Most Supernatural fans would agree that there are plenty of reasons to adore Jensen Ackles – and his birthday seems like the perfect time to reflect on what some of those reasons are. I’m sure everyone’s list is a little bit different, so this is my own personal collection of reasons why I’ve admired Mr. Ackles for well over a decade and why I still do today.
I feel like somebody out there is going to call BS on what I’m going to say next, but it’s true – the first thing I noticed about Jensen was his acting. I casually watched the whole first season of Supernatural (and the Jensen season of Smallville) without saying OMG this guy is smokin’ hot! (That admittedly came later). Instead, I noticed him because his performance as Dean Winchester suddenly and unexpectedly made me fall head over heels in love with the show and the character. It happened as Dean and Sam were having a heart to heart, leaning up against the Impala on top of a panoramic cliff sometime in Season 2, Dean breaking down and finally sharing his guilt and pain with his brother. Somehow I had missed the nuances of the character in the first season, perhaps because I was only watching to placate a friend who had fallen for the show, but Dean’s (Jensen’s) tears and palpable anguish in that scene just flew off the screen and right into my heart. I literally let the pile of papers I was grading slide off my lap and fall to the floor as I stared open mouthed and asked out loud “How did I not realize this is the most incredible television show ever?”
There was no going back after that realization, and it was due to that performance (and Jared’s performance, because something magic happens with they’re onscreen together and I’ve never been able to separate the Winchester brothers anyway). Since that initial revelation, I’ve been blown away by Jensen’s acting again and again and again. He has broken my heart and made me sob my way through countless boxes of tissues. He has made me laugh until I was crying all over again. He’s made my heart sing with joy in those rare moments when Dean allows himself some measure of happiness and contentment (or just plain relief that someone he loves has come back from the dead….again…) I’ve never loved a fictional character the way I love Dean Winchester, and that is largely due to Jensen Ackles.
That’s reason number one. Honest it is.
Reason number two followed closely on the heels of reason number one, but let me reiterate – it was not what I first noticed about Mr. Ackles. Shortly after falling in love with Dean Winchester and Supernatural, along with my good friend Kathy, we realized something else about Jensen. He was not just a good actor – he was just plain gorgeous. As in, it’s hard to breathe when looking at him gorgeous. Having come to this earth-shattering realization, Kathy and I re-consumed Smallville, watched both seasons of Dark Angel in a binge weekend, scoured the internet for youtube vids and even purchased Blonde and Devour so we could enjoy every frame that existed in the universe that contained Jensen Ackles. That didn’t entirely satiate our appetite for visual consumption, however. A screen was one thing; we wanted up close and personal. So we impulsively flew across the country to see him in a community theater production of A Few Good Men. Determined fangirls that we were, we managed to snag front row seats, then waited with bated breath for Mr. Ackles to take the stage. When he did, he ended up standing right in front of us, only a few feet away. Turns out that breathless was a pretty accurate description of how that close up view impacted us. No regrets.
So that’s reason two. A surprise to no one, I’m guessing.
(Photography by Wendy)
That experience at A Few Good Men was gratifying as far as my shallow number two reason for noticing Mr. Ackles, I admit, but it was also the first time I got a clue about what sort of human this very attractive person was. The kind of human that co-workers fly into town just to support them in a little hometown production – that’s right, Jared Padalecki flew in to surprise his friend and costar. There weren’t that many Supernatural fans there, so it was my first time meeting Jared, which meant we had time to chat and I was able to hear just how highly he regarded Jensen and how thrilled he was to be able to surprise him. I was also there to hear Jared greet Jensen’s dad as “Papa Ackles” and see how close the costars’ families had already become, along with Danneel and Jared’s girlfriend at the time, Sandy. It was abundantly clear that a uniquely close friendship had already been formed, and that Ackles was the kind of person who inspires a lot of loyalty.
Kathy and I were heartbroken at the time to have to fly home instead of staying for another show, but what I heard from friends who did stay was also a testament to the kind of guy Jensen Ackles is and to his willingness and eagerness to give back to fans. After that next show, he stood outside signing autographs and just chatting with fans for a very long time – long enough to say hello to anyone who wanted to speak to him. That was after being onstage constantly for a live performance that gave him so much dialogue it mystified me how anyone could possibly remember it all! He had to be exhausted, but he made time for each and every fan who wanted to say hello, unfailingly warm and generous.
So that’s reason three, the third thing I noticed about Jensen Ackles.
Since then, that same warmth and generosity has been in evidence again and again. We’ve all seen it at cons and in convention videos and in interviews and in countless selfies with fans at Family Business Beer Co. and random sidewalks all over the world. We’ve been seeing it all day in those joyous videos from New Orleans, where Ackles is currently reigning as King Bacchus.
If anything, over the years, that generous spirit has seemed to get even warmer, but it was there from the start.
The first time I was supposed to have an actual conversation with Mr. Ackles (other than 60 seconds in an autograph line), I was genuinely prepared for him to say no, there’s no time, so sorry, not gonna happen. After all, it was well after midnight on the set of Supernatural and he’d been filming all day, scene after scene. Kathy and I had been there all day too, perched on set chairs with headsets and grinning nonstop. We felt like the luckiest people in the world just being there, so if the planned interviews with Jared and Jensen didn’t end up happening, we would still count the day as one of the best of our entire lives. Jared wrapped a bit before midnight and came to get us for his interview – we followed him to the makeup trailer, through the pouring rain, then to his trailer for a wonderful chat, with his dogs curled up at our feet. That was so amazing that Kathy and I weren’t sure we could actually survive a chat with Jensen too, so when the PA told us it was too late and we wouldn’t get to talk to him, we honestly were okay with it. Seems we’d underestimated Jensen’s generosity and his giving nature, however. As we were packing up to leave, the PA got a call on her headset.
“Oh,” she said, flustered. “Jensen’s looking for you.”
I wish someone had taken a photo of me and Kathy at that moment, because it would be priceless. It was going on 1 am, he’d been filming literally all day, and he was looking for us anyway? Two nobodies?? Sure enough, he insisted on inviting us into his trailer and sitting down for the promised chat. He was so warm and engaging that I forgot to stare at his bare bicep inches from my face and just started laughing as he stood up to act out an embarrassing airport encounter. Ackles has a way of making you comfortable, even when you’re in the midst of fangirling. Twice a PA came to try to convince him to go home, and twice he said we needed a little more time. Let’s just say I left there more blown away by how NICE he was than by how he looked in that tight black short sleeve tee shirt.
Reason four came along a little later – precisely, at the Las Vegas Supernatural convention in 2015. The year Jensen Ackles became a rockstar. We’d had little glimpses of Jensen’s singing talent before, most notably in two small group acoustic performances with Jason Manns and with Steve Carlson at early cons. I remember how nervous Jensen was at the Steve Carlson one, though his performance and harmonies were mostly flawless. I happened to be in the green room afterwards, and he was genuinely anxious when he asked my opinion of the jam session. It took a few more years before he was comfortable enough to take his singing to the next level – performing onstage with Louden Swain instead of in a small room for an audience of 20 odd people. I thought I had high expectations for what that performance would be, but it turns out that nothing could have prepared me for the way Ackles morphed into a bona fide rockstar right in front of our astonished eyes.
He belted out Sister Christian and the entire room was – quite literally – open mouthed in shock. Once that epic performance and the Saturday Night Special concert were done, I ran to my friends and we fell into each other’s arms, still overcome by just how moving and emotional and overwhelming Jensen’s performance had been. One of my favorite photos ever – those are happy happy fangirls — and something else to appreciate the hell out of.
So that’s reason four to admire Jensen Ackles.
I have a sneaking suspicion I could go on and on and just keep finding reasons why Jensen Ackles is special, but I’ll keep it to five. Number five is the most personal to me, but it’s also about who Jensen is. This is an odd thing to say, considering that Jensen can hardly be considered in my close circle of friends, but over the past thirteen years his influence in my life has been significant nevertheless. Jensen is one of the two reasons I fell in love with Supernatural.
Supernatural is the reason I started writing books.
Those books are a large part of the reason I was able to claw my way to tenure and promotion at my university. Had it not been for the openness and generosity of Jensen, Jared, Misha and so many other Supernatural actors, the books I’ve written on fandom and this show would never have happened.
Jared and Jensen were my biggest cheerleaders from the start (with the possible exception of my children). When the very first book was published, I brought a copy to give to Jensen, to express my thanks for his contribution. He slid it right back at me across the table (causing a moment of irrational panic during which I was convinced that he hated it even though he had never read it). Instead, he handed over the sharpie he’d been signing autographs with. “I think it’s about time you gave me an autograph,” he said with a grin that took my breath away (yes, that still happens….I’m only human.)
A few years later, when I was putting together Family Don’t End With Blood and Jared and some of the other actors were writing chapters for it, Jensen would frequently joke about how he would never do that.
“I’m not a writer, Lynn, you know that,” he would say, and I would shake my head.
Eventually I quibbled with him, albeit gently. He might not want to sit down at a laptop and write a thirty page chapter like Jared was, but I knew that he had something to say and a personal story to share that would inspire many people who read it. I urged him to let me share that story, and he finally agreed – because he wanted his story to help someone else who had struggled with anxiety. It took a lot for him to do that, but I’m so glad he contributed his story to Family Don’t End With Blood, because I’ve heard from countless people whose own anxiety has been normalized by Jensen’s candid chapter. And that means something to him.
From Family Don’t End With Blood to charity tee shirt campaigns to Random Acts to the Seattle Marathon to fight childhood hunger, Jensen is the kind of person who wants to help make the world a better place. Tomorrow on his 41st birthday, he’ll be visiting hospitalized children as the reigning King Bacchus LI, and I’m sure helping them feel better. That generosity and caring extends to his family, his children, his friends, and his fans. All the ways in which he works to make the world a better place are number five in the reasons I admire him.
As we all come together in cyberspace to celebrate his birthday, I’m so glad I noticed Jensen Ackles’ acting and Dean Winchester’s tear-streaked face on my television screen that day so many years ago. There’s always a bit of concern when you decide to admire a “celebrity” that the better you get to know them, the less likely you’ll be to continue to admire them. Instead I’ve just found more reasons to keep right on admiring him.
Happy Birthday Jensen! Keep being you.
(Some of those breathtaking photos I mentioned courtesy of Kim Prior. Here’s her happy birthday message, along with her gratitude for Jensen’s often expressed appreciation that Supernatural inspires fans to create art – which has in turn inspired her to keep doing just that!)
I simply cannot imagine anyone else playing Dean Winchester. Jensen has given life and layers, flaws and failures, strength and sincerity to a fictional character… in ways unlike any other actor/character I’ve ever seen. Yes, Dean makes me laugh, and yes, he makes me angry sometimes too. But it is so much more than that. I feel physically ill when he’s hurt. My chest is tight and I hold my breath when he’s in danger. My heart hurts, literally hurts, when he is sad and broken, and crying. With each episode, I run the gamut of feelings, both emotionally and physically – and that is all because of what Jensen brings to this character… the eye rolls, the badassery, the swagger, the self confidence, the flirtiness… and oh my heart, the single man tear. It’s all of these nuances and so many more that Jensen gives to Dean, things that make me love Dean, and in turn, make me appreciate and respect Jensen even more.
You can find Family Don’t End With Blood on amazon at the links on this page.