One of the best things that has come our way as a result of writing and publishing books on Supernatural is the opportunity to meet so many fascinating and creative people – both our fellow fans of the Show and the actors, writers and crew who bring Supernatural to life. At this year’s Chicago convention, we had a chance to chat with one of those fascinating people, Curtis Armstrong. We met up with Curtis at a steak house in Chicago the night before he was set to do his very first Supernatural convention. Gotta say, we were a little nervous to be sitting down with the likes of Metatron, but guess what? Curtis is about as far from diabolical as you can get. And a lot more adorable.
Curtis started talking before we had our recorders going, which resulted in a loud LynnandKathy chorus of “WAIT!!!”
Lynn: Um, sorry. Hold on a sec while we try to get this going.
Curtis, already proving himself quite empathic, immediately jumped in to put us at ease.
Curtis: I used to interview people actually. I was writing about a singer songwriter named Harry Nilsson.
Lynn and Kathy: Oh sure, Nilsson.
Curtis: I thought that might ring a bell, though you’re a little on the young side honestly.
Lynn and Kathy: (are beaming)
Curtis: I interviewed a lot of his producers, and some musicians and studio people, and I still remember the day I finally got a meeting with a guy named George Tipton, who was sort of a recluse, who had refused to talk about Nilsson.
Lynn: Ooh, that must’ve been a coup!
Curtis: I finally got him to talk to me, and I went to his house in the valley, and we sat down in his private studio in the back, and I had – which at the time was what you had — I had my tape player, my cassette player – and we started the interview. And at one point I looked down and saw that the tape wasn’t going and I’m already 10 minutes into the interview and I said “George, can you excuse me”, and I’m fiddling with it and fiddling with it and the sweat is pouring down…
Kathy: OMG this is a nightmare…
Curtis: And this guy’s just sitting there staring at me, and finally he said, “You know, we’re in a recording studio.”
L & K: (cracking up)
Curtis: And he said, “If I really cared about your project, I would record you, but I don’t.”
Lynn: OMG what an assbutt!
Curtis: It was pretty rough. Anyway I wound up begging him for another interview and I was able to get another one.
Lynn: Your recording nightmare story actually tops ours.
Kathy: (groaning) Oh, the Danneel interview for Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls! As you were speaking, I’m starting to feel sick remembering that one…
Lynn: It was one of our very first interviews, with Danneel Harris, who’s now married to Jensen, but this was back in 2008. We start the interview…
Kathy: And I look down and the recorder is FULL. And I have no idea how to fix it, so I leave Lynn to entertain Danneel while I run upstairs to get my laptop.
Lynn: I’m making small talk, trying to keep things interesting but probably failing, telling Danneel about my kids, thinking where the hell is Kathy?
Kathy: Finally we start recording with the laptop and I notice the battery is about to give out! And I’m trying to inconspicuously get up and look for outlets and totally failing, and there just ARE none in the green room.
Curtis: Of course not, because you needed one…
Lynn: Then Danneel is like oh, I’ll help, and she’s like literally crawling under tables for us searching for an outlet…
Curtis: And that’s the difference!
Lynn: We were like, Jensen needs to marry her. And he did, so we credit ourselves…
Curtis: (laughing) I’m telling you, you make those kinds of mistakes once.
Kathy: After that I literally travelled everywhere with a bag of batteries, it was probably dangerous…
Curtis: I know what you mean. The funny thing is, my daughter was doing interviews over the phone with rock musicians – 20 years later or more – for her blog she had at the time, a 17 year old’s view of rock and roll — but only classic rock, not even much 70s — that was her thing at the time. And I went in there when she was getting ready to do her very first one and she was recording it on a computer, but as backup she had my old tape player, the one that failed me with George Tipton.
L & K: Um, maybe not a good idea considering its history…
Curtis: But it worked.
Lynn: So you started to say something about our book Fan Phenomena Supernatural….and I interrupted you and yelled WAAAAAIT RECORDER!!
Curtis: Right. Your book was invaluable to me. I found it at Skylight Books before I knew I was coming here or would meet with you. It gave me a look into the Show that had been closed to me up til then. I mean, I knew sort of, because since I went on in the 8th season, Misha, who I worked with more than anyone, would talk about the conventions. Then I was on Twitter and started following people there and I’d go Oh, that’s what that is! But your book was great because it was sort of a one stop shopping thing where I found out great stuff about the Show which I didn’t know and great stuff about the fandom which I didn’t know so it’s an invaluable book.
L & K: (are beaming again)
I first met Curtis at Wizard World in Philly last summer, which is why he knew about our books. I bought an autograph ticket and waited in line, and asked him to sign my copy of Fan Phenomena Supernatural.
Curtis: Oh, this is the book that all the guys are reading! Did you write this?
Lynn: (blushing) Kathy and I edited it, yes.
Curtis: (holds out his hand) I want to shake your hand then!
He also insisted that I take my money back, explaining to the rather mystified handler that I was “part of the family.” I’m not sure whether she thought I was an actual relative or worked for WB, but she handed me my money, over my protests. I think the next thing I stammered was “Wow, you’re alot nicer than Metatron!”
Okay, back to the interview…
At that moment, our waiter arrived, but not with food. Instead he wanted to fanboy a bit over Curtis.
Waiter: I’m a big fan. Better Off Dead, Revenge of the Nerds.
Curtis: But not Revenge of the Nerds 2, because that isn’t that good…
Everyone: (is laughing)
Curtis: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Lynn: Okay, so, you play such a despised character on Supernatural…
Curtis: (with a rather sly smile) Mm hmm
Lynn: Just deliciously despised — people really hate Metatron. In the beginning though, I thought you were a sympathetic character…
Curtis: So did I!
Kathy: Yeah, that really took a dark turn.
Curtis: It did, and a totally unexpected one for me. W hich I kinda like actually because what happened was I auditioned for Metatron, I had one scene is my recollection , and it was that scene where they first find him in the motel.
Curtis: And there was no one there at the audition – I was just auditioning for the casting director, no producers or directors, it was just him – so I had no information other than lines. And what I could make of them, I mean, I knew the show, but not who this character was. I hadn’t seen it in a while, so I didn’t know what was happening. If you don’t keep up on it, you’re lost.
L & K: It moves very fast.
Curtis: So I was just playing it sort of in the moment, using what the words were. The words happened to be great, and it was such a rich scene, and that was the thing that knocked me out about it immediately. This is some good writing, which doesn’t happen all that often.
Kathy: That was a very well written scene.
Curtis: And a really great introduction to that character and done in a way that made him funny and articulate and you know, it was all there.
Lynn: And he was intriguing because you didn’t really understand what he was and there was an undercurrent of this is a way more powerful being than we know.
Curtis: Yes and also bear in mind, I didn’t even get the script, all I got was the scene. There was no context at all – I didn’t even feel he was that powerful at that point. I mean, he talked a good game but I didn’t know where it was gonna go from there. The truth is, I still don’t know where it’s gonna go, it’s all new to me. So when he started to make that dark turn I was going OOOOOHH!
Lynn: Like, look where I’m going!
Curtis: I didn’t see this coming, because I think the next one was where I’ m with Cas and we’re following that woman who turns out to be a lot stronger than we thought.
Kathy: Oh yes, to kill her.
Curtis: Yes (laughing), and I’m still hesitant to say, even though that was two years ago, I’m still going, ‘is it all right for me to say what happened?’
Lynn: (reassuring) It’s okay now.
Curtis: I get so nervous about blowing it! So that was where I started to go, ‘oh there are some colors coming in here’, and since then it’s been one thing after another, it’s so delightful!
Lynn: For a while I really wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about him. I mean, he’s funny!
Curtis: Well that’s part of it, how should I put this? Part of it is in the writing and I believe, although I’ve never asked them, that part of it is in the casting, because they could have cast someone who was much more physically imposing. They could have gone with a different sort of face, a different look, they could’ve done that if they wanted to. And they could’ve cast someone who didn’t have my baggage as a comic actor.
Lynn: Yeah, when it was announced, everyone knew who you were, so they had expectations.
Curtis: Right. And to some extent they were fulfilled with those first couple of episodes. Because it was funny and I was able to put an element of charm into it and that was something that I think they counted on, that that was something that would be there. The question then became as it got darker and darker, that’s where my real work starts happening.
Lynn: And that was putting a lot of faith in your acting ability. In the beginning you were playing more to type and now you’re really not. He’s very dark. He still has charm, but it’s smarmy charm.
Curtis: (grinning) Well, I’m not incapable of smarm…
L & K: lol
Curtis: Smarm has always been one of my secret weapons.
Lynn: You do it really disturbingly well.
Curtis: But I don’t get to do it with a role like this that much, and again, a role like this could be played without smarm. For a totally different effect, but it could be done. And the greatest part of this, because of being kept in the dark like I am, and as most people [on the show] are, I’ve never had a conversation really about the future of this character.
Kathy: Who created the character?
Curtis: I’m not even sure.
Kathy: Probably you’ve had different writers anyway.
Curtis: I’ve had different writers almost every time.
Kathy: So maybe there’s no one really attached to the character?
Curtis: Well, I don’t know, because I remember on Moonlighting, Roger Director was the writer who created the part I played, Herbert Viola. He created the name, he created the person. I don’t remember whether he wrote the first script or not, but everything about the character was Roger’s. And I assume that somebody did that here, but I don’t know.
Lynn: Was it maybe Robbie Thompson?
Curtis: Well, it could’ve been, because I had a conversation with him just a couple days ago. I went over for lunch and we had so much fun. He invited me over to the writers’ office for lunch, and we sat in his office for an hour just chatting about everything, because we have very similar taste in movies. So we just went on and on and we ordered lunch and then I just went out and sat with the writers and the assistants and everyone. Just talking, and barely talking about Supernatural at all!
Lynn: Last time we were on the set, Robbie was there too, and he was a fabulous tour guide. He showed us all around the Men of Letters set, and we had some great conversations. And he’s a fanboy too.
Curtis: Well, that’s what I love about him. And we’re also both from Detroit. He’s a different generation but we have a lot in common.
Lynn: So you’ve been to other genre conventions, but not a Supernatural con. What are you expecting as far as fan reception?
Curtis: You know, I have no idea what to expect. I’m not really worried about it because it will be whatever it is. I don’t follow a lot of social media outside my own twitter feed. If people respond to my twitter feed, I read what they post, but I don’t go to any others except the actors, producers and writers and the fan base that I follow. That’s the only feedback I get. As far as I can tell by that, 9 out of 10 people understand the difference between reality and fiction.
Kathy: 99 out of 100, I think.
Curtis: So I think most of them are just enjoying it and I also make an attempt when I can in my own tweets to sort of play up the Metatron thing in the way that I talk so that it tends to get people riled up when I do that, which is really fun.
Lynn: We follow you, and it is.
Kathy: But I also think this is a character that people love to hate – his verbal dancing, you hate what he’s doing but you can’t not love him. Kinda like Crowley.
Curtis: That’s the thing – Crowley has been around long enough that he is literally the Devil we know.
L&K: (are nodding)
Curtis: As opposed to the devil we don’t. So when I killed Dean, everyone gets all bent out of shape about it! Then when Crowley turns Dean into a demon, everyone’s like, ‘oh that’s our Crowley’, and I’m sitting there watching this and going WTF? Everybody is yelling at me, but I just stabbed the guy – he turns him into a demon! Everyone is going, ‘we love Crowley’, but it’s because – partially the character, partly the actor, and that he’s just familiar. You accept bad behavior with someone you know, but not someone who’s just showed up.
Lynn: I just wrote a blog post speculating about how dark Dean Winchester would have to go for us not to love him.
Curtis: I don’t believe there’s a point. Even when you see him as a demon, you can’t not like him.
Lynn: [silently] In fact, I liked him very much as a demon…
Curtis: Also in the episode a few weeks ago where he was sent to kill the woman and ended up killing the husband, I mean COME ON, talk about loading the dice! You put him in a character who’s saying ‘I get to play around on my wife and want her dead,’ a), and b) ‘I get to play around because I’m a man but she’s a woman and should just stay home’, of course he’s gonna kill him!
Lynn: And c) he called Dean a punk ass demon.
Curtis: (laughing) Well yeah.
Kathy: Not a lot of moral ambiguity there.
Curtis: And no one is saying ‘oh boy, Dean…’
Lynn: Well, my daughter, who watches the Show but with maybe a bit more of a critical eye than me said, why did they wuss out? They should have had Dean kill the woman, and that would’ve been him going really dark. Like Breaking Bad dark. She’s a BB fan.
Curtis: I’m not sure I agree on that score. You could certainly do that and it would be a very different show – but it would honestly take some of the fun out. The truth is, it’s never been Breaking Bad and it never will be.
Kathy: And the moments when there has been that moral ambiguity, Dean feels it.
Curtis: Right, there’s always the pay back.
Kathy: Even if it’s just Sam’s reaction to the thing he’s done that’s horrible, but I don’t think we like that struggle so much.
Curtis: It’s asking a leopard to change its spots, and we do have evidence of those kinds of moral crises that happen, but they happen in a certain way. For example, for Dean, he couldn’t have killed that woman and then have that same scene with Crowley and been flip and sarcastic and funny about it.
Lynn: True, true. Can you talk about that pivotal scene when Metatron killed Dean? I found it devastating. It literally left me sobbing. What was it like to film it?
Curtis: It was one of my favorite scenes ever. Not the killing necessarily, but the scene, because after all this time, I figured out in that scene who Metatron was. It took that long.
Lynn: So you were on the same journey that fandom was, trying to figure him out?
Curtis: As I was saying earlier, they didn’t come to me and say ‘we’re hiring you for such and such a period of time and this number of episodes and you’re gonna start here and end here.’ Because they didn’t do that, when I would get a script I’d just have to focus on what was happening, where I put him in my own head, and play that moment. That seldom happens these days for me. I found a way to play Metatron that worked for me and for the people I work with and the audience, just by staying within who I thought the guy was and playing each moment in as real a way as possible. But in that scene, there is – and I don’t even care if they meant it this way or not – but there’s this line I say in that scene with Dean before killing him, which was a great scene anyway, where I talk about – I can’t remember verbatim, but something like how people worship god, they go to war in his name, they die for him, and you know what? God didn’t even know their names – but I know their names. And that was it. To me, I went ‘now I know who this guy is. This is the guy who worked his ass off for God and when God wanted him, he went.’
Lynn: And God didn’t even know his name.
Curtis: And his bitterness and his resentment at being treated like that even after he gave everything he had to God. Talk about the ultimate 1%, there’s no greater example of it than God. He’s got all his stuff going on, all these people around him doing what he wants, and he doesn’t think about who they are. They’re just there to do his bidding. God almost became visible to me in that line, it wasn’t just Metatron. I understood why Metatron responded and why he’s gotten to the point that he is. Look at all the people God killed, and he didn’t know their names! I may be throwing angels out of heaven, but I’m doing it for a purpose. And I may burn out your eyeballs, but I know your name.
Lynn: The note, on Kevin… oh, my heart…
Kathy: I saw that in the character all the way through.
Curtis: Well you saw it faster than I did!
Kathy: From the get go, he was like the janitor who is left to clean up the mess, and what happens when the janitor all of a sudden gets power, and if it’s a smart janitor?
Curtis: Well yeah but that’s the problem, he doesn’t all of a sudden get power. He achieves power because he wants power. Now maybe the janitor would do the same thing, but basically Metatron, for me, it was a work in progress, because I wasn’t told, it was an evolution, it was a puzzle that I had to piece together. But I think what you saw was your own, from your history with the show, your own way of putting together who this new character was. Along with the fact that I was playing him in a real way which allowed you to fit the performance into your own idea.
Lynn: And expecting the show to make a commentary on those ideas.
Curtis: Because you know the show, that’s the thing. So you expect certain things from it.
Lynn: And you interpret things in accordance with those expectations.
Kathy: If they had cast a different person in the role, I might not have had those expectations.
Curtis: No, but you would’ve had different expectations, influenced by your history with the show. If Mark Pellegrino had been in the part, it would’be been very different. If Gilbert Godfried did the part, your expectations (we all start giggling) You would’ve gone, ‘Gilbert Godfried?’’ But then you would’ve said oh, I know what they’re doing, I know why Gilbert Godfried…
Lynn: That’s what I love about SPN, that symbiotic relationship. For us, being immersed in it as researchers and as fangirls, and for so long, it’s so intertwined with me at this point, I’m watching it with a dozen different filters.
Curtis: I don’t have this experience with any tv show. I mean, there are shows I’ve loved since I was a kid, but the idea of being so invested in a show for that length of time, it’s never happened.
Lynn: It’s never happened to me either! That’s why we started writing about it.
Curtis: And you need to have some kind of outlet at that point because you’ve got so much stuff in your head. Not only from you but from the people who are in the community.
Kathy: Exactly, that’s what we wrote about in Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls. The importance of the fan community, and fan creative works.
Lynn: Jensen was saying that during that episode, he and Jared were very emotional about Dean dying, that Jared was really crying. I guess you weren’t there when they filmed that scene, when Sam goes to Dean…
Curtis: No, I was there for that, because we shot it with Sam appearing screaming and running, and he gets to Dean and he looks up at me, and I said something, a line that was cut…
Lynn: Oh! I wonder what you said.
Curtis: It wasn’t important, in fact it was better cut. It was some flip comment, very Metatron but unnecessary. And then he grabs the angel blade and goes for me and I’m gone. So I was still on the set when they rehearsed it. I never saw the filming of it but I saw the rehearsal. And it was a big fucking deal. I mean, it was. You could see that it was.
Lynn: They were emotional even then?
Curtis: Yeah, they really were. I mean, I think it’s a big thing. After ten years, out of necessity to keep yourself sane, you might be in some scenes operating on a kind of auto pilot, but you can’t operate on auto pilot with a scene like that, there’s just too much. And the two of them, they have that unique – not just chemistry, but an actual relationship. You know, I mean Bruce and Cybil [in Moonlighting] had chemistry and no relationship. These guys have both. So when you’re in that moment, it’s hard to not, I think, have it affect you.
Lynn: To really feel it like that, I don’t know, I’ve never acted, but it seems like such an emotionally exhausting place to have to go to for a living.
Curtis: Well, you don’t do it all the time. Some shows do, some shows are nothing but that, and that would be to me like hell. I’m a comic actor, so that sort of thing, I can’t imagine it.
Kathy: I wear black all the time and gravitate toward the dark, but there’s only so much dark that you can handle and then you have to sometimes balance that out.
Lynn: Wait, when did you do that? Did I miss you wearing like a bright orange dress or something?
Kathy: (glares at Lynn)
Curtis: It’s not something I’ve been required to do that often, but it’s gratifying when it goes well.
Lynn: Well, that scene went really really well.
Curtis: Yeah, it did.
Kathy: What’s been your favorite scene to film as Metatron?
Curtis: I’m not sure I can give you a scene. Isn’t that odd, I haven’t thought about that? I should probably think about that, someone will ask and I should have an answer.
Kathy: Or episode?
Curtis: I’ll say Metafiction because, before that it was like you saw Metatron here, you saw him here, you saw him here, and then Metafiction comes along and he’s writ large but by the same token, that was all shot in one day, all the scenes I have in that.
Lynn: Wow, that’s a lot of scenes for one day!
Curtis: It was, 8 ½ pages of dialogue shot in one day. Some of it with Cas, some with Tahmoh, so it was different stuff but literally starting first thing in the morning. This scene, boom, move, and I asked this from the beginning of being on this show, because it’s written like this. I asked if we can shoot as many scenes as possible in one and cut them later. For example, that first episode when [Sam and Dean] come in and find me in that room there were like three scenes in that room with Kevin. It was a director I’d worked with before and I said, can we just run the whole thing, which we agreed to do. And we did a little of that with Metatron where we blended in two things at once. But it was still a long fucking day.
L&K: I bet.
Curtis: And so when I look back on it, it’s because of what I learned about him. Not necessarily one scene I liked better than another, but this was one of the scenes that gave me a lot of indication not only who he was but where he was going. But it wasn’t until that last scene with Dean –if I were to pin it down, I guess that’s my favorite scene. It was a dramatic scene, and he was terrific. I mean, they’re always good.
Lynn: Yes they are. I wish he hadn’t been good, he was sort of too good. I used up two boxes of tissues.
Kathy: Did you feel, filming it that way, that it was more like theater?
Curtis: Yeah, yeah, but it’s written like that. And because you have these long two or three page scenes all in the same room. And we’re doing it again when I go back in a couple of weeks, it’s in the same room, the same thing.
Lynn: So no resetting in between?
Curtis: Well if there doesn’t have to be, I’d prefer that there isn’t. This director that I’m going to work with I’ve never worked with before and I don’t know if he’d be up for that. And it’s also a matter of it’s one thing for me, I have to go in and be totally prepared for every scene on that day, but are Jared and Jensen and Misha, are they? And of course they love that. Because on top of everything else, it takes less time if you have someone come in who’s prepared to do everything anyway and you just start running scenes together – you still have to do everything, you still have to do all the set ups and everything but it’s a lot quicker that way.
L&K: Makes sense.
Curtis: So I guess thank you for the rehearsal! (laughing) I guess I’d probably say that scene with Dean. Not only because it was a great dramatic scene, but also because it gave me the key to who Metatron was that I hadn’t had before.
Kathy: So do you have any questions for us?
Curtis: You mean about the fandom? I don’t have many questions at this point because I follow you, and I’ve also met a lot of Supernatural fans at other conventions who saw me and then it becomes oh! That happens a lot. It happened at London Comic Con, it was astonishing – it was all Supernatural!
Lynn: (grinning) SPN Family is everywhere.
Curtis: So anyway, I don’t really have a lot of questions. Obviously I feel weird being the new kid in general and certainly at a con like this. I’ve done cons before and it was pretty much what I was expecting, but I also know whether it was Chiller or London Comic Con or NY Comic Con… Do you guys want something to eat? You haven’t eaten anything. How about some potato chips and dip?
Lynn: Well, if they were here, I’d eat them…
Kathy: (rolls eyes at Lynn)
Curtis: (orders chips) That’s all you want? (orders wine)
Lynn: I think these cons are very different because everyone is here for the same show, but also because over such a long period of time, the fans and the guests have gotten to know each other in a way that doesn’t usually happen.
Curtis: That strikes me with being the case with everything. The whole relationship is just so unique. I mean, it’s unique, not SO unique!
Kathy: You just made my day! I’m an English professor.
Curtis: No, I hate when people do that and I just did it.
Curtis: The other night I was watching Angel, because I went back through Buffy recently…
Lynn: Oh! I’m a Buffy fan, loved that show.
Curtis: Me too. A really serious fan. And I was thinking, can you imagine what that would’ve been like if there had been this kind of thing? Of course it’s always the leads in a show that dictate tone, and I don’t know anything about the actors in Buffy, but I do know that chances are they wouldn’t allow the kind of access that you have with Jared, Jensen and Misha. And that the fact that people have access is because they allow it, it’s not just showing up and signing autographs.
Kathy: It’s a completely different dynamic.
Lynn: At this point, the actors have been so immersed in the fandom through frequent conventions and other interaction, it’s become important to them too. When we wrote the books, we were floored by their reactions – that they read them, even our more academic book, because they really wanted to understand fandom because they care about their fans.
Kathy: There’s also been a shift in the larger culture, so that fan activities are much more discussed. When we first started interviewing people for the books, we’d spend a lot of time explaining just what fans do. What fanfiction was, things like that. Nobody had any idea. Now they get onstage and say, we know what you’re doing, we think it’s fantastic and creative. Very different from eight years ago.
Lynn: It’s well known that prejudice and stereotypes go away when you have actual contact with a group of people who you’ve been projecting about. When you’re human to human. That’s what has happened between actors and fans with Supernatural.
Curtis: But you have to have the people on the creative side of the show – I mean, because you guys are plenty creative…
Lynn: (laughing) I know, lots of creativity on both sides!
Curtis: But those people have to do it, because there was a thing recently – because I have a Sherlock Holmes side to me which is significant –
Kathy: (is beaming, because SHERLOCK)
Curtis: And even though I’m not really part of the fandom – I tend to be old school, more books than the movies or the tv show, and yet I appreciate the tv show and the BBC one especially. And I have a lot of women friends who are part of that fandom.
L&K (silently) How are you so awesome?
Curtis: You probably remember that they had quite a deal when they did that thing in England where they had two of them up onstage and had them read fanfiction…
Lynn: (groaning) Journalist fail.
Kathy: And that journalist wrote a book called ‘How To Be A Woman’. She’s a feminist and yet she did this shaming thing to the women who are writing this fanfiction because it would be amusing.
Curtis: Well I mean that was a big deal, and that shows you the difference – and I mean, the thing is, you don’t necessarily expect actors in that case, for those two actors to necessarily know…and the whole thing was very weird. You have them doing this thing, they have not determined that they’re doing it this way, it’s being done by her, nor do they necessarily have any sense of what this fanfiction means or who’s writing it or what they mean when they do write it.
Lynn: No. Exactly.
Curtis: And they just think oh it’s this. So they were apparently a little awkward anyway.
Kathy: Well, they’re not the audience for it. It was like oh aren’t we clever, see their awkward reactions!
Lynn: It sort of made them into puppets, and it seemed to shame the fandom. I was so worried about the actual woman who wrote that fanfic that I contacted her on Tumblr to see if she was okay. I offered to send her a copy of Fangasm , since it’s all about not being shamed, but she said she was already buying herself a copy. I was worried she was traumatized.
Curtis: But that’s the thing, you were very lucky you got people like these actors and these producers who are open to it and welcome it. But they also do that because you don’t take advantage. You guys police yourself, you’re self regulated as far as the internet goes and they know that you support them and they wouldn’t be here without you.
Lynn: I’ll be really interested to see what you have to say after tomorrow’s panel.
Curtis: That will be interesting, because what you said about maybe waiting until after I’d done my first con – you know, we should do a follow up after this.
Lynn: We should. We will. Oh, I wanted to ask you about working with Tahmoh. He talked about working with you and about Gadreel/Ezekiel’s relationship with Metatron. That a lot of the character’s reaction to Metatron, the annoyance and the eye rolling, was actually not in the script, but Tahmoh inserting that in there. Were the two of you letting that evolve?
Curtis: I wasn’t aware, to me it seemed like he was just responding – I was in the moment and he was in the moment responding the way I sort of expected him to. I mean, he’s really not an issue for me. [starts laughing] Not Tahmoh, Gadreel!
L&K: We know.
Curtis: The irony about Metatron’s situation is that he has responded to God’s treatment of him by treating his underlings the same way.
Lynn: Classic bullying scenario.
Curtis: Exactly. So he’s doing that, so what do I care if he’s rolling his eyes?
Kathy: It’s true, Metatron did not seem overly concerned.
Curtis: He’s still doing my bidding, that’s what counts. It would be interesting if under different circumstances, to see how he would deal with Gadreel now.
Lynn: If he hadn’t exploded himself…
Kathy: Although on Supernatural, you never know…
Curtis: On Supernatural you can’t be really sure of your job security until you’ve died at least once!
Lynn: True. They always kill the ones we love.
Kathy: A lot of fans are surprised they didn’t kill off Metatron.
Curtis: I am too. And every day, every time I get a script… Some actors will look to see how many scenes they’re in, how many lines they have, do they have a big speech. I don’t do any of that. I go straight to the last piece of dialogue of Metatron to see if it’s accompanied by a stage direction such as ‘at which point Sam shoves the blade into him.’ I’ve been waiting for that and I’ve been waiting every episode since I started! It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a real knock wood. I know it’s just a matter of time, and they won’t tell me, it’s just gonna be something that I see.
Lynn: I feel like that’s always how it happens for the guest actors. They all have their stories – Rob Benedict tells a great story of him reading the script and going ‘oh I’m God, great, oh wait, why did I disappear?’ SPN is sadistic like that. Many actors talk about the stress of being a guest star. Did you find that?
Curtis: Not on this show. The part is such a good one that it’s a pleasure to work on it. They make it a pleasure to work on the set, ‘they’ meaning not just the trinity [Jared, Jensen and Misha] but also the directors. The producers, I’ve met most of them now but it was a long time coming meeting a lot of the people, executive producers and so on.
Lynn: Well they’re not there, in Vancouver.
Curtis: Right, they’re not there and I’ll go up for a few days and then leave. But everyone makes this a good experience and I love playing that part so much. So for me I can’t imagine really how I would not enjoy it. I stopped doing episodic multi camera two or three years ago, after having it be a staple. They would say ‘do you wanna do such and such show for a week, five days?’ That was part of what I did for my living. I hated it almost every time.
Lynn: (with psychologist hat on, apparently) That sounds hard, having to go to work and do something you hate.
Curtis: Multi camera is this weird form which doesn’t belong anywhere. People say it’s like theater, but it’s nothing like theater. It’s not like movies either. It’s this hybrid form of entertainment which I’ve never been comfortable with. I don’t believe I’ve ever done even close to my best work doing multi cam, and part of the problem is I’ve never been a regular on a show so I’m always a guest. Guests on those shows, you have to sink or swim. They change the script every day, you are the last thing on their mind because they’re always focused on the stars — as they should be — and then after a while I finally did a show that shall be nameless and it was a nightmare. I finally reached the point of going, I find this stressful, doesn’t matter who the people are, I find it stressful and traumatic. And I made a mistake on this particular show. The first episode of the two I shot, after three days of them rewriting it all the time and me not knowing and feeling like I wasn’t delivering, I made the mistake of getting the director’s email and emailing and saying ‘I’m sorry it’s me but I really don’t feel like I’m delivering and can you give me some help’. Biggest fucking mistake of my life.
Kathy: Oh no! Why? Did it backfire?
Curtis: Totally. He wrote back and said oh no everything is fine, you’re doing great, we love your work, and then I went in the next day and from that day til the end, although the actors were wonderful and I loved them, no one spoke to me.
Lynn: OMG, you were like blacklisted!
Curtis: By the producers, I was ignored, pointedly. And it was like even though I’d made a point of saying it’s not you it’s me, they seemed to think I was saying something else. By the time it was over I was in a total state.
Lynn: Well you had to go to work every day and live in that, so of course.
Curtis: I know and it was awful. I then called my agent and said here is the word from now on. Multi camera, no. I don’t care if they bring back fucking Seinfeld. No. I will never ever do it again. So in this case, they got the point and I haven’t done it since. That was a long way around the block to tell you that working on this show – of course it’s different now because I’ve done enough of them –but even from day one was a breeze.
Lynn: So many of the guest actors have told us that the Supernatural set is very different. We were on set during Rob Benedict’s first scenes, and Jared and Jensen went out of their way to help him feel comfortable, joking around and teasing each other and reminiscing about wearing the orange prison jumpsuits. [Jared to Jensen: You looked great in that jumpsuit… Jensen: eyeroll.]
Curtis: Well, it may be also partially that I’ve got a history that they’re aware of. Sometimes if you come in and you don’t have that, it makes it doubly difficult.
Kathy: Are they fans of Revenge of the Nerds?
Curtis: We’ve never talked about it. I mean, I’m sure they’re aware of it.
Lynn: Who isn’t? I feel like they must be fans.
Curtis: It’s so bizarre, when I think of it now, the day I auditioned for it – it’s rare that I have more than one audition in a day, but the day that I auditioned for Supernatural, I had one in the afternoon as well. The Supernatural one was at 10:30 in the morning, and in the afternoon New Girl. Same day, got them both, and now they’re on opposite each other.
L & K: [are laughing]
Curtis: [laughing too] It was a good day. And then on the flip side of that, Tom Wright, one of our directors on Supernatural who I adore, he works on a couple of other shows. And I went in just a few weeks ago to read for a show he works on. I walked into the room and it’s like a network audition! For an episodic, it was ridiculous, like 20 people in the room, including Tom. And I’ve got a relationship with Tom. He likes my work, and I love him. And I gave the worst audition I’ve given in 20 years.
Lynn: Because there were so many people there?
Curtis: [shaking his head] No, I just had a bad day. And I gave the shittiest audition. I just stank up the place.
Lynn: Oh dear. Did you know it at the time?
Curtis: Almost immediately. You can tell. You have a sense that it’s not going the way it should. And sometimes you’re in a position where you can say, ‘Can I just go back?’ and they’re fine with that. But I was so bad and I’m sort of dreading Tom showing up the next time I have to work with him. It wasn’t like it was a room full of strangers. It was a room full of strangers and Tom.
Lynn: Well, I’m sure he knows we all have bad days…
Kathy: I have bad teaching days, like where you walk out and say, ‘I’ve actually made them stupider today…’
Curtis: [laughing again] That’s a bad teaching day, when you’ve actually extracted information from them!
Lynn: Now that we’re cheered up a bit, I wanted to say that I really loved that scene where Metatron is trying on Castiel’s iconic raincoat. That gave me so much insight into the character.
Curtis: Well, I said…
[At this point, our waiter came by and said ‘Excuse me.’ We thought perhaps it was to bring us more wine.]
Waiter: Mr. Armstrong, can you sign this menu for me?
Curtis: Of course, sure.
Curtis signed the menu and the waiter left the check. There followed a little tussle over who was paying for our lovely food and drink. Kathy and Lynn did not win the tussle.
Lynn: Anyway, you played that scene, and that little moment. You played the hell out of that, and so did Tahmoh.
Curtis: We enjoyed that. And I enjoyed that in particular because I think one of the other things about Misha is – and this is my own opinion, I don’t know if they think the same thing – but I think Metatron has got kind of a man crush on Castiel.
Lynn and Kathy: (silently) Totally understandable.
Lynn: Oh, I think so too. And that was such a nice subtle way to bring that out. It’s something we’d all do with someone we have a thing for.
Curtis: It’s also that, the raincoat is iconic, so putting it on would be – it’s like being caught singing along with Barbra Streisand in your room with a hairbrush.
Lynn: Yes! That’s the look he had on his face when he got caught, like every teenager’s nightmare!
Curtis: Right, your parents catch you listening to it, pretending to be a rock star. That was sort of the way I played it.
Lynn: Metatron having a man crush on Cas…that fits, this is a somewhat slashy fandom.
Curtis: I’m still learning those words.
Kathy: It’s a slash friendly fandom. Lots of shipping.
Curtis: Shipping – I didn’t know what that meant for the longest time. I know what it means now, but when they first told me, it was at a con. Some woman was talking to me and said something to the effect of, do you like shipping?
Lynn: And were you like, ‘what? Transatlantic? Fed Ex?’
Curtis: [laughing] I did do one crossing on the Queen Mary 2, it was wonderful… And she said, ‘You don’t know what that is?’
Lynn: You read Fan Phenomena Supernatural but not Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls, or you would have known. I haven’t seen anyone shipping Metatron with anyone though, have you, Kath?
Kathy: I don’t think so.
Curtis: Somebody did some of that about King of the Nerds. Brandon and…
Lynn: (laughing) I feel like you’re gonna fit right in with the SPN Family. It’s for the most part a very welcoming, supportive place. Even though they hate your character, I think they’ll love you. There has to be something to latch onto to love about a character even as you’re hating them.
Curtis: Absolutely, and I think that’s what they’ve done. They’re great writers.
L & K: They are.
On that note, we ended our chat and headed back to the convention hotel. I realized a few hours later that I had left my iPad cover in the restaurant, with all sorts of things I needed tucked into it. Damn!
I called over to the restaurant, asking if they’d found one.
“Oh,” the pleasant woman on the phone said, “Were you with Mr. Armstrong?”
I confirmed that yes, I was, wondering how she could possibly have known that.
“Mr. Armstrong took the iPad cover with him, so he could return it to you tonight,” she informed me.
How nice was that? A short while later, I was sitting in the ballroom watching a panel when Richard Speight left the stage and came over.
“From Curtis,” he said, producing my iPad cover.
Anyone who tells you this isn’t the best cast ever? They’re full of crap.
Curtis did his first panel at a Supernatural convention that evening, to the positive reception I’d expected. I caught up with him recently to ask about his reaction.
Curtis: Chicago was just remarkable. As I may have mentioned, I was sort of prepared from following everyone during previous Cons, but there is simply no way one can be totally prepared for this kind of thing. As I’m sure you’ve heard from others, previous experience with fantasy or sci-fi or horror Cons is like having spent years preparing to be an engineer and then someone gives you a job as a surgeon or something.
(It’s true. We’ve heard that from just about everyone we’ve interviewed.)
Curtis: The entire Con culture is something that’s always fascinated me, because as long ago as I can remember, I’ve been a fan. Of course, my early fan days were in the late 50’s-early 60’s when there was no access to the people whom I admired, and the fact that such a thing exists at all is remarkable. But the love and closeness and familiarity–I’d almost say intimacy—that is felt by Supernatural fans for the cast and vice versa is unique and extraordinary.
(He’s right. I don’t think there’s a reciprocal relationship like it in any other fandom. It’s why we keep writing books about that relationship and that intimacy.)
Curtis: All this time having passed since I was there, and I still experience a feeling I can only describe as a thrill of bewilderment about the whole thing. This is made even more the case because it was only the one Con. A little like being dropped into OZ and then immediately flown out of it again. There is a dream-like feeling one gets after it’s all over: “Did that really happen?” All I have to do, of course, is to look at the twitter feed to realize it actually did, and that the experience is an ongoing one, at least for now. The other shows I’ve been doing lately, and the relative few episodes of Supernatural sort of add to the whole feeling of unreality. It is delicious, though!
Why yes, it is! I think that’s something we can all agree on. And it will be even more delicious when Supernatural returns in less than two weeks – look for more Metatron, undoubtedly to cause trouble.
To get through the rest of Hellatus, check out our books on Supernatural, on sale now at amazon at the links above!
Here’s to the return of Supernatural!
3 thoughts on “So Metatron Is A Fanboy: A Chat With Supernatural’s Curtis Armstrong”
I’ve been an Armstrong fan ever since Better Off Dead, so I’m glad to know that he tries to avoid my pet peeve, any modifier with the word “unique”! He really sounds like a nice guy.
For me, this was one of the most enjoyable interviews ever – and I enjoy everything you share on Fangasm! And I think I’ll forever love Curtis now, if only for the “not SO unique” correction!! Thank you for another terrific piece.
Nice job on the interview as usual! It was a nice look at the Metatron character and how it fits into the story. Curtis seems like a great guy and I liked his thoughts on his craft and the show!