Behind the Scenes of Supernatural with Director Richard Speight Jr.
I had the pleasure of chatting with one of my favorite people at the Nashville Supernatural convention last month – Supernatural actor and director Richard Speight, Jr. I’ve known Richard since his very first Creation con appearance almost a decade ago, and I always enjoy his thoughtful insights about the show. Nashville is a particularly fun place for Richard to be, since it’s also his hometown. In fact, he was busy planning a tour for a small group of lucky fans for the next day when we met up at the green room backstage. Turns out there were a bunch of very tired people catching a few minutes of much-needed sleep in the green room, so we resourcefully pulled some chairs off a stack in the hallway and made our own little interview area (the backstage area of the hotel is literally a series of hallways that thread through the kitchen and storage areas and then spill out into the main hall, which is fairly typical for convention hotels. Not exactly scenic, but you take what you can get!)
Lynn: Not my first rodeo. Look how versatile I am (balancing an audio recorder precariously on a ledge and an iPad on my backpack)
Richard: (cocks an eyebrow) Yeah, you’ve got a lot of machinery there…
Lynn: So how are you?
(The audio recorder tumbles off the ledge, followed by the iPad falling off the backpack)
Lynn: You know, I thought I was being so smart and resourceful…
Richard: (Goes to get another chair)
Richard: So I’m good, how about you?
Lynn: Me too. You’ve been busy busy busy.
Richard: You too. Bravo on the new book.
Pleasantries and balancing acts over, we got down to business – that is, chatting about the episode that Richard directed earlier this season, which had just aired before the Nashville convention. ‘Stuck In The Middle (With You)’ was an emotional and innovative episode, written by Davy Perez so that the action shifts backwards and forwards in time, from multiple points of view, and as a sort of homage to Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking. I can only imagine that the episode was challenging to direct, but Richard really pulled it off!
Lynn: So all the Tarantino touches, were they already written in?
Richard: Some of them were, yes. For the most part. Davy had a very clear style in mind for telling the story non-linearly.
Lynn: I’ll say! Which was awesome.
Richard: For example, for the table scene, he referenced that he’d like to see it like the diner scene in Reservoir Dogs, and of course he had the box with the gold light ala Pulp Fiction. It had a very Shaolin Master feel to it, which is a style Tarantino pulls from a lot, and it was largely him putting those in there. The slow motion walk thing, he put that in there too.
Lynn: Were you already a Tarantino fan?
Richard: Oh yeah, absolutely
Lynn (who understands a thing or two about being a fan): So was this a really exciting thing, were you like oh wow, I got an episode that’s totally a Tarantino homage?
Richard: I was, I was excited and I was also very intimidated because of the enormity of the story. I had two fight sequences – the previous episode I directed had none. I had five major characters and they all had story lines that had to be serviced. I had shifting perspectives so I had to film scenes from various angles and various perspectives, so that when we had to flash back to them or go to them from a different person’s perspective, it looked and felt the same but different.
Lynn: Wow, complicated.
Richard: (nods) So it was a real challenge in terms of the technical aspects of it, so I did find it intimidating. But what Davy started with the writing was great because it was basically like rolling a boulder down the hill in terms of the momentum it took on as we went along, because then I decided oh, I can totally go stylized with this, we’re gonna go cinematically stylized, and I can dive in and keep fanning the flames in that direction. So that led to a lot of Western themes that I put in there, and to a Western score that got put in.
Lynn: Oh yes, because that really added to it – the Western theme and music, it made the character of Ramiel seem sort of reminiscent of Cain. I was watching the episode at an academic conference, believe it or not, in a hotel room with some other Supernatural fans, and everyone was saying that – the music gave it a real Western feel.
Richard: Yeah, it did. I’m a big Sergio Leone fan, and it felt like there was a lot we sort of pulled from that with the stand off with this character – from how I placed the camera, to how I used the camera, I used the split diopter shots to change focus, which is an old Western technique. I kind of embraced that world because it felt right for the story, and it worked really well with what Davy had already teed up in there.
Lynn: It did, it worked really well with that character. It made Ramiel , who was a one time character, nevertheless a really interesting one.
Richard: He’s awesome.
Lynn: He embodied that part (See my interview with Jerry Trimble here on Fangasm earlier this month!)
Richard: Yeah, he was great. He came in and auditioned and he was just fantastic. We cast him out of Canada, and a lot of time those heavy hitters are out of Los Angeles. He lives in Vancouver – he’s an American, but he lives in Vancouver. And he was just fantastic. I wanted somebody who knew the martial arts.
Lynn: Oh yes, you said he does his own stunts?
Richard: He’s a world champion martial artist. So we never doubled it – except when he got hit by the car.
Lynn: (laughing) Well okay, I should hope so!
Richard: But even that was more of an effect, I mean, he did everything. In the fight scene with Jared and Jensen, he was just dynamite. And I wanted him, because I wanted somebody who knew how to hold a spear, who looked right when he had to pull that thing out of his shoulder, who could turn around and look like he knew what he was doing. It mattered to me tremendously that the actor looked like he could defeat Sam and Dean.
Lynn: Which is really saying something, because – well, Sam and Dean! So with the spear, was there something there or was that entirely VFX?
Richard: No, no that was there. We had a spear. We took it away and then put it back.
Lynn: Oh okay, because I don’t know how otherwise he would have made it look that real. And speaking of real, acting wise, I told Misha how much I loved his performance in that scene where Cas was almost dying. It could have so easily gone over the top. Even the way it was written, it could have. And, like I told him, that’s a lot to do with his acting, but it’s also a lot to do with you. How do you walk that fine line to make it emotional but not over the top so people won’t go ‘oh, come on…’?
Richard: Well for starters, I’ve got to give Misha the credit for most of that scene. That was Misha. I didn’t really give him any notes. He came in, and I think I used mostly take one for the edits and then a little bit from take two. But he mostly kind of nailed it right out of the gate. And I think Jared and Jensen and Misha and Mark, the four of those guys have a really good sense of the reality of the show. Which is a heightened reality.
Lynn: Yes, but still reality.
Richard: But which is grounded in the framework of that universe. So there’s a lot of stuff in Supernatural that in the wrong hands could be cheesy.
Lynn: For sure.
Richard: But it never goes there, because those guys always play the honesty of the beat and the moment. So Misha playing that moment, you know, I think if I leant anything to it, it’s insisting that we be consistent in how beaten up he is. I didn’t want him pretty, I wanted him sweaty, I wanted him gross, I wanted the blood to be awful. When he comes in the bar with Mary carrying him, I made Sam (Smith) wear knee pads because I wanted her carrying his full weight, so if she fell, she fell. Like I did not want it to look like anything was easy. I wanted his journey to be difficult, because he’s on TV – No one actually thinks he’s going to die.
Lynn: No, not really.
Richard: So we have to go as far to the cliff as we possibly can emotionally, and make it not easy. That was this character’s journey – not pretty, not sexy, not romantic. So many things are like that for those boys, I think maybe keeping him gross and uncomfortable and sticky, maybe that helped put him in that headspace. I don’t know, but maybe it did. But from a director’s standpoint, I did nothing more than point a camera at him and let him do his thing, and it’s great.
Lynn: I think that probably does make a difference, it sort of grounds them in the moment. I mean, you know, you’re an actor, you have to get in that headspace, you know how it feels. And all those things help.
Richard: Well, I direct the way I like to be directed and I try to shoot things the way I like to be framed and shot, so I think it helps that I’ve been in that position before. Maybe it lends some credence to my opinions when speaking to actors, that I’ve been in that place before.
Lynn: Jensen says the same thing about being an actor and a director. And I’ve heard guest actors say that they appreciate that about him, that he knows what it’s like to be the actor.
Lynn: There were some gorgeous shots in this episode. I’m a big fan of (director of photography) Serge Ladouceur, I know you are too – I mean, he makes things beautiful.
Richard: (nodding enthusiastically) Oh man…
Lynn: How much of that is you and him working together? For instance, that beautiful scene of Ramiel stabbing Cas, it was breathtaking. Did you know when you were shooting it that it was going to look that great?
Richard: There’s nothing I’ve ever done with Serge in the two episodes I’ve directed where what I’ve had in my mind doesn’t pale in comparison to what he does. I have a shot design and he and I go over it. Serge and I talk constantly during the process, we ride to set together and we ride home together, so we talk about what worked before, what worked that day. I make him play a game called what’s your favorite shot of the day?
Lynn: (laughing) I love that.
Richard: And we tell each other our favorite shots of the day.
Lynn: Well I hope that was somebody’s favorite shot of the day!
Richard: It was certainly mine! And that day was full of great shots. That night we shot Mary running down the stairs and Castiel coming out the window, we shot Misha getting hit by the car, we shot that shot, we shot Jerry walking up with that wide, beautiful shot with the tree up behind him, which I love. But that shot of Jerry – Ramiel – stabbing Castiel, it is a feature film shot.
Lynn: Exactly, that’s exactly what it is. I have a collection of favorite cinematic shots from when I’ve interviewed Serge, and that’s going in that folder.
Ricahrd: And I mean, I can take credit for framing the shot. But I cannot take credit for how he’s able to light it up like that. But that’s Serge. He knows where to put the key lights, he knows – I like to think I give him enough fun ideas to make him feel like his work is being utilized properly, you know what I mean?
Lynn: (nodding) Mm hmm
Richard: It would be terrible if we had lit that space that beautifully and I never shot it, so I was happy to put the camera lights on that shot. And Jerry, again, perfect example. Because he knows how to use a spear, and he knows how to hold his body, he looks like a fucking dragon, man. I mean his legs are set, and he like stabs and rears back and it’s just fantastic the way he uses his body. So that’s why I wanted a martial artist, I didn’t want an actor trying to look tough. You know, I talked to casting about it, and Andrew Dabb and Bob Singer and I talked. I wanted Anthony Hopkins. I wanted an older man who was scary sitting still.
Lynn: Yeah, that was him.
Richard: And so when Jerry came in, I made them put him in dull clothes and flat hair and the little fishing cap when he’s out there gardening, like I didn’t want anything about him to be scary until he was scary.
Lynn: Yes, yes, and that contrast is what made it so creepy!
Lynn: And the music too, the whistling, holy shit.
Richard: Yeah, so I just loved that, it was a great shot, with a great performance by Misha on the ground and Jerry with that absolutely epic stance. So I agree, I think that’s a beautiful piece of cinematography.
Lynn: You also made the decision to use a lot of really close up shots. There’s Dean loading the gun, there’s Ramiel holding the stopwatch, there’s that shot that will be a million gifs of Dean and Sam clasping Castiel’s hands to pull him up. What was the rationale behind those tight shots?
Richard: For starters, I wanted in the fight sequence that you’re talking about where we’re close on faces, I wanted that very much from the Sergio Leone school – tell the story with the eyes, get the camera close, keep it wide and close and let the tension build with the looks on the faces and the moment, beads of sweat, you know, and try to build the tension.
Lynn: It really worked.
Richard: It works great. Misha with the cracked face, and breathing heavy, those moments add to the tension of this stand off. It was an old west standoff, like a duel sort of thing. And so you utilize those tools that have been utilized so effectively in that genre forever. I wanted to tell that story there. What other places did you mention?
Lynn: Oh, that shot of Dean loading the gun.
Richard: Dean loading the gun was because you needed to know what those bullets were. So I wanted to make it cinematic while also telling that story. And I used a 100 mm macro lens which makes a really cool tight shot, and Ackles is so adept at using the weapon.
Lynn: Yes, just like Dean.
Richard: I think showing the details of those boys doing what those boys do really well is part of the fabric of the show.
Lyn: It was, that’s what made it so cool – it was an iconic shot, because it’s who the Winchesters are, what they do. And the shot of both Sam and Dean pulling Castiel up, was that scripted, or was that you?
Richard: That was me.
Lynn: (clapping) Oh that was just great.
Richard: I just felt like after the family scene, I knew we’d be coming back from a commercial and I knew we needed a frame that brought us back to where we’d been in the story and I just thought it would be a really cool shot. You’d see the hand come in, and then the other hand come in, and then they pull him up and it’s just like family. It just said family to me.
Lynn: It said family to everyone.
Richard: And yet, unemotional – I mean, it said it cinematically without trying to be emotional. It was simple.
Lynn: And it didn’t need any dialogue.
Richard: That’s what I’m saying, it was a simple way of saying, ‘we’ve got each other.’
Lynn: Yes. exactly. I thought that was brilliant. You got two iconic shots in one episode!
Richard: I was real proud of that hand shot, and I felt like it would resonate. You know, for the scripts that I get and I know there’s a lot too in America 101 or anything I do, I get emotionally wrapped up in it, maybe because I’m an actor or maybe all directors do, I don’t know. But I really get…when I was doing ‘Just My Imagination’ and Jared was delivering that speech with Sully about having to go back in the Cage, I was completely choked up during that. I mean, I’m not immune to the emotion of what these scenes are.
Lynn: Even when you’re filming them.
Richard: Even when I’m filming them, when I’m watching the monitor, I’m engaged because these guys are so good.
Lynn: They so are. So much emotion comes through.
Richard: And I’m engaged in what they’re doing. I mean, they get to me. And Jared doing that scene just blew me away. Like Jensen going through the whole ‘we’re family’, you know, where he had that whole thing – it was beautiful.
Lynn: I teared up, NGL.
Richard: And Jensen made a very specific choice – we talked about that, and the script was sort of pushing Dean to go a different way and he said that’s not what Dean would do, Dean would do this. And I said, well you ARE Dean, so you do what Dean would do and I’ll just put the camera there and you can do it. And he did and he just crushed it and it was beautiful.
Lynn: It so was.
Richard: There’s something about the emotional content that those boys bring. I get wrapped up in it and I knew – I guess this is about the hand shot really, I knew that I needed – there was something just really powerful about the helping hand, you know?
Lynn: Mm hmm. It’s sort of, it could be the icon for my new book. It’s Family Don’t End With Blood in one gif.
Richard: Yeah, like never leave a man behind. And the cool thing is all the angles, so you frame that up and you’ve got two hands reaching down and two hands reaching up.
Lynn: Even the rhythm of it worked.
Richard: I’ve been really pleased by how well received it was, I’ve seen some reaction online, and I’ve been really pleased by how well received that shot is.
Lynn: Oh yeah. I think as soon as I saw it, I said out loud, oh that’s a gif. That’s a high compliment from fandom.
Richard: And I loved Jerry’s acting so much – I had him laugh during his death, I had Ramiel give me a big laugh – like, don’t die on me until you laugh. I want Sam to feel like it didn’t work – I want him to think shit, does this thing kill this guy?
Lynn: Because it did take a really long time…
Richard: Yeah, I wanted him to laugh and you know, the laugh is somewhere between you think this is going to kill me and nice work kid, you got me. You know, this is sort of the old gunslinger giving props to the young guy. And I don’t know if they’ll ever do this, but I just wanted it to be just left with the sense of okay, he went up in a puff of smoke, but did he die?
Lynn: And that’s just so quintessentially Supernatural, you know? I mean, did Cain die? I still don’t know! (I hope not because, Tim Omundson!)
Richard: That’s the thing, because I thought that Ramiel was a really well written role. And then Jerry took it to another level and I thought, that’s the kind of guy that I would love to see back on the show. So I wanted to give him as much meat as I can as a director to help them find an excuse to bring him back.
Lynn: To leave that open, yeah. Everyone immediately said to him, we want you back, one episode wasn’t enough!
Richard: He was great.
Lynn: At the last convention, Misha was giving you a lot of grief about putting him the path of that truck. He claims you promised him you wouldn’t.
Richard: Everything he says is true.
Lynn: (cracking up) You really promised you wouldn’t do it and then did it?
Richard: I swore on a stack of bibles I’d never put him in the road with the car. But part of that is because then I decided how to shoot it. By the time we got to the moment, where we put the camera and how it sort of crushed the depth of field, we could have Misha pretty far away from the car.
Lynn: Ah, I see. How far?
Richard: (gestures across the hallway) I mean, if my leg was here, the car was over there.
Lynn: Oh okay that’s not bad.
Richard: See what I’m saying? But it is true that he can’t see how far away it is from where he was.
Lynn: So he didn’t really know where it was.
Richard: Right, exactly. But I had the camera low enough that, it was all about him – you’re not supposed to know that a car is coming, so it’s a low shot over Misha, so the distance is not evident in that shot.
Lynn: It really isn’t, it did look like it was right near him. I gasped.
Richard: Cool. Good. But yes, I lied to Misha’s face.
Lynn: (laughing) He survived. I thought Mark also did a really good job in his scene showing some emotion in Crowley when Cas was dying. Which we see more of in the next episode. Was that something in the script or…
Richard: No, again I think Mark made really strong choices on his own. Mark liked the way the story was going, he really recognized in Jerry a skilled foe as a character and as an actor, so they were able to do their scenes together and have a lot of fun with it. And Mark came on and did the flashback part of it and the current part of it.
Lynn: The flashback part of it, btw, Mark looked so different and so much younger! For a minute I thought, did they pull some footage from back in season five or something? Makeup must have done an amazing job.
Richard: They did. We cut back the beard and Trish in the makeup department did a great job making him look young.
Lynn: He even looked more innocent somehow.
Richard: (nodding) No, he did, he had a wider eyed expression – and that’s Mark. Trish did her job at a very high level and then Mark added his own little energy, and he’d done his research. So you know, you’re talking about four guys who know their characters so well and are such professionals. My concern was never gee, I wonder if Mark will be on point, I knew Mark would come in with his decisions made and that they’d be the right decisions, and if I could help in any way, I would. And he might say, what do you think of this or that and I’d throw my two cents in, but I was more in that scene helping Jerry get up to speed, because it was his first day, he doesn’t know the world. And helping the story be told with the cameras as opposed to worrying about that performance. Because Mark knows that guy better than I do.
(That’s one of the things that makes Richard a great director, imho).
Lynn: Right. There was a scene at the beginning that some fans had an issue with, when Sam says to Mary ‘are you okay’ and she sort of brushed him off and walked away.
Richard: Well, has their mother ever been in a bad mood? This woman has a lot of shit going on, and at that moment, the last thing she needed was a heart to heart, she had a ticking clock and a guy about to walk in the room and a thing to steal downstairs that was a very intense thing to steal. And she was putting people’s lives at risk doing that, so I feel like it was great – it wasn’t TV and that’s why I liked it. I feel like people who were worried about that, they’re really worried about Sam’s feelings, and not the reality of the scene.
Lynn: Definitely, that’s definitely what worries fans. We care about these characters – even though they’re fictional characters, we care about them. A lot. But I see what you’re saying about the reality of the scene.
Richard: That scene, if it were a real moment, a ticking clock moment, would have been ‘put a pin in it, let’s talk about it later’. And if she has an answer that’s not warm and wonderful, I think that’s okay because it’s human.
Lynn: I was talking to Jensen about this today. It’s interesting to see where they’re going with Mary, because they’re showing her as human and flawed and complex, which is great especially for a female character, like let’s make her a fully fleshed out character not a stereotype. But at the same time, they’re really pushing the envelope. They’ve written her in a way that makes it seem like she doesn’t care about her boys. So far, the fandom doesn’t like her, so when the redemption arc happens, as it certainly will, it’s going to be a tough sell.
Richard: (nodding) I’ve watched the shows before my episode, and she’s not a great mom in some of these sequences.
Lynn: No, she’s not. I mean, John wasn’t a great dad either.
Richard: Right. There are some moments when she doesn’t hug Dean when you really want her to.
Lynn: Oh god, yes!
Richard: And that’s good writing and good drama. If everything goes the way it always should go, this show would be incredibly boring. There’s gotta be roadblocks, there’s got to be emotional walls, there’s got to be miscommunications and the things that make humans human and humanity complex, otherwise you’ve got nothing.
(At that moment, Richard needed to go onstage to introduce the next guest)
Richard: I can come back if you can wait.
Lynn: No problems, I’ve got work to do. And Fritos to eat (we were sharing a bag and I’d totally forgotten just how delicious Fritos are).
Rob Benedict, Billy Moran and Mike Borja of Louden Swain, came by also headed onstage – which meant I got a Rob hug!
Rob: Oh hey Lynn, how are you?
Lynn: Good! I’m excited about the book, and about the chapter you wrote for it. And about the book release party coming up!
For those of you interested, we’re having a book release party for Family Don’t End With Blood on May 10 in Los Angeles, and you’re all invited! Rob and company will be playing a few tunes for us and lots of our authors will be there, so come join the fun if you can. Look for more details soon at familydontendwithblood.com – and mark your calendars!
A little while later, Richard re-appeared.
Richard: Okay where were we?
Lynn: Talk a little bit about choreographing those epic fight scenes. I’ve been lucky enough to be on set a few times to watch Lou Bollo work through some fight scenes, and it’s almost like a ballet dance, the way it’s choreographed.
Richard: It is like that. Lou and I talked about the fight scenes the first day I showed up, for two reasons. Number one, he’s an expert and I’m not. And number two, I had ideas but I wanted to run them through the Lou filter because I didn’t want to pitch an idea that was insurmountable.
Lynn: So did you have ideas of how you wanted to shoot it?
Richard: It’s like visual effects. I know where I want to go, but then they’re gonna take it to the next level. So I’ll go to Mark in visual effects and say hey I’m thinking of this that and the other and he’ll go great, that means we can do this that and the other. And this will be really cool. Or we can do it this way and it will look even cooler. And I’m like great, I’ve gotten us this far and I like your addition to it, and we’ll go that direction
Lynn: I’m always so impressed with the collaboration on Supernatural, how collaborative it all is.
Richard: This is definitely a team sport. Film making is a team sport. Lou and I talked long and hard about a very martial arts feel to the fight. We wanted a very specific spear centric feel to that fight. So he worked long and hard with Jesse and the other stunt players to be sure that’s what they could pull together and they did it beautifully.
Lynn: They absolutely did.
Richard: And I had a real gift in that I had three actors – Jared, Jensen and Jerry – who essentially don’t need stunt doubles. Now we did use stunt doubles for Jared and Jensen just to give them a breather, because they have to do it so much and they do it often and we don’t want to get them hurt, they’re the stars of our show. But you do that for them, not because they need it. They can do all these things really really well and are experts at it in their own right. And Jerry, I never used a stunt double. He knew what he was doing and I didn’t mind burning Jerry out, I knew if he was tired the next day his scene was wrapped.
Lynn: (laughing) Good point.
Richard: And he was a total pro, very safe, he knew what he was doing. And because of the way I staged the fight with him in the center, at any given moment I would see his face because you might see the back of his head but then he might turn to hit Sam, from both directions, so I needed to be able to not have to cut around that character. So I wanted him to be able to spin around and be able to use all those looks.
Lynn: Oh, right, right.
Richard: And he was so good at doing all that stuff, and so Lou and I talked long and hard about that early on. So they started doing the beginning stages of the fight scene, and they’d bring them to me and we’d sort of adjust it. And we had Jensen use a shovel to sort of give Jensen a similar martial arts tool.
Lynn: Fandom loved that – like, is Dean Winchester fighting the sword of Michael with a shovel? Of course he is!
Richard: (laughing) But it makes sense, right? It makes sense for the character, we’re in a barn, let’s use something that lives in that space, let’s utilize it. So Lou was a great set of ears in terms of what I wanted to do with story and character and he made sure that Jerry had the tools to work on early on so he could practice, and then just worked on it a lot. That unit worked a lot on that fight sequence, and then shooting it went very smoothly because it was so well rehearsed and Brad Creasser and Brian Rose are so good at shooting fight sequences that. I mean, it took time, but not an inordinate amount of time. It’s a well oiled machine and everybody in that room had done alot of fight sequences except for me, so they knew very easily how to execute what there was to execute. And I had a list of things I had to be sure to hit, and those things came together very quickly because we prepped our faces off for a very long time for that fight. I think the fight was the last thing we shot in the barn, because I had to blow out the doors, because I had Sheppard going through the doors.
Lynn: Oh, that’s right!
Richard: So I couldn’t do the fight scene earlier, then the doors wouldn’t be solid. So I had to do it late in the game.
Lynn: And I think you tweeted that Mark added that scream?
Richard: He added the scream in the audio booth and it was a great add, a nice little detail. So yeah, that fight sequence and then the fight sequence on the front porch, so obviously Jen (Jennifer Cheon), the actress who played Ronnie, the demon who killed Wally, she needed to get the better of Wally and she was an adept athlete herself – I don’t know if she has a stunt history, but…
Lynn: She was imposing looking.
Richard: She was a very cinematically interesting person, a striking figure in film, taller than Wally and just looked like the right person – it looked appropriate that she could take him.
Lynn: She made it look believable, she moved like it was believable.
Richard: And she did a great job, I could use take after take of her. And Donavon (Stinson), who played Wally, was great, he’s a really likable guy on film. I really wanted to try to get a feel for him in the diner scene, so that you’d miss him.
Lynn: So you’d care when he was killed, right. And even though we all probably said oh, he’s the red shirt, you cared.
Richard: You did, and Donavon brought some great energy and light to that role. It was great having him. And in terms of Jared’s part of that fight, Lou and I talked a lot about that being Old West. I wanted an old western feel. I added the tea pitcher to be like a bottle, because I wanted it to feel like that. We added breakaway railings too – I had that fight take place on a porch on purpose, because I wanted it to feel like it was a saloon brawl. I modeled it after a saloon brawl. I wanted it to feel like they came out the door and went through the horse railing, so I built it like that.
Lynn: And it did! I didn’t necessarily realize it consciously at the time, but all of us watching picked up on that old west vibe. I think subliminally you’re picking up on it.
Richard: Right, so I made sure that the pitcher of tea was on the table.
Lynn: Was that Jared when you see Sam doing that last stab to kill Ramiel?
Samantha Smith (suddenly appearing in the hallway behind Richard): Did I hear my name?
Lynn: Hi Sam! Oh…it was the other Sam…
Richard: It was Jared Sam.
Samantha: Oh, okay see you later.
Richard: Lynn, I wondered why you were saying hello to a fictional character…
Lynn: (laughing, though really it’s not all that preposterous…)
Richard: Yes, Jared did that. Jared is very good — again, he’s an expert at doing these types of stunts. He has a perfect reverse energy that he can do, which is just great, he knows what he’s doing.
Lynn: It worked so well, because yes, these guys really do know what they’re doing. They make it look so real.
Richard: As much as I can use the real guys, I want to, because of their faces.
Lynn: And they like to do it, I enjoy hearing them talk about it.
Richard: And they’re good at it.
Lynn: Oh, I wanted to ask you, I think Misha said something about smelling the waitress being an ad lib, and also Jared’s reaction to that?
Richard: Yeah, we kept the dialogue really loose in the diner scene. I wanted the diner scene to feel real. Not that you don’t want every scene to feel real, but because of the way I was shooting it, I felt like overlapping lines was fine, I wanted it to feel like guys not that worried about their mission, relaxed at dinner, talking about women or whatever they’re talking about. And that created a relaxed vibe in doing it, and the boys are very good at that kind of thing anyway. And so they had a great time. Jared started improv-ing about why would you want a girl to smell like food.
Lynn: Which I thought was a great question, btw.
Richard: Right, and they just improv-ed a little back and forth on that until Mary shut them up. And it’s those moments that make it seem real. And Misha did the smelling the waitress, yes. I’m watching the monitor and he was just very subtle – too much would have ruined that bit – but he did it very subtle, sort of leaned up to smell her and it was actually perfect because the camera was coming across him going up to the waitress when he did it and there’s a lot going on, I’m watching a whole take, and then after the take I said, did you just smell the waitress? And he walked over to me and said, I did, and I said, that was brilliant, keep that, that was awesome. So that was his idea.
Lynn: So that was just one take?
Richard: No, I think we did it again and kept it because it was a great idea. There were a lot of things in there that weren’t in the script, like Jensen doing the snoring bit like nobody cares, that was his add.
Lynn: So not surprised about that!
Richard: And I love those moments, those were really real. He did that in rehearsal and I said, that’s dynamite man, make fun of it, this is your brother. Have fun with it now because we’re gonna be knee keep in shit for the rest of the episode, so just relax. And again, when you have people who can do that, who have the skill set to do that and the talent to do that, you should let them do it.
Lynn: Oh yes, you definitely should. I love those ad libbed moments! Jensen and I have this running thing where every episode I try to guess which moments were added, because they always come off as so genuine. Not that the whole show doesn’t seem real, but there’s a qualititative difference to those moments and I’ve gotten good at guessing which they are. That scene worked really well because of those additions, and things like people talking over each other, real life stuff.
Richard: Yeah yeah yeah.
Lynn: I also liked that scene because it was a Winchesters not on a case moment. That was one of the things I loved and miss so much about Robbie Thompson’s writing, I love that he valued giving us Winchesters at home, or driving around between cases, or just talking or sleeping in the Impala. The things that remind us that we care about these characters, that it’s not just about fighting monsters.
Richard: Right, right.
Lynn: And that diner scene was like that.
Richard: And I will say, that diner scene, which looks effortless – those boys, and all the actors – including Donavon who was guesting and Sam Smith – did a very good job of keeping it very alive and relaxed the whole time, and it made it look easy but it was actually a complicated scene to shoot.
Lynn: There was a lot going on.
Richard: There were a lot of people and perspectives and a lot of very important dialogue being said in a sort of offhanded way. So to me it was very challenging in terms of how I set it up, but once we got in there and I started shooting, it became very easy because of their ability to play at that level. It takes more skill to improvise than to do scripted stuff, especially if you’re improv-ing around scripted stuff, so you have to come back to the scripted stuff, get those points in, but seem relaxed around the framework of it. It’s actually very complicated. And they never missed a beat, we never had to tape long because they went off it.
Lynn: It’s like, they’re aware always of those parameters but they can play within the framework. Jensen told me once how much he appreciates that, having that space to play within, when a director trusts them.
Richard: Right, exactly, and it was really really great.
Lynn: That kind of stuff fascinates me, it makes so much sense. And to someone who’s not an actor, it’s really interesting. The other interesting scene with Mary in this episode was when Ramiel was saying I just want what’s mine back, that was also hard to understand…
Richard: Like, why didn’t she speak up?
Richard: That’s a question I can’t answer.
Lynn: I figured. Probably more for Davy Perez.
Richard: It’s a Davy question and maybe more for Sam, a how she justified it question. But I feel like the weight of it played well. It played intensely in the moment and the why didn’t she out it right there to save everybody’s life question, that one has deeper roots than I can speak to, but it made for great drama.
Lynn: It was definitely dramatic in my house. I was screaming at my television, Mary say something!! So this was your second time directing Supernatural. I remember Jensen saying after his second time directing that it was a real learning curve. Even though you’ve directed other things, what was different this time directing Supernatural than the first time?
Richard: I was very nervous this time as always, very obsessed with the details and the minutiae and trying to get it right, but I was nowhere near as petrified as the first time. Different story, different set of challenges. You’re not re-shooting the same episode, so it’s very different. It had its own set of challenges that kept me up at night. But there was a level of nervousness that came with the first one that you’ll never have again…
Lynn: I guess that’s good.
Richard: (laughing) Because it was the first one, you know what I mean? I mean, I’ll always be nervous, the day I’m not nervous and thinking about it a lot is the day I should hang up my hat because being nervous, that means I’m focused on the material and I’m doing the best I can to be sure the story gets told in the best way possible. But ‘Just My Imagination’ brought with it a level of excitement that I still have, but a nervousness that I don’t have as much. The first time, the second Jeremy Carver called me and told me I was hired, I stopped sleeping and started sweating. And I had four months before I got the script!
Richard: Because you just don’t know! You can shadow and shadow and study and study, you can learn, you can be an actor on the set, but until you’re the person in the chair making all the decisions, from prep to wrap on the last day, you have no idea how much pressure that is.
Lynn: Sounds incredibly stressful.
(Richard then had to stop to take a call on his cell, from his son. Which was seriously adorable).
Lynn: So one last question. What’s the scoop on Kings of Con? Will we have a Season 2?
Richard: We’re really proud of how the show came out. We love the audience response, Comic Con HQ loves the audience response. We’re eager to get back in and do some more, w’ere just waiting for the green light.
Lynn: There will be a lot of very disappointed people if you don’t get renewed. It’s an awesome show!
At that, we took a few pictures, for which I insisted that Richard put his glasses on (you’re welcome, fandom).
Lynn: (looking around) This is a great background for photos. So much for glamour.
But hey, you were looking at Richard anyway, right?
For more from this fabulous episode, check out my interview with Jerry Trimble here. And stay tuned for the second Supernatural episode that Richard directed this year – he’s hard at work in Vancouver as I write this!
Screencaps by @kayb625
You can pre order Family Don’t End With
Blood at familydontendwithblood.com –
And win free Supernatural swag too!