One of the best developments in recent history on "Supernatural" was the introduction of the Men of Letters.
In the past couple of seasons, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester have had a snazzy new bunker to use when they're not hunting down all manner of evil-minded entities and creatures across America. The bunker was built by the Men of Letters, a secret society of men and women who researched supernatural forces and stored all their precious knowledge in their well-appointed lair.
Tuesday's episode of the CW drama, "Mother's Little Helper," reveals even more of the Men of Letters' history, and it also supplies some background on Abaddon, one of the Winchesters' current enemies. The episode was directed by Misha Collins, who plays a key "Supernatural" character, the angel Castiel.
It was Collins' first time in director's chair for "Supernatural," and in an interview with The Huffington Post, he talks about what that experience was like and how Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean and has directed the show several times, helped him navigate the challenge. Collins also talked about where things go for Castiel in Season 9, and even revealed a little about the "Supernatural" spinoff that airs as a backdoor pilot on April 29.
How did the directing come about? Had you been lobbying? Did they give in to your relentless begging?
I resent your hypothesizing of how it came about. Obviously, they have been hounding me, begging me to direct, and I finally relented. [laughs] No, on the spur of the moment, it got cobbled into my Season 8 contract -- that I would get to direct an episode in Season 9. It was kind of a last-minute thing, and [executive producer] Bob Singer was like, "Yeah, that sounds great." I think he said something to the effect of, "You're a smart guy, you should be able to handle it." Boy, was he mistaken.
It's one of those things that I think actors who have been on TV shows for a while sometimes get the opportunity to do. And I think it's really lucky for actors when they get that opportunity. When the opportunity arose for me, I jumped at it, because I have long wanted to direct.
Why? I always hear actors saying, "I really want to direct." Is that because directors can be irritating in some way? Where does that impulse come from for you?
I can only speak for myself, but I assume it's probably true for a lot of people. When you are acting, you are just one piece of the puzzle. You don't see how everything fits together. It feels like you have less authorship over the entire product. In directing, you take the entire picture into account, so you're challenged in a different way.
For me, to be perfectly honest, the part of my brain that was stimulated by directing was much more exciting than a typical day of acting. Not to say that I don't love and enjoy acting and not that I'm not grateful to be employed as such. But it's just stimulating in another way to direct. Even in episodic television, which, as far directing is concerned, you probably have the minimal amount of creative authority. But still, you have to make a million decisions, and it's a very challenging and rewarding post.
So that ruins my theory, that you wanted to direct because Jensen has gotten to direct several times and you just wanted to get back at him for something.
I'm sorry for the long-winded, boring and earnest answer. Yes, it was simply competitive for me. I had seen that Jensen was directing and it irked me that he got anything that I didn't, so I wanted to go after it for that reason. [laughs]
In all seriousness, did Jensen have any tips or advice for you?
He did, actually. We went out to dinner and he downloaded every last piece of advice that he had. And I interviewed pretty much everyone that came along and directed last season, trying to glean as many tidbits of information as I could, including from such storied auteurs as John Badham. The tips that Jensen gave me were, on balance, more helpful than anyone else. He was probably my best source for tips.
Well, he knows that that set and that show -- he's very familiar with the characters and the world.
Not only that, but he knows my perspective as well. He know what it's like for the actor just stepping in to direct for the first time, and the issues involved in that. He knows what I'm not familiar with, because he wasn't familiar with it.
Castiel isn't in the episode, from what I understand. It seems as though "Mother's Little Helper" is a mythology episode with a big Men of Letters story. Was getting that kind of episode just the luck of draw?
It was the luck of the draw. They make the list of directors and their chronology before we start shooting, so I knew nine months prior that I would be directing Episode 17. What Episode 17 held in store for me, I had no idea and neither did anyone else.
It was a great episode to direct. I think there were some wild cards that could have gone either way. It has a fairly big cast, but the guest cast that we ended up getting was great, so that was really helpful. Alaina [Huffman, who plays Abaddon] and Gil [McKinney, who plays Man of Letters Henry Winchester, the brothers' grandfather] came back for this episode, and they're great. I had the boys [Jensen and Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam], and obviously they're not terribly talented actors, but they've been working on the show for long enough that they know what's going on. [Collins, a noted kidder, is kidding about Padalecki and Ackles here.]
It is a big mythology episode, and the script is excellent. Adam Glass did a kick-ass job with it. I was given good material and a good cast to work with, so that meant that the deck was stacked in my favor, and it wasn't visual-effects driven or stunt-driven, which helps. Those things can get complicated.
What was the hardest part of directing?
The hardest thing overall was timing, and figuring out how much time I had to do things and where I had to do triage, figuring out shot lists and so forth. Frankly, that kind of thing, I think, comes with having more experience.
I was surprised by one thing. As I was getting advice from people, one of the things they'd do is give me tips on how to direct actors. I was like, "Whatever -- you don't need to tell me that! That's the one thing I know about. It's the camera angles and framing and pacing -- that's the sort of thing I'm worried about."
And when we got on set, I felt intuitively that composition and that sort of thing came together fairly quickly for me. And directing actors was utterly impossible. I felt like I was chewing on my tongue every time I tried to describe what I wanted from an actor. So that was a surprising turn of events for me.
Is it a pivotal episode in terms of taking Season 9 into the home stretch? I know you don't want to give too much away, but do some of the bigger story elements take major turns?
Yeah. There are a few things operating here that I think are pretty essential. In the episode, we see the birth of Abaddon as we know her, and she is obviously a central nemesis this season and her role continues to grow. We have Crowley trying to recruit Dean, to help him or collaborate with him further. That plays out as a very, very important story line for the rest of the season. And we see Dean wrestling with the addiction-like jonesing that he has with the Mark of Cain and the First Blade, and the wedge that that's driving between him and Sam. So there's a lot of mythological groundwork that's being laid in this episode.
Can you talk a little about where things go with Castiel for the rest of the season? Does he have a big part to play?
Cas is definitely on point and on mission in the effort to try to track down Metatron and right things in heaven. His mission and the boys' mission will converge and they will be working together again, quite heavily. Cas is pretty involved in four of the last six episodes of the season, so we'll be seeing a lot of him.
So let me just tell you where I'm at with angels -- I know who your character is, obviously, and a couple of others, but there all all these angel factions and and all this swirling turmoil now. Maybe I'm just dim, but it can be kind of hard to keep track of all of the angels and who they are and what they want. And as [creator Eric] Kripke used to say, they're all just kind of dicks anyway. So do you feel like the angel situation will come into sharper focus toward the end of the season?
Yes, I do think that comes into sharper focus and the field of central angel figures sort of narrows, so that we're really looking primarily at [a few angel characters]. Metatron -- he doesn't look the same, by the way.
He's played by a new actor?
Yes. Metatron, Cas and Gadreel become the central angels at the end of the season and the focus really shifts back to Castiel as our sort of central [angel] -- it's Castiel and Metatron pitted against each other. So that swirling mass of dick angels coalesces into just two dicks, Cas and Metatron.
All righty, then. This is a more general thought I've had -- there's not that much difference between angel factions and demon factions. They're all generally dicks. I guess sometimes I just wish that the Winchesters had a few more allies or there were more distinctions between the two groups. Don't get me wrong, I think there are great actors playing all the leading angels and demons, I just wish sometimes that there was more differentiation or context in terms of the groups and their impulses.
I think that's probably a function of two things: One, that angels have, as Kripke said, proven to be dicks. And two, I think the show has moved in the direction of making the demons a little more human or a little more accessible. So they're not as sneering and sinister as they could be, and angels are just dicks. So they are kind of similar. I think that's fair.
That said, the angels do kind of show the same traits again and again -- a combination of immaturity and arrogance. They kind of fly off the handle in rash ways a fair amount of the time. And you'd also hope for a little bit of altruism now and then, and you see that now and then, but the dicks tend to dominate things.
Yeah, they do.
So Season 10 is coming, and there's a spinoff in the works. Do you have thoughts on where you want Cas to go, and has anyone talked to you about how the "Supernatural" mythology would be connected to the new show?
The spinoff very pointedly is not going to have any characters that carried over from "Supernatural." All the series regulars of the spinoff are introduced in the spinoff episode, and none of the standing characters from the "Supernatural" universe are going to be in the new series.
I would like very much to be a part of Season 10 and I hope that that is in the offing. It is not something that anyone from production has approached me about yet. I think they're still working out story lines for the end of this season and for next season. I have no speculation on where the show goes for Season 10, and whether it includes me or not I can't say with any great certainty.
Would you want to direct again -- "Supernatural" or any other show?
Yes, I would love to. I very much hope to be able to do both.
Update: Here's a little more information on what's to come this season. After Tuesday's episode, "Supernatural" takes a short break but returns April 15 with "Meta Fiction," written by Robbie Thompson and directed by Thomas J. Wright. The April 22 episode, “Alex Annie Alexis Ann,” was written by Robert Berens and directed by Stefan Pleszczynski. As noted above, the April 29 backdoor pilot is titled "Bloodlines." Its writer is Andrew Dabb and Singer directed. The "Supernatural" finale airs May 20.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
"Supernatural" airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on CW.