Curtis Armstrong Talks Supernatural, Making Sense of Metatron, and Making Misha Break!
What a pleasure it was to catch up with Curtis Armstrong, especially after his last two episodes of Supernatural Season 10 (Inside Man and The Book of the Damned). Actually it’s always a pleasure, but this time I was particularly excited, because those episodes had so many delicious scenes for his alter ego, Metatron. Metatron has been confusing this season, sometimes seeming to really try to connect with our heroes (especially Cas, when Metatron became unexpectedly human for the first time) and other times being the scheming bad guy we’ve come to know. Metatron’s machinations figure importantly in the season’s ongoing arc of Castiel trying to regain his grace, and the Show leaves things up in the air as to what will happen in Season 11, now that Metatron has taken off with the demon tablet. If anyone understands the mind of Metatron, it’s the actor who so brilliantly portrays him.
[Our conversation took place shortly after Curtis filmed those episodes. Posting this now and looking back, it’s heartbreaking to talk about Charlie and how wonderful the character is, since we didn’t know at the time what would befall her shortly thereafter. Ouch.]
Lynn: Those last few episodes you did, especially the most recent one, were such a tour de force for Metatron! I think some of the fans who just plain hated Metatron now are in that sort of I-hate-him-but-I-kinda-love-him state. I loved him in The Book of the Damned.
Curtis: I think some of that has to be with the writer, Robbie Thompson. It’s hard for me to tell, because I don’t do that many episodes really. Though someone counted and said this marks like twelve.
Lynn: That’s a lot actually.
Curtis: I guess it is, I guess it’s a landmark if you’re on this show. But everybody writes great stuff for Metatron. I’ve been very lucky in that respect. It’s a great character for them to write for, and they always deliver really good stuff. But my feeling about Robbie is that he has sort of an inside track to Metatron, and he also probably knows me a little better than the rest of the writers because I’ve actually spent a little time with him outside of the set. We have a lot in common, the two of us. So I think when Robbie writes him, I get a feeling like I did back in the old Moonlighting days when Roger Director would write Viola. Roger created Viola, and I’m not sure that Robbie created Metatron, but it has that feeling.
[A quick check of IMDB tells me that Metatron was in fact created by the brilliant Ben Edlund, and has been written by Jeremy Carver and Andrew Dabb in addition to Robbie. But Robbie has written several recent Metatron episodes]
Curtis: But it almost doesn’t matter, because what happens is that as they talk about what they’re doing over the course of a season, somebody comes up with a character and that person doesn’t necessarily write it all the time, but becomes responsible for the creation of the character. I feel like some of that is Robbie. Like, in Meta Fiction, he put in the Sherlock Holmes thing – he was thinking about me as well as the character.
Lynn: Right, because you’re a big Sherlock fan.
Curtis: That’s kind of an unusual thing, when you have a writer who thinks about you as well as your character.
Lynn: The dialogue Robbie wrote for you in this last episode seemed to fit you so well, and you seemed to be having such a good time with it. Like the Alanis song ‘Ironic’, which bothers everyone in the world I think…
Curtis (laughing) Oh, this is really funny though. The Ironic thing, in the first place, I don’t even know the song.
Lynn: (laughing) What?!
Curtis: Which is fine because we never actually hear the song when we’re in the car, Misha and I. But then at the very end when I’ve cast the spell on Cas and he’s crumpled on the floor and I say, “Isn’t it ironic?”, or whatever the quote is that I do from the song, in the original scene [in that episode] I had said “inclement weather at nuptials and the wrong silverware is not ironic”, right? And then in the last scene, I said, isn’t it ironic blah blah blah and I didn’t realize that that was a direct quote from the song.
Lynn: Right, ‘isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?’
Curtis: But I thought it was just a call back to the earlier scene and I actually changed the line, it just came out differently – I said, “Now that’s ironic!”
Curtis: Because that’s the way my mind was working, I was thinking, this song is not ironic, but this situation IS ironic. And somebody had to tell me, you know, I think that’s a quote from the song. And I think they played it and I went OMG, it is!
Lynn: Well, how would you know if you’d never heard it? But it did work really well.
Curtis: I know, it was a great great throwback and line. This is just the kind of thing that I get to experience on this Show, there’s constantly something going on. In the episode before (Inside Man), that was pretty much a nuts and bolts thing where we had to basically just, for the sake of the story, we had to get him out. And so there wasn’t that much involved in that one, but even in that one you get Jim Beaver saying “He looks like a fraggle” and giving Metatron the opportunity to say “I’ll take that as a compliment, that was an excellent program!”
Lynn: What a great line!
Curtis: It is, it’s a great quote – and even in an episode like that which for Metatron was a pretty by the notes episode – he gets broken out, he gets shot, there’s a roadtrip – even there they find ways of making him Metatron.
Lynn: His personality always shines through. Was that the first time you acted with Jim?
Curtis: It was.
Lynn: I love Jim!
Curtis: Yeah, he’s wonderful. I work with very few people [on the show]. But now I’m beginning to look back on it and realize that one way or another, I’m starting to spread out. I’ve worked with Kevin (Osric) and with the boys and with Misha. But Mark, that still hasn’t happened.
Lynn: That needs to happen! Metatron and Crowley…
Curtis: Well, you know what? I think that kind of a thing, if you were to put Metatron with Crowley or with Lucifer, something on that level, that’s I would think a pretty big thing. And it would probably be where someone gets killed, and it would probably be me! So I don’t know if I’m looking forward to that!
Lynn: Okay, then I don’t want that to happen too quickly, but maybe eventually.
Lynn: Everyone thought, by the way, that you and Misha together, because you had so many comedic scenes, were incredibly funny. His deadpan Cas bitchfase was classic, and then the way he just hauled off and whacked you in the jaw!
Curtis: Mm hmm
Lynn: It worked so well, with Metatron’s constant prattle and his brilliant distraction techniques.
Curtis: You know what? I’m not even sure – it’s interesting to look at that whole episode and see how much of that is distraction. I guess it is kind of a distraction technique on his part. Like he says at the end, the idea is, if [Metatron] endeared himself to [Cas], once he got him his grace, he would let him off. Maybe he was really thinking that. When they’re in the library, when he says that last thing, maybe it’s legitimate.
Lynn: I was confused by that. Is it? What is he thinking?
Curtis: I mean, it’s really hard for him. And for me as an actor, it’s hard to know exactly what to play because they never tell me what the story is! If I know what’s coming up next, and I have some kind of subtext that I can employ – even just for me, even though it’s nothing that anyone else would be aware of – but in that scene where I was strapped to the chair and Dean was torturing me, that scene is one of the ones that I had to call the writers in LA about. Because I said, I don’t understand that “the river runs to the sea…”
Lynn: Ends at the source…
Curtis: I said, what does that mean?
Lynn: Exactly what everyone said!
Curtis: And I think I was talking to Jeremy, the one I always go to if I have a question, and he was really funny about it. Because he said, ummm that is….something….that….may….be…uhhh….something for later…
Curtis: I mean, I’m calling up saying this is at the moment of possible death, so it must be something significant! I really was trying to get an answer to it. And I never got the answer, of course.
Lynn: (is laughing)
Curtis: Of course it winds up being something that [Metatron] made up, it’s all crap!
Lynn: So of course Jeremy couldn’t answer it….
Curtis: (dramatically) Unless…unless it turns out it wasn’t!
Lynn: (cracks up)
Curtis: I don’t know! The thing is, I can’t second guess anything Metatron says or any of his motivations because they keep them from me, which forces me to simply play the moment, which is fine, I’m perfectly happy with that.
Lynn: It seems to work well! But I want to go back to my question, and maybe you can’t answer it, I’m still not sure what Metatron meant at the end when he said “well, you can’t say I didn’t try.” I thought maybe he was really trying to be friends with Cas, that maybe there was a part of him that really was trying.
Curtis: Okay, this is what I meant, that’s how I interpreted it, because I don’t know where we’re going next. So for me, that was exactly it, I play everything in the moment. And in the moment, that was what I meant.
Curtis: You know, everything that happens, every beat that happens with Metatron, has to be played genuinely. And it’s an interesting thing now that I think about it – when he says things, even if he is hiding something, he can’t appear to be hiding something, so when they’re in the diner everything that happens in the diner is absolutely the way I look at it. The reason the diner scene works well was that every moment is played in an absolutely real way. Metatron really is not kidding when he’s eating those waffles…
Lynn: Well, that was clear!
Curtis: And the fact that being dazzled by the digestion process and all that stuff is – it’s like, he’s really feeling this moment, and everything is, you know, changed and brightened up and lightened up, and everything’s different. And so for him, all of those things, even down to “Can’t we have a moment, I thought we were being besties…” and “stop complaining, Dean is okay,” all of those moments, he’s really trying to break through to Castiel. And I think that’s the way I always have to play it. So I think when people respond positively to Metatron in this episode, it’s because we’re talking about how much he loves things. It’s hard when you’re looking at somebody who is talking endlessly about how much he loves music, or the taste of waffles or the sound of a child’s laughter. Or reaching out to somebody and saying please, can’t we be friends? It’s all from the heart.
Lynn: (is surprisingly emotional about Metatron)
Curtis: Then it gets to the moment where he finally approaches [Castiel] and says look I need to know, what are you doing? What is your goal? Where are you headed? I don’t know why he wants to know that at that moment, it probably has something to do with something that happens later, but if he had gotten anything from Cas at that point, I was thinking it would have changed what was about to happen.
Lynn: That’s how I saw it too.
Curtis: Well, that’s the way I played it, but I played it that way having no other information. And if I don’t have any other information, it’s so frustrating sometimes, because when you do plays or movies, there’s a beginning, middle and end.
Lynn: And you know the whole story.
Curtis: Yes, you know what it’s going to be. But then again, sometimes that doesn’t happen. There’s this story about Casablanca, which they were rewriting while they were in the course of filming it. And they literally had two endings. Even Ingrid Bergman didn’t know whether she was going to stay with Bogart or leave with Paul. She was filming the movie and didn’t know! And for her, it wound up being kinda good, because until they actually got there, she didn’t know. So it allowed her to experience that role in a way that she wouldn’t have if she’d read the whole script. But that’s an unusual experience in a film, usually you have some idea and you work out what your subtext is. With this, going into a fourth season now for me of just sort of reading carefully and figuring out what I’m doing and saying, and just taking it as it comes. That first scene, I was originally going to go up and come back and then go up later for the second episode, and then they changed the shooting schedule. So I wound up staying for the whole thing. It was as long as I’ve ever stayed up there. But I didn’t go up there having even read the other script, I didn’t get it til I got up there. So (laughing) you know, I don’t know! All I can do is play the moment, and ideally that’s what we’re supposed to do, but it’s flying with blinders in some ways.
Lynn: It must feel funny at times, but it did work.
Curtis: Oh, it works great! And talking about the scenes with Misha, it was really really fun because it did feel like – there was a sense of genuine comedy to it which, you know, we’ve always had comedic moments, but never anything like this that was an ongoing thing. And I will be truthful and say that Misha is very hard to break…
Lynn: I think he’s had a lot of experience with Jared and Jensen trying to break him. [understatement…]
Curtis: I know, and he’s really a rock! And I got him in that diner, I got him.
Lynn: You did? How?
Curtis: When I started making those noises because my stomach was upset.
Lynn: lol (not a metaphor…)
Curtis: They cut it, but it went on and on.
Lynn: I hope that’s on the gag reel!
Curtis: It was the moaning and the whining and all that stuff, and he LOST it. It’s unusual because there are some actors that you just know that it’ll be tough and you can’t even try. And it wasn’t like I was doing something specific, making up stuff or trying to make him laugh. It’s just that he thought it was really funny.
Lynn: Well, it WAS really funny! Poor Misha. It also worked because for Metatron, he hasn’t been human, so it seemed very genuine the way he was experiencing that.
Curtis: And it’s going to be interesting to find out what happens now. Of course now he’s in the position of having to get his grace back. So he’s still human, but he’s got the angel tablet, and for me, I still haven’t been able to sort out – I probably won’t find out – exactly what that means.
Lynn: Well, join the club. We’re all wondering what that means and what’s going to happen in Season 11!
Curtis: Yeah, I know. This is the thing, how long is this going to continue? What does it mean when you have the demon tablet but you don’t have your grace? I have no idea.
Lynn: I don’t think an angel has ever had a demon tablet.
Curtis: And he’s not an angel! For someone like me, coming so late to the party, it’s still a bit confusing what he’s going to wind up doing with it or what he’s capable of doing with it. I have to assume he wants his grace back and to be an angel again, but I like the fact that the tables have been flipped entirely with Cas having his grace stolen by Metatron and then him having to deal with all that, and now Cas has stolen Metatron’s! But Metatron has this thing up his sleeve now, which could mean just about anything.
Lynn: Typical Supernatural. That was a wonderful plot twist. And a great episode.
Curtis: I do have to say, initially I didn’t see it when it aired unfortunately, I couldn’t watch because I was working. But when I saw it later that night, and by that time, I’d seen some of the twitter response and I was honestly pleasantly surprised. Not that I wasn’t expecting people to like it because I thought it was a great script, but surprised at the kind of response that Metatron was getting. I understood with Charlie because she’s so adorable.
Lynn: She is.
[Was?? Oh, I’m still not over it…]
Curtis: That’s the word that you guys use for everybody BUT Metatron, the adorable word.
Lynn: (laughing) True, fandom uses that word more than it gets used in general conversation. [But come on, look at them, they ARE adorable!]
Curtis: Charlie is completely adorable. And the character is such a wonderful character, and just the feeling of the show at the end when they’re all back together in the bunker having pizza, despite the concern and all that, there’s a moment of freedom and feeling like it’s almost back to normal, whatever normal is. I understood why people were responding so positively to the episode. But then when I saw it, I completely understood why. And I understood too why they responded differently to Metatron, though that is a continuing surprise to me because – I mean, I understand it, but it’s surprising to me especially given the ending. I figured this was going to be the end for me with the rest of you because yet again after giving you all these puppy eyes throughout the whole thing, then screwing Castiel at the end – again! But it didn’t seem to have had that effect in quite the way I was expecting. The fandom didn’t respond the way I was expecting them to.
Lynn: By that point, we had been drawn in a bit by the character, even if Cas hadn’t! They humanized him a little (literally) and it was too quick to drop it and turn on him.
Curtis: It’s funny, they’ve turned on him before.
Lynn: Well yeah, I mean he…
Curtis: I mean, okay he’s done things, he killed Kevin and he killed Dean…
Lynn: He did…
Curtis: Yeah, and I understand that those are kinda sore spots with people…
Lynn: Ya think?
Curtis: But at least this time he didn’t kill anybody! This time…
Lynn: I’ve always had a soft spot for the character just because you play him so well, but there have always been people who want him gone, but not as many this time.
Curtis: There’s another part to this too, I suspect. In the first season or two [that Metatron was on], the fandom was responding to a new character. And even though they might have known who I was as an actor, there was no real personal connection to him. So maybe some of this, but not all, has to do with the fact that there’s been a bit more personal connection between me and the fandom. Part is just familiarity breeding…
Lynn: Affection, yes.
Curtis: But maybe some of it is also the fact that as someone who is at least at this point part of the show, I’ve started meeting people and that makes a difference in the way they respond to the character.
Lynn: I think that’s true. You did a great panel at Vegascon. Most people in fandom, I think, knew who you were, but a lot of the younger fans didn’t and so they got to know you a little.
Curtis: Everybody, especially when Metatron’s done the kind of things that he’s done, you have a pretty good reason to be suspicious and not trust him, and obviously that will never change. But at least we’re getting to the point where people can accept him a little more than they did initially.
Lynn: I actually love hearing you talk about him, seeing the character through your eyes. Were there any other outtakes or things that went wrong? There was a lot of physical stuff in the last episode – the fight with Cupid, being tortured by Cas…
Curtis: It was fine. The fight was – I mean, I wasn’t totally involved with that, typical Metatron, he tries to get away.
Lynn: (laughing) True. But you did have to throw yourself on the ground.
Curtis: He goes down, but I think it’s more because he couldn’t run than because of anything else.
Curtis: But yeah, it was not a terribly difficult fight scene to be honest with you. The throwing on the ground was the hardest because some of it you can do on mats, but that we couldn’t do with mats, we had to do it on the asphalt so that was a bit a little painful but not terrible. And the guy was really good so it was pretty easy actually. And the rest of it was really me and Castiel. I did tweet something about, that I was thinking about doing The Odd Couple with him because it did have that feeling of, they are sort of like that.
Lynn: It definitely had that vibe. [And Cas and Metatron would most definitely be an odd couple!]
Lynn: Switching gears, VegasCon was the second one you did. Did you enjoy it? How were the meet and greets that you did?
Curtis: Oh yeah, the VegasCon was very good. The meet and greet was with Gil and me together, and I always enjoy those. And the panel, I loved doing. It’s a weird thing, to be honest, it’s still a bit of a learning process for me. I think that because everybody else who does panels there for the most part are people who’ve been at it longer than I have, and their relationship with their characters and with the fandom is different, there’s a deep emotional connection that the fandom has with those people that I don’t have with them because of the uniqueness of my situation.
Lynn: (nodding) Metatron doesn’t exactly pull for deep connection, yes.
Curtis: I’ve come into this with a certain body of work behind me, but I don’t have the emotional connection with the fans that the other ones do because they haven’t written that with Metatron. Even Mark – Crowley – is someone with whom by this time the fans have a deep emotional attachment to, not just the character, but the actor. So it seems to me from watching other panels that one of the things that happens with these people is there is this emotional attachment between fans and actors, and with me there’s still a bit of – especially because he’s relatively new, there’s almost as much interest in other stuff I’ve done from the fan standpoint. I get as many or more questions about other things I’ve done as about Supernatural. So for me, it’s an interesting thing.
[If you’d like to see Curtis at more US cons, let Creation know! I love his insights into both the show and the characters, and the reciprocal relationship between fans and actors that has developed over the past ten years of SPN – and I love that he’s a fanboy himself]
Curtis: I’m doing the Asylum one in Birmingham in May, and that will be my last one for the year. I love doing it, it’s a unique experience for me and a very enjoyable one. It’s something that I think, when you do it often enough, like anything it becomes more and more enjoyable. I’m beginning to see familiar faces, get to know the fans, recognize people from the three that I’ve done, and that’s a really nice feeling. I can see how, both for the cast and crew and for the fans, these things are a unique and wonderful experience. Because I just can’t imagine such a thing when I was growing up, the idea that I would be obsessed by a movie and I’d be able to plan when I was going to get together with everyone. It’s such an unusual experience.
Lynn: It is! And Supernatural is unusual even for Creation. They’ve never done so many cons for one show!
Curtis: I know. In some ways, mainly because of Dick Speight and Rob and the band, and what they’ve done to remake this con.
Lynn: 100%. Absolutely. Richard wrote about how he helped change the conventions – especially karaoke, but since then the idea of a house band and the Saturday night concert too – in our book, Fan Phenomena Supernatural. He’s been behind the evolution of the cons, in such a positive direction. And there’s no other con that has an incredible band like Louden Swain!
Curtis: Because of their presence and the warmth and the humor and the musicality that they bring to every con, everything that happens even if it doesn’t involve them directly becomes an important part of it. I mean, Richard, as near as I can tell from what I’ve heard, Richard is something of a genius.
Lynn: I agree. [Richard, are your ears burning??]
Curtis: I mean, he found this thing to be a part of, and has made it into this remarkable unique fan show experience that goes so far beyond the usual thing, and it’s all him and the band.
Lynn: Totally. We met Richard at the very first con that he did. It was a tradition for a long time, at the end of a con, for us to sit down with him over drinks and just talk about the con and how it went. From early on, he was so thoughtful about what might be changed – he wanted to look at it from a fan perspective. When Jensen came onstage to sing at Vegas, I knew Richard had a hand in making that happen.
[I will most likely never finish thanking him for that…]
Lynn: I really hope you do more cons. You really get fandom. And the show.
Curtis: Well, obviously I would like to do it if it is possible. When I first met you was in Chicago, and I knew nothing about any of this. I’d been asking for weeks to get a schedule for the con because I knew there were other things going on. Finally they gave me one and it wasn’t the schedule for the con, just for what I was to do! So when we met and you told me all about what was going on, that was the stuff I didn’t know about.
Lynn: I remember! I’m glad I let you know about karaoke and about the Saturday concert. Those are two of my favorite parts of any convention.
Hopefully, we’ll see Curtis at more cons next season. And we’ll find out what Metatron is up to with that demon tablet (which I’m quite sure is no good…)
Meanwhile, Curtis continues to prove that he has the heart of a fanboy. Here’s his recent YouTube tribute to the person he fans – Harry Nilsson – along with a heartfelt plea to have Harry in the Hall of Fame. Anyone who has ever clicked on a voting link a billion times to get their favorite actor the recognition they deserve – in other words, any fan – can relate.
If you’re coming to Comic Con and will be at the Superwiki’s celebration of ten years of Supernatural at Wayward Cocktails, we’ll have copies of Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls and Fan Phenomena Supernatural for sale (and are happy to sign any whether you buy or bring your own), and there will be autographed copies in the raffle to benefit Random Acts. Not autographed by us, which isn’t all that exciting – Fangasm autographed by Jensen, Jared, Misha, Mark and more, and Fan Phenomena Supernatural autographed by Misha, who wrote a chapter in that book!
We’ll also be doing interviews for the upcoming film ‘Squee! The Fangirl Documentary’ along with one of the film producers – if you’d like to talk on film about your experience as a fangirl, we’d love to have you! (We’ll be filming for the first 45 minutes or so of Wayward Cocktails, and Thursday Friday and Saturday at the convention center!).
Hope you’re all surviving Hellatus!
Fan Phenomena Supernatural and Fangasm
Supernatural Fangirls available by clicking the
Links at the top of the page