The SUPERNATURAL panel held Sunday, March 13, 2011 as part of the 28th William S. Paley Television Festival (aka PaleyFest2011) in Beverly Hills had just about everything fans could want: a music video, outtakes from the surreal “French Mistake” episode from a few weeks ago, a trailer for the upcoming episode “Frontierland” where the Winchester brothers, Dean and Sam, must go to the Old West in search of the demon-killing Colt gun, and the panel itself.
The hour-long question-and-answer session on stage in a packed auditorium featured stars Jared Padalecki (Sam) and Jensen Ackles (Dean), recurring actors Jim Beaver (Bobby) and Misha Collins (the angel Castiel), series creator/executive producer Eric Kripke, newly-promoted show runner/executive producer Sera Gamble and executive producer/staff writer Ben Edlund.
Moderator Maureen Ryan asked both queries of her own and those that had been submitted by fans, before selecting audience members to put forth their own questions. Gratitude to the fans was expressed throughout by everyone on the panel, while the audience cheered both funny and heartfelt responses.
Highlights from the panel include the following comments and exchanges (and if you want to check out EXCLUSIVE photos from the event – CLICK HERE).
“The French Mistake” is a notably surreal episode that finds Sam and Dean crashing into a reality where they find themselves on the set of a TV show called SUPERNATURAL, where everyone thinks they are two fellows named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. While Edlund scripted the episode, and came up with the idea of the characters being stuck in a story, he says, “It crystallized and exploded when you, Kripke,” he points across his coworkers to the creator, “said, ‘What if it were Jensen and Jared?’ It was such a mind-breaking nightmare of an idea, I was immediately on board.”
Kripke remembers there was some trepidation from the CW network, which airs the series. “We were getting notes from the legal department – ‘We’re not sure you’re allowed to depict the behind the scenes of a CW show.’”
The actors were also a little nervous at the outset. “This is the only time we’ve been brought into the [writers’] room and asked to listen to the pitch,” Ackles says. “I had a slight hesitation.”
“We didn’t want to play Jared and Jensen,” Padalecki explains.
“’Cause I’m not that interesting,” Ackles asserts.
“He’s not,” Padalecki agrees, straight-faced.
Despite, or perhaps even because of, all this, Kripke was determined to go ahead, rallying his troops with the observation that it was unlikely they’d ever again be on a show that allowed for such strange storytelling. “This is the only time in our careers we’ll get to do this.”
Collins, who plays both the angel Castiel and the actor Misha Collins in the episode, says, “I kept sending emails – ‘Can you make the Misha character a real douchebag?’ I came off as a watered-down douchebag.”
Kripke teases the audience with the possibility that they’re still toying with levels of reality. “This [panel] is an episode right now! We’re all in it!”
Edlund says, “I think this show is extremely courageous. The meta episode [‘French Mistake’] – no one shot it down.”
Kripke appreciates Edlund’s daring as a writer. “Ben’s particular genius is, he came in and he pitched us fairies with a straight face [“Clap Your Hands If You Believe”]. Ben – he ain’t failed us yet.”
The notion of what constitutes going too far with either comedy or tragedy, of “crossing the line,” is raised by a questioner. “I don’t know that there are lines,” Ackles replies. “I may have thought there were until I was standing in ski boots on the set of a Japanese game show [in Season Five’s “Changing Channels”]. And then I found there are no lines.”
“We’ll talk about the true nature of a soul,” Kripke muses, “and then we’ll do TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and then it’ll be pornography and French philosophy. I think there’s this really delicious mix.”
Both Ackles and Edlund have directed episodes this season. Although Edlund had previously directed the ANGEL episode “Smile Time” (in which the eponymous hero was turned into a puppet), he says he still had jitters for his SUPERNATURAL helming debut.
“The act of directing was terrifying. And these people – I can’t imagine how they kept their …” he whispers a word that he’s not sure if he should say in the panel, “together when they saw the pinwheel of fear [on Edlund’s face] … I am now both ten times taller and ten times smaller than I was when I started.”
Collins praises Edlund for his insights into the show, which make him a better director. “One of the things about Ben, he can really talk to you about your character.”
Padalecki teases Edlund about over-analyzing a few directions having to do with Sam’s level of angst. “‘Jared, while you’re walking, you can think how tough it’s been …’”
Ackles empathizes with Edlund’s apprehension, but says they’d both like to direct again. “Yes, Ben and I both went through this experience. It’s all headlights aimed right at this deer – which is one of his lines, and I’m stealing it.”
SUPERNATURAL is a show with a high character mortality rate. In fact, all of the actors on the panel have played death scenes, some of them multiple times. Beaver says, “I think the writers are the only people who haven’t died on the show.”
Kripke takes issue with this. “Hey, in the meta episode …” Indeed, Kripke, playing a producer named Eric Kripke, is gunned down Old West style on a studio lot. He liked how it turned out. “Thanks for letting me die in such a manly way.”
Asked about plot twists that have surprised writers and cast, Gamble cites the beginning of this season, which allowed the writers to approach Sam’s character in a new way. “Bob [Singer, an executive producer who has been with the series since the beginning] pitched Sam coming back without his soul. That was helpful.”
Padalecki backs her up. “I agree.” He elaborates. “I really loved playing soulless Sam. I like to play a little bit darker and a little disturbed. I love playing Sam and he’s disturbed enough … but I do miss the little guy [Sam’s soulless aspect].”
Ackles voices a little dissent here. “It’s difficult playing opposite a character and an actor for five years and then not having that relationship.” While the change didn’t affect his friendship with Padalecki, it did impact how Ackles had to portray Dean, because Dean was no longer playing off the brother he knew. “I was relieved when Sam got his soul back, because then I could go back to playing Dean the way I was used to.”
Beaver’s character Bobby Singer spent approximately an entire season as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic before being miraculously healed by the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard). Asked when he was informed about that character arc, Beaver replies, “With the wheelchair thing, I showed up on set and they said, ‘Sit down.’ A season later, they said, ‘Stand up.’ I’m a pretty good actor, so I did.”
There is a question about how Beaver felt about Bobby’s kiss with the demon Crowley. “I’ve been forty-two years in this business,” Beaver sighs, “and on my tombstone, it’s gonna say, ‘He kissed Crowley.’” As to how the kiss was, “I’ve had better.” Pause. “Not recently.”
Are there things any of the panelists wish they could do over? “All I actually see are things I wish we had done better,” Kripke replies. While he goes on to say this isn’t strictly true – there are some episodes he’s very proud of, he’s been vocal about some he hasn’t liked. “You can almost recite the episodes I hate – ‘Red Sky at Morning,’ ‘Bugs,’ ‘Route 666.’ There are some scenes where I didn’t have time [to fix them].” Kripke goes on to make fun of his own expository dialogue, especially in Season One episodes where Sam and Dean had conversations about things both characters presumably already knew. “It’s six years later, and you can tell I’m not over it.”
“It’s nice to know those scenes are that hard to write, because they’re equally hard to say,” Ackles tells Kripke. “I have to commend you, though, for giving that dialogue to the guest stars after the first season.”
There have also been things that didn’t come off as intended. Edlund notes that, following the “Clap Your Hands” episode, “There was a very strange ‘Fight the Fairies’ trend. That created a very legitimate counter-wave of the gay community going, ‘What the hell?’”
A practical issue is raised. Why don’t Sam and Dean secure their weapons with bungee cords? After a few jokes, Kripke says, “The real answer is because there would be no Act Four.”
In a much more serious vein, Kripke recalls the late Kim Manners, an executive producer and director on SUPERNATURAL who passed away in January 2009. “I’m thinking a lot about Kim today – the very first event we did at the Paley Festival, Kim was with us. I hope he’s here with us now.”
Kripke then launches into a story about how Manners had given Sam and Dean umbrellas in one episode and Kripke had been appalled at how unheroic this made the Winchester brothers appear. “I told him, ‘I don’t ever want to see them with umbrellas again!’”
Ackles elaborates on the incident. During the scene, it was pelting down rain in actuality, with the result that the actors’ costumes would have to be dried off between takes, especially because the audience wouldn’t know it was wet outside. “Rain doesn’t read on film.” Manners decided to avoid the drying-off time by equipping the actors with umbrellas for the invisible-on-film downpour. “I saw it,” Ackles concludes, “and we looked like idiots.”
Kripke relates that the existence of Bobby’s character was due to the unavailability of Loretta Devine to reprise her Season One role as Missouri Moseley. The plot function of an old friend of Winchester patriarch John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) needed to be filled, and it was decided that the character should be a crusty, avuncular type who could serve as a father figure. “There are some things I’ll always be indebted to Bob [Singer] for. One of them is, he said, I’ve got a series with this guy in it, Jim Beaver. You want him.’”
Originally, Kripke adds, Beaver’s character was going to be called Bobby Manners, after both Singer and Manners, but the legal department discovered a real Bobby Manners. Singer wasn’t in the office that day, and was shocked to find a character named after him upon his return. Kripke remembers telling him, “This is what happens when you don’t come in!”
Kripke says he was fairly new to producing when SUPERNATURAL began six years ago. “I was like this lieutenant in HOMICIDE, vomiting [with nerves] in the corner. Bob was like,” Kripke deepens his voice to that of an experienced veteran, “‘Welcome to Homicide!’”
For her part, Gamble relates, “I’ve been on this show since the beginning, and it’s only the second show I’ve worked on, so it’s kind of like being raised by wolves.”
As to whether there will be any episodes that showcase Collins’ Castiel, Edlund reveals, “The episode I just directed is very Castiel-centric.”
What else can be told about what’s coming up on SUPERNATURAL? “We will meet an angel named Rachel,” Gamble reveals, “who is Castiel’s trusted lieutenant.”
As to a closer look at the war in Heaven, Collins promises, “We’ll see more of that in the season finale.”
Kripke has written the Season Six finale. “I just turned it in.”
Things look hopeful for a Season Seven, though there has been no confirmation yet. Do Kripke et al have a series finale in mind, especially as the end of Season Five, “Swan Song,” was originally written to serve that function? “We’ll figure it out,” Kripke says. “A lot of the elements I’d visualized [for the series finale] were put into ‘Swan Song.’ But I have a very specific coda [in mind], and we haven’t used those elements yet.”