Curtis Armstrong on Saying An Emotional Goodbye to Metatron
I’m very emotional about Supernatural right now. The news that Robbie Thompson was leaving hit me very hard – I love the way he writes Sam and Dean and I love Robbie as a person. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every long conversation we’ve had about the show, whether it was deep thoughts at the DePaul Conference or debates about fanfiction over drinks. I will miss him, and his episodes. Add to that the fact that another of my favorite people – for deep thoughts and discussion over drinks – also seems to have finally met his Supernatural end. I think my text to Curtis Armstrong at the end of the last episode just said “NOOOOOOOOO!”
The amazing thing is that a lot of the fandom were also sad to see him go – which is really saying something considering Metatron’s villainous history on Supernatural. It’s a testament to both Robbie’s writing and Curtis’ acting that we saw a believable evolution in a character like Metatron in the last two episodes. I chatted yesterday with Curtis about filming Don’t Call Me Shurley and All In The Family – it was a long and intense conversation, so this is Part One. Stay tuned for Part Two, with more fascinating behind the scenes insights about filming, the show and the how and why of Metatron’s changes. I seriously could talk with Curtis all day.
Lynn: I’m still upset. How are you?
Curtis: It’s funny, I’ve been thinking about this so much – I just started writing the Supernatural part of my memoir that’s going to be published next year, so it’s been in my head for the last couple of weeks, especially because of all the attention that Robbie’s episode got.
Lynn: It was such an emotional episode, and Robbie’s leaving invested it with even more emotionality. I think we’re overwhelmed!
Curtis: I know. And I was really aware of that. Robbie had told me it would be his last one so that was very significant for me too, because Robbie was always the one that I felt got Metatron – not the best, but he just had an instinctive sense of that character that I always loved. And aside from that, he was the only person literally on the show, of the writers and producers, who I ever had a relationship with. Most of them I met once or twice, but Robbie really reached out. He invited me over to the writers’ office for lunch one day, and that was the only time I met Jeremy and Jenny. We always had sort of similar pop culture tastes, and we’re both from Detroit, so we have certain things in common.
Lynn: I think it probably meant a lot to him, to be able to write this character for you, and then you all did an episode commentary for it too – that’s sort of a wonderful part of his ending with Supernatural.
Curtis: That was a big day because doing that episode was so intense, starting with Robbie’s writing – I think Rob has referred to it as feeling like a one act play, it felt like a two hander.
Lynn: It did, it really did.
Curtis: It was the first time I’d ever worked with Rob of course – and jumping into the deep end that way with somebody and having it be someone who was so responsive and committed that we were able to do it, it was intense. It was not easy, but there’s a feeling you get when you trust another actor and you just have that sense of who the person is. I knew nothing about his past, and he knew nothing about my personal past, but what we were doing stirred up stuff for both of us. And that was a really really intense couple of weeks. And then it was weird too because I was then supposed to go home and I was going to do a con in Salt Lake City in between episodes. Then the schedule changed, and I was still able to do the con, but instead of going home I just turned around and went back to finish the other episode. And the last episode was different because it had been written at kind of the same time – in fact, exactly at the same time. I think everyone knows by now that Jeremy has left the show.
Lynn: Yes, it’s been announced.
Curtis: And that was already happening at the time we were filming these, so Andrew Dabb was running the show for those episodes. And I found in All In The Family, there were some problems in the script that came from, I think, the fact that the previous episode and that episode had been written at the same time, so there couldn’t be a lot of communication about what had been done in the previous episode.
Lynn: Because they essentially overlapped.
Curtis: Right. So what wound up happening was, when I started working on that last episode, I found that Metatron had been written very much in the old Metatron way. It was like he hadn’t gone through what he’d gone through in the previous episode.
Lynn: Oh, which was such a big change – he went through such an evolution in DCMS.
Curtis: I mean, it changed the character totally. But you saw no evidence of that in the script as it was originally written. So I did what I’ve only had to do once or twice – usually if I ever called Jeremy or anyone, it was because I was confused about something or there was a part of the canon I didn’t understand or something along those lines, it was just information mainly. But in this case, I actually did talk to them about it, about how I’d play this. And I was concerned about, there was a lot of Metatron being drunk all the time, and I thought well, that sort of diminishes his sacrifice.
Curtis: If he’s having to get drunk to do it, which was the impression I got, then it takes away from his sacrifice.
Lynn: It would have changed it, definitely.
Curtis: Well the truth is, very little was changed. In fact, nothing was changed. It all had to come down to – they had one change in his speech, but that was actually a thing they’d already caught before I’d seen the new version of the script. That thing I was mainly concerned with, that had already been fixed. But they never really responded to any of the other notes. It all had to come down to – I talked to Tom Wright [the director] about it, and Tom is one of my favorite directors on that show. Truthfully, one of my favorite television directors of all time, I can’t say enough about Tom. And we have one of those shorthand relationships at this point. He’s only directed me maybe three times on the show I think, but from the very beginning we just got each other. And he’s able to just sort of come up on the set and go, you know, what do you think? You’re doing this, maybe you’re… And he barely has to tell me what the note is and I know what he’s talking about.
Lynn: Oh that’s cool.
Curtis: It’s a really wonderful relationship. So I talked to him about it and of course you don’t usually talk to television directors about that kind of thing, because it’s really a writer’s purview. But I said, I just want to be sure this doesn’t come off like I’m just drunk. It was really important to me for some reason, I felt like if Metatron is going to sacrifice himself, I wanted him to do it for the right reasons.
[Can I just say that I effing love how much the actors on this show CARE about their characters? Jensen and Jared have talked about the same thing, about asking questions when something doesn’t seem right for their character, and about the Show being responsive to their expertise about their own characters. It’s so unusual in television, and I think it makes such a difference.]
Lynn: And you were really the only one who was in a position to follow the continuity of the character from the episode before to this one, since they were written by different people at almost the same time. It would have been confusing if Metatron reverted to who he was before, and negated some of that powerful change we saw in DCMS.
Curtis: Well, the area where I was able to land for it, what made it easier was the fact that it’s the difference between Metatron talking to God, with whom he has this really deep and very complicated relationship, and the Winchesters, with whom he really doesn’t. The relationship between Metatron and the Winchesters and with Cas has gone through sort of all these twists and turns. I think he has more of a connection to Castiel than to the Winchesters. They always seemed to me to him to be kind of objects, problems to be overcome from Metatron’s pov. That was not the case with Castiel, I think. But when Metatron is talking with God, he’s talking with his father.
Lynn: Yes. Yes.
Curtis: [laughing] And I found it interesting – I had done a joke tweet last episode where I said something about hooking up with Amara despite the fact that she’s killing me, and it was just a joke but a lot of people took it as being kind of disgusting because that would mean I’d be hooking up with my aunt!
Lynn: Wait, what? I never thought of that.
Curtis: Of course it wouldn’t be the case, but that is a result of the strength of that Metatron and God conversation, because it’s so clearly an abandoned troubled man confronting his father at the end of his life.
Lynn: Yes, absolutely. That’s what gave it all that power.
Curtis: Yes, ‘Why did you leave me? You picked me, you were mine, I adored you, you were everything to me and you left me!’
Lynn: It was heartbreaking.
Curtis: They say about acting, having your commitment and your intent being strong – and I think in both Rob’s and my case the thing that made that work as much as it did was that our intentions were rock solid. We were playing that depth of feeling that would come from that kind of abandonment and confrontation and because of that, that’s what people were seeing, a father and son relationship.
Lynn: Absolutely. That’s sort of been the theme of the last half of this season, and so much the theme of that episode, daddy issues and abandonment. Dean is in the same position, he’s still that abandoned little boy, begging John Winchester to call him back and to help his sons.
Lynn: It was such a treat for me watching Tom Wright directing, and there were times he came in and gave notes, and seemed to work so smoothly with the actors.
Curtis: And this is something that’s very rare. Usually television directors just don’t do that, they figure out where the cameras are and they shoot it. Especially if you’re a regular on a show and have been doing it a long time, you don’t have a new director coming in every week and saying you know, try this. You could have that as a guest star, which is why being a guest star on long running shows is one of the toughest jobs. You wind up being the center of all the flexing. But I think Jared and Jensen actually might – and I don’t know this because I don’t really know Jared and Jensen – but my assumption is they are people who with someone like Tom would be open to that kind of thing. Especially Jensen, because his relationship with Tom goes back to before Supernatural.
[In fact, I think Jensen mentioned that same ease of communication with Tom, that he didn’t even need words and they could just ‘get it’]
Lynn: So you mentioned Metatron drinking. Was that scene where Metatron picks up the beer and then Sam grabs it away from him scripted?
Curtis: Yes, it was scripted.
Lynn: Well it was very well done, it was very funny!
Curtis: [laughing] Well, yeah. I love the fact that stuff like that, people assume it has to have been improv.
Lynn: Because it looks so organically funny, it’s like oh it’s so funny, it must be real!
Curtis: I know, it’s funny, but that’s our job! And if you’re doing your job, then you should be able to make it look like it’s just something that’s happening.
Lynn: Well, it did. One of the things that struck me about DCMS is that there was so much dialogue. It was like an intricate dance between Metatron and God, confronting, cajoling, getting more and more real with each other. How long did it take to shoot that?
Curtis: It didn’t take that long. We only had one day on the location, which was during the day when we were shooting the scene by the lake, which I think isn’t a lake but I forget, but that was our first day.
And that was weird because that scene, which is extensive, comes mid way between two other thirds of the scene. It begins in the bar, starts to escalate and then suddenly mid thought becomes the scene continuing in an entirely different place, then it continues to accelerate, then it goes back to the bar. It’s all the same scene, but in the middle they’re in a different place. I think it was that scene, or maybe the long scene about the book after I’ve read the book, but one of those, Bob Singer said was in fact the longest dialogue scene without action or a break in the history of the show.
Lynn: I knew it! Well, okay, I didn’t know it, but…
Curtis: Well I could be wrong or he could be wrong, but I do know that he said that.
Lynn: It has to be up there, I was like omg how are they doing this, and it just didn’t let up.
Curtis: As far as the memorizing goes, that’s something which for me is not that difficult. This was more unusual because of the amount, but I’ve done plays my whole life that took a lot more effort than that. You do get to rehearse with plays though.
Curtis: We never really got to do much rehearsal beyond running it through a couple of times for the camera. We didn’t really get a rehearsal. So Rob and I separately had to come up with what we were going to do. Not just the lines, but everything underneath the lines had to be there so we could hit the ground running once we started. And again, this is where the happiness of two people who understood each other and understood what the work was, what happens when those people are working together. It’s a nice break to work with somebody like that, because you leave all of the bullshit behind so that in our case, the bigger scenes at the end – the big emotional scenes – those were the things we never talked about until AFTER we did them.
Curtis: Then after we did them, we’d go off and sit down in our chairs behind the set and we’d start talking about things from our past and why it was important. But it was something we never addressed before we did the shot, only after.
Lynn: There was a time I’m thinking of, where Metatron really became emotional, and there were tears even, and it really got to me. When you get to that part of the script, is there a specific direction that says at that point, ‘Metatron has tears in his eyes’?
Curtis. No, that’s a weird thing about this episode. I’ll tell you the story, because it’s kind of interesting. There are two sides of it, from my standpoint When I read the script, what Robbie wrote in the script was at the very end, when God is singing and I turn over the last page and I look up at him, Robbie had written something like ‘his eyes are moist’.
In the previous scene, where Metatron is begging for God to save humanity, there is no indication of tears at all.
Lynn: [surprised] Oh!
Curtis: But here’s the funny thing about that. So I have the script here at my house and it was about two weeks before going up and I’m starting to work on the script from a technical standpoint, breaking down the scenes and trying to find the through line and thinking about the relationships and all that kind of thing, and then starting to work on memorizing the lines just by myself in my room.
Curtis: And so there’s no difference in the way I’m doing anything, it’s the way I do everything. And for some reason, maybe because of the fact that it felt so much like a play, I just started with the very first scene. And started memorizing and going through it. Because I knew when the day came, we wouldn’t have any time to do anything, and I needed to be really solid on the lines. So I start working on this and everything is going fine and then I get to that scene and – [pauses, with a sound of disbelief] – I will never forget this as long as I live, and this is really all about Robbie and I’ve told him this. I start reading that scene out loud, the first time where I’m reading that scene out loud to myself, full voice, pacing in my room, reading that scene. And I get to the point where I say ‘and I don’t care if I was just the angel nearest the door…’ And God, it’s getting to me right now, as I’m thinking about it now –
Lynn: Ohgod, me too…
Curtis: It was the first half of what I said, like I don’t care if I was the angel – and I changed the line, it wasn’t the line that he wrote exactly, but it was essentially the same, and he told me afterward that he loved the fact that I changed it and he said that if it had occurred to him, he would have written it that way. But it was that line and I started to cry as I was reading it…
Lynn: At home, by yourself…
Curtis: In my room, pacing back and forth, and I start to say those lines, I don’t care if I was just the angel closest to the door, and it made me start to cry. And it SHOCKED me. I was jarred totally out of it and I was like what the fuck is this? I was not prepared to do it, I did not think – I was thinking anger, I was thinking betrayal, I was thinking all sorts of things but I was not thinking tears. And it came out, I mean, on my cheeks crying. So I stopped and I thought, that was so weird, and I kind of recovered and took a few minutes, then I started to do it again and the same thing happened at the same moment.
Lynn: God, I’ve got chills…
Curtis: And I put down the script and I said, I’m not going to work on this anymore because I realized something that is a truism and that actors who have been lucky enough to work on really great material know. And that is, great writing – really great writing – will bring you to tears without you having to prepare for it. I’ve had to cry on screen and on stage, I’ve done both, but in both cases it was a technical thing where I had to make myself cry and you do what you do and everyone has their own way of doing that. What you have when you have writing like that speech, and more importantly everything that’s led up to that moment, because that’s what it’s really about, that is the best kind of writing it’s possible to have. That is writing on an enormously high level. But it’s instinctive, because even Robbie wasn’t aware of it.
Lynn: It just came out that way…
Curtis: Robbie thought I was going to cry at the end, that my eyes would be moist, because I’d see that it was God’s sacrificing himself or writing a suicide note. That would be the kicker at the end and that’s when my emotion would come out. But what you have to take into account is the betrayal and the loss and the hurt that comes before that.
Lynn: Which we all could relate to, which is why that scene got to all of us too. I had tears in my eyes too – it was so universal. Robbie wrote it that way, you gave it your genuine reaction, and then viewers had their genuine reaction. Which doesn’t happen very often.
Curtis: No. It was a unique experience, and it was really hard, in a way, to go from that episode to the next. By that time, I knew I was finally going to be offed, and somehow Metatron in that final episode, although he does have the sacrifice and the sacrifice is genuine, I think… but in some ways I feel like ‘Don’t Call Me Shurley’ – in the same way that it was Robbie’s swan song – it was mine too.
Cue me getting teary and trying to hide it from Curtis. What can I say, I’m really going to miss him!
It’s fascinating to me that both Curtis and Jensen became unexpectedly emotional in these last two episodes — scenes in which their characters were expected to be angry instead brought uncontrived and entirely genuine tears. I just ask myself sometimes how I got so lucky to fall for this show, with this cast and crew and writers and editors who care so much. Seriously.
There are many more fascinating insights in Part Two of my chat with Curtis – stay tuned!
Caps by @kayb625
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