Creation’s Supernatural convention in San Francisco this month also gave us a chance to catch up with actor Richard Speight, Jr., aka Gabriel, aka The Trickster, aka one of our favorite people. Before we sat down to chat over a delicious lunch at Calzones, Richard gave us a tour of North Beach, a neighborhood we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Full of vintage music stores, mismatched architecture, insanely steep hills and the kind of historic sites you don’t always read about in the brochures (a strip joint where a piano apparently killed a performer, for example), North Beach is also where Richard directed and starred (as ‘the Rockstar’) in a film of the same name ten years ago. The film was a labor of love, and well worth adding to your Netflix cue or petitioning from Amazon.
Considering the name of the place we went to lunch, we both ordered Calzones, and eventually got around to chatting about Supernatural. We’ve had many conversations with Richard over the years about the show and the fandom, and always look forward to sharing our more ‘thinky thoughts’ with him – and hearing his. The first time we interviewed him, in 2008, Richard ended up asking us more questions than we asked him! We’ve been carrying on the ‘conversation’ ever since.
Back when none of us knew that the Trickster was actually an archangel, we had a long discussion about why nobody was writing fanfiction about the character. After all, that’s one of the primary ways that fandom shows its love. Richard hypothesized that it had something to do with the Trickster’s adversarial relationship with Sam and Dean. Looking back, what he said then seems almost prescient – that the Trickster doesn’t really hate the boys, but is envious of their relationship, how close they are as brothers. Interestingly, that turned out to be quite true – but it’s Gabriel’s issue, not the Trickster’s. The archangel is grieving the loss of closeness with his brothers – no wonder he’s jealous of Sam and Dean, poster boys for brotherly love that they are. Okay, were. Will be again, damn it!
Richard: Isn’t that weird? I guess the writers and I were thinking the same way. It does make sense.
Very true. And SPN fans are all about the brothers, that’s for sure.
Now that the Trickster is Gabriel, he’s also tied into the mythology in a different way, and thus more woven into the fandom as well. We told Richard that Gabriel now played a more pivotal role in all kinds of online fandom, from LJ communities to Facebook pages.
Richard (with sad puppy eyes): Ironically, I’m no longer a pivotal part of the Show.
Which, as we informed him, is a common gripe on the part of fans. ‘Bring back Gabriel!” pops up all over fannish spaces. So why does he think Gabriel is so much more popular than the Trickster?
Richard: I think the Trickster was about fucking with the boys, and Gabriel is about helping them. When he goes from that to being a friend – even a weird friend! – when you’re on the same side as Sam and Dean, that makes him on the right side.
Lynn (nods): Right! He’s also a more complex character, not one dimensional. He’s got his own agenda, and in “Hammer of the Gods” he even got to have a romantic relationship that wasn’t played for laughs.
Richard: It’s interesting, because I think they really spent a lot of shoe leather developing Gabriel in just that one episode. Dan Loflin and Andrew Dabb – I’ve become friends with Dan, we hang out every now and then.
He’s a smart guy.
Show seems to attract a lot of those smart creative types….present company included. We’ve also been repeatedly struck by how down to earth and grounded most of the SPN actors are. As Richard put it:
Richard: People can get too wrapped up in acting and become “actors” – versus people who act. I don’t much like “actors.”
We’ve had that same conversation with quite a few of the people who act on Supernatural – the distinction seems to hold true for most of them.
It’s always interesting to compare our perspective as fans immersed in the Show, with actors who love being involved, but don’t spend time in fannish spaces. We told Richard we felt like he had a much larger SPN fanbase now that he’d played the archangel. Did he feel like his character’s popularity translated to his own popularity as an actor?
Richard: I think there’s a bit of a disconnect. I have a couple thousand followers on Twitter and Facebook, but I can’t say I’ve noticed a swell. In fact, I was thinking the opposite, that the further away I get from being on the show, it would taper off.
Nevertheless, the power of the SPN fandom makes itself known in unexpected ways. When Richard showed up to work on a new rom-com, Three Blind Saints, it turned out that the church-funded filmmakers were Supernatural fans. In fact, that’s how they found Richard! He was surprised, since on the surface Show’s irreverence isn’t entirely church-friendly. One of the first things writer Jeremy Carver told Richard when he started reading up on lore about Gabriel was, “Yeah, we don’t so much go by the Bible….” (It should be noted, however, that there’s a tremendous amount of fan-penned meta out there analyzing religious themes and spirituality in Supernatural – perhaps it’s more accurate to say the relationship is a complex one. What relationship isn’t? Just ask Sam and Dean….)
Similarly, Richard’s recent Pepsi ads with Snoop Dogg garnered quite a bit of fannish attention on youtube, much to Pepsi’s bewilderment.
Pepsi brass: Who are all these people commenting on here? And why do they keep talking about someone named Gabriel??
Snoop’s manager (equally bewildered): Wow, Snoop got some comments, but Richard tore it up!
Perhaps they should have been tipped off by one of the production assistants on the shoot. When it was decided that Richard would snap his fingers in a rather familiar way, Richard cautioned, “Um, you know what the Supernatural fans will think, right?
PA with excellent taste in television (smirks): Yep. I know.
We told Richard how much we loved that story – and how unsurprised we were.
Richard: Pepsi was struck by the response, and so was I – it was like wow, you’ve really got a following online.
He does indeed. Interestingly, as loyal as the SPN fans are to Show, the cast and crew seem equally loyal. Like many of the guest actors we’ve talked to, Richard has a stronger attachment to Supernatural than to many of the other projects he’s worked on (Band of Brothers being the other emotionally significant project, for obvious reasons.)
Richard: It’s weird not being involved in the Show anymore. But it’s weird that I even think that! Every job I do, I leave, but usually I’m like fine. I definitely have an emotional attachment to SPN and to the character, and I think it’s partly doing the cons that keeps it alive. But then sometimes I think, there’s gotta be a shelf life to this, I know at a certain point the party’s gonna continue and I won’t be on the guest list.
Frankly, it won’t be nearly as wild a party without Richard. Anyone who has attended a con karaoke party can attest to that!
Richard: I was really hoping they’d find a reason to bring the character back. It’s funny because I was talking to people involved with the show, and I understand there’s a new angel around.
Lynn: Balthazar, yes, and he’s great – but fans still want Gabriel back.
Richard: I think I’ll have lunch with Kripke, not to say hey write me back in, because those arcs are decided way in advance, but just because I’m so involved with the Show’s second life at the cons, and he was such a friendly guy when we met. I’ve only met him and Sera one time when I was with Bob (Singer) and Phil (Sgriccia). It would be nice to get to know the guy a little, we’ll be doing the Rome con together this spring.
Lynn: *sobs because that con is smack in the middle of the semester and professors probably shouldn’t run off to Italy for cons*
Richard: Last year was so much fun.
Lynn: *sobs more…and glares a bit too*
Kripke is apparently in high demand for lunch dates. Gabe Tigerman (interview to come!) also mentioned that he had lunch with Kripke recently. Eric directed several of Gabe’s episodes, so they got to know each other a bit. We have a feeling that after kicking around in Italy, Eric and Richard will be much better acquainted. Not that we’ll be there or anything….
Everyone we’ve interviewed knows that we have a bit of a reputation for asking the sort of questions journalists don’t tend to ask. In fact, we once made Jeannie in hair and makeup drop her brush in the middle of doing Jared Padalecki’s hair, she was so sure she’d mis-heard our question. But no….
So our last few questions weren’t the standard. Naturally Richard fielded them without blinking.
Earlier in the day, we had inadvertently eavesdropped on a few fans who were discussing Richard’s nude scene in a film, which frankly caused our heads to whip around so fast we got dizzy. Nude scene? Seriously?
Richard (blushing….or was that just the lighting?): I did, yeah, in Open Water II. But it wasn’t – they all took their bathing suits off to make a flag, so – you could see my ass, but it wasn’t a romantic scene, not a traditional nude scene at all.
Who said fans like traditional? The ones we overheard seemed pretty happy about the nontraditional view. Just sayin’.
And speaking of non-traditional, we wondered how Richard felt about his character finally starring in plenty of fanfiction (much of it slash, which as most of you know is a truly transformative work of fiction that romantically pairs two male or two female characters who are canonically straight – Gabriel/Castiel for example.)
So, is he happy to be slashed?
Richard: Yes! I am, and you know why? Because, you go to certain cultures and you go into the deepest darkest woods, and if their way of saying hello is to throw poop on your forehead, you let them throw poop on your forehead. So if their way of saying we love this guy and we love this character and embrace this character is to make him part of slash fiction? Slash away, babe!
Okay, poop analogy not the most appetizing metaphor over Italian food, but that aside, we think we know what he means. Thinky thoughts indeed.
More from the San Fran con soon – then on to LA!