A Typical (Atypical) Fairytale – A Chat With Supernatural’s Brendan Taylor and Sabrina’s Annette Reilly

 

 

One of the wonderful things about fandom is how it expands your world. When I fell in love with Supernatural, I fell in love with a whole universe – not just the fictional one that I adore, but everything encompassed in the hashtag SPNFamily. That means I discovered beautiful music, met some of my best friends, participated in charity projects that have changed the world for the better, and discovered all sorts of creative projects that actors who have been on Supernatural have gone on to make. I mean, I never would have laughed my ass off over Kings of Con if I hadn’t kept following Richard Speight Jr. and Rob Benedict – unimaginable!

My most recent discovery, from following the threads of Supernatural as they expand ever outward, came courtesy of Supernatural alum Brendan Taylor, who memorably played New Doug opposite Briana Buckmaster’s Donna on the show. I chatted with Brendan about his guest spot on the show last season and got to know him a bit, so when he tweeted about a new project, I decided to check it out. Am I ever glad I did!

A Typical Fairytale is a Storyhive winner, so it’s currently up on Youtube for your viewing pleasure. I watched it because Brendan was in it, but within a few minutes I was thoroughly and completely engrossed. It’s a magical little film, with wonderful acting and visually gorgeous, and told all in verse – it almost has the allure of a Dr. Seuss book, which to me is a very good thing indeed (or if you want a more recent example, Megan Padalecki’s beautiful books Big Mo and Little Moon). But that’s not what made me immediately contact Brendan to see if he wanted to do an interview about A Typical Fairytale – it’s because the film is important.

I’m a psychologist, so it’s my job to help people deal with whatever challenges they’re facing in life. I’ve worked with clients facing all sorts of difficulties, many of them coming from the culture within which we all have to survive. I’m also a professor teaching human development, and a researcher who looks at the impact of media on things like identity development, so I know how important it is to see your own experience reflected on a screen or in the pages of a book. A Typical Fairytale is the story of a king and queen and their child, the princess – who it turns out is actually a prince. The journey of the prince in figuring out who he is, and the journey of the prince’s parents in struggling to accept that their daughter is actually a son, are portrayed as a poetic fairytale – and yet their journey taps into emotions and reactions that are utterly realistic. It’s the sort of media that can make a difference, for children and adolescents in the midst of their own journey or for parents and other adults who need to be there for them.

The first time I watched it, I had to reach for the tissues. And then reach out to Brendan to find out more about the film. Turns out that A Typical Fairytale is a passion project for everyone involved, including Brendan and Annette Reilly, who both stars in the film and acts as director and producer too! Brendan and Annette were in Canada (Annette on her way home with someone else driving) and I was on the East Coast of the US, but we made it work with a late night conference call!

Note: I use the term ‘actor’ defined as a person who acts, regardless of gender

Lynn: I really loved A Typical Fairytale so much!

Annette: Fantastic, that makes me so happy! We’ve been getting a lot of fantastic feedback including from parents of trans kids who let us know that it was really touching on their experience. Not necessarily 100% accurate to what they experienced, but every single one of them said it had huge merit and they could identify with it.

Lynn: I don’t think it has to be typical – actually I don’t know that there is such a thing as “typical”. I’ve worked with so many kids who feel different for some reason, and sometimes parents are good parents but still struggle with accepting who their kids are. Where did the idea come from?

Annette: The writer came to me with a short film that was a contest finalist and I was on vacation with a whole bunch of friends and I went into the bedroom to read it and then came back into the room with tears streaming down my face and said “I have to make this film!”

Brendan: Jessica McLeod, who wrote it – I was there at the stage reading of the play when it was submitted for the contest. It’s sort of an event where the actors come and read the submitted scripts.  I was cast back then and I really enjoyed it so they kept me in mind. So for the first round of casting and the initial attempt to make the film, I went out just like everyone else. And maybe later I had an advantage because they knew me. It was actually a very memorable audition for me, I really enjoyed it, and they were glad to have me on board. Then funding for that round went away, but then Storyhive came along with grant funding and they got it. They still had all the cast so we went ahead and did it.

Lynn: So it’s had a bit of an evolution then? It took a few attempts to get it made.

Annette: Yes. We had actually signed on for that second attempt too, with a different director, because I didn’t want to be directing and producing. But then we got to a place where I felt like, I’m supposed to be acting in this. I was way too connected to it to not. So that’s when we brought on that other director and did that round of casting. I really didn’t want to wear too many hats because I’ve done that in the past and I really wanted to put my focus on directing.

[That’s something that I’ve chatted with Supernatural actor Richard Speight Jr. about too, especially since the episode where he both directed and played TWO different characters! Look for more chats coming up with director Dick here soon]

Annette: And then at the end of the day, I ended up doing all three anyway…

Everyone: (cracks up)

Lynn: How difficult was that? It ended up seeming very smooth.

Annette: I think what helped me a lot was that I was so familiar by the time we went to camera. I had been soaking this into my soul for the previous two years, so I knew what I wanted. The directing part I was a little nervous about because I hadn’t directed in a few years, but by the time we went to camera everything was so well planned out, I wasn’t too concerned. You know what? It was really because of  building this amazing team around me. The first AD was incredible, the Director of Photography was incredible. The three of us made sure we were going in with such a strong game plan that even when we had those hiccups, like if I was caught in hair and makeup longer than anticipated, we were still able to work it out and stay true to my directorial vision. I’d say the biggest hurdle out of the three hats was the producing. I was supposed to back out of that about two weeks before filming, and that didn’t end up happening. So it was good the other two things were in place!

Lynn: It sounds like a difficult project to back away from. Maybe you two were both meant to be involved in this, since you both had kind of a long journey with it.

Brendan: Totally, and I can tell this story about the first day of shooting….

Annette: Yes!

Brendan: Lynn, you might remember from our chats before that I did set decoration before being an actor.

Lynn: Absolutely, yes.

Brendan: Thankfully I haven’t done that job in a while – not that it’s not a great job, but I’ve been fortunate to be acting – but I still do enjoy it for the right projects. So on the first day of shooting, there was a bit of a hiccup with the art department. I wasn’t in the first scene, and I just kinda rolled up my sleeves and jumped in and decorated the set. Meanwhile I was sorta half dressed in my costume and I’m running around and putting stuff in the set, and kinda ended up being an eye for the on-set dressing, meaning sort of checking the frame for each shot with all the dressing and making sure everything’s there and not out of place, checking for continuity and cleanliness and frame composition (vital on this film as all the shots were quite deliberate) to make sure every shot is looking as good as it can. I did that job for about five years, so getting to be the de facto on-set dresser on ATF was pretty fun!

Lynn: That was lucky.

Brendan: So I was wearing that extra hat.

Annette: Extra credit! I think you’re under-selling this a bit here, Brendan. He was a hero for our production, Lynn. There are a couple but you were a standout. The fact that you were willing to do that, and not a lot of actors would do that. I know I’ve told you thank you before but it’s so heartfelt. And not that many people are capable of jumping into that role either, not a lot of actors have that experience. The hiccup that we had was such a major one that we had to switch around scenes. We couldn’t shoot Day 1, we basically had to shoot Day 2 on Day 1. So we were behind three hours on that first day of shooting, and if Brendan and the rest of the crew hadn’t stepped up to the plate and gone that extra distance, we wouldn’t have been shooting that first day.

Lynn: Wow.

Annette: I’m so grateful. Every single person believed in the project. I said at the beginning, when that hiccup happened, you’re welcome to go home now if you want, I know how this looks, we’re not ready to shoot. And every single person stayed and helped and said, where do you need me?

Lynn: I think when cast and crew have that kind of passion for the project, it really comes through and it makes such a difference. I’ve had this conversation with Brendan about Supernatural, because that cast and crew have that same passion – they all really care about the show they’re making, and I think that makes all the difference, and is a big reason the show is still on in its 14th season. This seems the same.

Annette: Absolutely, there is so much passion behind this. I’ve never bled and cried and poured out so much of my heart on a project. That’s why it’s so scary to put it out in the world.

Lynn: I feel the same about my books about Supernatural and about fandom – that’s my passion, but it’s so scary putting them out there and waiting to see if they’ll resonate with other people.

Annette: But to have the response that we’ve been getting is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Lynn: Yes, when something you’ve created can make change for the better, that’s the best feeling of all.  I wanted to ask both of you about the scene with the two of you lying in bed so tormented, when the parents are trying to come to terms with their own pain, and there’s a line – I feel like we lost her, like we lost our own child. I’m a parent, and it struck me, that’s really the heart of the pain. To the parents, they’re losing the child they thought they had, and all their fantasies of who that child would be. The acting was so powerful in that scene, and I’m wondering where you went to pull up those emotions.

Brendan: That was one of the audition scenes, and one of the turning points. It is a really powerfully written and genius scene on behalf of Jessica. Regardless of how they should be acting – I’m not a parent yet, but to feel like your efforts have failed, like you’ve failed your child, and failed at what you think is best for them — these parents are just not aware. They think they’ve failed but they just don’t understand quite yet what the problem is, and that it’s not really a problem at all.

Lynn: Yes. Yes.

Brendan: But their first reaction is to not understand and to be confused, and I hope that’s how people can relate to this film. The initial confusion and even the anger that they have, they kind of come across as bad guys – they’re not accepting but that’s the journey that they have to take. They don’t understand, until they do. And then they make the right choice.

Annette: You know, how I’ve always related to this is there’s a certain letting go of expectations with kids. That in and of itself can create a sense of grief.

Lynn: Mm hmm.

Annette: I’m a cancer survivor, I’m a mother, I’ve had a lot of experience with exploring grief. Especially as a young cancer survivor, I have a lot of friends in the cancer community that don’t make it. I’ve had to deal with those emotions a fair bit in the past seven years and they’ve become rather familiar, and sometimes oddly comforting. Because of that familiarity, how I saw it was they are having to grieve what they always saw for their future.

Lynn: Yes, that’s exactly it.

Annette: So it’s this letting go, and they’re going through these stages of grief and this is a universal thing we don’t really recognize. When we’re disappointed by something or something happens that turns out differently than what we were expecting, there is a process that we have to go through and it does parallel the stages of grief. Before you get to that point of going okay, this actually isn’t bad at all, it’s just different than what I was expecting.

Lynn: Yes, absolutely. And that message is hard for parents.

Annette: Oh yeah!

Lynn: Anything that our child does that isn’t what we thought they were going to do is a struggle. And I think putting it in those terms makes it so much easier for people to understand. You created empathy for the parents, and at the same time your child actor was unbelievable. The absolute joy on the prince’s face when the parents come to him and say we really have accepted you, so much so that we’re going to help cut your hair – that was so well done.

Brendan: The whole over arching theme of the couple with this perfect life, who met perfectly, who had this storybook life with a perfect child and a perfect daughter, to have this wrench thrown into the gears.

Lynn: I also by the way love the wordplay of the title, that’s just brilliant. Was it always intended to be in verse? I also think having it be in poetry form, it’s so simplistic that the emotional message comes through really strongly.

Annette: Yep. The script came to me and it was almost perfect, it was so creative and so different and she did an absolutely amazing job. That’s why it was such an emotional response for me when I first read it, it was sheer brilliance.

Brendan: And all the while, we know fairytales as being for children. So to have a young actor [Ameko Eks Mass Carroll] who is so good, and to have this film be appealing to young people – you know, maybe there are some other young people who are having the same thoughts and feelings and this might be a good way for them to see this, I can’t wait for that.

Annette: My 8 year old daughter, I showed her the third rough cut, and she watched it probably ten times in one day even though it was the rough cut. She was like, can I watch it again? It wasn’t lined up properly or anything, it was really quite adorable.

Lynn: I’m not surprised though, I think it’s very accessible. It’s visually beautiful, it’s pleasant to listen to and to watch. I hope that young people can watch it, because I’ve heard so many stories from people about how confusing it is to be that age and feel that way. it’s such an important message.

Annette: And there’s a disconnect too. Parents don’t have the language in their heads to communicate properly and help their child through what the child is going through, it’s just not in their realm of existence.

Brendan: Yes.

Annette: So it’s very new to them and they’re not able to guide their child through it because they don’t know how. I mean, we’re all just flying by the seat of our pants trying to do the best job we can as parents.

Lynn: Ain’t that the truth!

Brendan: I wanted to mention Amy Fox, who played the fairy godmother, who’s such a great actor. And to have the true message be taught by a trans actor is really amazing.

Annette: 100%

Brendan: Because you know that she knows what she’s talking about.

Annette: Yes. And in the audition, when she came in – we auditioned everyone who wanted to, we kept casting completely open for that role. It was initially envisioned as a woman but we brought in men, women, non-binary people, whoever wanted to audition. And Amy came in and she had this quirkiness and she brought a little bit of crazy to this character that none of the other actors had brought. But a good crazy, you know? Not an I’m-afraid-of-you kind of crazy, an unpredictability.

Lynn: She was great, and I wondered if she was purposely ambiguous, I didn’t know if she was a woman or a man or trans, I didn’t know, and I thought that fit the story well.

Annette: We wanted that to happen, but I tell you, in the audition when she spoke those words ‘that’s not something a doctor decides’, every single hair on everyone in that room stood up on end. We had goosebumps. It was more than just her saying it, she was feeling it. It was gorgeous.

Brendan: We had a pre-production meeting with all the actors and a read-through and then we had a little talk with Ameko [who identifies as gender fluid], who’s young and is gonna go through a lot in life. And Amy was very gracious in offering her experience. Ameko and Amy both have very supportive mothers, which is great, but Amy grew up in a very different place and time, and you couldn’t help but feel for her. She’s such a strong person, and it was very powerful and that really came through.

Annette: That reminds me too, during that session we were all coaching Ameko because Ameko was having some trouble connecting with some of it, trying to hone into what all this meant. And it was Amy talking about it, you could see that really helped. After that, I asked Brendan if you wouldn’t mind coaching a little bit on set because I was so busy with the directing and acting. So this is another hat that Brendan took on too, helping coach Ameko as well, so thank you again!

Brendan: I could see from my own experience on set from wearing all these hats, so having permission from the director – I would never go over someone’s head in terms of my role on set – but that allowed for the collaboration that I really love in making films, finding it all together, figuring out how to tell the story better.

Lynn: What a great collaboration this was.

Annette: It really was. And something else comes to mind from your previous question. In that bed scene, where we were holding hands, and the prep that it took for that. Something that I often miss when I’m on a film or TV set is that I’m a theater kid from way back when…

Brendan: Me too…

Annette: And I think that made a difference. We were able to look at each other and really prep and give to each other, and I do find there’s a generosity in some actors in that respect. You can just sit there and be with them and can prep together. Some actors don’t like to do that, and that’s totally fair and I respect that, but it’s really fun.

Brendan: Yes.

Annette: So doing that combined prep and being collaborative on set together…

Lynn: It seems to bring a kind of realism to the scene, when you can just sort of let it happen and let it flow. I’ve heard Jensen and Jared talk about how important that is to them on Supernatural, that they want to be prepared and know their lines so when they’re actually filming they can just let it happen organically. I think that makes a big difference to how a scene plays out.

Annette: Yeah. We were laying in that bed and for most of the takes, we had our hands apart . We wanted to be separate in that moment. But we would hold hands beforehand and just look at each other. And then, that one take, we accidentally held hands during the take, and that’s the one where the emotions were so powerful.

Lynn: That’s so interesting.

Brendan: Yeah, that was an interesting moment. We sorta decided we’d have a moment and separate, but that moment we just sort of held on as long as we could. I didn’t even remember until the take was done – that’s how you know, you’re so in it you don’t even really remember certain things that happen.

Lynn: Yeah, that’s that flow that sort of happens.

Annette: I totally agree, and I’m glad that you think that too. As a practitioner, it does, but it’s awesome to hear that it comes through from the other side too.

Brendan: As we were kinda scrambling at the last minute, there’s a funny thing that happened. When they talk to the princess with suggestions about what she can participate in, Annette’s character holds up the ballet slippers, and then I hold up the ringette – and I don’t know how much ringette is played in the US…

Lynn: (laughing) I had NO idea what you were holding up! I was like, what the hell is that?

Brendan: (laughing) The original line was ‘Girl scout?’ But it’s copyrighted and you can’t use that. So we were looking for something in the same cadence and that is made for girls, and something they have in Canada is this sport much like hockey that you play with a stick and a ring on the ice. We were trying to find something that was quirky and I suggested that we should go out into the city we were shooting in and find a ringette and it’s funny that you didn’t know what it is.

Lynn: No clue. It’s very Canadian.

Annette: That’s our little bit of Canadian in there, ey?

Lynn: I just assumed it was some kind of weird traditional-for-girls thing that Canadians do, which I guess was accurate.

Everyone: lol

Brendan: My cousin actually played ringette semi-professionally.

Annette: My step sister played it too, but not semi-professionally.

Lynn: Okay so I learned something today! So tell me a little about what the next step is for this film.

Annette: Storyhive is a program through one of the big media companies in Canada called Telus, a western Canada competition with several types of grants offered. Usually every other year they’ll do a digital short which is $10,000 for the winners. This round had 37 winners and we were one of them, so yay!

Lynn: So now people can watch it and leave comments and try to get this out here and do some good?

Annette: My dream for this project – at the moment we’re cracking it back open because we had like a week and a half in post production to do visual effects – so there are some tweaks we want to make. Like part of our title page didn’t get on the screen! So we’re going to make some minor adjustments so it can be the best it can be, and then we’re gonna start submitting it to film festivals.

Lynn: Oh great!

Annette: And my hope with the film festivals is that people will really latch on because it is different, and disarming, and just really nice to watch. If we can get enough qualifiers from the film fests, there’s a possibility it could be nominated for some big awards, like the Canada Screen Awards or even the Oscars is a possibility.

Lynn: That would be awesome!

Annette: If I were to dream big, if this was nominated for an Oscar…it’s not even my dream, it’s my dream for the film, you know? I want it to touch people. I want people to feel something and to learn about acceptance and love from it. The more people that see it, the more acclaim it can get so there will be a broader audience. A broader audience means more people are being touched. And that’s why I would want the awards, for a larger audience

Lynn: And legitimacy too.

Annette and Brendan: Yes!

Annette: Trans visibility, yes! It would really give merit to all of the hard work so many people put into this.

Lynn: The reason I wanted to chat with you is that I just want to help get it seen – it’s a very effective way of getting a very important message out there. An Oscar? I’ll be cheering and crying in my living room if that happens!

Brendan: Also it won’t be on the Storyhive site forever, so people should watch it now if they want to see it. Eventually when the re-edits are done it will be at festivals in its tweaked form. But right now if it gets some views and some shares, when it does arrive at festivals – since it doesn’t have the cachet of premiering at any festival — people will know oh that film will be there and we’ll get to watch it.

Lynn: Always nice to go into a film fest with a little buzz.

Brendan: Bringing legitimacy to the festival and the film. Being one of the stars of the festival would be such a great thing.

Lynn: It really would. Okay, thanks so much…

Annette: Wait, before we go, I still haven’t asked my question about your name!

Lynn: (laughing) Oh that’s right, I promised you an answer as to why I’m FangasmSPN. So, long story short, when I fell in love with Supernatural and dove headfirst into fandom, I wanted to figure out what the hell was happening to me. Being a psychologist, I decided to research and write books about why people become fans – and why that’s a good healthy thing. So I was at San Diego Comic Con with some friends, talking about the book and possible titles. And John Barrowman happened to be there too. A young woman nearby had seen a celebrity and said “OMG I’m having a fangasm!” And John Barrowman looked up and said, there’s your title!

Annette: (laughing) Omg that’s amazing!

Lynn: So that was my first book’s title and I’ve kept it ever since.

Annette: I totally need to read that! I’m a fangirl myself. I’ve been a Trekkie since I was born, I go to cons, I’m a gamer, and all that. I will totally check your books out.  And when Brendan mentioned that whole feeling of you don’t even know you’re acting because you’re so in it? I call that an “Artgasm”.

Lynn: OMG perfect!

Annette: I’ve been using that term for twenty years now, so hearing “Fangasm”, you just added to my world. My vocabulary just grew and I’m totally gonna be saying that at cons and gaming.

Lynn: And now when I’m in the zen of writing, I’m gonna call it an Artgasm.

Annette: OMG you’re giving me goosebumps!

Lynn: We’ve totally traded off ‘gasms…

Brendan: Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, right?

Annette and Lynn: (laughing)  That was a good one, Brendan.

Brendan: Oh, I did want to mention, as far as future stuff – Annette is coming up on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, am I allowed to say that?

Annette: Oh, yes, you can say that. I think I can even say what character I am now.

Lynn: Ooooh what character are you?

Annette: I am playing Diana Spellman, Sabrina’s mother.

Lynn: Oh that’s awesome, there’s a lot of buzz around Sabrina. It looks scary!

Annette: It’s based on things like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist. The graphic novel, the Archie comics, is what it’s based on. It’s from the same universe as Riverdale.

Lynn: Congrats! I can’t wait to see you on that. What about you, Brendan?

Brendan: A feature film I shot four years ago is about to come out too. It was originally called Charlotte’s Song, now it’s called The Mermaid’s Song. I was a lead actor in it, and we had an actor from Game of Thrones, Iwan Rheon, who plays the gangster Randall. He was our guest villain actor. It was just released this week on VOD (Video On Demand). The director of photography who did such a great job in A Typical Fairytale is also the DP for this one, Naim Sutherland. He’s very talented. A very different film with an opposite message, it’s a dark horror film, but the visuals are truly stunning.

Annette: And the director for that was our director mentor.

Brendan: Small world.

Annette: He was my go to for support whenever things were falling apart. And honestly, Brendan, that Game of Thrones actor…

Brendan: Iwan…

Annette:  (fangirling) He was in The Misfits and he was like my absolute favorite character in that. I was like in love with him. I mean, not really, but – I had a big crush on him. And I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan. I read the series while I was getting chemo and waited three years for the next book, and when I saw him as that character, I was like ooooh you’re destroying my love for this actor! (laughing) He’s so good, that’s a talented man right there.

Lynn: I feel like this is a good omen, that you’ve both got some really exciting other things coming out right now too.

Brendan: And a couple other things coming up that I can’t say anything about…

Lynn and Annette: Ooooh teaser, I like it…

We decided to leave it right there, so be on the lookout for more good news from Brendan. And please please check out A Typical Fairytale, leave a comment and spread the word!

You can follow the film at @ATypicalFairytale for updates, and also follow Brendan @MrBrendanTaylor and Annette @AnnetteReilly for more behind the scenes and festival updates!

A Typical Fairytale

Also check out Annette in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Brendan in the new and decidedly creepy Mermaid’s Song, which is now out on VOD – the trailer is here:

The Mermaid’s Song Trailer

— Lynn

You too can check out our books on fandom

(and Supernatural) at the home page here!

 

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