Interview: Supernatural’s Richard Speight Jr. and Alexander Calvert Preview Jack and Gabriel’s “Unfinished Business”
It’s a busy time for the Winchester brothers. They’ve got alternate dimensions popping open, Satan himself on the loose, and old friends and enemies coming back from the dead at every turn (Hi, Charlie!), and, oh, they still need to find their mom and the devil’s kid in one of those aforementioned other universes. It would be a lot for most people; for Sam and Dean, it’s Thursday. Tonight’s episode will turn the focus from the brothers to two sources of this drama: the recently returned archangel Gabriel, played by Richard Speight Jr. (pictured above), and Jack, the devil’s (surpassingly adorable) son, played by Alexander Calvert. Speight and Calvert took some time to chat with us about the episode titled “Unfinished Business,” which Speight also directed.
The episode will catch us back up with Gabriel, who bounced rather than lend a hand to the Winchesters last time we saw him. It’s sort of understandable, given that he was imprisoned and tortured for years before then. So, what’s he been up to? Therapy or debauchery? “I think it’s been a bit of self-induced therapy,” said Speight. “He’s definitely been on his own journey trying to balance what happened to him with what he’s going to do now.” The episode will explore how Gabriel is coping with his trauma, and also how he got to be in the clutches of Asmodeus (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) in the first place. We’ll see how “Gabriel deals with some issues from the past few years,” says Speight. But will our favorite snarky archangel still be himself after all the suffering? “I don’t think you can have that experience … and not have it affect you,” says Speight. Even someone as snarky as Gabriel can’t just bounce back from seven years of torture, after all. “There’s gonna have been damage done. Even though Gabriel’s always gonna be Gabriel … there certainly new breaks in the foundation to how he lives.”
That might affect his relationship with the Winchesters, but possibly for the better, at least as far as the taller one is concerned. While Dean (Jensen Ackles) has always shared a more profound bond with Castiel (Misha Collins), it’s Sam (Jared Padalecki) who’s had the most connection with the erstwhile trickster, and there’s good reason for that, according to Speight: “I think Gabriel has always had a soft spot, or softer spot, for Sam … Gabriel deals with these alpha older brothers, especially Lucifer, that have just been the bane of his existence. And I think that sort of Alpha, Dean-ness that Jensen brings to the character can really spark a negative response in Gabriel, whereas Sam’s approach is typically on the less heavy-handed side … Though Gabriel against his own instincts, likes them both, there’s something less abrasive about Sam that he relates better to.”
Gabriel himself looms large in the Supernatural mythos, despite having only appeared in five episodes, and reconciling fandom’s version of Gabriel to the new story is something Speight is cognizant of. “You also don’t want to violate the story that’s been so well established,” Speight shares. “Gabriel was a high impact player … So you don’t want to get in and mess with that, unless you’re gonna do it the right.” But according to Speight, the writers, including the scribe for tonight’s episode, Meredith Glynn, “have made sure it’s an honest journey.” It certainly helps that the director of the episode knows Gabriel pretty well.
This is Speight’s fifth time behind the Supernatural camera as a director, but the first time he’s also acted in one of his episodes. Directing and acting is a “different animal,” according to Speight, but he was up to the challenge. “From an actor’s standpoint, I wanted to be sure I got the guy right, and from a director’s stand point I wanted to be sure I told a great story cinematically. So it created a convergence of assignments, that I hadn’t been handed before,” Speight explains. For him, it was the “Professional opportunity of a lifetime. I can’t imagine a better assignment than getting to work on Supernatural, bringing a character back that was one of my favorite characters to play ever, and getting to direct it … with a crew that has become great friends. It was really an awesome challenge that could have crushed me, but it just put fuel in my tank and fired me up.” Speight spoke effusively about how much he’s learned as a director from the Supernatural crew so many of whom have been there for the show’s entire record breaking run. “You’re working with the best in the business,” he added.
One inspiring challenge of the episode was the dual storylines we’ll see. One the one hand, we have Gabriel returning and coming to terms with his past, and on the other, we’ll get back to apocalypse world with Jack, who will be considering his future. According to Calvert, Jack has spent his time in the alternate universe “basically defending, attacking, and trying to ultimately seek out and destroy Michael.” He’s still the sweet, nougat-loving kid we met, but he’s also growing. “What’s great about this episode is we kinda see Jack become a leader. He wants to protect these people … He’s figuring out his power and how his power can be used for good. And we see in this episode how Jack is really focusing on capabilities and what he can do for the people in the apocalypse world.”
And according to Calvert, there is one female character from the apocalypse world that Jack bonds with specifically. “She’s a hugely influential character. And she comes to represent the people of the apocalypse world to Jack.” Could that character be the recently returned Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day)? Calvert wouldn’t say, but fans are certainly hoping we’ll see her again soon. Meanwhile, Jack is working with Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith) in a mission involving another fan favorite who’s been given new life in the other world, Kevin Tran (Osric Chau).
We’re not sure if Kevin will survive the next episode (let’s hope—poor kid has been through enough), but we do know Jack will, long enough for him to finally meet his father. Jack and Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) have “been on a collision course all season,” Says Calvert, and he’s exited for people to see the meeting. “Those scenes were so much fun,” he adds. It sounds like he may finally meet wacky uncle Gabe as well. We’re not sure who else Gabriel will get to hang out with, but here’s hoping he gets sometime with everyone’s favorite witch, Rowena (Ruth Connell), who Speight had nothing but sweet words for.
Speight and Calvert shared praise for each other in discussing the episode. Calvert noted that Speight had “great energy on set. Never hurts to have someone like that steering the ship … I really think he nailed it.” As for Speight on Calvert, this was his first time directing him, “which was awesome because I really like him as an actor. He’s an awesome guy to work with.” The love was flowing everywhere, with praise for the supporting cast of the show, including Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer) and Ruth Connell (Rowena), and of course, the three guys at the top. “You have three actors…in Jared and Jensen, and Misha,” says Speight, “who are genuinely good people, who are genuinely concerned about the excellence of the product they’re putting out, an they’re genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of the people who watch.”
According to Speight, fans see that, and it’s translated into a fandom that’s “intense and passionate and powerful and loyal. It’s awesome that the show can bring people together the way it does.” Calvert, as well, has been amazed by the way the Supernatural fandom has welcomed him and comes together in crisis, from helping hurricane victims, to each other. “What’s really cool about this show is this community that surrounds it,” said Calvert. “That’s gonna be the show’s legacy.”
“I like to think that as much as the fan gives the show, the show gives back to the fans,” Speight adds. “The lessons that are told in terms of family and bonding and hope and struggle and overcoming obstacles and all the themes that are touched on in the show resonate with our fans, and our fans feel the honesty with which the show approaches and deals with certain relationships. And I think that plays out into a real connection.” This has certainly been true for Speight, who went from a single episode nemesis in 2007 to a triumphant return this year as one of the fandom’s most beloved characters, as well and directors. We can’t wait to see where it goes.
(featured image: Dean Buscher/The CW)
Jessica Mason is a writer and lawyer living in Portland, Oregon passionate about corgis, fandom, and awesome girls. Follow her on Twitter at @FangirlingJess.
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