks down as he lets go of the revenge-fueled quest that’s been his reason for living. Incredible work by all three actors, even if it did make me reach for the tissues.)
Lynn: So I was wondering, you’re ex-military yourself, how does that influence that you’re playing an ex-military guy? Does it make it easier?
Travis: My actual real life experience I would say gave me 90% of my career. And not just my career. Everything I went through in the Marine Corps has shaped who I am today. And so I take that into my work, I take that into my life, I take that even into my sleep. It’s everything. And I know it’s scary for some people, going into the military which is pretty much putting their lives at risk, but the values and the lessons you learn, they stick with you for the rest of your life.
Lynn: My dad is a vet, and he talks about how that shaped how he looks at life.
Travis: Now, don’t get me wrong, it was the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, it was borderline hell, but when it’s over, it’s done, you realize oh, you didn’t break me, I made it. I pushed myself harder, I did things I didn’t think I could do, so when you tackle things in life afterwards, it’s not as hard as what I went through, and that sets the tone for the things you accomplish.
Lynn: So it gives you a different perspective, and some resilience. Also, that sounds a lot like the Winchesters. There’s a quote on your website, that your acting came from a need to explore human emotions that were stripped away while in the military. Is that a motivation for acting?
Travis: That’s how I got into acting. I’d been in the military and come out on the other side, and I was trying to figure out my life. I just had no emotions and didn’t know how to get them back, and someone suggested why don’t you do what you love? I had a passion for movies, I loved to watch movies, so my mom said well, the movie business is 20 minutes away down the street in Hollywood – why don’t you go down there and see if you can get in? I asked friends who are actors and they said take an acting class. And I think that acting should be a required course, because in life, everything is a role. You go to the office and you’re acting, you’re a psychologist, you re acting as a psychologist, you’re performing a role.
Travis: The more you play those roles, and the more roles you play, it gives you an idea of the roles you want to take in life. I mean, I became an actor, but maybe you love playing a doctor onstage and you say I wanna go do that for the rest of my life. So it opens ideas of what you want to do with your life.
Lynn: That’s true. And some of the ways I work with clients, if they’ve lost touch with their genuine emotions, and are unable to express emotions, at first to get back to that it’s acting ‘as if’, and eventually getting back to feeling them authentically.
(It’s also related to what we wrote about in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls – that sometimes taking on other characters and roles through the creation of fanfic or fanworks allows people to work through their real life emotional repression and rework their genuine emotions and identity.)
Travis: Yes. And career wise that made a lot of sense, and also emotionally and connecting with people again. At first I couldn’t connect with people anymore. So when you start studying roles or characters, you essentially start trying to understand the way people are, so instead of judging and expressing your opinion, you get a chance to walk in their shoes a little bit and judge people less. And I think that’ a very good tool, because I think judging people for their profession or what they choose to do in life — if you haven’t walked in their shoes, what right do you have to say it’s okay or not?
Lynn: [nodding enthusiastically] Yes, exactly!
Travis: We deal with this all the time. We’re in a business where people will make a judgment about what you do in LA and it’s like ‘well, have you ever attempted that or studied it? Maybe you should wait until you have some experience with it.’ And usually if someone does have some experience, then they won’t judge it because they understand it better.
Lynn: I never connected that idea to acting, but yes, absolutely. There’s a lot of social science research that shows that experience and exposure are what counteracts prejudice and stereotypes and judgment.
Travis: Acting is a basically the study of human emotions and behaviors. Artists are the students of the brain and mind, not too far away from what you do. I took a psychology class when I was taking acting classes to understand this about life and understand mentally why people do what they do.
Lynn: Ooh, great idea, I think that should be required!
Travis: Yeah, I think half psychology and half acting, I think that’s valuable.
(At this point, Travis and I were clearly on the verge of opening an integrated acting and psychology program…lol)
Travis: Where are you located?
Lynn: I’m in Philly.
Travis: Some of my friends started out in PA. I know there are some acting schools out there. Two of my closest friends in the business are Mike Vogel & Taylor Kinney. i could ask them to refer a school to audit in Philly? You should go audit a class, I think you’d be fascinated. I have a feeling you’d love it!
Lynn: I think I would, especially after talking with so many actors for the books.
(Mentally adds another item to the to do list…)
Lynn: So, switching gears, I had some questions about what I read on your website. You do a lot of giving back, including teaching children at a school in Vietnam?
Travis: Yeah, I started in 2007, and spent almost three months there. It was a time when I thought about walking away from acting. I knew I could teach it but didn’t know if I wanted to do it anymore. I didn’t know if I was committed for the rest of my life, and it had been a tough experience up to that point. That experience has been one of the greatest gifts of pursuing acting – the things you get to do, being able to travel the world — there’s so many things that come with acting outside of just booking a tv show or a movie. You really get to do some amazing things and meet some amazing people. I never thought I’d get to teach children in southeast Asia, but when it was offered to me I just said yeah and to this day it’s the one thing that heals my soul. The students are so motivated and humble and they do all the work you ask. My friends who teach here tell me it’s hard to get kids motivated and to focus, but not these kids.
Lynn: Are you teaching acting or art?
Travis: It started with acting, and then evolved. It was ‘so, you speak very well in front of a class, can you teach them public speaking?’ At this point in my life I just decided I was gonna say yes to everything, if I can, you know. Did I know how at the time? No, but I said yes. Say yes until you can’t, but attempt it. So it went to public speaking, stage presence, confidence, and then they asked if I’d work with the girls on the pageant the first time Miss Universe was coming to Vietnam. Pageantry is by far the biggest thing, it isn’t like here, where Miss Universe could walk down Sunset Boulevard and she’d be just another beautiful girl in LA, no one would know who she was. But over there, it’s a huge deal. So they asked me to work as a pageant coach, which is hilarious because I’d never been that.
Lynn: Not what I was expecting, no…
Travis: They did very well, placed in the top ten of the competition. And they said we’d like you to come back and do this, so I’ll go back and if the time is right, I’ll work with them.
Lynn: What an unusual experience to have! You also have the Arm The Animals tee shirt charity?
Travis: We started that in 2010 to keep shelters open when money was not coming in from the state and these places were getting shut down. Animals that deserved a home were getting put down and killed and we thought we could do something. And we started this company, and now we’re producing a documentary to save sharks and doing so many other things other than being a charity tee shirt company. No kill shelters, and we’re helping change laws. One of the things I’ve very passionate about is that America is very addicted to medication – there’s a lot that a pet can do that medicine can’t. I always say “pet over pills”. Let’s find you a pet first and get a pet home and see if that changes your depression or whatever. Animals are a way to heal your soul. I care very much about them and I’d like to see them used more than pharmaceutical companies.
Lynn: I worked at a school for delinquent young men for a while, and it was on an old farm, and we brought the animals back and the boys took care of them, and it was life changing. These kids had grown up in horrible circumstances, and taking care of these animals was therapeutic – for both the animals and the kids.
Travis: I’m really happy to hear that you do that for others. Also, with global outreach and social media, we have access to what’s going on in the world. We know that rhinos and elephants are being killed simply for tusks or for sport and it’s absolutely tragic. So that’s the other side of Arm the Animals. We’re trying to keep these animals around in your kid’s lifetimes, not only in books. We don’t have that right as human beings. I understand if it’s for food, if you need it to eat, but most of us don’t need to hunt, Whole Foods is right around the corner. If it’s a tradition and if you were born and raised with a rifle, then all I really care about is make the death quick and painless. Please don’t take pleasure in watching a life suffer and above all say a prayer over the dead and use all of it for consumption and/or warmth. It’s a life, make it count. I’m not a hunter and although I’m highly trained to take a life, I have no want or ambition to do so. I feel very connected to this planet and all its creatures so when I see something killed, a part of me feels pain and loss.
Lynn: It seems like most of the time, they take the horn or the tusks and leave the rest of the animal carcass lying there. So tragic.
Travis: And sharks, the population is just decimated. Everyone is against sharks, but the way I describe sharks is imagine the city you live in and we got rid of all the police, there’s no law enforcement – you may not like cops because they ruin your day when they give you a ticket…but when you need serious help, they are the first ones you call.
Lynn: [laughing, because maybe that happened to me once or twice…]
Travis: They are a necessity, no cops on the street and you have chaos. And if you take sharks out of the ocean, you have chaos in the ocean. It will eventually be like you can’t even go in the ocean because of all the jellyfish, you can’t take out the apex predator. And we’re doing it, we’re killing 70 million sharks a year, and the numbers are increasing. At this rate they will be wiped out in less than 10 years. I’m sorry to swear but what the fuck are we doing?!
Lynn: AlI can say is, I agree.
Travis: The funny thing is, most people do, so if everyone is agreeing, what’s the problem? So we created the company to get to the bottom of why we have these problems.
Jensen Ackles is clearly on board, if the tee shirt he was wearing at Disneyland last week is any indication. SPN Family, folks.
Lynn: I feel like we could talk about this for days, but I don’t want to keep you too much longer. But is there anything else you want to share?
Travis: You know, just the fan support. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m having a really tough year, and I won’t play the violin for you, but there’s just so much in my personal life that I went through that I don’t really share with the rest of the world. And it’s been a great year as far as my profession, but my personal life has been one of the most difficult in my life – and the fans, I can’t begin to tell you how much they’ve lifted me up. And they don’t have to do that – they could just watch the show and like the show and not interact with me personally. I’ve never experienced anything like it and it’s really kept me going, kept me getting up. And I’m just so thankful.
Lynn: [both of us rather emotional at this point] You know, you’ve been adopted by this fandom, you’re part of the SPN Family now.
Travis: It’s just awesome that people care, outside of what you do on the stage, because no one expects to have this kind of attention. We’re all putting on our pants one leg at a time and sometimes I feel like the teachers of the world or the scientists or the doctors should be the ones getting that kind of celebrity and attention, but they don’t and actors do, and I think it’s our responsibility to do something special with our lives with that influence. The fans keep us going — they give us our job, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do — and it’s our responsibility to do something good with that. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Lynn: Exactly. Exactly!
(In fact, I think that’s pretty much what Misha Collins’ chapter in Fan Phenomena Supernatural says too.)
Travis: When it’s good, like on Supernatural, the show is going for 10 years. That’s a good example of what TV can be. Don’t get me wrong, I did not see this coming. It was not expected. I’ve done five movies this year before I did Supernatural, but with Supernatural behind me, it’s amazing how much attention a film can get based upon my success and my relationship with the Show.
Lynn: [grinning] Once you’re part of the family….
Travis: We as artists, we need to have a fan base these days, it’s what actors are hired by, twitters and tweets and instagrams. So to have Supernatural as a fan base who will support your movies, it helps the projects that are very low funded. I know a lot of people will support me on the five films I’m doing this year, and if I didn’t have Supernatural those people wouldn’t have filled those seats in those theaters. So Supernatural feeds the entire artistic development of other films, other tv shows, it really gives people careers. Supernatural really is responsible for a lot, it really is. I’m grateful for my time on it.
We’re grateful for his time on it too. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Cole, now that he knows the truth about the Winchesters.
We certainly haven’t seen the last of Travis Aaron Wade! Check out his website at travisaaronwade.com and on his IMDB page, and look out for five films in 2015 – The Forger and Criminal Activities, starring alongside film and tv legend John Travolta, and Blue Jay, The Condor and Living Amongst Us (starring alongside his pals Andrew Keegan and Thomas Ian Nicholas).
And be sure to visit armtheanimals.com and support the important work they’re doing.
Stay tuned for our chats with Metatron himself, Curtis Armstrong (who’s much more charming in real life), and with 200th episode fangirl Maeve, the adorable Joy Regullano.
Don’t forget holiday gifts for the Supernatural fans on your list — our books are on sale on amazon! Click the links at the top of this page for more information!