Exclusive interview: SUPERNATURAL: JENSEN ACKLES
By Abbie Bernstein
After fifteen seasons, SUPERNATURAL, running Thursdays on The CW, is finally coming to an end. One way or another, the battle of brothers Dean and Sam Winchester, played, respectively, by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, against monsters, demons, angels, and even God (played by Rob Benedict) will reach a conclusion in a two-hour series finale on November 19, 2020.
SUPERNATURAL was actually supposed to have reached its denouement in May 2020, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, several episodes had not yet been filmed, and others were in the midst of post-production. Work was suspended until a way could be found to complete things safely. During the waiting period, Ackles jokingly said he thought SUPERNATURAL genuinely might never end.
Back before anybody had ever heard of COVID-19, The CW had a SUPERNATURAL Q&A session, followed by a party for the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour. This interview with Ackles combines comments he made on the panel with a one-on-one conversation conducted at the party.
A long time ago, in a different interview, Ackles had said that the Winchesters couldn’t learn too much from their mistakes, or else the show would be over. Is that what’s happened, and why SUPERNATURAL is ending now?
“No, I don’t think so,” Ackles replies. “I don’t think these guys look in the past very often, unless it’s to help moving forward. I think they will continue to move forward, but this is just it’s a long journey that I don’t think is ever going to be over. I think we’re just going to go away for a while. How long, I don’t know.” He adds, jokingly, “There’s a very profound Lincoln commercial on television right now, where Matthew McConaughey says, ‘Why can’t the destination be the journey?’ I think we’ve come to a Lincoln commercial.”
Hang on. What does Ackles mean when he says that the journey isn’t ever going to be over?
“I think it would be look, I’m not ever ready to close doors or burn bridges. I think that’s foolish. Am I saying there’s something in the works? No. Am I saying I would be open to having a conversation about this in the future? What is the harm in that?”
So what did make Ackles and Padalecki decide that now would be a good time to end SUPERNATURAL? Ackles says he doesn’t think it’s because they’ve run out of story. Is it because both men now have children who’d like to see more of their fathers?
“I don’t think it was any one specific thing,” Ackles says. “You mentioned of our children, and certainly that factors in. This was a very thought-out process. There were lots of conversations with everyone. [Executive producer/show runner] Andrew [Dabb] came to us several years ago and picked our brains about what we thought how much gas we had in the tank. So, it was always something that we wanted to have a plan for and to structure a plan for, because we didn’t want to just continue to go and go and go until we were the last folks at the bar, until we run out of gas, whatever metaphor you want to put. We didn’t want to be that show. And we felt it a duty to our audience, and to ourselves, and to the work that we put in to do it when it feels right, and do it right. And that just all signs pointed to this season, and we all gave each other hugs and agreed, and said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and ‘Let’s do it right’.”
How does it feel that SUPERNATURAL is ending? “I think we’re all trying to stick to the game plan, which is the same plan that’s got us here. I think if we allow ourselves the weight of what this season is to kind of creep into our daily work schedule, those days are going to get really long. So I think we all try to stick to the game plan. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel in the fifteenth season here. We do what we know, because that’s what’s got us here. I’m just hoping to stave off the emotion until at least Episode 19, 18, somewhere in there. And then who knows what’s going to happen? It’s going to be a big shift in a lot of our lives. A big shift.”
It has since been announced that Ackles will be joining the Season 3 regular cast of Amazon’s THE BOYS, which is co-created by SUPERNATURAL creator Eric Kripke. So that at least is going to happen.
An oft-discussed topic over the years has been how SUPERNATURAL would end. Obviously, he’s not going to tell us, but how did Ackles believe the series would conclude before he knew for certain? “I think we had ideas about how it would come to a close,” Ackles says.
Of course, at the start, the most anyone thought it would run was five seasons. “In the beginning, Eric Kripke said he had a five-year plan. So just getting [the pilot] picked up, and getting a full pickup for a first season and then getting picked up again for another season, once we got to Season 3, it was like, ‘Whoa, we actually have a chance to go all five.’ And Eric said, ‘I’ve got the plan. We’ve got it wrapped up.’ And then we just kept picking up steam at Season 4 and picked up a little bit more steam in Season 5. And Eric stuck to his guns, exited after Season 5, but, obviously, left the door open so that we could continue. Didn’t tell his ending. And I don’t think that that ending would make sense anymore. I think that we’ve gone way beyond that. This world has lasted much longer than maybe it was originally intended to, and I’m very thankful for that. It’s kept us all together and kept us all gainfully employed now for fifteen years. And we’ve been able to continually tell this story, and it’s a story that we’re all very excited about, very passionate about.
“And I love these characters. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t. It’s something that means a lot to me, and it hasn’t grown old. That’s not why we’re entering into the final season. But I certainly don’t want it to grow old, which might be why, I think, we’re all wanting it to go before it does get to that point. This is a very special thing to me, and I want it to end in a way that does justice to what we’ve built. I think that right now the game plan that we have is going to do just that. You’re not going to please everybody. You just can’t. But I think, for the majority of the fans and the people that have been with us through this journey, this is certainly going to feel right, and it’s going to feel good, and it should put a lot of people in a position of feeling great about the journey that they took with us, with the Winchester brothers. I know that’s how I feel, and I’m still excited to tell that story. So thanks.”
Does Ackles feel like Dean has become part of his personality? “Well, Dean was always a part of me. I use aspects of my own personality to create Dean. He is certainly a caricature – or not a caricature, but he is a character of those personality traits that I have, but there is a lot of overlap. It’s great to be able to play somebody like that, because I can be bold when Jensen wants to be timid. I can be brave when Jensen wants to be scared. I can be funny when Jensen couldn’t think of a joke. So these are all instincts that I want to have, or that I have, but getting to play Dean, it’s like the best of both worlds. So he is certainly a part of me, and there are certain things that I’ve learned from him, and there are many things that I’ve taught him.”
SUPERNATURAL is the last remaining show from when The CW was a whole different network, The WB. How does that legacy feel? “I guess the most eye-opening thing or humbling thing, gratifying thing, whatever it might be is, we have these events that happen a few times a year. There are the TCAs, there are the Upfronts in New York, where a lot of the network shows get together and get some face time. To get to see some of the cast from the other shows and get to talk to them about their experience and what’s going on with their lives and their show is pretty great. Through the years, we have certainly seen a turnover in that, just as far as the kinds of shows that are being told, the kinds of talent that are coming through the doors. I will say, it’s interesting now running into people, say the Upfronts and having the leads of shows come up and say, ‘I’ve grown up watching you’.” Ackles jokes, “It really sucks. Makes you feel old.”
There have been two attempts to do SUPERNATURAL spinoffs. Does Ackles have any theories as to why these didn’t succeed?
“I think when you have a show that is so anchored, not necessarily in a world, but around two characters, that it makes it difficult to tell the story without those two characters present. I know that it’s been done, but I think it is tough. I think that for my money, it would be Castiel [the Winchesters’ angel friend, played by Misha Collins] and his garrison of angels, but that’s just me.”
Ackles has directed on SUPERNATURAL, most recently Season 15’s Episode 4, “Atomic Monsters.” Are there other series he’d like to direct for? “Oh, gosh. I would say them out loud, but I would feel like I would jinx it, so I’m not going to.” Any CW shows? “Oh, plenty. They make a lot of good programming here. It’s a good place to call home, and I hope I get to call it home in years to come.”
What have Ackles and Padalecki’s interactions been like with the show runners over the years? “I think the relationship between us and these guys through the years has worked well,” Ackles says. “They trust what we do on set, and we trust what they give us to do on set. And that is not a lot of heavy handing or heavy crossover influence, as far as that goes. They deliver awesome stories, and great insight to the characters and the where we’re going, and we try to deliver.”
In terms of which characters ought to recur, Ackles adds, “We will certainly make suggestions of who really worked well with the family up in Vancouver. They’ll give us some tonal notes every now and again if we need it. But I think the majority of the past fifteen years, that’s pretty rare. I mean, they do what we do, and we do what we do, and it’s a pretty mutual, respectful relationship.”
In Season 10, there was a musical episode of SUPERNATURAL, but none of the regular characters sang in it. Ackles explains, There was early on discussion of it, and we [Ackles and Padalecki] were like, ‘You don’t want to go down that road.’ And they [the writers] were like, ‘Yeah, you’re right, we don’t want to go down that road’.” Ackles finally sang in character as Dean Winchester this season when he dueted with real-life friend Christian Kane (who played a retired Hunter) on a cover of the Waylon Jennings theme from DUKES OF HAZZARD.
Since this interview was conducted, it has been revealed that Ackles got to keep “Baby,” the vintage Impala the Winchesters drove. Is there anything else he planned to take from the SUPERNATURAL set? After specifying that everything on the set was the property of Warner Brothers, so of course he wouldn’t dream of taking anything, Ackles acknowledges, “I do know one thing that I will literally walk away with. And that is the boots that Dean wears, and has been wearing for many years, because nobody A, nobody wants those. And, B, I would literally just like to hang them up.”
Given that Dean has had every emotional state known to humankind, as well as being turned into a demon and possessed by a hostile angel, does Ackles have a favorite aspect of Dean?
“I would say I have a few. If I had to just pick one off the top of my head, it would be , with Benny [the friendly vampire played by Ty Olsson], chopping heads off. That was for me – I was covered in blood, and mud, and it was just gritty and dirty, and I like that kind of film style.”
Does Ackles have any other projects going on right now that we should know about? “Raising three children.”
After spending fifteen years playing someone whose primary relationship is with his brother, has Ackles learned anything that he thinks may be useful in dealing with his real children’s sibling relationships?
“Patience. A lot of patience. And,” Ackles quips, “I learned that from dealing with Jared Padalecki. My autobiography, if I ever choose to write it, will be titled WAITING ON JARED.”
And what would Ackles most like people to know about SUPERNATURAL?
“We work really, really hard, we don’t phone it in. Every single day, we try to bring it, because not only do we love what we do, not only do we love these characters, not only do we love telling this story, but we love the people that watch it.”