I hadn’t had a chance to chat with Richard Speight, Jr. since the fall of 2019, when, as we all know, the world was very, very different. So it felt like a welcome little slice of “normalcy” to sit down (in two different parts of the country) last week to catch up on what’s going on in his world – including the new film Driven, the newly renamed podcast with Rob Benedict, and the four episodes of Supernatural he’s directed in Season 15. We’re so excited that Richard has a chapter in the new book, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural — his is one of the most inspiring chapters in the book and really wraps up what the show is all about and why so many of us love it. That chapter came from our last chat in the fall, and this chat turned out to be equally fascinating!
But first, our conversation last week began with the obligatory wow, 2020.
Lynn: Crazy time. Interesting time to be a psychologist.
Richard: Interesting time to be an auto mechanic! Everything is so bizarre. Every now and then, as I move through my day, I just have a moment of ‘Holy cow’…
L: It hits you like a slap in the face, doesn’t it? Like oh, this is actually real… It’s nice to cling to these little bits of normalcy. I’ve really been enjoying your podcast with Rob. Last week you announced it’s now going to be both a podcast and sometimes a youtube show – called Kings of Con. Which made a lot of people very happy, including me. How did that come about?
R: Well, we started the podcast on a lark, just to be creative and kill time, so we didn’t think about it or plan on writing the songs or anything. And it just became its own thing as we went along, and we discovered what was funny and what worked. Then, 12 episodes in, we started talking to some people who are much more ensconced in the podcast world and got some advice – one thing that is valued across the board is expanding the brand. And My Guest Is Richard Speight is a wonderful title if you know who the hell Richard Speight, Jr. is, but if you’re just scouring podcasts that’s not gonna mean anything to you.
L: (laughing) Very true.
R: So we began aiming for a very specific audience vs. aiming for an audience in general. And because we’re enjoying doing it and we’re finding a comedic style and format that we really like, we thought, “let’s take the advice of people who do this for a living and really try to make this a cooler brand.”
[Detour on the phone call for Dad Richard, which was frankly adorable]
R: Hang on Lynn, I’m with the kids by myself, I need to keep my eye on things…
L: (also a parent) Yes you do.
R (to young son): Your hair looks great, but you’ve gotta get dressed.
L: (cracks up)
R: (to Lynn) His hair is fabulous, but he’s totally naked.
[Yes, this was one of my favorite parts of the interview. Anyway…]
R: So we’re gonna have to discover this new podcast the same way we discovered that the first one worked. We’ll figure it out, we’ll involve some guests, but not much is gonna change. We still like what we were already doing — the songs, the banter. We like everything. What we’re gonna do now is expand the brand so it’s a known property, but it’s not gonna be Richard Slate and Rob Bennett and the cast of the series, you know? It’s just like, we’re the dudes from the convention who are that voice and face of cons.
L: It’s a great idea! So many of the people we love seeing at conventions, but especially you and Rob, can just sit and riff and make it hilariously funny. But this will allow other people who don’t know who you are to find it – and I think it will fill a real gap because you are the guys who have this vast knowledge of cons and con stories and other actors, so I think it will feel a real gap right now when people are really missing conventions.
R: Yeah, and I’m itching to have people come in and join us, from that world and elsewhere. The whole zoom recording and youtube posting, which were not things we really had considered, were strong recommendations from the people that we are tapping for info. So I figured we’d try that and see how it goes.
L: It’s a great time to explore and evolve – there’s a freedom to that I imagine, as an artist, to do what you want to do.
R: Yeah, it’s incredibly freeing — because it’s just us making crap up!
L: (laughing) There’s that.
R: There’s no time limit, no context, no ad dollars, nothing. It’s great!
L: I’m enjoying it, and I look forward to the new format. I really enjoyed the indie film you co-starred in that came out recently too, Driven. The film has an almost theatrical feel to it, since for most of the film it’s just the two main characters, often in a car. It had an intimacy to it with that close focus. What are the good things about that and what were the challenges?
R: In this case, I think when you have a movie that is theatrical in its style, which this was, you’re at the mercy of the dialogue — so you better hope it’s well written. I happen to think this was very well written, which was why I agreed to do it to start with. I thought it was very clever and fun.
L: It was!
[Phone call interlude, this time for the dog]
R: Sorry Lynn, letting the dog out because the other dog is here – what’s her name? Oh, Annie. We brought our dog with us to Oregon.
L: What a good use of quarantine, some time with the family, some travel.
R: Yeah, it got our kids – and it got me – out of the big city. We’re enjoying it a lot.
[Dog goes off to presumably happily play with dog playmate Annie, said kids reappear]
R (to kid): What’s up? [pause] I’m on a phone call, I trust you – just toss it if it’s garbage!
L: Seems like good advice…
R: Anyway, when you have a small budget movie, they were smart, because they wrote something that they could achieve. Two people sitting in a car talking for a long period of time, the risk is that if it doesn’t work you’ve got a really boring movie. The plus is, you can do that. You can shoot that in a short period of time with a limited crew. They accomplished their goals in spades because they were actually able to tell the story they wanted to tell in a creative, fun way, and the elements all still worked regardless of size, you know what I mean? I didn’t ever say “oh, that’s good dialogue for a small film,” or “it was a good film for a small film” – it was good, regardless of its size.
L: It really was. And I also like that they didn’t take the expected route and have the two main characters develop some kind of romantic relationship. Instead, you got an in depth understanding of each character little by little. That’s unusual and it sets it apart. Were you surprised about that when you read the script?
R: Yeah, like you, I was relieved. And also, I’m not sure I wanted those characters to get together. I thought the way it was written, they were sort of poking at each other’s weaknesses while accidentally helping each other build strength. And in the end, I felt like the bond they end up with is cool and never felt like it wanted to go further than that. I thought they serviced the story well in that regard.
L: I agree. I also really liked – I’m not an actor so I don’t know how much you think about these things when you’re doing it – but I liked the slow evolution of how your character seems. At first you’re certain that Roger must be a bad guy, and you’re like oh no why is she picking him up? But then little by little you realize he’s not. As you’re acting that evolution, are there things you do, especially nonverbally or not in the dialogue, to make that change?
R: Yeah. I think that blueprint is laid out very well in the script. So yes, as an actor you’re making choices that follow that model, that arc. Glenn [Payne] as the director is shooting it to follow that arc, and Casey’s [Dillard] acting is responding to the character in a way that follows that arc. So it all works in concert to create the false sense of insecurity, if you will, that “who is this guy and what is he up to?” vibe. And as his behavior changes and her response to his behavior changes, everything loosens up. I think the clearest example is the first time he pulls out a knife, it’s an oh shit moment. The second time, it’s an oh knock it off moment.
L: (laughing) That’s so true.
R: At that point, you’ve seen enough of this guy through her eyes to go, I’m not scared of this guy, I’m just annoyed! Then once she’s not scared, he has to drop the act of being scary, because it wasn’t working and then he’s left with his own personality.
L: And it happened relatively quickly but also in an organic way, which was very well done. Was it kind of weird for you or is it different now to be the actor when you’ve been doing so much directing?
R: No, not really. Not at all. I’ve always been aware of directors, for years. Meaning, if they need me to move to the left, I move to the left. I’m there as an actor to do my job as a performer, but I’m also there to facilitate the vision of the director to help get what they’re trying to achieve. So I understand that model. I always have. I knew they were working on something else I didn’t know about, so if it works for them I’ll just go with it.
L: (nodding on the phone) Mmm.
R: Having directed 14 episodes of television now, plus Kings of Con and some commercials, actors either get that or they don’t. They either understand and are comfortable with that, or they are not. And I have always been comfortable with that, and the more I worked, the more comfortable I became, because I was fascinated with the process. So now, being a director has, if anything, made me a more accommodating actor – and I was already pretty accommodating. As a director, you’ve got so many spinning plates, the last thing you need is me saying “well, would my character wear a watch?” Like nobody cares, just put on the watch!
R: And so I’m sensitive to that. It’s not weird to take the directing hat off and let someone else do it, because I’ve been directing for fourteen episodes and I’ve acted in hundreds. Acting is a vulnerable job. And I don’t care if you’re doing a goofy commercial or a serious tv show or whatever – comedy, drama, dramedy — it’s all the same skill set. You put yourself out there. You’re throwing darts and not exactly knowing where the board is, and the director helps you find the board.
L: That’s a really great metaphor for acting and directing.
R: If you feel trust in the director, that’s the most important thing, truly. And if you don’t, you feel like you’re standing on one leg all the time, and it’s incredibly awkward and a bummer, and it takes away the fun of it, if you will. I like to be a director who creates for the actors a sense of I know what I’m doing and I’m also a good listener. We’re gonna get this done and you’re gonna feel taken care of in the process. I felt that way with Glenn. I felt like he had a very clear perspective – he was open to ideas, but not so vulnerable that he would do whatever I said regardless of his plan. He was going to stick to his plan and anything I said that was beneficial to that framework, we did, and if it wasn’t, we didn’t. That’s what a director should be able to do and he was able to do that, so I was comfortable the whole time. I never felt like, Oh boy, you know? Glenn had it.
L: I watched the zoom chat you did with Glenn and Casey – he seems like a very fun guy.
R: Very laid back, very easygoing.
[If you haven’t checked out Driven yet, please do – I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. And please leave an Amazon review because they are critically important for an indie film, just like they’re vitally important for the books we’ve published on Supernatural – please leave an Amazon review for There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done if you’ve read and enjoyed! And thank you so much if you have left a review! Links at the end of the article]
L: So, switching gears here, let’s talk Supernatural. Three of your episodes from Season 15 have aired, but you directed a fourth one, right?
R: Yeah, I directed episode 18.
L: But it hasn’t aired yet.
R: No, they haven’t even finished it because of lockdown. We finished shooting it but they haven’t done VFX and that stuff.
L: So, is your part done, or do you still have post to do?
R: No, my part is done. I turned in my director’s cut.
L: Okay, so you’re truly done. Wow. I’ll get back to that in a bit, to ask you what that feels like. But I don’t want to get emotional right now, so I’ll hold off on that! Let’s talk about the ones that have aired already, since you can talk about those.
L: Okay, first up, Proverbs 17:3, which is a weird title, but I liked this episode. One of the first scenes is Sam and Dean in the bunker, and Dean eats some ghost pepper jerky which is scalding hot. It was such a hilarious scene and Jared and Jensen were both hilarious, with Dean turning away from Sam to try to hide his reaction and Sam totally knowing. Was that all scripted, even Dean finally pouring the water over his head and into his mouth?
R: First of all, it was not a real ghost pepper.
R: It was written that way, but we obviously did not use something that was actually spicy. So Jensen was making a bit out of it. Look, those guys are good at that kind of banter, man, they’re just good at it.
L: They are SO good at it.
R: Everything there was scripted, but one of the things that Jensen did that I didn’t tell him to do — and it just sort of leans into his comedic sensibilities — is when I put the wide camera behind him to shoot across him to Jared, when he ate the spicy stuff and he turned towards the camera with his back to Jared to sort of exhale the heat.
L: Yes, I noticed that, I wondered about that.
[If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have a little game I play to try and guess which little things Jensen ad libs. I have a pretty strikingly good track record, which he thinks is funny. Another point for me!]
R: It was such a funny shot that I loved. And yeah, I set it up, but he saw the camera and thought oh, I can do a bit back here, and it was really, really great. The pouring water over his head was – we had done the scene, we were finished, we’d gotten what we needed, and he said all right, let me do a nutty one. And so he went way over the top.
R: But it was great! And I cut it in. I was like, I’m gonna let the producers take it out. To me, it didn’t seem like Jensen, it still seemed like Dean.
L: It did!
R: It still tracked as the story, at no point did it feel like a gag reel.
R: And when he spit the wad out, man, I shat myself, that was hilarious! So I put that in – and it stayed. It was so funny, it made it all the way up the food chain.
L: It was perfection. And it was still Sam and Dean but it was hilarious. Talk about having to do all kinds of different things in an episode – there was also that epic fight scene between Sam and Dean in this episode, which was a really powerful scene. How hard is it to direct that kind of elaborate fight scene with all that complex choreography, and still have the emotions come through so powerfully too?
R: You know, I really wanted to use Jared and Jensen for this fight. And this was immediately a conversation with Jared, Jensen and Rob Hayter, the stunt coordinator. In the beginning of the year, Jensen did a fight sequence that had speed ramps in it. Know what I’m talking about? He has a beard in it…
L: Oh yes, yes, in Atomic Monsters, that scene Jensen directed.
R: Yeah. So it had speed ramping in it in the fight, which Supernatural has never used before. But he did it, they let him do it, because it was a dream sequence, a vision, know what I mean?
R: So when that happened, I said to The Powers That Be, let me stick with that, let’s adopt that as a style. And so everyone was like oh absolutely. So when we said we’ll use it and make that what these visions feel like, it immediately became a conversation — because I said, “well then, I wanna use the real dudes. And the dudes want it to be the real dudes.” And I thought, we need to have the guys do this – that way, I can slow it down and we can see that it’s actually them.
L: Yes, because all those close ups of Sam and Dean were what made it such an emotional gut punch!
R: And it will feel different. So in the first moment, Jared gets punched in the face, and the fist hits him. The fist hits his cheek and you see that, you see it move. So we did that in super slow motion and then changed the speed of it in post so it looks like a big punch.
R: And then we could shoot things like Jared going over the railing. I wanted all of it – if I’m gonna have these two guys beat each other, I want them to beat each other senseless. I want Dean – demon Dean – going to town on Sam. So we really just leaned on how violent can we make this?
L: I was seriously holding my breath the entire time.
R: We went after it and everybody got on board. Jensen was way on board, because it was cool for his character. And Jared was on board because it really showed Sam’s vulnerability in these sequences.
L: Yes, yes
R: And Rob Hayter loved the challenge, of course, and loved the idea of coming up with something for them to do that would push all the envelopes without risking injury. And let me tell you something, you say you want to use Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles in a fight and have them do their own stunts, and suddenly everybody you never met at Warner Bros. wants to have a conversation. Because they’re very valuable to the show, as it turns out…
L: (laughing) Go figure
R: So it took an act of Congress to get everybody to sign off on it, because obviously injuring those guys would have been horrific. But Rob Hayter is outstanding at what he does and those guys are basically stunt level performers and we also took every precaution in the book. If you’d usually have three pads, we had four. We did our best to mitigate risk as much as you can, and the result, I think, is valuable for the story.
L: Omg yes. Everyone was salivating for more of those scenes because they were so epic – not just the fight, but how emotionally powerful those scenes were with one brother killing the other. It makes such a difference that you can see their faces. At one point, there’s a close up shot of Dean holding Sam up in a choke hold and then he stabs him and makes a face like “oooh” like he’s enjoying it so much and wow, that hit hard.
R: Right, right. I agree. I kept saying, I want this to be in the highlight reel of fights over the 15 years. Like Jared going backwards off the railing. And it made for great moments.
L: We throw around the word “epic” in fandom but truly this was, and it’s because it really was the main characters doing the scene. I’m so glad you got to direct that, you have such good instincts.
R: Thank you.
I love hearing Richard’s insights into the episodes he directs; he’s so thoughtful about every scene and so intentional, and I think that really comes through. Stay tuned for part 2 of our thoroughly enjoyable conversation, in which Richard talks more about this episode and shares lots of insights into the next two he directed in Season 15, Our Father Who Aren’t in Heaven (including directing Misha Collins in that moving scene with Cas at the chessboard), and Galaxy Brain (including directing Rob Benedict, Shoshannah Stern, Lisa Berry, Ruth Connell and more!).
Check out the new film Driven, the newly renamed podcast, and the new book that includes Richard’s thoughts about Supernatural’s legacy and lasting importance, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, at the links below!
Link to watch Driven (and leave a review if you can!):
Link to the new book with a chapter by Richard (and leave a review if you can!)
Link to the podcast – be sure to catch up before the newly named Kings of Con podcast/videos kick off!
Check back here for lots more behind the scenes insights from Director Dick, coming soon!
Gifs by jaredandjensen
Caps by kayb625
Additional photography by Kim Prior and my handy dandy cellphone!
You can find all our books on Supernatural
at the links on the home page pinned article!