This is the first year I’m wishing Jensen Ackles a happy birthday that he hasn’t been Dean Winchester. Last year at this time, I knew that would soon be true, though I had no idea that it wouldn’t be until 2020 was almost over that Supernatural would actually come to an end. It’s been three months, and during that time Jared Padalecki has kicked off a new character and a successful new show with Walker, doing lots of interviews and talk shows and even live tweeting on Thursday nights again. Misha Collins has continued to fight the good fight to change the world, with livestreams and tweets and collaborations with the other people out there trying to do the same thing, and a GISH mini hunt coming up. Jensen, on the other hand, took the time in between Supernatural and his new role in The Boys to retreat to the snowy wilderness of reputedly Colorado to enjoy some family time and shovel snow, with only brief appearances to document the snow shoveling or to accept well-deserved awards.
Suffice it to say, we’re all missing him. A glimpse of his stand-in on The Boys at Friday’s filming location was enough to create a social media uproar, and Jensen wasn’t even the one in the pictures! That says something very good about how much of an impact he’s made on many people’s lives.
In the spirit of missing him, and of missing Dean Winchester (because I still haven’t managed to completely separate them in my head or my heart) I thought I’d do a little appreciation post to celebrate Jensen’s birthday. If I do more of these in the future (which, let’s face it, I’m sure I will), they won’t be focused on Dean. They’ll be focused on new characters, new projects, new photo shoots, new aspects of his life. So for one more birthday, in this post let me express my gratitude to Jensen for giving us Dean Winchester.
There’s no doubt that the characters and the story are a big part of why Supernatural had such a huge impact on my life, and that’s down to Eric Kripke and the other writers over the years, but there’s also no doubt that it was Jensen who breathed life into Dean and made him so compelling.
People joke that Jensen has chemistry with even inanimate objects, and I think that might be true. He could disarm someone as easily with a moment of flirtation as with a knife to their throat. But make no mistake, Dean Winchester is dangerous.
You never doubt that, the way Jensen portrays him.
At the same time, Jensen also made you believe in his vulnerability.
Dean was not a cardboard character who didn’t have emotions. Far from it. Jensen’s ability to make you really believe in Dean’s feelings about the other people in his life who were important to him was so brilliant that the show made us love anyone he loved, and root for those relationships with all our hearts.
He didn’t love easily, but when he did, he loved fiercely.
He let us see the joy Dean took in those relationships, how lucky he felt when he got to have moments of shared happiness with the people he cared about.
Sometimes it seemed those moments were few and far between, but I smiled along with him any time he got to grab some of those precious moments of peace.
Supernatural was far from light-hearted most of the time; it was truly a little horror show more often that not.
But Dean never entirely lost his love of life and his unabashed enjoyment of play and pleasure, whatever that might be. Jensen understood that as part of what makes Dean Dean, and sometimes added little ad libbed moments that kept bringing that out.
Ackles could make you cry with a single man tear, smile with Dean’s infectious joy, or laugh out loud with his ability for both over the top slapstick or the most subtle moments of humor. And Dean Winchester was a richer character for it. A character who felt real.
Jensen gave Dean so much depth, so much complexity. He showed us in countless small ways – some scripted, some not – what Dean was feeling in any given situation. He showed us how deep Dean Winchester’s emotions ran.
How desperately he loved.
How agonizingly he hurt.
How fiercely he fought.
How much he cared.
I’m so grateful that for fifteen years, Jensen cared too. About the show, about his character. About the fandom that he always acknowledged kept the show going. That refusal to ‘phone it in’ made all the difference, so that even when there were seasons or episodes that weren’t my favorite, I could still find the character I loved and find something to love in the show to keep me invested in the journey.
I’m also grateful for the real person I got to know a little along the way. From the first time I met him, perhaps realizing how nervous I was, he was unfailingly kind – and really good at making me laugh. Way back in 2008, when he found me and Kathy standing in the rain outside his trailer on set waiting to do our first interview for our first book, he asked incredulously why we didn’t just “go inside and make yourself at home” – AS IF! When a PA knocked on the door to end that interview, he said no, we needed more time – even though it was after midnight and we were already over the moon with the time we’d gotten.
We were babies when this long journey started.
I have so many good memories across the years since then. Ackles has an instinct for knowing when someone needs to be put at ease (which is pretty much always me when he’s around) and a whole lot of creative ways to do that. Once you get into a conversation with him, you tend to forget who you’re talking to and just enjoy the conversation – I once sat there dumbfounded when I realized I’d just been perfectly comfortable first having a seriously in depth chat and then joking around and having fun like I wasn’t talking to that guy who plays my favorite character of all time, Dean Winchester.
Lots of people talk about how “down to earth” the Supernatural lead actors are, and in my very limited experience, that really seems to be true. The couple of other times I was fortunate to be on set, in the midst of being in almost every scene, Jensen kept checking on me to see if I was okay — could see, could hear, was warm enough, had a headset. When does the lead of a TV show do that for a nobody who’s just grateful to be there? (Jared and Misha were equally amazing, every single time. Who decides to eat their lunch with the nobody in the tent?) The kind of people they are made all the difference to what that set, and that show, were like. And how long it went on.
That’s my favorite picture. It’s not very good quality, just snapped on my phone at the end of the day, but that? That was a damn good day. Thanks to Jensen.
I will be forever grateful for what a pleasure Jensen was to work with as I put together the Supernatural books I’ve written and edited. It’s an entirely different way of interacting when you’re the person dealing with a deadline and have to (politely) badger someone for an edit of their chapter, and even more stressful when you’re perfectly aware that you’re a fan who’s badgering a celebrity! There was never a time when Jensen didn’t treat the entire process seriously and me with respect. His support of all our books, right from the start, has meant so much to me. That time he asked me to autograph one for him, after he’d given me so many autographs, still makes me a little wibbly when I remember it.
I love what he had to say in Family Don’t End With Blood about his anxiety and how the fandom inspires him, and what he said about Dean and his legacy in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done. He’s told me a million times he’s not a writer, but he’s incredibly thoughtful about his profession, his character and this extraordinary fandom.
This is a year of change. Soon Jensen will be in Toronto filming The Boys and bringing Soldier Boy to life, and I cannot wait. I know he’s going to continue to do great things and change lives in the process.
His tenure as Dean Winchester, and the experience I’ve had as part of the Supernatural fandom, however, can never really be replicated. I’m aware of how special this time has been, and indescribably grateful for all the joy the show – and Jensen – have brought me for the past fifteen years.
So happy birthday, Jensen Ackles. Wishing you a day filled with love and family and joy.
I look forward to ‘meeting’ Soldier Boy and the privilege of watching you craft another character who will inevitably be nuanced and complex and make me feel.
And to someday, if we’re all very lucky, being able to see you bring Dean Winchester to life once again.
You can read Jensen’s chapters in Family Don’t
End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You
Are Done. Links on the home page banner or at