It’s been a while since I had a chance to sit down and chat with Gil McKinney and Osric Chau, two of my favorite guest stars on Supernatural (as Henry Winchester and Kevin Tran) so I was happy to catch up with them at the Supernatural convention in Chicago this summer.
It’s been a busy year for Gil – he has a new baby, wrote a chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood, and just released his first EP (How Was I To Know), produced by fellow SPN Family member and talented singer, Jason Manns. After a wildly successful kickstarter, the EP was released this summer to rave reviews. Family Don’t End With Blood, was released this summer as well, and many fans have said that Gil’s chapter has inspired them.
It’s been a busy year for Osric as well, who also wrote an inspiring and personal chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood. And of course because he’s a regular on the smash hit Dirk Gently, on BBC America. As we sat down to chat in Chicago, filming was just beginning on Season 2, which starts airing next month, and Dirk Gently was about to conquer Comic Con in the gigantic Hall H!
Gil and Osric did a panel together at this convention, something they haven’t done in a while. I was there for their first joint panel, several years ago, when they haltingly started to get to know each other after being thrown together somewhat randomly, and I watched as they developed a genuine fondness and a lot of chemistry. It was a joy to see them onstage together again.
A fan asked about the book they both wrote chapters in.
One of the absolute highlights of this year’s Comic Con for me was sitting down to chat with Robbie Thompson, gifted comic writer and screenwriter who wrote some of my very favorite episodes of my very favorite show. That would be Supernatural, in case you didn’t know. Which is pretty much impossible unless you’ve just stumbled over this blog for the first time.
I attended Robbie’s panel on Intersectional Feminism in Comics, which was awesome and entirely inspiring, so we were all in a good mood afterwards. We decided to try to find a room where there weren’t a million people around, and took a bunch of friends with us – Laurena, Candice, Anne and Kamila – who were down with listening in to our epic interview. They will henceforth be referred to as the Peanut Gallery (‘PG’). For the most part, they were PG. The most part. Just sayin.
After several false starts traversing the ginormous convention center, including being barred from using the press room for our interview, we found an empty room with lots of empty round tables. Robbie, ever the intrepid one, shrugged and said, ‘how about this one?’
Occasionally a Comic Con staffer would come in, take a look at our oh-so-professional interview in progress, and quietly back out. Score!
I start the interview by tossing my handwritten notes about what I’m dying to ask and my little vintage audio recorder on the table.
R: (points to Lois Lane like tape recorder) Look at this, so professional..
L: Hey, it’s ancient, it’s done a million Supernatural interviews.
R: Uh oh, look at this, guys…(points to what appears to be a big stack of questions, a la Inside the Actor’s Studio) There’s going to be some Bernard Pivot in there. There may be some things I say off the record…
L: Of course, you know I’m good with that. (but honestly? There weren’t many!)
I was going to post my Vancon report this morning, but there’s something I want to talk about first. That something is Misha Collins. Partly because the events of the past week are so upsetting, which makes me long for a leader whose moral conviction and willingness to stand up for what he believes in can actually make change in this world that needs it so badly. Partly because I just finished my third Gishwhes, and watched Misha’s genuine and emotional reaction to the change we were all able to make together — I can’t think of ‘leader’ without thinking of Misha. Partly because Misha got some criticism for something he posted online, which I read as supportive but some read as the opposite – which can happen on the internet, no matter how good your intentions. Partly because I got some criticism too – which happens every time I try to share what’s happening at a con in live tweets, because LIVE tweets – but this time it struck me as so ironic, because I was sitting there thinking so much about Misha and the accusation was of ‘erasing’ him. (I had virtually no data service all day Saturday, so there were very few tweets that went through of those panels, including Misha’s, so that was probably part of the problem). But erasing?
That would be such a tragedy, it made me sick to my stomach. So I tried to think of something that could prevent it. All I have is my voice, but Misha has taught me my voice is important to use. So here goes.
The world would be a much less hopeful place without Misha Collins in it, and right now that is extremely important to me. I’m hanging onto hope wherever I can find it, and I’m unspeakably glad that one of the many wonderful things that SPN has brought me is my acquaintance with Misha Collins. He was the first of the cast to figure out how he could use his position and popularity for good, and he wasted no time doing so. Jared and Jensen have both given Misha credit for inspiring their own determination to make change through their charity campaigns. Together, the three of them – and just about all of their castmates – have done incredible work toward the kind of change we desperately need. The thing about Misha is, he’s not afraid to put himself out there, even when he’s standing out there initially alone. I admire that about him more than I can say, because that scares the hell out of me. Misha sees something that’s hurtful, and he immediately speaks up. And he doesn’t stop there – somehow he never got the discouraging message that most of us get, the ‘you’re one person, you can’t make a difference’ message that we let stop us far too often. Misha sees a problem and jumps in with both feet, uncaring of whether some people will disapprove. He doesn’t see impossible, no matter how unlikely the change that needs to happen – he sees possible. That kind of strength and courage is unusual, perhaps especially in the world of ‘celebrity’.
The other reason I admire Misha so much is because of his refusal to accept the constraints of ‘normal’. Whether it’s what you wear, what you want to do, who you want to be, or where you want to go, conforming with what someone else insists is ‘normal’ can take away your right to be yourself. And that leaves us feeling bad about who we really are. That’s right in line with all my research on fandom, which also changes the norms, and removes barriers to being genuine and real, celebrating who we really are and what we really love. It frees us to be passionate, which is the healthiest thing a human can be. From the very start of his role on Supernatural and joining the SPN Family, Misha refused to bow to all those rules about who a ‘celebrity’ should be and what he should say and what he shouldn’t. He wore a dress when he felt like it, he refused to stay inside the assigned room at his convention meet and greets and instead strolled with the gathered fans to local coffee shops or malls or into the woods to make a campfire…. He challenged what it meant to be a ‘celebrity’ and pushed back against the constraints of ‘normal’. And that made all the difference – eventually resulting in Random Acts and Gishwhes itself.
I knew Misha was different the very first time I met him. We were writing ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls’ and asked for an interview with ‘the new guy’. He had just joined the show, but his character had already made an impression. I remember being struck by how good looking he was as he got out of the set van to meet with us, looking like he’d stepped out of the 70’s in faded flared jeans and with the bluest eyes. Television doesn’t really do any of them justice when you see them in real life, does it? By the time we had finished chatting for way too long (Misha got involved in the conversation and missed his next scheduled interview – oops), I knew he was a very unique person. And I was already impressed. Much like Eric Kripke had done, Misha constantly turned the tables on us to ask us questions during the interview – he wanted to understand everything about the fandom. What did fans love about this show, how did they feel about his character, what did fandom itself give to people and was it a good thing? [Yes, absolutely]. He winked and made a joke about Dean and Cas before we could even ask him the shipping question, catching me off guard and making me spit out my drink with laughter.
He talked about joining Supernatural and becoming a ‘celebrity’ just like that.
Misha: That was an interesting process for me to negotiate. Jared and Jensen have had a lot more time in the limelight leading up to Supernatural exploding into a fan phenomenon, so they got to see it gradually unfold, whereas I stepped into it when it was already kind of a big thing, and it happened all of a sudden. Sort of like being hit by a bus!
He was thoughtful about what that meant, and how that could help him do some good. We gave him the last word in ‘Fangasm’, because what he had to say was so inspiring.
We stayed in touch after that, so when we decided to write another book on Supernatural, he was the first person I asked to write a chapter. I knew how much he had to say, how smart and insightful he was, and also that whatever he wrote would be both unexpected and inspiring. We sat down to talk about the chapter several times, over tea or Starbucks or at a con, and little by little I got to know him better.
I watched him figure out what fandom was, and figure out what his place in all this was, and then figure out how he could do something important with it. I’m honored to have been along for the ride a little bit as those ideas took place and came to fruition. His chapter in ‘Fan Phenomena Supernatural’ traces that evolution as well, as Random Acts was created and Misha began the incredible journey he’s been on ever since he set foot on the Supernatural set.
It was Osric Chau who convinced me to do Gishwhes the first time. He kept telling me how much it had changed him, what the experience had given him, what it had pushed him to do and how that had moved him forward in his own life. Osric, who I admire greatly for his willingness to step outside the box and cosplay everything from Ariel to Captain America, in turn admired Misha for his willingness to step outside the box too. Claudine Hummel, who wrote a chapter for Family Don’t End With Blood, says the same thing about Misha and the powerful impact he has had on her life. Her chapter is titled “Spreading Kindness Like Confetti,” which I think is pretty much the perfect title for a chapter all about Misha.
Misha instinctively realized, I think, that people needed explicit permission to be “not normal”. Not just encouragement, but permission – and sometimes not just permission, but a directive. Misha isn’t a psychologist, but he has a keen grasp of what makes people tick, and uses it to motivate all of us to change both ourselves and each other. I wore a hat made of kale to a very fancy country club with my friend Vickie, nervous and hesitant and feeling terribly self conscious – and experienced firsthand the liberating power of ignoring all the ‘should’ voices in my head and just being in the moment. Gishwhes also reminded me of the importance of doing for others, and the positive impact that has on all of us. I thought back on those early conversations with Misha and was in awe of the fact that he had actually done it – he was making change on a global scale, one random act of kindness at a time.
After that, I wanted to help. I’ve consulted for Random Acts and for Misha several times, and am currently about to start doing some consulting for a new project Random Acts is working on – one that is critically important in this age of cyberbullying and anonymous hate-fueled posts. Despite the fact that he’s been incredibly busy doing all those things I so admire him for, Misha also contributed a personal message to my new book, Family Don’t End With Blood – a message of love and appreciation for what the SPN Family is all about. He sets a damn good example, so I’m donating some of the proceeds of that book to Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse. And even more striking? My awesome publisher is too. They have been just as inspired by Misha’s example.
On days like this, when it seems like the world has gone mad and I’m worried for my children and their future, I like to remind myself that there are people out there like Misha Collins. People who aren’t afraid to try to make the world better – or more accurately, are determined to push through their fears and make the change anyway. I keep telling Misha he needs to be in politics, but in a way, he already is. His voice has made a difference already, and he’s inspired many of us to do the same.
Here’s a little bit of spotlight on you, Misha, though you shine pretty bright already. Keep up the good work.
Stay tuned for more cast and crew members ‘In The Spotlight’ – we’ve got a pretty special group of people in this SPNFamily.
Once you’re part of the SPNFamily, you’re always part of the SPNFamily – so my recent trip to Comic Con included lots of catching up with some of the people who have shaped the show in important ways. Sera Gamble started as a writer on Supernatural, working closely with Eric Kripke, and later took over as showrunner when Eric left after Season 5. I first met Sera when I was writing Fandom At The Crossroads and Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls – in fact, she was one of the very first people to grant us an interview, and her insights were instrumental in encouraging us to keep writing. There’s an amusing scene in Fangasm (okay, there are LOTS of amusing scenes in Fangasm, whatever…) – anyway, there’s an amusing scene in Fangasm where Kathy and I arrive at the WB booth at Comic Con to interview Eric Kripke and find that he’s brought Sera with him.
Eric: Oh! These are the two who sent me the porn!
Sera: (cocks eyebrow)
It’s a long story, but let’s just say that was an interesting interview.
Sera is now writer and showrunner on The Magicians, which just began filming its third season on SyFy. For those who aren’t familiar, The Magicians is based on the books of the same name by Lev Grossman, and airs on SyFy in the US. The magical Brakebills University in the series is a mash up of “Hogwarts and Harry Potter for adults” and Narnia with a little Supernatural mixed in, darker and more adult oriented than the first two and more consistently magical than the last. The main characters include Quentin, who discovers that the books he has always loved are in fact not fantasy or fiction after all; Julia, his childhood friend who isn’t allowed into the magical world and whose life is marked by significant trauma; Alice, who is overcome by too much magic in Season 2 with dire consequences; Eliot, the reluctant king and Margo, the queen trying to find her way and her identity. The cast also includes Penny, the traveler, a villainous character known as The Beast, and the Dean of Brakebills, played by Rick Worthy (known to Supernatural fans as the Alpha Vamp).
For the past decade, there’s been one show that has inspired me to brave the insanity that is San Diego Comic Con again and again. Pretty sure you can all guess which show that is.
In 2007, it was the prospect of seeing Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki in person that made me throw caution (and possibly good judgment) to the wind and fly all the way across the country with almost no notice just to hopefully sit at the feet of the two actors who brought to life the characters that had entirely captured my heart. My friend Kathy and I slept on the sidewalk to get in early and raced through the hallways to the room where the Supernatural panel was, breathless but triumphant. This was long before SPN had proven itself able to fill the gigantic Hall H, so they were relegated to the much smaller Room 6CDE. Little did Comic Con know, Supernatural was already a fan favorite, with the line of SPN fans wrapped around and around the building and many disappointed fans unable to get into the room. Jared wasn’t able to come that year, but Kathy and I made it in and sat there beaming at Jensen Ackles and Eric Kripke sitting right in front of us. I managed to snag an autograph ticket through all sorts of machinations, and thus had my first actual conversation with Mr. Ackles, after which I found Kathy and immediately burst into tears. Fangirl problems, what can I say?
I’ve been back to Comic Con almost every year since, in the audience for the Supernatural panel as others began to notice the show’s passionate fan base and move the panels into ever larger rooms, until finally we were in Hall H itself. If you’ve never experienced Hall H, it’s something to behold. The first time I walked in, my jaw dropped – the sheer size of it is overwhelming. I felt a swell of pride the first time Supernatural was deemed worthy of Hall H, and that feeling has never gone away. This year was no exception.