We Never Really Say Goodbye-Jim Beaver (Supernatural) Interview By: Liam Sweeny
Written by Staff on October 1, 2021
Some actors are known for just one thing. Other actors have been in so many things, they’re just known. And some actors, to each of us, occupy that middle ground, in that you see them everywhere, but they’ll always be that one role to you.
If you watch TV and movies, you know Jim Beaver. His list of credits would take up a whole other article, and then you wouldn’t hear about Albany’s hottest garage band. But to me, he’ll always be Bobby Singer, demon hunter extraordinaire and irascible father figure to Sam and Dean Winchester.
I sit down with Bobby and we discuss proper vampire decapitation techniques.
RRX: You’ve been in so many great shows; Deadwood, Justified, The Boys, soaps like The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives, and, my favorite in the world, Supernatural. And I imagine acting in one show takes a lot out of you, so how have you been able to do it and not develop multiple personalities? Or is that the secret?
JB: First of all, acting doesn’t take a lot out of me, except for the hours, usually. It’s work, yes, but generally speaking, it’s fun, it’s revitalizing, and I’d rather do it than sleep, most days. And I like to sleep! Multiple personalities aren’t necessary, because one is usually only playing one role at a time. Once I’ve figured out who the character is, it’s a simple matter of sticking to the traits that define him. I can’t speak for other actors, but I don’t find anything hard about being a character, if I’ve been able to figure him out. It’s not rocket Scientology. The writer has done most of that work, anyway.
RRX: I have been watching Supernatural since it came out. For me, it’s a show that got me in a groove as a writer, as an artist, but as a person too. For the readers, it’s about two guys driving around the country, hunting monsters and urban legends gone bloody in a ’67 Impala, listening to classic rock. You played Bobby Singer. Who’s Bobby Singer?
JB: Bobby is your typical laid-back, stressed out, tender, sarcastic, sensitive, ultra-macho, gruff but lovable, self-deprecating loner with a need for family… who’s good at killing. Other than that, I couldn’t say.
RRX: Supernatural isn’t just a show; it’s a family I like to consider myself part of. Without throwing spoilers, the last episode had a wide shot of the film crew on a bridge. It moved me to tears, not ashamed. But you were there. Was it bittersweet, or did it fall more solidly on the happy/sad scale? If you’d be willing, take us there.
JB: My final scene in the series was shot on the last day ever of filming. It was a weird day, being back after a long time off due to COVID, being restricted from close contact with people I love, and knowing it was THE end. They asked me to stick around after my scene was finished so I could be part of the final goodbye on the bridge. I don’t remember getting teary-eyed, but I wouldn’t put it past me. There was so much history on that bridge, not just of the show, but of years-long relationships with crew people. I knew that I’d see the cast again, as the convention circuit will go on for a long time, I’m sure. But the crew doesn’t go to conventions, and it was deeply sad thinking I might not see these specific people again, except by chance. I think we all felt something like that. By the end of that drone shot, when it was all done, all the COVID protocols went out the window and we were all hugging each other, not because we didn’t care about the pandemic, but because a great wave of love and loss washed away our caution. It was a beautiful experience. I’ve never had one like it, and don’t expect to again.
RRX: One more. The soundtrack. When I “sell” the show to people that have never seen it, I always mention the sweet-ass music. Yeah, what Sam and Dean play in the car, but the whole soundtrack. Who, how, where did that set-list come from? Was it picked by someone in the crew, or was it Eric Kripke, or was it a democratic vote? Did everybody just empty out their CD racks?
JB: I don’t know much about the music, though I do know that the plan to use such great stuff came from Eric Kripke. Of course, using popular music on a TV show is dreadfully expensive, and they had to cut back after a while, to everyone’s disappointment. The biggest music disappointment, though, was in having to abandon plans to have the band Kansas appear in the final episode to perform “Carry On, My Wayward Son.” Blame COVID.
RRX: Speaking of Eric Kripke…The Boys. Holy crap, that show is insane. A really well-crafted world, and just a bizarre complexity you can’t look away from. You play Secretary of Defense Robert Singer (shout outs acknowledged.) How does working on The Boys differ in the sense of the world that’s been built from anything else you’ve been in?
JB: The biggest difference, I think, is the scale of the thing. I remember being told in 2003 while doing Deadwood that we were the most expensive hour drama ever made. Well, I think The Boys must surely have taken that record now. The sets and costumes alone are the most extraordinary I’ve ever seen on a TV show. Feature films regularly work on that scale, but TV? On the other hand, most of my scenes thus far are pretty grounded in the real world. As of today, I’ve never worked in a scene with a superhero or special effects on the show. So my character’s world is a little bit more grounded in the everyday world than some of the others. But that’s as of today. Things change.
RRX: I have seen Justified, and I have HBOMax now, so Deadwood‘s on the docket. These are different kinds of roles than, say, a Bobby Singer (either of them.) But they are both gritty shows, and you play a great gritty character. When you have characters with similar, say, grit, how do you, as an actor, make them distinct? What are some of the tricks, exercises, etc.?
JB: I don’t usually give any thought to making two characters “different” from each other. The writer has done that with his creation of the character on the page. It’s as though it’s Halloween and I’ve been handed a different costume than the one I wore last Halloween. I don’t have to “make” it different. It’s different when I get it. Yes, I get a lot of roles that have similarities — often gritty or gruff characters. But it’s what they say and do that makes them different, and the writer does that. If I say the lines I’ve been given and do the actions in the script and wear the clothes the costume people give me, the character will be different from others I’ve played. It’s like performing a song. Frank Sinatra’s songs are different from each other even though it’s the same guy singing it, because the words and music are different. Same with acting. Give me different words and actions and clothes, and it’ll be a different character.
RRX: I didn’t know you were in The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives. Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) was also in Days of Our Lives. I have always imagined that soap operas were, for dramatic actors, similar to SNL is for comedic actors, like a proving ground. Is that the case, or is it more of just an entry point for actors?
JB: Soaps are their own world, having only a small connection with the rest of acting. Not that the acting itself is all that different, but the process is VERY different. It is a pretty good place for young actors to get a start, to get a foot in the door. But it’s also not the best training ground, because the values are different, from the producers’ standpoint. It’s FAST. They do an hour show every day. A regular hour-long TV drama takes about eight days to shoot. Soaps do one a day, and there’s no time for great nuance or art, if it can’t be done speedily. There are great actors on soaps, and occasionally great writing. But mostly, from my limited experience, a soap is like a shark — it’s got to keep moving or it dies. And when speed is the prime factor, art is often the first thing to get tossed out. But I’ll say this: If you can act well on a soap opera, learning a new script every single day, you can probably handle anything the acting world hands you.