Supernatural Dallas Con: Days 2 and 3
Richard Speight Jr and Matt Cohen
Day two of DallasCon began not with an introduction to his own duo panel from Richard Speight Jr, but Richard and Matt Cohen hopping into the audience and prowling the center aisle regularly, their hilarious act ready from the start. If you’re hoping to answers about the Trickster, about young John Winchester or Michael, or want to hear about their Supernatural experience you’re going to be slightly disappointed.
It doesn’t matter what the question is. The answer is “My spirit animal is an otter.” This became the catchphrase of the morning, and then every questioner was told to pick a number between one and 30, at which point Matt would read out a corresponding ridiculous Texas law. Did you know it’s illegal to own a realistic dildo in the state of Texas? Neither did we! But we know now. There are at least three laws on the books having to do with sex toys, and Matt Cohen presented them to us with relish, inviting us all to line up against the wall for our arrests and so they could pat us down.
Today’s start was more of a lesson in improvisational comedy, a continuation of the previous night’s Karaeoke Kings from which Matt and Richard were still unabashedly hung over. Do you know what the cruelest thing to do to a person with a hangover and working with next to no sleep is? According to Mark and Matt, it’s wake them up early in the morning, shine a light in their eyes, and ask them questions. I know they handled it better than I would!
It’s illegal to own more than six dildos in the state of Texas as well. Matt thinks if you have six realistic dildos it counts as a felony. If you land an airplane full of crates of them on a beach they call out SWAT teams.
Apart from being hit with the letter of the law, we were treated to a silhouette behind-the-screen striptease by Matt Cohen as he changed into a “touched by Castiel” t-shirt given by a fan, after Richard threw money at him to do it. Speight is a cheap patron by the way: he only gave five dollars and then described Matt in hilarious detail as he watched the tease.
What is probable cause to search for illegal sex toys? “You look very satisfied, ma’am. I’m going to need to come inside. . . That sounded even dirtier than it was.”
Mark Sheppard and James Patrick Stewart
The second panel of the morning was far more on-topic, but maintained a humorous tone as well. Reports that Mark Sheppard has been a ‘grumpy old man’ at other cons were belied today in Dallas by a charming man with dry wit and humor, who admitted that his time on Supernatural has made him a lighter person and loosened him up.
The “Dick” jokes started right away, with James Patrick Stewart at his side, and Mark threw them out as readily as James did. When asked if he “liked Dick” by the first questioner, his answer was “Well, I like mine!” He could go on and on about it. James describes his character’s death on Supernatural as “the day my Dick went down.” The camaraderie between the two panelists was comfortable and friendly, as you might expect from two men who have known each other twenty years but only were able to finally work together when James joined the Supernatural cast.
They enjoyed their first scene together in the back of a limousine, where they felt like each other’s 17-year-old prom dates, pooling $75 to share a limo to the dance. While their careers have diverged greatly, there was some light teasing about Mark’s relative success: he credits it to having made friends with writers, who now write roles for him, and when asked questions about audition techniques he deferred them to James. “You still do that?”
In truth, James declared that for the last five years he’s let his children choose his roles for him, and he demonstrated his penguin voice from Madagascar for the audience. His interactions with neighborhood children were an amusing side-note to the panel: his Darth Vader Halloween costume is apparently a hit with the kids, whom he invites out to lightsaber duels. The bridge between topics led to classic Vader lines delivered in penguin voices, to hilarious effect.
The panel itself was a love letter to fandom and to the self-proclaimed geeks of the world. Mark was asked about doing genre television, and spoke to how popular these things that were, even a decade ago, considered at best a guilty pleasure or a fringe of television programming. His only caution was to be mindful of becoming elitist about it, now that culture in favor of science fiction and fantasy, and the ‘geeks are inheriting the world,’ encouraging the fans to be welcoming to new fans.
He spoke highly of fandom, and of the people in the room with him. “It’s incredibly brave to wear your fandom on your sleeve. People used to make fun of fans for being different. Not anymore! Now the geeky guys who used to write comics are directing Marvel films.” This wasn’t his last shout-out to his former boss, Joss Whedon, or to Firefly. He describes the cult hit, tragically cancelled science fiction show as a milestone of television: he lauded Whedon’s world-building and story, and said it was stolen from them. He marked that time as the worst in television and that it would never be cancelled today, when the numbers demanded of a show are far lower. The show has remained in the top 50 DVDs sold since they were released, according to Mark, and a sign that television needed to stop looking at the number of fans and instead focus on the power and dedication of the fan-base.
Firefly discussion led to talk about Nathan Fillion from both men: James will be appearing on Castle next month, and discussed how welcoming Nathan was to him on the set. When James looked overheated, Nathan apparently pulled an icepack out of the back of his pants and handed it to James to cool him off. He and Mark discussed how much the show stars impact the feel of the entire job: Nathan, Jared, and Jensen have made it a joy to work with them. Mark has come to the conclusion that silly people make the best actors: they can turn it on and off, and it allows things to roll off of them easier, makes the set a lighter place to work, and is a healthier take on acting. Mark talked about Jared and Jensen (“They’re mean to me!” he complained amusingly) while James discussed working with Felicia Day as Charlie Bradbury, calling her an incredible actress and class act and professing his love of working with her. Expect to be seeing more of Crowley, and to spot Mark Sheppard on Warehouse 13 again, and look out for James on Castle.
Misha Collins and Mark Pellegrino
Our final panel for the evening was the most highly anticipated: the combination of Misha Collins (Castiel) and Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer) seemed a strange and slightly forced pairing by the convention, but worked well after a late start because of the interaction of the two men.
Misha Collins made a splash by taking to the stage in boots, a western shirt, a bolo tie, blue jeans, belt buckle, and the now Tumblr famous cowboy hat. “Howdy!” he greeted the crowd, in an adorably terrible attempt at a Texas accent for a man who can learn Russian, but works with two Texans every day and can’t manage a twang. It didn’t take long for Richard to pop out from behind the curtain and make sure that Mark Pellegrino joined in the fun, plopping a cowboy hat atop his head as well.
“We’re auditioning for the Village People.” Misha quipped, before saying that Richard told him he “looks like a nine-year-old dressing up as a cowboy.”
Our first Season 9 reveal from Misha came early in the panel. When asked about recent stories and antics on the set, he revealed that in a recent scene with Jensen Ackles, they were trying to film before the sun finished setting. He woke up that day thinking to himself “Jared’s not on-set today!” so it would be easy, and they would wrap early without the more determined of the pranksters on the set there to have him break character. “Nope!” Jensen was just as bad, ruining take after take of Misha’s close-up with discussion of “handling his meat,” to the point where Misha couldn’t stop laughing and was yelled at by the director though it, in his opinion, wasn’t at all his fault.
Considering Misha’s status as a regular on the show in Season 9, and Castiel’s popularity within the fandom and with the audience, it’s unsurprising that most of the questions were directed by fans to him: Misha, for his part, redirected questions back to Mark. When a fan specifically asked Misha for acting advice, he pushed the question to Mark citing him as the better actor, and he played a name-game with fans, swapping their first names and surnames back and forth at times.
When asked about who in the Supernatural cast they would prefer to room with and top or bottom bunk, given the choice, Misha proved his Fandom-Savvy again with a tongue-in-cheek warning to Mark to be very careful how he phrased things when he said he’d rather be bottom. . . bunk. When asked how he’d like to come back to Supernatural, Mark joked he’d like to come back in a speedo so people would see more of the meatsuit: and Misha went right back to that being a different kind of ‘meat.’
Mark revealed that playing Lucifer was highly satisfying, in its way; it allows an actor to unleash their Id without any repercussions. He misses the role, and preferred it over that of Bishop on Being Human. Misha, meanwhile, gave some excellent insight into the phenomenon that is Castiel’s acceptance by the Supernatural fandom: Castiel is a misfit, a fish out of water who messes up everything but is trying so hard to be good. It’s Misha’s opinion that he resonate with a fandom that overwhelmingly sees itself as misfits as well, and that we gravitate to that character because of a sense of kinship to the character.
Perhaps most amusing was Misha having to explain the concept of GISHWHES to Mark, who seemed amused and baffled (like most people when first confronted with Misha’s insane brainchild of a scavenger hunt). While admitting that his favorite part of GISHWHES this year was when NASA told GISHWHESians to stop pestering them. “The obstinate little brats made a public statement. It was oddly satisfying!” After learning about the scavenger hunt, Mark began asking fans precisely one makes underwear out of toast and if butter and jam are involved, and then began making suggestions for next year’s list (be afraid; Misha was making notes).
While there were some hilarious moments, overall Misha managed to keep a fairly tight lid on spoilers at the panel, and the fans began Day 3 hoping for more information from Jensen and Jared’s spotlight panel in the afternoon.
Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki
Richard Speight Jr. riled up the massive crowd for the J2 panel, and towards the end of his pre-show brought one of the younger fans on the stage. “Little Dean,” known for an Eye of the Tiger video, confessed to Dean being his favorite character and Richard brought him backstage to meet his fave. Jensen came out to massive applause with his mini-me on his shoulders, striking an Eye of the Tiger pose and joking with Jared that Dean was finally the taller brother. Jared counter-fired by telling Little Dean “I wish you were my brother!” prompting a mock-offended look from Jensen and ending in a J2 hug, all before the lead actors ever took to their chairs. They played to their audience well, giving shout-outs across Texas cities and to the Dallas Cowboys.
The first questions were what Jared and Jensen have called ‘writer questions’ in the past, about the significance of Lebanon, Kansas being the base of the Men of Letters bunker and the changing mythology behind zombies within the show, neither of which they had definitive answers to. When the question shifted more towards character motivations, however, the responses shined. When asked about Dean’s reflections on fatherhood when he looks back at having to give up Ben and Lisa, or Sam being forced to kill Dean’s daughter-by-an-Amazon, Jensen dug into the question (“Oh, now I gotta be Dean.”) and said Dean has given up on fatherhood. “He knows it’s a road he can’t travel down. He’s tried it, it doesn’t work. It’s only going to end with heartbreak. So unfortunately, I think he realizes that the only place he really belongs is cruising down the road in the Impala with his brother at his side.”
As far as how Jensen sees Dean’s past attempts at fatherhood as it relates to his own life, he said perhaps he’s learned from Dean’s “miserable” failure at fatherhood. Jared was very quick to respond, reassuring Jensen and the audience that “No. Jensen is an amazing father.”
Apart from quick-fire support, Jensen and Jared were reducing each other to hysterics fairly regularly in the panel, between Jared Padalecki Moose Mating Calls (or in other worlds, mic feedback), impersonations of otters from Jared (they caught on to Richard’s non-answer and used it several times, with hand-flapping impressions from Jared), to callbacks to past jokes and discussions of fatherhood on the stage. Jared related the necessity of a “PeePee TeePee,” a shield to keep Thomas from peeing as soon as the diaper is taken off, and Jensen assured the audience that Genevieve (Ruby 2.0 on Supernatural, and Jared’s wife) has purchased one Jared now as well. As for diapering, Jensen says that with daughter Justice Jay he merely has to remember “front to back.” He was taken in by her laughing and smiling during diaper changes early on, believing it was cute, but now he knows that she’s laughing at him. “Just like her mother.”
Other amusing personal stories included questions of embarrassing things they do on their own. Jared immediately admitted to laughing at his own jokes, even when no one is around, and then immediately denying it when Gen walks into the room. Jensen impersonated Jared doing so, to applause, before going on to sheepishly admit his own embarrassing habit. His apartment in Vancouver is on an upper floor overlooking the harbor and has floor to ceiling windows. “I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes I put my guitar on and pretend it’s a giant audience.” He air-guitared for the audience to illustrate it, ending with a “Thank you, Vancouver, and goodnight!”
Jared seemed rather disappointed that Jensen’s story didn’t involve “fake smooshing” all of the boats and people from that height. This, inevitably, turned into Jared distracted into ‘squishing our heads’ from the stage, while Jensen laughingly called it a character flaw of his co-star’s.
Calling back to Richard and Matt’s game of weird laws, when asked what strange law they would impose on the set of Supernatural for their own amusement, their smirks grew devious. Jared very quickly jumped on the suggestion to “Bring Ruby back!” but after consideration Jensen would demand a nine hour workday of the show. “That is civilized, am I right? Fourteen hours? Not civilized.” He went on to say that fourteen hours a day, nine months out of the year, is “Not-Natural!” It’s SUPERnatural.
“You have my vote! Nine hours.” Jared responded.
“Either that, or Misha gets stuck with a cattle prod every time he walks in.” Jensen went on, trying to lighten the tone of the response, sending Jared into laughter. He imitated how he wants Misha paranoid and looking over his shoulder on-set “strictly for our entertainment.”
Bringing the questions back to the characters, Jared expressed that it’s become easier for him to play Sam over the years, looking back at the character in the early seasons. “Sam was in the position where he was trying to be something that he really wasn’t.” His time with Jess, at school, preparing to be a lawyer was Sam living a lie, and life showed him that “man plans, God laughs.” He’s more comfortable in the character now that Sam is following his conscience instead.
Jensen brought that into a broader spectrum for the show and the coming season; to maintain anything, he said, they have to evolve the characters and the storyline. The development is good for the characters, for the writers, the cast and crew. “The characters and their relationships with each other evolve. . . it’s a need for change. There has to be change, otherwise we would be doing Season 1 over and over and over again.” He says that change has been enjoyable for both of them as actors, and he hopes that we fans enjoy it as well in the coming season.
“I’d get the hell out of there!” Jared laughed.
Jensen relayed a story to us, of a friend believing that their house was haunted. When asked to visit for a consult, he said “No, I’m not going over there! You know what to do, you watch the show!” They’d rather send people on to the Supernatural Wiki.
Towards the latter half of the panel, a terrible Texas accent began rambling into the microphone about the importance of livestock down in Texas, heralding the much-anticipated panel crashing moment from Misha Collins. All of the fans attending were suspicious of Misha’s sudden availability for a second day of signing, just before Jensen and Jared’s panel began, and the fact that it was to be held nearly outside of the doors of the panel room. The antics of the three leads are well known, even at conventions.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Misha. . . what was your last name?” Jared teasingly introduced him.
We weren’t expecting a pig, though.
Misha Collins took to the stage carrying a miniature pig named Icarus, and to raucous applause and laughter Jared almost immediately stole the pig with a grin. . . and then they plopped it into Jensen’s lap.
“There is a pig in my lap. Why is there a pig in my lap?” Jensen deadpanned to the audience.
The J2M+Pig has since become an internet sensation, and with good cause. It was immediate improvisational comedy threesome, and a great moment showing all of their friendship off-set as Jensen played straight-man, Misha instigated antics, and Jared slung jokes with the both of them, finally culminating in both Jared and Misha abandoning Jensen on-stage with Icarus for a bit, allowing him to play the understated comedic role he gravitates towards.
“It’s just you and me. A man and his pig.” He allowed the pig to ‘speak’ into the mic, and looked to the audience. “He says get ready, world. For Porky’s Revenge.”
Taking Misha’s lead and feeding the pig Cheerios, Jared rejoined Jensen on the stage and for the fun, and laughed uproariously when Jensen demonstrated “pig and a poke” and immediately apologized to temporary stand-up act co-star Icarus. “I am so sorry to subject you to that.”
Their shenanigans as a group were brought back to the fore in later questions as to what kind of pranks they intend against Misha; while they say they threw out ideas of rubbing gunpowder on his luggage, he can expect neither of them to behave when it comes time for Misha to take the director’s chair for the first time in Supernatural, within the coming season. “We can’t talk about what we’re going to do when he’s directing, but. . . but he’s going to wish he’d never lived.” Considering he introduced livestock to a convention panel on a whim, however, we were fairly certain Misha would be able to hold his own.
While Rachel was billed after the auction and towards the end of the day as a half-length panel, her time on stage was one of the most memorable moments of the panel for many of us. She came onto the stage and was charming from the start, claiming that Osric in his Princess Bubblegum cosplay was prettier than her, and expressing nothing but love for her former castmates and crew on Supernatural. Articulate and quietly witty, she spoke as the only female panelist for all of Dallas Con, and as the longest running female character for all of Supernatural.
When asked about her exit from the show, she indicated that she “couldn’t ask for a cooler exit,” and that Meg’s fate was everything she could have hoped for: being a woman and a demon on Supernatural, she expected her character to die every episode, but getting to stay so long and getting to leave so well left her “jumping up and down excited” for what she felt was the ideal completion of Meg’s arc; dying for Sam and Dean’s cause was the only way she had to redeem herself in some small way for her acts against them in prior seasons.
When asked about Meg’s relationship with Castiel, she indicated that neither character truly knew entirely what drew them together, but that she believes that Castiel’s often blunt and naïve honesty was something that would have baffled and fascinated the duplicitous Meg, however she doesn’t believe that relationship could have ever been realized beyond the kiss they shared on-screen. When asked about how her character ended up in hell to be transformed into a demon, she deferred to the fans: she loves to hear their theories and stories, and would love to read the fan novel of it someday. Considering how many of her questions referenced back to books and literature and her love of reading, and I believed her at face value.
When a fan expressed the hope that Rachel was feeling better after illness kept her from being able to attend past cons, Rachel considered the question for a moment before admitting that in her case, ‘illness’ has long been code for Multiple Sclerosis. Rachel has been suffering from the disease for years, and she praised the crew of Supernatural for working with her and attempted to assign all credit to them for her ability to work through the symptoms as her symptoms advanced.
When a fan approached to ask her advice for people dealing daily with the debilitating effects of MS, or people struggling with their own medical problems, Rachel called the questioner onto the stage and hugged her, comforting the girl who was asking on behalf of a friend.
Obviously touched, Rachel reflected that given her condition, she had to decide what was truly of value to her in life. She determined that her body wasn’t important. “We put too much value on superficial things.” Her personal hero, she said, is famed scientist Stephen Hawking—“I’ve never pitied him,” she said of his advancing ALS which has left him paralyzed and reliant upon a speech generating device. She’s never pitied him, because his mind is free and beautiful, and it is his mind that is important.
And she brought this back to Supernatural, and it illustrated a point for all of us. Rachel described the crew as family, she said she has never felt so safe on a set before. . . and she kept going back, and they kept asking her back. Rachel found the strength to continually return as Meg, and Supernatural’s cast and crew never once tried to snap the demon Meg on to another meat suit, never revealed her illness against her wishes. It was not about Rachel’s health, to them, it was about Rachel, who even in a brief panel came across as a beautiful, intelligent woman who put great thought into her own character’s motivations.
I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Rachel after her panel, and thanked her for being an inspiration.
Still tearful after revealing her illness, she smiled at me and thanked me for saying so.
“We all have something we struggle with. If coming clean means I inspired one person, or helped them in some small way. . . then I really did something with myself.”