Dee Wallace on What’s So Special about Working on Supernatural
If you’ve read my review of ‘Into The Mystic’, you know how much I loved the episode. I also fell in love with the characters played by guest stars Shoshannah Stern and Dee Wallace, Eileen and Mildred. I enjoyed my chat with Shoshannah last month tremendously (check out that interview on Fangasm too) – so naturally I was very much looking forward to chatting with Dee Wallace. After so many television and film roles, I was curious about her experience on Supernatural and how it stacked up to so many other roles.
She made some time to talk on a Sunday morning, even though she had an audition coming up.
Dee: I’m so sorry, you know, they even book things on Sunday now!
Lynn: But they’re important, I understand that. My son did some acting for a while and I’m afraid I was a terrible ‘stage mom’ – I was in grad school so I wasn’t very good at dropping everything for an audition. They didn’t really appreciate that…
Dee: Well, we certainly didn’t have any of those problems on Supernatural!
Lynn: That’s good! So tell me how you got the role – I know many of the people on the show are fans of your work – how did you end up doing an episode?
Dee: Well I wish it was a more exciting story for you, darling.
[By the way, Dee has a lovely way of calling you ‘darling’ that kept making me grin. She couldn’t see it, since we were on the phone, but every time she said it I started to smile]
Dee: But no, I was out of town, the audition came in, I had to put it down on tape, and then my agent called me and said you know, we got some notes back, can you put it down again? So we used our little iPhone and put it down again and adjusted it with notes and then I booked it.
Lynn: Auditions are a lot of work!
Dee: After 40 years in the business, the business isn’t like it used to be. Almost everybody goes in and reads now and auditions. It’s just the way it is. When I was up and coming, if they liked you on a show, they would have you back every year. You knew that you were going to go back on that show. Now if you’re on a show they don’t ever use you again usually. There’s a few exceptions.
Lynn: I know they don’t often bring characters back unless they wait a long time on Supernatural, I think they often wait like 5 or 6 seasons or something. But the exception is – and I wonder if it might happen for Mildred – is if there is a positive fan response, sometimes they’ll make that a recurring character for a few episodes. They certainly left the door open for a re-appearance, saying that the retirement home was only twenty minutes from the bunker.
Dee: Well, your mouth to God’s ear, baby! I’d love to go back on that show. Let me tell you, it’s one of the nicest shows — and I’ve been doing this for 40 years — that I’ve ever done. They’re a huge family, of course you know, after 11 seasons, right?
Lynn: They are.
Dee: But they’re just into a rhythm. The boys are both so lovely and so down to earth and so giving as actors. And of course getting to work with John Badham, that was the cherry on top. But all the producers, so lovely and welcoming, and it was just a beautiful beautiful experience.
Lynn: So many guest stars say that about Supernatural, but I never get tired of hearing it! It looked like you had a lot of fun. Many of the people who guest star on the show talk about how different the atmosphere is on that set, how much like a family. Was there any ad libbing? I saw you tweeted a photo of you and Jensen just cracking up between takes.
Dee: Of course, I mean, you have to have fun on a set. You have to have fun in life, you know that.
Lynn: Oh definitely.
Dee: If you don’t have fun in life, life becomes drudgery. So yeah, they move very quickly, they are a family machine. They move really quickly because they have to with everything they have to do, all the special effects.
Lynn: They do move very fast. Like a well oiled machine.
Dee: I know a lot of fans ask did anybody play a prank you on you? No, they didn’t. I don’t know if I put off the vibe that I was a ‘serious actress’ but we had a lot of fun. And it was easy, it wasn’t like… alot of times on a set, when you go in as a guest star, no matter who you are, you really feel not a whole part of the set until maybe even three or four days in. but that’s not the way it was with Supernatural. From the day I got there and worked with the sign language teacher and producers and went to visit hair and makeup, it was just lovely. Everybody knows how to take care of you and they expect you to be the professional you are. And that, as you know, is a win win situation — when you’re respected and honored and you can have fun. And you know your stuff, and you go in and give them what they want. Everybody wins.
Lynn: It is a win-win, yes. I interviewed Shoshannah…
Dee: Oh, beautiful girl!
Lynn: I had so much fun with her and I’m sure you did too. Was the sign language hard to learn? Or did you already know some?
Dee: You know, I had to use sign language in The Whispers. And so I knew a little bit. Did I remember any of it? No!
Dee: It was harder in The Whispers because I had to talk and sign exactly what I was saying. In Supernatural, they put it [the captions] underneath. And that was a lot easier because signing goes backwards from what your brain does.
Lynn: Oh, really? Interesting.
Dee: So when you have to sign and talk at the same time, it’s kinda like rubbing your head and your belly in the opposite direction.
Both of us: [laughing]
Lynn: I never knew that! They’re two different languages with their own linguistic order, so I guess that makes sense.
Dee: When I watched it, I thought gosh Dee, you could have made it look a little simpler! But she was practicing. She says the line, ‘I need practice’ because I think her granddaughter…but whenever I have something like that to do, I feel a great responsibility to do it correctly for the fans out there who are perhaps challenged that way. Like I had a specific disease in a soap that I did, and it was important to me that I found really pertinent ways to play that that were truthful while I still had all the dialogue that I had to do.
Lynn: Fandom talks a lot about the importance of representation, of seeing yourself in media that’s important to you, and how powerful that is, what an impact that has on identity. You and Shoshannah and the writers got it so right in this episode, in ways that I didn’t even realize were right until Shoshannah pointed them out to me.
Dee: And everybody worked together. Shoshanna was very present and worked with John and said, for example, you know, this is difficult for me to play because he’s turned away from her [Sam from Eileen] and it wouldn’t be possible for me to read his lips.
Lynn: Exactly, it’s those kind of things that I’d miss.
Dee: Yeah, something that a director who’s not Deaf might not know to focus on. So you know, I’d go over it with the sign language teacher and with Shoshanna, and say okay am I doing this correctly and we would tweet things here and there. So I so appreciated not only her fun and her presence on the set but her expertise and helping me.
Lynn: She made sure everybody got it right. I’m sure you know Supernatural has a very passionate fandom. We watch with a magnifying glass, because it is so important. So all your care and energy you put into it wasn’t wasted.
Dee: Well good. We were following twitter and participating while the show was on and oh my gosh I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s a world of its own.
Lynn: It’s a phenomenon. One of the things people really responded to in Mildred was that she was written as such a positive representation of an older woman. The stereotype of genre fans is that we are all teenagers, but Supernatural fandom spans a large age range. So to see an older woman portrayed so positively was amazing.
Dee: Thank you, yeah.
Lynn: [essentially babbling in my excitement…] I mean, she’s just – she couldn’t have been more perfect, Dee. She’s smart, she’s had an adventurous life, she’s fulfilled. And she’s comfortable with her sexuality, which was so wonderful to see!
Dee: Yeah, it was funny because he kinda said I know maybe this is maybe a little far fetched, and I said not really in my life! [laughing]
Lynn: Nobody thought it was far fetched, that’s the thing! And the way they wrote Dean’s reaction to Mildred was also very positive and plausible – like hey, I’ve fantasized about the Golden Girls. So affirming.
Dee: It was a lovely lovely script. And what I really appreciate about Supernatural is that they’re so comfortable in their success that they still allow good actors and directors to bring in their ideas, you know? So much in tv these days, they don’t want you to change anything. They don’t want your ideas, really. They want you to come in and stick to the words and bring it to life. And you know, film and tv has always been and should be a collaborative effort, I think.
Lynn: Yes. And it does seem to be just that on Supernatural.
Dee: It was refreshing that we had a little bit of that freedom to improvise some of the stuff, especially when Mildred’s boss was seeing her [the banshee] and hearing her and all that, it’s very hard for a writer to fill in all of the stuff in the moment that you’re going through in an action sequence like that. And well, I’m good at it because of all the horror films I’ve done!
Lynn: Your scream and the expression on your face – it was so believable! There was so much horror there in Mildred’s face, it was so well done.
Dee: Thank you. John came after me later and he said, that was really good, Dee, and I said yeah, I’m a good screamer. And after I said it I thought oh now, on a Disney set I could’ve gotten in trouble for that! [laughing]
Lynn: Not on Supernatural – that is a valuable trait on Supernatural! I’ve been on the set, but never acted, so I don’t always know how these things are shot. What were you actually looking at? Nothing?
Dee: No no, let me think…I don’t think she was –maybe she was there. Because they were going to have to shoot her. I know he was there [Mildred’s boss], so I know I had him, I wasn’t just looking at a mark. But frankly, Lynn, it wouldn’t have mattered. I mean, I wasn’t really seeing a zombie eat somebody…I mean a banshee…
Lynn: I assumed…
Lynn: So how much fun did you have shooting the scene on the couch with Dean? That was a favorite of the fandom both because Mildred got a chance to impart some wisdom to Dean, which is again that positive representation of someone who’s lived and can pass that wisdom on – and also because you got to put your hand on Jensen Ackles’ knee. And move it higher…
Dee: [laughing] I think that’s really what it was about. But I love that they gave me that line, “Well I could move it up…”
Lynn: I loved that so much, and you did it with so much playful flirtatiousness, man you nailed that line!
Dee: Thank you, we had a lot of fun, I mean, I’ve gotta say, there was a massive amount of lines. Like I would have a whole paragraph and then he would have a half a line…
Dee: And then I’d have another paragraph, and he would have a half a line. So yeah, but we had a lot of fun and he was so present for me and so helpful. I just – some of those reactions that he had to do aren’t easy, and he makes them look easy. They’re not particularly easy for an actor to do.
Lynn: He’s masterful with the non verbal expressions that I swear can say more than I can say in three paragraphs.
Dee: [laughing] Yeah. And it was just so beautiful to watch them together, because they’re really good friends, you know, they live within I think a couple of blocks from each other, they both have little kids, and they’re just – I’ve often thought, what would it be like to have been on this show for eleven seasons and not like your costar?
Lynn: OMG yeah. I don’t think it would have gone for eleven seasons if they weren’t as close as they are, frankly.
Dee: Yeah, yeah. And you know, they take off every weekend and do the sci fi shows, so they’re together like seven days a week pretty much.
Lynn: What’s really amazing is that they even elect to spend time together when they’re not working or at a convention! They really got lucky.
Dee: They sure did. Being in the business 40 years, they sure did.
Lynn: Shoshannah said they’re always professional and welcoming and warm but something in their faces lights up when the other one is there, which I thought was such a nice thing to say.
Dee: Yeah. Yeah. And she’s right.
Lynn: So speaking of conventions, have you thought about doing some? Have you done them?
Dee: Oh sure.
Lynn: I figured you had.
Dee: Yeah I do sci fi conventions, but I would love to go to a Supernatural convention. If the fans say, we’d like to see Dee at a convention, that’s the best way to make that work. Also, I don’t know how well you researched me, did you find my little bear that I just launched?
Lynn: No, tell me about it.
Dee: Well I sent one to each of the boys for their kids. You being a psychologist will appreciate this. It’s all based on brain science. I’m also a healer. I’m a teacher, licensed teacher and I got really interested in brain science when I figured out that all these people who I had helped over the past 25 years teaching and in private sessions, they had this core thing, and what it was is they just didn’t love and honor and appreciate who they were. And then when I started putting that together with the brain science I was studying, because our brain is pretty much done by the time we’re four years old, especially how we see ourselves and the world, how we fit into the world and all that, if we’re not taught how to love ourselves by then, we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out why we can’t do something or why we’re at a wall we can’t get past. So I created this little bear with fourteen empowering statements like I love my body, I’m so loved, I’m gonna be great. And the child pushes the paw and hears the statement. I just launched it a few months ago, and I sent it to both the boys for Christmas.
Lynn: All the things that we all need to hear and believe about ourselves. And if we don’t get that validation, it’s hard to love ourselves.
Dee: You know, Lynn, most of the time, none of us do. Because society has taught parents forever that self centered means people aren’t going to like you and your kids if you go, yeah I’m great and I can see that you’re great too.
Dee has also donated the buppabears to various charities, including women’s shelters. For more information, go to http://www.buppalapaloo.com/
Lynn: I know we’re almost out of time. One last question. What was the most fun thing or the best thing about being on Supernatural?
Dee: That’s a hard question.
Lynn: [laughing] That’s why I save it til last…
Dee: [laughing too] Yeah, thank you. I think I really enjoyed being able to play someone my age that was sexy and had a lot of energy like I do. And looks beautiful. The hair and makeup and wardrobe people put that character together so well.
Dee: Yeah, and because really most of the time in my career – like this audition I’m getting ready to go to right now – is a simple grandma. And because of a lot of the parts I’ve played, I’m an actress who has allowed herself – [laughing] this is an understatement – who has allowed herself to not look great a lot of the time… So to be able to go in and play somebody very close to who I am, you know?
Lynn: Yes, absolutely.
Dee: And have such great lines and yet at the same time, what I loved was a lot of the stuff that I was saying to Dean was my healing work that I teach. You know, the secret to life, the secret to being happy? Keep your heart open. It just brought all of the worlds of me and who I am together in such a fun ride, and again, it was so nice to be honored and respected and they have that totally down on the set of Supernatural.
Lynn: Do you mind if I tell Robbie that?
Dee: I actually tweeted something about it and also said to the DP thank you for shooting me so well but please, it would make me so happy to let him know how much I enjoyed that part and his beautiful words.
Lynn: I absolutely will. I’m gonna end with just wanting to tell you something because it’s an indication of how much your character and portrayal meant to this fandom. The tweet that went around social media, in all capital letters, was: WE ARE ALL MILDRED
Dee: OHMYGOD, I just got chills when you said that, Lynn!
Lynn: It’s a testament to Robbie’s writing, the directing, everyone’s enactment and your portrayal.
Dee: Wow, thank you for sharing that with me. We were on twitter participating but OMG that’s awesome!
Lynn: I hope that sends you off to your audition with some good vibes.
Dee: It definitely will. Thank you so so much, what a lovely interview.
It was! I love the character of Mildred and really hope we see her again. And I’ve got my fingers crossed for Dee for that audition!
Thanks to @kayb625 for caps!
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