So the actor who plays my favorite fictional character of all time (that would be Dean Winchester) is having a birthday today, and it’s a “big” one. Jensen Ackles is turning forty, and on that momentous occasion, many fans are posting messages for him about why he’s special to them. I thought I’d chime in and try to put into words why I agree, and in the process wish Jensen a very happy 40th birthday.
It’s no secret that Supernatural has changed my life. I never would have thought about publishing a book, let alone seven. I never would have travelled all over the world – by myself sometimes – or met the fellow fans who are now some of my closest friends. I never would have found my voice and figured out that being me was okay. Loving a television show and joining its wild, crazy, supportive community made all the difference in my life – but if Jensen Ackles hadn’t played Dean, and Jared Padalecki hadn’t played Sam, that never would have happened.
I am so grateful.
It wasn’t the premise of the show that drew me in. It wasn’t the rock music (as much as I loved it from day one). It wasn’t the gorgeous sleek black Chevy Impala, though I fangirl Baby almost as much as I fangirl her owner. It wasn’t the amazing special effects or the scares or the monsters-of-the-week with their commentary on so much more. It wasn’t even entirely the brilliant writing, though I never would have stuck with the show if there hadn’t been plenty of that. Instead it was Sam and Dean. It was the complicated, messy, unique, fraught, angst-filled relationship between those two brothers – and the love that refused to be extinguished between them – that made me fall in love with Supernatural. Yes, that was partly the writers, and I’ll fangirl Eric Kripke forever for creating those characters. But I’m fairly certain that if two other actors had been playing Sam and Dean, I would have said huh, interesting, and maybe watched a few episodes. I wouldn’t have fallen head over heels in love and not looked back.
I watched Season One with a friend and didn’t fall. I enjoyed, but I wasn’t a fan. It was Jensen, with his incredible acting, who finally pushed me over the precipice and sent me careening into a life-changing journey. Early in Season Two, I was grading papers, only half watching the show, when suddenly I realized that my stereotypical red grading pen was hovering uselessly in midair. I had become so engrossed in the scene I was watching that I’d forgotten all about the papers – in fact, they were about to slide onto the floor. On the screen, Dean and Sam leaned against Baby, a gorgeous Vancouver background framing them. And while I watched, transfixed, Dean Winchester – who had seemed on the surface an emotionally restricted gruff kind of guy – broke down. Emotion poured out of him, and at the same time it was heartbreakingly clear that he didn’t want it to. The range of emotions that I could see – could feel – in him was so intense that it took my breath away. His anger, his sense of loss, his pain. And underneath all that, so much love. He turned all that emotion on his brother, and I could see it floored him too.
The papers hit the floor. Who was this character, that he had pulled me into his world so suddenly and completely that my heart was pounding and my own eyes were tearing up? How had I missed the complexity of this character and all that emotion that he kept hidden?
I rewatched the entire first season in a weekend, picked up watching Season Two live, and never looked back. If it hadn’t been for Jensen’s incredible acting – his willingness to make himself, and thus his character, emotionally vulnerable – I would have missed out on the ride of my life.
Over the next eleven years, my fascination with Dean Winchester has only grown, and that again is largely due to Jensen’s portrayal of him. I’ve been privileged to have a fair amount of conversation with him over the years, and I have always been struck by how thoughtful he is about the character he plays. He reads a script and he thinks about it. Why would Dean react this way or that way? What would he be feeling? What drives him, what keeps him up at night, what keeps him going?
As a fan, I think about those things too, dissecting dialogue and facial expressions and every other hint I have about what makes Dean tick. Another actor might just take what’s on the page and say the words and hit his mark and be done with it, especially after doing it for 13 years. Jensen has never gotten to that point – he has never stopped caring. If anything, he seems to care more now. He genuinely loves Dean; is protective of him. If a new writer doesn’t get the characterization right or a new director doesn’t quite understand who Dean is, Jensen is there to suggest a correction or make a subtle change that brings the characterization back to where it should be. The writers, producers, directors trust him to do that and welcome the collaboration. I know how rare that is, and I’m so thankful for it – so thankful he cares enough to nurture and protect the character I care so much about.
I can’t talk about how Jensen plays Dean without talking about how Jared plays Sam. It wasn’t just Dean Winchester who pulled me in, it was the Winchester brothers. And that is something that Jensen and Jared have created together. From the start, everyone who met them talked about their chemistry – the fact that they hit it off the way they did, and that they allowed that mutual affection and respect to translate to the screen, made Dean and Sam’s relationship something special. Both actors have never been afraid to be vulnerable, or to show emotion other than anger (which is sometimes the easier one to express). They were vulnerable with each other, clinging to each other when they were alone in the world – and that was tremendously compelling. I could relate – can still relate – and I’m so grateful to Jared and Jensen for bringing those characters to life in the ways they have.
Sometimes I’m just thankful that the show I picked to fall for, and the actors who have been on that show, are unusual in the best of ways. Jensen, Jared, Misha – all of the actors – have been more respectful of and grateful for their fans than just about anyone else. One of the reasons the Supernatural conventions took off in such an unprecedented way was that the actors were genuinely open to getting to know their fans, instead of making the barrier between them a mile wide. They interacted, they communicated, they talked – and they listened. As a result, those stereotypes about who fans are didn’t hold up. They saw fans as fellow humans, and that has made all the difference. I give Jared and Jensen a lot of credit for their openness, right from the start.
The first time I met Jensen in person, I was a stranger asking him to sign a Ten Inch Hero poster at Comic Con. He was clueless as to my near-hyperventilating excitement, and with a line of hundreds of people waiting for his signature, he could have been forgiven for scrawling his name and then moving on to the next person. Instead he took the time to talk to me – to ask where I got the poster, to listen when I began haltingly to tell him about the movie premiere and my chat with then-girlfriend Danneel. To give me a smile that was genuine, and to make a joke about why he wasn’t there. Little things, but they made a difference (They also caused me to burst into hysterical tears once I was a safe distance away…but not in a bad way…)
The first time we were invited to the set, I assumed I was still a stranger. Sure, there had been a couple of conventions, but I was one of thousands of fans who had stood next to him in the photo op room and smiled. The studio had given us strict instructions that we could interview Jared and Jensen for the book we were writing as long as we stayed on the set (presumably where there were lots of people to watch us in case we decided to….I’m not sure what actually, but just in case). We watched them film, watched Jensen and Jared joke with the guest star to put him at ease, and chat with the crew, and consume candy between takes. It was so much fun that when the PA who was in charge of us said she was sorry, filming had gone too late, there was no time for an interview, that we didn’t break down into sobs. We had already had a utopian day, and we were genuinely okay with that.
Seems we underestimated Jared and Jensen though. When they walked up to us to say hi and perhaps explain that they had run out of time, Jensen stopped short in front of me where I was perched precariously on one of those high set chairs.
“Oh,” he said, and smiled. “It’s you! We know you!”
I was dumbfounded.
Half an hour later, as we waited for a driver to take us back to our hotel, the PA came by to tell us there had been a change of plans – both Jared and Jensen were insisting on doing the interviews after all. IN THEIR TRAILERS. Needless to say, if we thought the day had been utopia before, it quickly rocketed up into actual heaven. It was way after midnight but Jensen (the last to finish filming) welcomed us into his trailer, got us drinks, and chatted until his driver finally came by to say we all really had to go. Once again, he didn’t have to do that – but he did. He and Jared answered all our questions, even the ones that were definitely out of the ordinary. As exhausted as he was, Jensen still jumped up and acted out a hilarious scene of what happens when someone sort of recognizes him in an airport but then can’t figure out who he is. I had been terribly nervous; within ten minutes, I’d forgotten about my nerves and was just having fun.
That’s another thing I love about Mr. Ackles. His sense of humor and playfulness (and those of the other actors) have made the experience of being a Supernatural fan so much more FUN than it would have been otherwise. I got back from Vegas con a few days ago and I’m still laughing about so many of the hilarious things that happened onstage. From jumping up to play the keyboards to tease Jared, to pretending to strip, to throwing back his head and full-on laughing with such contagious abandon, Jensen’s willingness to be a kid and not get hung up on being a “celebrity” makes the conventions the fun things they are. And makes my stomach literally ache after some of the panels – which I don’t mind one bit. That chemistry he had with Jared? Still there, maybe moreso. And the other Supernatural actors have jumped right on the bandwagon, to everyone’s delight.
I feel so lucky that the actors on my favorite show are who they are. That they care about the show, and the characters they play. That they care about the world and making it a better place. That they care about their fans and appreciate the support. When I wanted to write a book about how this show and this fandom have changed lives, I never thought that it wouldn’t be only the fans who would want to share their stories – it was the actors too. From those very first interviews in their trailers, Jared and Jensen have been unfailingly generous with their time and willingness to contribute to every book I’ve written. Jensen told me over and over that “I’m not a writer” when we were putting together Family Don’t End With Blood. He’d watch Jared writing his chapter and shake his head and say not me. But I knew that he had something to say, even if he didn’t want to sit down and type it out. Ultimately he gave me the words and I did the typing, and I think he’s proud of what he wrote. I definitely am.
So Happy 40th Birthday, Mr. Ackles. Thank you for caring about Dean and making him so vivid and real and alive. Thank you for pouring so much love into the bond between Dean and Sam. Thank you for bringing so much fun and laughter to conventions – for not being afraid to be playful. Thank you for the serious conversations we’ve had too, and the way you think deeply about things but sometimes try to pretend you don’t. Thank you for going way out of your comfort zone to allow that chapter to be written. Thank you for the good you’ve done in the world, with charity campaigns and just in the everyday interactions you have with so many people that allow them to feel special and valued. I hope you feel very proud of the person you are.
You can find Family Don’t End
With Blood (and Jensen’s chapter)
In the links on our home page!
PS – Thanks too for being a total effing rockstar onstage and please do not ever stop singing!
35 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Jensen Ackles!”
Love love love me some Jensen Ackles. Having gone to my first convention in Orlando and going through the whole experience I agree with everything you wrote. This is a special fandom and I have fallen hard. His playfulness with me during the gold panel has kept me in very high spirits. And it’s been over a month! Happy happy birthday Jensen. Don’t ever stop being the wonderful person you are. May the good Lord bless you and your family.
Dear Lynn, I truly love your posts, & have bought yr book “Family don’t end in blood”, which I just adore! Living in Australia I have only been blessed to go to one convention, AHBL8 in Melbourne, which was the best w’end of my life!! Omg soooo much fun, can’t believe it was a year ago, hence yr posts are gold! Love the show, the boys, & all of the SPN family.
Thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed FDEWB!
Thank you Lynn for expressing so eloquently (as always) so much of what I’m thinking and feeling. I’ve struggled with accepting my identity as a fan of not only a TV show but especially of the exceptional people who create it and bring it to life. I often think about how very easy Jensen (and Jared and Misha) make it to be their fans by being such throughly decent and admirable human beings. I hope Jensen knows what a difference he makes in the world.
I hope he does too – I really do feel lucky that this is the show I fell for!
Usually you can’t shut me up but for this… I have nothing more to add. Lynn, I love it!
P.S. – it’s apparently an onion-chopping day.😭
*hands you tissues* 🙂
I may not have the oppitunities as yourself but I certainly feel the same way, enough to want to put my talents to work and paint portraits of these gorgeous talented men. Just as grateful you share your encounters with the spn family 🙂
We all celebrate them and the Show in our own ways, which is what makes this fandom so special 🙂
It’s like you read my mind and put it into words. In a much much eloquent manner. Thank you for writing this.
P.S I bought FDEWB from all the way in India and was glad and grateful that I did.
So glad FDEWB made its way to India and that you enjoyed!
Thank you for writing such a lovely birthday card to Jensen. I truly hope he sees this because you captured my feelings exactly. I hope he knows how grateful we are that he is Dean Winchester. Jensen’s talents have brought so much joy to so many people.
I hope he does too 🙂
Thank you for this marvelous tribute (and for sharing some of the wild ride with me). 🙂
Some of the wildest moments, in fact 🙂
Reblogged this on Will To Grow and commented:
I love this show, the characters, and the actors so much. But Lynn does a much better job of saying EXACTLY what I feel…she’s magic like that.
What a great Birthday tribute to a great human being! I’ve fangirled before over other actors and other shows, but Supernatural and Jensen Ackles have taken my fang irking to a higher place. In fact, it’s almost a little demeaning to call it fangirling. I have so much respect for the creator and writers of this show for bringing the Winchesters into our lives. The Winchester brothers are a gift and their stories, their vulnerabilities, their relationships with each other and others, are so true to life, despite the fantastical situations they find themselves in.
Jensen Ackles portrayal of Dean often leaves me breathless. The emotions that man can portray with a single look can be devastating, amazing, and beautiful all at the same time. No one else could embody Dean Winchester like he does, that’s for sure.
Thanks for this little insight into your experiences. I absolutely love reading your take on everything Winchester and always look forward to your reviews and stories.
Haha! Fangirling, not fangirking. That’s what happens when you use your phone to leave a comment.
Thank you so much – and you said it so well. No one else could embody Dean like Jensen does!
Yes, yes and yes Lynn! To all of that Yes! Jule and I have been with the fandom since the beginning and our love & admiration for both Jensen and Jared will just not stop growing! They are role models and inspiration! Happy Birthday Jensen and thank you for all you are!
It’s been a wonderful ride (so far…), hasn’t it? 🙂
Such a great article! I’ve loved Supernatural and our boys from day one and I really enjoy reading your reviews. I hope to attend the Charlotte convention this year to see the love in person! This fandom is awesome!
See you in Charlotte!
Oh no, I wrote out a whole big comment and then my phone’s browser ate it…:( But I wanted to thank you for this post. It brought tears to my eyes!
I love this show so much. I’ve been a fan for years and it immediately became my favourite show (and still is). I’ve loved other shows over the years but there’s something different about Supernatural. It’s the first show that I loved so much that I had to buy merchandise, read tie-in novels and fan fiction, and spend hard-earned money attending a convention (I went to my first – but it won’t be my last – last year, and my J2 photo op was one of the best, happiest, most amazing moments of my life!!).
I can’t properly put into words how much I love this show, its characters, its actors, its writing, its fandom and community, and why it is all so special and important to me, but you have captured much of that here.
It’s the first time I’ve ever really immersed myself in a fandom too, and really participated – I’m so glad I picked this one!
You said it all, Lynn … exactly how I feel too! <3
Hey Lyn, Jensen is differently one of a kind and I love the way he has become more comfortable with the fans and being on stage. Especially love his singing, it is my dream one day to see him sing. I’ve never been to a convention as I’m unable to afford it. Plus I love so far away from USA to attend any of them as I live in Australia which I can’t afford to go too. But I love reading and watching the gold panels and what people write like you about them. I have brought almost all your books and I cried and laughed while reading them. Jensen, Jared and Misha have changed my life I was going through a hard time and watching Dean struggle with his life helped me through mine. Jensen is an amazing star and I thank him for bringing Dean to life for us. Jared playing Sam was also incredible and Misha as Cas will no one could play them any better or with more heart than these three amazing people. I hope one day to I get to see the set and meet them it would be a dream come true and I could tell them all how much they save me multiple times in my life. I just happy we have them out there who cares for the people on there fandom. It’s so special and I feel happy to be apart of something incredible and filled with love.
I have all the shows on dvds Love them all, you are great in them, Happy Birthday
Lynn, this was such a loving and wonderful article. You always know how to put into words exactly what I feel.
Happy birthday to Jensen and ditto everything Lynn said♡
Happy birthday Jensen 💕 you have peace of my heart ❤ love you so much 😍 you deep inside my heart and my mind and you are a lovely person 💟 ❤ 💞
Thank you very much, Lynn. You, like no one, can express in words what everyone feels about this man. Jensen, really, the kindest and simplest person. I wish I could ever tell him that personally. Good luck to him all the time and new, equally memorable, roles.