It’s a joyful day in Supernatural fandom – early renewal for Season 11, woohoo!! We thought we’d post an interview to celebrate the Best Show Ever and its amazing cast.
After watching ‘Hibbing 911’, I was dying to talk to Briana Buckmaster, the actress who brought Sheriff Donna to life so brilliantly. I finally got a chance to chat with her on the phone last week, after a few failed attempts, most of which involved me completely losing track of what day it was. Briana proved herself very understanding – if there’s anything a woman with a baby understands, it’s having a hectic life.
Lynn: So, stop me any time if you have questions – I’m a psychologist, not a journalist, so my interviews tend to be….unusual.
Briana: (laughing) (but perhaps with some trepidation) Okay…
Lynn: So, before you got the part of Donna, had you seen Supernatural?
Briana: No, I hadn’t, but because I live in Vancouver and it’s a show that’s been shooting here for a very long time, as everyone knows, as an actor it’s my responsibility to kind of check up on the shows filmed here when you do auditions for them. So I had, hilariously, auditioned for some random part like a nurse or something for the show not even a month earlier.
Lynn: Oh, really? How funny.
Briana: As I’m sure you know, once you’re on a TV show, you can’t be on it again for continuity, unless you’re the same character.
Lynn: (silently) Unless you’re Ty Olsson or Erica Carroll or….oh never mind…
Briana: So I didn’t get the part of the nurse, and I’m relatively new to working in TV, so I was really sad about that. And then I got a call a few weeks later to audition for Donna. So it ended up being good, but I had only watched the show for the purpose of knowing the tone of the show. And even though after I was on it, I watched it a bit more, I was so lost, because so much happened in 9 seasons! So I tried to read synopses and then I decided to start watching it from like day one. And I told the boys that and they laughed so hard, they said “Oh you were probably like, who are these kids?”
Lynn: They were so young – Babies!
Briana: They were laughing, because it was like, freckles! And Jensen with his spiky hair. And Jared had that haircut. So funny!
Lynn: It’s amazing how much they’ve changed. I’ve been watching since almost the beginning, immersed in it as a fan and writing books about it…
Briana: It must be like a second life!
Briana: People on the set say the same thing. They say that, especially for Jared, he must have been like 21 – he was a kid! He literally went from being a boy to a man in every sense of the word, now married with two kids.
Lynn: I think it’s why Jared and Jensen and the whole cast and crew are so close, they’ve been through so much together.
Briana: OMG yes. And on other shows I’ve worked on, there’s always like this segregation, right? Like between kind of, I’ll call it front of house and back of house, which is actually a restaurant term but you know what I mean, between crew and actors. But on Supernatural there isn’t. And I think that’s why, whenever you hear actors that do guest star roles [on SPN], they say everyone is so tight. You feel so comfortable immediately there, and the boys are always – they and the crew – at the Christmas party everyone was having a good time together. Everyone knew each other’s stuff and there was no mystery, no barrier, it was so great.
Lynn: Whenever I’ve been on set, there’s so much respect, it’s like a family.
Briana: And when they do squabble, it’s a family squabble or they’re artistic squabbles. None of it is ego – I’ve been on sets where nobody knows each other’s names, and that’s kind of what you get used to. Because especially nowadays in tv, it’s like, tv doesn’t last that long anymore. Having a run like Supernatural has had is unheard of these days.
Lynn: I feel lucky. I don’t know how often this will happen again, not for eleven seasons.
Briana: You’re so right, Lynn.
Lynn: Being a guest actor, it must be difficult always being the new kid on the block.
Briana: Yes, my job especially, being new to television, I’m always kind of terrified because every time I go on set I’m learning something. So I’ll learn something and be like oh shit, I didn’t know that, and I’ll clock it so I don’t screw it up next time. But typically the parts that I play aren’t principal parts, they’re small parts. This is the first time I’ve played a guest star role. And so it was great coming back to the set [the second time] for sure, because it’s much easier. You know the tone of the set. The boys set the tone of the set and they’re jokesters, right? So you get to play along with that, and it certainly lightens the mood.
Lynn: They’re good at that.
Briana: Now the first time I went on the set, the very first scene I shot was the donut scene…
Lynn: Oh I love that scene!
Briana: And the funny thing is, that wasn’t written into the script. Phil Sgriccia, who you know, directed that episode and he came into the costume fitting and he was like, ‘I have an idea. I have this idea and you’ve got to let me know if you’re into it.’ And I’m so into shenanigans. I love to screw around, I would have suggested even more.
Lynn: (laughing) It’s clear you fit in perfectly on Supernatural. I think shenanigans are their favorite thing in the whole world.
Briana: At the Christmas party, Misha and I had kinda just met, and Jensen asked ‘so have you guys worked together?’ Because Misha and I were just screwing around. And Jensen is like ‘I don’t think I wanna see that, I’m kinda terrified, to see the two of you work together.’
Lynn: I don’t know, I think you and Misha would be hysterical together – I’d love to see that!
Briana: Because I love shenanigans! So I said to Phil, ‘let’s do it, whatever it is, I don’t care, let’s do it.’ But being a professional, going into a scenario as a professional, I’m there to work. And I know as a principal actor I’m hired help. I show up, do my job, do what I’m asked to do. So when he said ‘I want you to bite into this donut and I want it to be a thing,’ I just played a good joke, don’t get me wrong. So during rehearsal, I just bit right into this donut and Jared and Jensen, I think, were really thrown. Because I don’t know, I’m just gonna throw it out there – you probably know better than I do – that they don’t get a lot of women on that set who are not there to just look good…
Lynn: No, I know what you mean.
Briana: It sounds rude, but I certainly was not playing a character who was there to look good. And in that moment I was there to just play the joke that Phil was building. That was literally my job at that moment. And so I think I was very serious about biting into that donut, and that was my job in that scene — to eat the shit out of that donut!
Lynn: And you did, damn it!
Briana: I know I know, it was so ridiculous but I think they were a little thrown.
Lynn: It’s true what you said about there not being alot of women characters who weren’t there to look good, I think — there haven’t been that many female characters…
Briana: That’s what I’ve heard, yeah.
Lynn: And the ones that were there were rarely played for any kind of comic effect.
Briana: And it’s great, what an OMG incredible gift to be able to go onto a show like that and play what is a really strong element of almost every woman I’ve ever met, you know what I mean?
Lynn: yes, absolutely.
Briana: What’s so great about Donna is she’s self deprecating and she’s unsure of herself — but she’s also really really really good at her job.
Lynn: (nodding) I think the reason – especially after the second episode where we got to know Donna so much more – I think the very positive fan response, with lots of calls for a Jody and Donna spinoff, and a fan vid for that imagined spinoff, and all the tweets – I think those two female characters have gelled for the fandom because they’re not there for eye candy, they’re real women. They have vulnerabilities, they relate to each other as real women do. And of course that episode passed the Bechdel test with flying colors (shout out to Jenny Klein).
Briana: Ooooooh yes!
Lynn: I love how genuine Donna is. She’s vulnerable, she’s still hung up on a guy she knows she shouldn’t be, and she covers that up with self deprecating humor. I can relate to that, to doing that with humor. But she’s also, like you say, super smart and super competent. And that’s how a lot of fangirls are too.
Lynn: Also, you and Kim have a helluva lot of chemistry.
Briana: Kim’s a dream…
Lynn: She is. She’s writing a chapter for a new book I’m working on.
Briana: Ohmygod, she’s such a great writer! Even on Twitter alone. It’s hard to be clever and also be someone to look up to in 140 chars, know what I mean?
Lynn: I do. Oh, and by the way, my next question was going to be were there adlibs in that donut scene, but you read my mind and already answered it.
Briana: Haha, there you go! At the end of that scene, another thing I didn’t know is that after they finish a scene, they let the camera roll a little bit.
Lynn: Especially Phil, I think.
Briana: I didn’t know that improvising was something that they encouraged – and I have a big improv background. But I didn’t know that they did that — Phil keeps them rolling to see what they come up with. And there were a couple things when we kept going which essentially would just have created more of a life for Donna. Like at the end I would talk to Jensen, or Dean rather, about where the donuts came from, that Margie down the street made them, and do you wanna go get some soup…none of it got added in, but…
Lynn: I wish it was on the gag reel!
Briana: It would’ve been last season, I guess. I’m scared to see what shows up from this recent episode, because OMG there were some shenanigans!
Lynn: This I need to see – can you tease anything?
Briana: Well….there might be some dancing – I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some dancing!
Lynn: Hmmm, dancing. So, is everyone dancing?
Briana: I don’t know – that’s the thing, I think I’m a little unaware of where the cameras are. It’s very helpful for some acting but not necessarily for knowing when the camera is on you. Sometimes Brad or Brian or the cameraman would have the camera rolling and we wouldn’t know.
Lynn: (silently thanking Brad and Brian and the camera crew for every gag reel gem they’ve caught…)
Briana: I have a bit of a trucker’s mouth, so I don’t know what they’ll actually be able to add because of the swearing…but there was some dancing at least between me and Kim. I think we were doing some synchronized dancing…
Lynn: Seriously, you guys have to come to some conventions. Having you and Kim onstage together would be great. You could do some more synchronized dancing. And the swearing? That’s part of what makes you real.
[Are you with me, fandom? Would you not love a Kim and Briana panel?? I feel like I should say, would you not fucking love a Kim and Briana panel actually…]
Briana: I’m on Twitter now pretty regularly because it’s just fun interacting with the fans, because I’m like, these are my people! They know the show way better than I do, but when it comes to life, lots of them are moms, working moms, lots of them drink too much coffee, and swear too much – they’re my people.
Lynn: That’s why you and your character have been so embraced. We recognize you.
Lynn: So, switching gears, the other scene I really liked in ‘The Purge’ was when Donna shares that her asshole husband dumped her, and we get to see the tender sort of protective side of Dean come out. He’s very empathic with her. Is that how you saw it too? And how Jensen played it?
Briana: Yeah, and I think that certainly wasn’t written, it was just something that came naturally. I think, again I don’t know the character of Dean as well as you do…
Lynn: (silently) Wait, who told you how well I know that character? *shifty eyes*
Briana:… but I get the impression that Dean is a little more personable with the people he meets. And I think that he and Donna had formed a camaraderie with the donut scene earlier. And so I feel like – I know that people have been shipping these characters — and I’m also new to that term…
Lynn: You’re learning.
Briana: But to me, I think it’s because Jensen and Jared are so much like siblings. I have older twin brothers and they remind me alot of my brothers. But I think of Dean and Donna as like a brother-sister relationship. They are kinda similar, you know?
Lynn: I think so too. Both are vulnerable underneath, but they cover up with humor, and they recognize that in each other. Dean and Donna kinda connect as kindred spirits. And I think Sam and Jody do too.
Briana: Yes, I get that impression too. I think Sam is a bit more cerebral and Dean is more visceral. I think Sam, yeah, he thinks things through a bit more. I’ve only gotten through the first few seasons though.
Lynn: But you’re getting it right! The show does a lot of setting up mirrors for Sam and Dean, and I think in that episode, Jody and Donna were mirrors for Sam and Dean, and it worked well. But for the record, I haven’t seen anyone shipping Donna with anybody other than Jody!
Briana: Oh yeah, I’ve seen that too. And I’m like totally totally, I mean, I’m not into it per se, but I’m like oh yeah, ship away!
Lynn: It’s the best compliment to your characters. People care about them and relate to them, and want to think and write more about them and expand their narrative.
Briana: I love it, I love it!
Lynn: You and Kim were adorable with your flirty Twitter banter. You have that chemistry, just like Jared and Jensen do.
Briana: Kim, she’s my people, we’re very much cut from the same cloth. Working with her was so great.
Lynn: Did you get to meet Jenny Klein, who wrote the episode? She’s awesome.
Briana: No! It’s so funny, I don’t know if you saw on Twitter – thankgod for Twitter, we’re all friends now! She was at the 200th episode party in Vancouver, but I didn’t meet her.
Lynn: Oh no!
Briana: She tweeted me and said ‘everybody keeps asking me, have you met Briana yet?’ A lot of the LA contingent were coming up and introducing themselves to me, and a lot of them were working in post because it was after we shot the episode, and they were saying the episode looks great, and I was so grateful because it’s a tricky thing when you’re on set. Another big difference between stage and screen is that you don’t get that feedback – they’re busy, people working on set are busy, they don’t have time to be like ‘that’s great’. So you have to be really sure of what you’re doing. So when people were coming up to me who were working on it and saying it looks so good, nothing could’ve made me happier. I’m really grateful to those people who are working in LA for taking the time to say that to the actors. And they’re aware that we don’t get to hear that live.
Lynn: I never thought about it, but that makes sense. I swear, everyone who works on this Show is so nice!
Briana: But anyway, Jenny tweeted me and then we had a long Twitter conversation over messaging talking about the characters. And I thanked her for the episode because I was so thankful to be able to perform that character. And I thought she went to great lengths in that episode to really be able to delve into [her]. But I also thought it was great because it’s not common for people to write female characters who are sticking up for each other.
Lynn: No, that’s true, it’s not common at all.
Briana: And there were lots of things that she just nailed, which I assume were things that the fandom was asking for – like, let’s show female characters who are good at their jobs, female characters who stick up for each other, female characters who aren’t just there to be, you know, tits and teeth. Not sexual characters for the men, but who are there on their own accord. And female characters who are their own heroes.
Lynn: (bouncing up and down) YES! YES!
Briana: That’s what was so great about that episode, it wasn’t even that Donna was saving herself, she was saving everybody.
Lynn: (still bouncing) She was a total badass!
Briana: (laughing) Yeah. I thought she was a great character, and everything in that episode was a very necessary scene.
Lynn: Yes, I think that’s true, no waste. I saw Jenny at the Burbank Supernatural convention and she told me about the episode, and I couldn’t wait to see it! And it turned out even better than I anticipated. Not only did they get a chance to be very real women, but Jody and Donna’s relationship was very realistic – not sappy, it wasn’t some kind of instantaneous bonding. Instead, they were sort of awkward and brittle with each other, making assumptions about each other’s pasts…
Briana: Totally, they didn’t like each other at first — they didn’t get each other.
Lynn: Right. They had to work at it, at understanding and respecting each other. And I was thinking, that’s the way it happens with two male characters all the time, we get to see that journey of them understanding and respecting each other. But it doesn’t happen that way onscreen between women, we don’t get to see all that.
Briana: No, you’re right. It’s either they instantly hate each other or they instantly love each other. And women are complicated people too and everything takes a little bit of work. Sometimes I think it’s easy to write women off as not that interesting – we’re more interesting!
Lynn: And more complex. In real life. But it seems like TPTB don’t think people really want to look deeply at female relationships, so they rush it along.
Briana: You’re right.
Lynn: But Jenny didn’t rush it and you and Kim and the director didn’t rush it. So, well done!
Briana: (perhaps blushing a bit on the other end of the phone) Oh gosh…
Lynn: That’s why I couldn’t wait to talk to you, and then I couldn’t believe I messed up making the call!
Briana: But hey, we’re doing it now!
Lynn: (laughing) We are. You had some great lines in Hibbing 911 – even just ‘ate the whole kit and caboodle’, it just came out so funny. Was any of that ad libbed? Was any of it hard to pull off?
Briana: No, you can probably hear the cadence in my real voice, it’s not that different than Donna. And so, I mean I’ve moved around a lot but Saskatchewan is just right above North Dakota so getting into that accent is not that hard. I mean, I researched a Minnesota accent quite a bit, so there are things I added that are a pretty famous Minnesotan turn of phrase, but most of it was easy – for sure like Briana would not say ‘what the cuss’, she would go full throttle and drop an F bomb, but Donna would not. I loved it, I knew how those jokes needed to land, and I got so excited. I don’t know, I wonder if dramatic actors get the same kind of high that comedic actors get when they know – when I know how to land that joke. I read a joke and I’m like oh yeah, I know how to land that, I can’t wait to do it. And when someone goes ‘yeah that’s really funny’, nothing’s better!
Lynn: I guess it must be a little different. When you “land” a dramatic line, you don’t have that same effect on people. It must be a good feeling when you’re making someone laugh – I mean, you’re essentially making someone happy.
Briana: For sure. Again, I keep referring back to theater, sorry – because it’s what I’ve got.
Lynn: Oh, and it makes perfect sense.
Briana: You do comedic theater and you’re so used to getting a reaction, so when you’re doing it on set you have to be careful. And I will tell you, Lynn, I was not always good at this, you have to be careful not to be performing for the crew. The crew and I are really good friends, but even though they’re really close to you, the camera is closer. So if you’re performing too hard, even if you’re performing to Robin in props and trying to make her laugh, it’s too much. And so that was a learning curve for me for sure.
Lynn: Oh, Robin! We interviewed her for Supernatural Magazine back in the day. I never thought about that, but it makes sense.
Briana: You start to think the crew is your audience, and it’s not, the camera is your audience.
Lynn: That must be a hard line to balance, because it’s sort of more salient that the actual people are right there in real time. You must have to tune that out and remember that your ultimate audience is on the other side of that camera.
Lynn: Did any funny things happen on set?
Briana: Nothing specific, but there was one night, I think actually it was the second day of filming, because Jared and Jensen weren’t there for the first day. And it was the scene where Donna insists on coming with them. So we’re getting into the Impala, and I had not seen her before – Briana hadn’t seen her. And so every time I would get in the car, I would giggle so hard, because I would be like, I’m in the back seat of the Impala! The coverage was never on me, but then they’d yell cut and I’d just bust out laughing. And Jared would be yelling at me, like ‘shut up Buckmaster!’ That scene was so full of giggles that I think when we were live tweeting the episode, I think Kim tweeted ‘why are there no shots of me in that scene? Oh, it’s because Buckmaster could not stop making me laugh!’ We were laughing so deeply, and you know those boys, they like full body laugh, and so we were just laughing so hard. We were just like high school kids whenever it was the four of us in the car – like let’s go to McDonalds, just fucking around.
Lynn: The first time Kathy and I were “introduced” to the Impala, we were on set, and the PA was like, do you want to get in? And we were wide-eyed, like OMG NO, we’re not worthy!
Briana: (laughing) And I don’t even know the Impala like you guys know it and I was still like OMG.
Lynn: So would you like to come to some cons?
Briana: Yes! I don’t have anything to report thus far, but that would be great. I remember Jared and Jensen were really trying to push for conventions, Jensen was talking to me a lot about it, telling me, ‘it’s kinda like being around your best audience, everybody is there, nobody is there to judge you’, and like, why would I not want to go spend a weekend with people like that?
Lynn: Exactly! This is an audience where everyone loves the show and the characters, and is passionate about it, and thoughtful about it.
Briana: Those boys wouldn’t be doing them if they were terrible experiences.
Lynn: True. Of course it’s a job too.
Briana: Of course, but that only goes so far after a while.
Lynn: I’d love to see you and Kim together onstage.
Briana: And now I have to do one, because I want to meet you in person!
Briana: Let me know when you run the interview, I can’t wait to send it to my mom.
So here it is, Briana’s mom. Hope you enjoy it – I certainly enjoyed talking with your daughter! We’re lucky to have her as part of our SPN Family.
I’m going back to celebrating the S11 renewal now. The expression on Jensen’s face here is pretty much what I looked like when I heard the news today. I’m a little worried that the expressions on the family’s faces were a bit closer to Jared’s, but I’m sure that’s only temporary. Seriously, think about it – pretty sure none of them want to be anywhere near me when the Show isn’t renewed!
So keep celebrating – and for more thoughts on fandom and Supernatural, check out our books at the links at the top of the page.
Fangasm is all about the joys of being a fangirl, and Fan Phenomena celebrates what we all love about the Show, with chapters written by Misha Collins, Richard Speight Jr., SPN director of photography Serge Ladouceur, Jules from Superwiki, Mary aka Bardicvoice, vidder Ash48, and many more!
If you’d like to chat with other fans about reading Fangasm, there’s an online book club starting next month!