I had the pleasure of chatting with Treva Etienne, who played the Grigori angel Tamiel in the recent Supernatural episode ‘Angel Heart’. Not only is Treva a really nice guy who’s savvy about the ins and outs of the television and film industry, he’s savvy about my favorite topic of conversation too (that would be Supernatural, in case anyone is reading this blog for the very first time…). He shared some on-set stories of working (and laughing) with the boys, and is looking forward to getting to know the Supernatural fandom better. Treva’s enthusiasm for the show and his enjoyment in working with Jared, Jensen and Misha made this a really fun chat. Oh, and I realize this article is in print, but do yourself a favor and imagine it with all Treva’s responses spoken in his very lovely accent. Every time he said “thank you, darling” I just wanted to hear him say it again.
Turns out we have some mutual friends, because frankly, everything leads back to Supernatural — Elizabeth Yoffe and Tony Zierra, producer and director of the powerful documentary film ‘My Big Break,’ starring none other than SPN’s Chad Lindberg. I asked how they knew each other.
Treva: Elizabeth and Tony are staying with her cousin, who I’ve known since I’ve been in LA. Coincidentally, they were talking about ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and this actor they liked in it (Treva) and she said ‘my friend Treva?’ And I had just arrived in LA that day and literally while they were having that conversation I rang to say ‘hey I’m back in town’ and she was like, you need to come here straight away. So I got in my car and drove there and she said, ‘not only is this my cousin but they’re making a documentary on Stanley Kubrick and they just mentioned your name like an hour ago!’ So I met Liz and Tony and we all fell in love.
Lynn: Small world! There’s just something about Tony and Elizabeth! We had a similar strange meeting. We were talking with Chad Lindberg, who guest starred as Ash on Supernatural, and were telling him about our journey of writing Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls, and he said ‘you have to meet my friends Tony and Elizabeth, their documentary is like the same journey as your book’. And Tony and Elizabeth were there at the same time for a screening of My Big Break, so he called them over and we just hit it off.
Treva: They walk with magic.
Lynn: I think so too.
Treva: They didn’t even know I’d been on Supernatural. When I got back from Vancouver I went over to see them and we were talking and they mentioned their friend Chad — and I’d watched My Big Break and saw the journey of all the actors and thought it was amazing – and they said ‘and Chad was on Supernatural’, and I said ‘Oh, I just did Supernatural!’
Lynn: (laughing) In the fandom we say, everything leads back to Supernatural.
Treva: And they said OMG, you need to speak to Lynn, she writes about Supernatural! They also said once you do Supernatural, you have to create an online presence on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram…
Lynn: That’s true, you should. Join the SPNFamily! Best fandom in the universe.
Treva: I’m not really good at all that. I mean, I see actors do that all the time. They’re at the gym and they take selfies and are like, here’s week three of my six pack, or here’s my latte and here’s my dog…
Lynn: (is laughing because, well, yeah…)
Treva: (skeptical) I don’t know…I’m a filmmaker, that’s what I do, I make films.
Lynn: You certainly do! I looked at your IMDB and you’ve got quite a filmography [Pirates of the Caribbean, Terminator Salvation, Black Hawk Down, Eyes Wide Shut, to name a few. Plus, he’s guest starred on ‘Angel’, another of my favorite tv shows]. So yeah, I don’t think you need to do selfies at the gym, but I do think you might enjoy interacting with fans in a more genuine way.
Treva: Absolutely, I’d love to introduce myself to the fans. There’s talk of me coming back to Supernatural. The guys told me that no one ever dies on Supernatural.
Lynn: That’s quite true.
[And by the way, don’t you just love how Jared and Jensen and Misha go out of their way to connect with the show’s guest stars and to let them know how welcome they’d be back on the show? It warms my heart, seriously. Best. Cast. Ever.]
Treva: Because of the nature of the episode, although I died, she [Claire] takes my sword at the end of the episode and disappears with it. And that’s my sword and I’m attached to that sword, so they said ‘well, it’s very possible that you could come back and come looking for it.’
Lynn: (nodding) Also, on Supernatural, when an angel dies, the way we know they’re actually dead is you can see the burnt outline of their wings on the ground, and we didn’t see that with Tamiel I don’t think. So who knows?
Treva: I guess it was also the first time they had a Grigorian angel with a sword, usually the angels have blades.
Lynn: (silently impressed — this guy knows his SPN stuff…)
Treva: So they’ve never had a sword angel before in all the 200 plus episodes, and they said, ‘that’s a first for us.’ I don’t know if you saw the episode…
Lynn: I did. [I can hear everyone reading this going Wow, we never would have guessed…]
Treva: And when I [Tamiel] said there were a lot of us and we were cut down to nothing and our names were inscribed on our swords, again that’s open to interpretation. What does it mean? Are there more of us? All of it is kind of ambiguous.
Lynn: And they spent a lot of time setting up the backstory of the Grigori, which they don’t always do.
Treva: Right, and they did trim some of the dialogue in the edit, so I think maybe they might be saving that exposition for something else perhaps. It could be that they were pulling back to maybe let it savor and marinate a little before they put it all out, because honestly there’s so much you could do with it. They could bring in women — mothers, grandparents, like they just brought in the Frankensteins. I know one of those actors and there’s so much mileage possible there, that could be a real interesting little spin off because the Frankensteins haven’t really been done, a CW show on these kind of modern day bad guys.
Lynn: Maybe we can throw some Grigori in there too! Supernatural is still looking for a spinoff idea – there are few ideas that fandom has that we all think are intriguing, but so far the one in-series spinoff they tried wasn’t well received.
Treva: Which one was that?
Lynn: It was called Bloodlines, like these monster families living in Chicago…but it didn’t really feel like Supernatural, so it didn’t grab the fandom.
Treva: I see. Well, you never know with these guys, they sit in writers’ rooms all day being paid to come up with ideas, and I don’t think they’re gonna want to let this fan base go.
Lynn: Agreed. That would be silly.
Treva: There’s a similar kind of thing going on with the end of the other show I was doing, Falling Skies, because they have quite a big audience as well.
Treva: So would they just shut this audience down or would they spin off something? So we’re not sure, it’s all very hush hush still, but it’s a cash cow for TNT. With the competition and the race that’s on just to acquire content for all the networks and amazon and Netflix and HBO, everybody is just chasing content. And once you’ve got content and you’ve got an audience, why would you throw that away? Networks are desperate to hang onto their audiences and not let them go. So again, all kind of hush hush until you know what’s going on, but it’s a popular show and I’m sure they’re gonna be thinking of ways they can capitalize on creating an audience, or finding something to replace it.
Lynn: That makes perfect sense. So, did you know about Supernatural before you auditioned? Had you watched it?
Treva: I knew a little bit about the show but hadn’t really watched it in that way. I knew there was a fan base but I really didn’t have any idea of the kind of content of the show until they gave me some episodes to watch to help with the back story, so I could understand who was what and what went where. And then I started to understand the appeal of the show. It’s really well made, the characters are great, it’s a great story and each one keeps you wanting more.
Lynn: (is nodding furiously)
Treva: And by the end of watching the 5 or 6 DVDs they gave me I was like, you know, this is a pretty cool show!
Lynn: I couldn’t agree more. You did a lot of homework for this role then.
Treva: Yeah, I watched five or six episodes, all tracing the story of Jimmy and how he first entered the show, how his body was taken over and he left his daughter and his wife and everything else. It was just really interesting, and how he got involved with the guys. So by the time I am in this episode, and I’m kind of this zombie-esque flesh eating angel, I had an idea of where I was in his life and why I acquired the flesh of his wife, and how his daughter was now looking for her mom, and it all kind of made sense.
Lynn: Is that unusual for a television show to go so far — like giving you that many DVDs — to make sure that guest actors get a real understanding of who the characters in the show are?
Treva: Yeah, I think so. They care. And that’s really quite a difference when you arrive on set. Even when you’re like going through wardrobe, everyone cares, everyone asks your opinions and wants to know what you think and they want to play with your ideas for the character and see if they can merge all of the ideas together to make something solid and memorable, and that’s unusual. And then the guys themselves, they’re so warm and open and giving and welcoming. The crew too, everyone, it’s just a really great experience to work on this show, I have to say.
Lynn: That seems to be the experience of just about every guest actor, which seems pretty extraordinary.
Treva: And I’m not just saying that because it’s what you’re supposed to say – I recommended it to everyone after I did it, to try to work on the show because it’s just a great show to work on. Everyone is nice, and professional. They work hard, but it doesn’t feel that way because they’re having fun.
Lynn: That’s the impression we’ve gotten too, from the times we’ve been there. It seems like a well-oiled machine, and everyone seems very invested in helping each other get their own particular part of the job done. And in between, they most definitely have fun!
Treva: It’s not something that happens every day, I have to say. I’ve worked on a few sets and it’s very unusual to have it be very smooth. Because sometimes you go onto a show and you’re the guest star, and you’re trying to find the energy and the rhythm and you’ve got to find it fast because of the action of the show. We’ll work at 90 mph and we’ll slow down in the middle of the day and drop from 90 to 80 and then by the end of the day we’re kind of cruising at 60, so you’ve gotta kind of find your own speed. And also if you’re a new character coming in, you’re the guest star so the story is kinda centered around you for that episode so you have to kinda create your own rhythm as well, so it creates an impact. But I found this show just very smooth.
Lynn: And I think that shows, in the quality.
Treva: And the catering was great!
Lynn: (laughing) It is, definitely. And hey, food on set is important! Gotta keep up your energy.
Treva: Yeah, so it’s good to come back to that. It’s really a cool show.
Lynn: Speaking of keeping up your energy, I watched that epic fight scene again last night, trying to figure out how much you did, and how much were your stunt doubles. Your character gets to throw all three of the actors around – Jared, Jensen and Misha! Like, toss them all to the ground even.
Treva: It was kinda like a 007 fight, in a way.
Lynn: It was!
Treva: It was very well rehearsed, with a lot of action, and to be clear we all got involved. It was all quite physical. I would say that we as the actors – Misha, Jared, Jensen and myself – we gave as much as the stunt men gave and it really kinda blended. I was watching it and saying wow, they really made this work! Because we didn’t have much time and we had to kinda make it work. It’s actually very technical. We have to figure out the throwing punches and the way that they’ll land and how to throw someone over your shoulder and that kinda stuff.
Lynn: Throwing Misha or Jensen or Jared over your shoulder is no mean feat… I see what you mean by ‘quite physical’.
Treva: But because of the nature of the set and just the vibe that’s created, what was technical and difficult was actually kinda fun and smooth. It was hard work, but it didn’t feel like hard work. Because you’re working with the leads of the show and they’re making it fun and easy and we’re laughing when we miss a punch or when the camera gets in the way of something. When you’re relaxed, you can do anything!
Lynn: Jared, Jensen and Misha seem to be really good at that, making sure everyone stays relaxed so they can do their best work.
Treva: And I think the reason why it blended and the fight worked, and to answer your question of how much did we all do, it was because it was really equal. The stunt men gave as much as we gave and we really followed each other and tried to kind of mimic each other and work as one. So the stunt men really were working as one, all of the stunt men followed the energy and the movement that we, the actors, were giving them, and we tried to follow their energy and tempo as professional stunt men and it all seemed to kind of blend together. It was all really interesting.
Lynn: That was one of the themes in our book Fan Phenomena: Supernatural – cast and crew who wrote chapters for it talked a lot about how Supernatural is such a collaboration.
Treva: I did a little bit [of fighting] on Pirates [of the Caribbean] when we were fencing and we had to fence these ghostly redcoats and it reminded me of that. Very technical because you have to do it right or it doesn’t look real and you really have to sell it, but if everyone is kind of confident in what they’re doing, it just blends together. And then when they put the sound on, and the music, and it’s all put together, you look at the end result and go wow, it really is kind of like a 007 fight!
Lynn: It really was! I’m always impressed with Supernatural’s ability, as a television show without the time or budget to allocate that a movie has, to pull off scenes like that which end up looking as good as they would on film.
Treva: Yeah, the show has a cinematic feel to it. I was saying to the guys, it’s kind of on its own. I mean, it’s a popular show and it does what it does, but it’s kinda out there on its own. The show is like a movie on a small screen.
Lynn: It really is. It’s unique.
Treva: Supernatural has created its own identity as a show and it walks a fine line between cinema and television, and I do think the guys are kinda like movie stars on a tv show. The fan base and the reaction from the fans is like – and I’m not saying television stars don’t get that reaction anyway – but I think there’s something very unique about how the show is responded to by its fan base. It’s unusual. I mean, I’ve seen Pirates fans and Terminator fans and I’ve gone to conventions, but from what I understand – I haven’t been to any of the conventions for Supernatural yet – but from what the guys were telling me, even the drivers on the show, their knowledge of scripts and what they’ve experienced this past season, it’s extraordinary. I’ve never met drivers who know so much about a show!
Lynn: It really is the SPNFamily. And the cons are extraordinary. Creation Entertainment has been doing conventions for decades, since the beginning with Star Trek, but they’ve never had a property like Supernatural, there are like a dozen conventions in the US in a year.
Treva: And all over the world?
Treva: Wow, I didn’t know that. I knew that the guys were doing cons, but I didn’t know it was that many in the US alone.
Lynn: You should do one, you obviously get along well with the guys, and they really have fun. I think you’d be great.
Treva: I’d love to!
[Creation, listen up!]
Lynn: So back to Tamiel. We’re used to violence on Supernatural, but especially in the first scene with Amelia in this episode, the character is really creepy. And creepy is a different sort of thing, more subtle.
Treva: There have been some people referring to Tamiel as the ‘dark angel’. Because I am a dark angel — I eat humans, you know, which is kinda strange for an angel to do that.
Lynn: (silently) Well, angels do some pretty weird and not-very-nice things sometimes on Supernatural…
Treva: But I’m slicing humans and keeping them chained up while I eat them slowly. It’s kinda cannibalistic and weird.
Lynn: It is. I watched with my daughter, and she was like eww, that’s so creepy. Is it tough to do that, to play creepy?
Treva: Yeah, you never know if it’s working, you work on a scale of 1 to 10 and you always hope that you’re not underplaying creepy or overplaying it, but you’re hitting it at the right note so that it’s believable and real. And it’s difficult [in that scene with Amelia] because you’re trying to sell this kind of energy that’s supposedly coming out when I slice her, and you’re not sure how much smoke or CGI they’re gonna put on that.
Lynn: It looked great! [Kudos, as always, VFX guys]
Treva: So in some ways, you try to pitch for something that you believe will be realistic and then you hope that whatever they do afterwards will complement that. So that’s really nice of you to say, because that was the idea. He was supposed to be a creepy angel doing creepy things, and obviously he’s got a very dark side. And he’s a bit of a badass as well.
Lynn: I’ll say! Throwing around Sam, Dean and Cas takes a badass!
Treva: And he can be a kind of heartless, ruthless, brutal kind of angel. He gets what he wants and he doesn’t really meet much opposition. It was funny that the daughter [Claire] ended up taking his life, because the way that fight was going, he looked like he was gonna take all three of them out!
Lynn: He did! He threw all three of the lead characters right onto the floor.
Treva: (laughing) Has that ever happened before?
Lynn: Rarely. Though one of the things I like about the show is that they don’t make it easy for the Winchesters [ridiculous understatement…sorry…] They barely come out on the side of winning. But all three of them dispatched by one being so easily? Not too often, so kudos on that. The scene with Jared was intense too, when Tamiel had Sam tied to a chair and threatens him with his angel sword, almost in his eye. How was that? Did Jared mess with you at all?
Treva: That was fun, really cool. Jared’s a great actor, and the director Steve was great. No, we were kinda quite straightforward and again, you have to be a bit creepy as well because I think the intention was that I was going to slice Jared at some point and nibble on him.
[Pretty sure Tamiel has a lot of company when it comes to wanting to nibble on Sam Winchester…]
Treva: And I think it was kinda interesting because they keep saying on Supernatural anything is possible. So even though I look creepy and like a bad guy and whatever and whatever, there’s always the possibility that if I came back, I would maybe come back as an ally against something greater. Even though I came as an enemy in this one, I could come back and end up working with the guys against something greater and bigger.
Lynn: That’s very true. The Winchesters started out arch enemies with Crowley, but they’ve been allies with him just as often.
Treva: Right, and Ruth, who plays his mom, I think she was only supposed to be in a few. I know Ruth, she’s a sweetheart, and she didn’t expect her character to become part of the story line like she has, but I think she’s quite popular with the fans.
Lynn: She is. And that accent!
Treva: And as the mother of – is he the father of Hell, Mark?
Lynn: The King of Hell.
Treva: Right. So being the mother of the king of hell gives her a lot of scope to play with, and she’s so good at it and quite funny at times as well.
Treva: And very Scottish. I love how international the show is. You’ve got British, Scottish, it’s very international.
Lynn: And it has a very international fandom. People from every country you can imagine have read Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls. We get emails from all over.
Treva: The show travels globally?
Lynn: Anywhere there’s internet! So, any other anecdotes with the guys? Did you get to hang out at all?
Treva: Unfortunately because their schedule is so busy, it’s hard to get time to hang out because they’re working all the time. But on the set we had time to just laugh. Nothing like a blade suddenly falling on the floor or anything like that though.
Lynn: Well, that’s probably a good thing.
Treva: That fight scene was actually really fun to do, but it was challenging. Because we did get pounded about, it was really a high energy, high octane choreographed fight scene. The stunt guys really choreograph it –you find your mark and you find your balance and your steps, and it’s like a ballet.
Lynn: Funny you should say that, Jensen has talked about the fight scenes in the same way, that if done right and you get the choreography right, it’s really a dance. I guess you guys went into it with the same mindset, and that’s why it came out so well.
Treva: It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a bonding experience. It’s not always that way, some actors don’t like the physical aspects and the stunt guys take over that side of it and the actors focus more on the on-camera dialogue type stuff. But when you’re working with actors who are physical and who are willing to be thrown around and you’re that kind of actor as well, there’s an understanding there. Sometimes I’ve done shows where people got bruised or got cut.
Lynn: The Supernatural actors are definitely not afraid to get physical. There’s been some of that on Supernatural too.
Treva: They’re not precious about being bruised or doing whatever it takes to make the scene work and to make it look believable and real. And that’s what makes working with them so fun, because although they’re very professional and careful about what they’re doing, once you get into doing something that’s so high octane, it’s really fun. And then you get a take and you see what it looks like and you get a round of applause on set from the crew, and you know you’ve done something that’s cool. When we first saw what the stunt men did and we shot it, they got a round of applause, for the stunt men.
Lynn: That totally doesn’t surprise me, it seems like the cast and crew really appreciate each other’s professionalism.
Treva: It was so amazing what they [the stunt guys] did. It blew our minds, and we (Jared, Jensen, Misha and Treva) were like wow, and we have to do that?! How do we follow that? But we all rose to the challenge, and they helped us do that and helped us all the way through the process. And that’s why it worked, because we all wanted to complement what the others had done. So my stunt double wanted to complement me and the guys’ stunt doubles wanted to complement them and there was a real camaraderie around what we did and that’s why the fight worked.
Lynn: That makes perfect sense. Also, it turns out that you did have a great on-set story.
Lynn: What else are you up to now?
Treva: Falling Skies new season is in June. I actually know one of the Frankensteins [from SPN] as well – Matt [Bellefleur], who played the older brother of the Frankenstein kid who was being bullied. He got the bully back in the alley.
Lynn: Right, right.
Treva: Matt is also in the new season of Falling Skies, that’s how I know him. Matt was at my Supernatural audition reading for the part I was reading for, and then he read for the Frankenstein part and got that. He’s a really cool guy, a great guy.
Lynn: Small world. And isn’t that how we started this conversation?
Like I said, everything leads back to Supernatural. It was such a pleasure getting to know Treva. You can check him out in Falling Skies, returning in June on TNT. And follow him on social media at @TrevaEtienne – he’d love to get to know more of the SPNFamily, so tweet him and say hi!
For more info on Tamiel and the Grigori, check out the wikia entry here – http://supernatural.wikia.com/wiki/Tamiel
And for a taste of Treva on Falling Skies (and Supernatural) https://vimeo.com/127901897
You can also check out My Big Break here – http://mybigbreakmovie.com/
And of course, if you’re in need of more help getting through Hellatus, check out our books on Supernatural at the links at the top of the page!