Director Ricahrd Speight Jr continues his lengthy interview discussing Supernatural and his behind the scenes look at those Winchester brothers, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and his upcoming album.
Part one of Ricahrd Speight Jr.’s inteview is right here.
Lynn: One more favorite moment – in the fight scene, it was all crazy and things were happening very quickly, and then there’s a moment when it all slows down and Dean looks over and sees that Sam is about to be stabbed.
Lynn: That was another of my favorite moments of the episode, even though it’s a small thing to someone who doesn’t love the show, but it reminds me that these are the characters I love, the characters I know. Because the look on Dean’s face is just OMG OMG. Did you slow that down purposely?
Richard: In the blocking of the scene, in the fight, that moment happens at the bar, where Dean is held up and Sam is being whaled on by the other guy over by the juke box. And it was a combination of how I felt like the scene should be blocked in terms of the fight, and Rob Hayter the new stunt guy…
Lynn: Who seems awesome
Richard: He’s awesome, he’s a freight train, he’s awesome and a really nice guy too. So it’s an intricate ballet, and there’s a lot of fighting in that block, it’s a huge fight. So it’s a combination of the ballet that Rob crafted based on what he and I discussed about what needs to happen with the characters, and Jensen coming in and saying I want to milk this beat a little longer, I want Dean to really clock this longer. Because I can always cut it shorter, I can always take it down. But Jensen was very adamant about giving that enough gravitas, so to me it’s a case of, director working with an actor who’s been playing the same character for 13 years, who knows this beat needs to be this.
Lynn: He was right.
Richard: Of course he’s right, it’s his guy.
Lynn: It so is.
Richard: So you go in and say okay, that’s how it will be. So it was designed to be that way, to be compartmentalized like that with Dean seeing Sam in that predicament, and then Jensen just made it adamant that there be enough of a moment that we could play it as long as we need to in order to make sure it resonates.
Lynn: And you and the editors let it play, so it really did resonate. It was such an important moment.
Richard: Absolutely – I think part of the job of being an actor or a director or anything in this medium is listening. It’s going okay, if you’re an expert in your field, meaning your visual effects guy or your DP or your stunt coordinator, and they say something and they feel strongly about it, you listen to that. If your guy playing the character for 13 years says I think this needs to be a beat here, then you don’t think twice, then it’s a beat. It is what it is, because they know their fields. You’re a director, you’re directing and driving on the road to be sure you’re all heading to the same destination, but you’re not there to do their jobs, you’re there to be sure they’re able to do their jobs to the highest level and you can capitalize on their skill sets.
Lynn: It really does come down to collaboration, and what you just said there – that’s exactly why this show has been on the air for 13 seasons and stayed so high quality.
Richard: So I was utilizing Jensen’s expertise as an actor and a director, and Jared’s too. One thing that was really cool about that fight scene, it’s definitely the biggest fight scene I’ve had, period. It’s also the biggest fight scene I’ve had with Jared and Jensen, with Sam and Dean. And it was really great to watch how they came about it, because it’s kinda my first experience dealing with this, because it was so big.
Lynn: It really was.
Richard: We had guys dropping from the ceiling, we had enormous compartmentalized fights, tied together by bodies being thrown, there was a lot of stuff. And Jared and Jensen came in, they watched the ballet, the stunt people had it down pat and did it, and then those guys – who are practically stunt men themselves at this point – take it apart, and not in a negative way. They go ‘that’s awesome that’s awesome that’s awesome, but I feel like Sam would blah blah blah’. And you go, ‘okay, Rob Hayter, Sam would handle the fight differently, he has a history of fighting this way’. Rob is new too, he’s got to learn these characters too. And so Rob and his team go ‘okay great, we adjust, great’. And Dean, Jensen, is like ‘I think this beat needs to resonate more’, and again, great, fix fix fix. It also gives him a chance to see Ketch fight, and he draws the line of ‘I’ve seen your moves’ so he’s got to see them in order to say that.
Lynn: That’s right, yes.
Richard: So all these things play in and you go great, these are the kernels of details that we could not do, and if we didn’t do them, the episode could go on TV and people would like it…
Lynn: Yes, but…
Richard: No one would go oh, I missed that thing, because no one would know it would ever have existed. But when you take the time and energy to get down to the minutiae of what it should be and do it correctly, it adds layers upon layers to a rock solid foundation, which is what makes a show bigger than the show itself. We’re making the show better than it needs to be.
Lynn: YES! That’s exactly it – whenever I try to explain to someone what makes this show special, that’s really so much of it. Everyone – directors, actors, crew – everyone cares enough to do exactly that, to make it better than it needs to be.
Richard: Yeah, you can aim for the bar, and you’ll stay on TV because you’ve got the audience, you’ve got the momentum. But those guys? And their team, and the directors, myself included, still want it to be the best it can be. Still want to do more.
Lynn: I feel like you all put in the extra effort to make it this good, to make it above the bar, which is insane after 13 years. All the lead actors care about it so much even after all this time.
Richard: Yes! So watching Jared and Jensen parse out what they think their characters need to do slightly differently in the fight – and it was very minor stuff, but minor in execution, major in impact – it was just really cool to be a part of that. That was one of the things where I was like, I don’t know how we’re gonna kill this elephant but we’re gonna do it. And by the end of the day, I was like sonofabitch I think we’ve got a really cool sequence here.
Lynn: You totally did, incredibly cool.
Richard: I mean, I was watching the monitors – there is story and energy and action and heart in this fight scene.
Lynn: All wrapped up in one scene! And it’s not unusual, it’s not just me – the way people watch this show and what we care about, that moment of Dean seeing Sam in trouble was probably two seconds long, but for me that small moment, that extended beat, that’s what tells me that these are the characters I know and love. That’s how Dean would react, that’s how Sam would react. It’s those little things and their willingness to keep putting those things in there that makes this my favorite show, and everyone’s willingness to do that.
Richard: One of my favorite beats of that whole fight is those guys dropping from the ceiling, I loved that.
Lynn: It was epic. So how did it feel to direct this time – you seem to have made an evolution, it seems to me having known you for a long time, to have made an evolution to director. I know it’s something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but it seems like you’re thinking like a director, looking at the world like a director. Do you feel that evolution?
Richard: 100%. 100%. It’s an interesting thing, when you’ve wanted to do something for a long time and have thought about doing something for a long time and have done it on your own the best way you can for a long time, when you get the shot to do it for real. You’re obviously shitting bricks and you’re obviously nervous because it’s a different animal. It’s an 800 pound gorilla, it’s a cruise ship, it’s no longer your little dinghy in the water by yourself with your own oars. You’ve got a lot of people and a lot of energy and a lot of eyeballs on what you’re doing. What I’ve found is that I get off on the talent.
Lynn: Yeah, you’re not daunted.
Richard: No, I had the opposite reaction, like when (laughing) I had Kevin Parks, who I love to death and who has been another mentor to me, a great ally from the day I started shadowing, he’s been a good friend and ally in production. He came to me and he said, after I shot the teaser, Mark in the cage hanging in the bell tower, and that was supposed to be a two hour sequence and I shot for four hours…
Richard: And he came downstairs to the soundstage and said ‘you’re very close to being supremely fucked.’
Richard: And I said, I’m well aware. But that’s where the rubber meets the road. You either collapse on that and go I’m screwed, my day is shot, because I lost both Osric and Christian, who played Michael, I lost them at the end of the day. It wasn’t like I could move a scene to the next day, that was it. I had a day to do all this, that’s it.
Lynn: That’s stressful.
Richard: So that was my day and I just sat there at lunch and re-blocked scenes to be simpler and reorganized scenes to be different because I’m not sorry about how I shot that teaser, it had to be serviced.
Lynn: Well, it worked. So you didn’t feel like bowing under the pressure?
Richard: I felt the pressure, I just didn’t feel like bowing to it. You don’t want to put yourself in that pickle, nobody wants to be on that side of it saying I’m boned here.
Lynn: And that was in the very beginning too.
Richard: Mm hmm. But at the same time I’m starting to trust my skill set that when that happens I can direct myself out of the hole. That’s your big fear at the start, like if it rains or something happens, can I direct myself out of this mess or am I gonna panic?
Lynn: So you’re building up a self efficacy around directing.
Richard: Yes, I’m absolutely 100% a novice, a newbie, a freshman. Four episodes does not a veteran director make, not even close. As my directing agent said, she has brand new directors who have 15 episodes under their belt.
Lynn: Still considered brand new.
Richard: It’s like flying, you have to have a lot of hours under your belt, two flights doesn’t make you a pilot. You need a lot of hours before somebody wants you taking the jumbo jet across the ocean.
Lynn: Very true.
Richard: So I’m not at all trying to express any over confidence or that I feel relaxed or comfortable. I feel nervous about the episode I’m gonna direct the second they send me the script or even the idea. I’m nervous about directing episode 20 and I have no idea what the story is.
Lynn: You haven’t even seen anything yet?
Richard: No, I have no idea, but I know it’s gonna be another set of challenges that will put me in the black hole of directing, which is what Phil calls it. And it is, where I’m literally an awful husband and father during that time because I’m so focused on how to build this puzzle.
Lynn: It’s all encompassing.
Richard: Yeah, it is, but I also get off on that. I dig it. I like that challenge, I like sitting in the editing room and seeing the pieces come together and going sonofabitch, it worked!
Lynn: It must be tremendously satisfying to watch an episode like that and see that all those disparate pieces did come together. Because I’m pretty picky about the show, it’s not like I always watch it and go oh wow that’s great, and I don’t always like the episodes where a ton happens, my default episode really is Sam and Dean talking about their emotions over the hood of the Impala, so that should feel good.
Richard: Right. It feels great, and I continue to feel like I get really good scripts. It’s just the luck of the draw, but…
Lynn: Is it really just the luck of the draw?
Richard: Yep. You’re assigned a number and then someone breaks the story and then there you are. It’s an arranged marriage where you’re totally blindfolded, or a blind date, whatever.
Lynn: Wow that’s crazy, you could get anything.
Richard: It’s not an accident that the heavy hitters close out the season finales.
Lynn: But it says something that you’re doing two episodes this season.
Richard: I did two last season as well, I did the straw dolls one [Twigs and Twine and Tasha Barnes] and Stuck In The Middle. I have a special place in my heart for all four of them to various degrees, there’s something about each of them that’s very special to me because I get so married to them during the process.
(We paused for a minute as Stephen Norton of Louden Swain came by to say goodbye and wish us a great holiday – if you haven’t checked out Louden Swain yet, what are you waiting for?)
Lynn: Was it different working with all the cast now that you’ve directed a few times? Because I’m seeing an evolution in you as a director – I’ve talked to Jared and Jensen about this, how it was kinda weird when you first stepped into this other role, was it weird for you?
Richard: I’ll give them credit, I think they always gave me that respect. Here’s the greatest compliment I’ve gotten from them, is that we can disagree about stuff.
Lynn: That is a definite compliment, actually.
Richard: They do not tiptoe around my feelings. We’re buddies but we’re coworkers. I’m there to do a job, and they’re there to do a job. And it’s their house and I’m a guest, and so when I come in with ideas, they’re not afraid to voice their opinion and we’re not afraid to – not argue, they’re always incredibly polite nice guys – but they’re not worried about my feelings. I’m there to do a job and they assume that I’m doing my best work and they never assume I’m not doing my best work. So we can have creative discussions and we can have debate about something in a creative cool way.
Lynn: That’s exactly what true collaboration sounds like, right? It’s not oh okay, it’s let’s talk about this.
Richard: It’s not like those guys come down on me hard, because it’s the exact opposite, they’re very supportive. But put it this way – I think I get the treatment anybody else who directs gets, which is how I want to be treated.
Lynn: You get treated like a director.
Richard: Yeah. I think they have the same discussions with a stranger who comes in to direct or with Phil, and I like being that. I feel like they’re not afraid to disagree with me and they’re also not afraid to embrace what I’m doing. They take both sides, and I think the fact that we can have that kind of creative dialogue about various sequences and they’re open to my ideas and they feel very comfortable expressing strongly when they feel things should push a different way, to me that’s a great place to be.
Lynn: Absolutely, it’s respect – mutual respect.
Richard: Yeah, so I feel like they’re comfortable when I come on set, and you can ask them, but I don’t think they feel like ‘oh Speight’s directing, our buddy Speight’. I think they go ‘oh, this is a Speight episode’ just like this is an Amanda Tapping episode or a Nina episode or a Phil or Bob episode.
Lynn: That’s what I think now, but I think the first time it was a little different.
Richard: Of course! But now I think it’s not.
Lynn: That’s the impression I get from them too.
Richard: That’s what I gather from our relationship on set now.
Lynn: Okay, I think that’s everything I wanted to ask you. Anything else you want to say?
Richard: I’m trying to think, is there anything I haven’t said? I think when I watch that episode, I think that it’s expertly color corrected and lit and Serge just does a ridiculous job, you just go I don’t know how he pulled it off. I love the performances of Misha and Mark together, I think it’s just fantastic.
Lynn: (suddenly realizing I forgot to ask one of my most important questions…) Oh, I didn’t ask about Osric! He played Kevin, but not Kevin. A very different character, but still recognizable as Kevin, which I think must be hard to pull off.
Richard: And that’s an Andrew Dabb and Eugenie and Bob conversation that we had. They had a very specific vision of what they wanted parallel universe-alternate universe Kevin to be like, like meth Kevin.
Lynn: Yes, like tweaked out Kevin!
Richard: And Osric was totally dialed in and very pliable. He had a specific plan, and I was able to give him some notes, and he connected with those notes and that’s what you see onscreen.
Lynn: He did a great job and so did you – we were excited to have a beloved character and actor back, and yet it was clear that wasn’t “our” Kevin.
Richard: Yeah. I dug what he did and I really enjoyed working with him. You never know if working with your friends is gonna be a good thing or a bad thing, especially in a new capacity. There’s Jared and Jensen and Rich, but there’s also Misha and Rich, and Mark Pellegrino and Rich, and Osric and Rich.
Lynn: You worked with so many people in this episode who you already know from cons but now you got to direct – David Haydn-Jones too.
Richard: David only knows me as a director, he just started doing cons. I directed him previously so I met him as a director, we have a different backstory. But Mark Sheppard, Mark Pellegrino, Jared and Jensen, Misha, Osric, these are guys I’ve come up the road with as an actor in a different context.
Lynn: And now it’s switched.
Richard: And you never know if that’s going to be a bumpy transition, but it’s been nothing but seamless and awesome. They’ve been incredibly welcoming and it’s given me the freedom and comfort to feel like I can bring my ideas to the table. They’re always willing listeners, and it’s made for just a great experience.
Lynn: And it really shows in the episode.
I took a few photos before we ended our chat – with his glasses on of course, because that’s my prerogative – and had a chance to meet his lovely son, who was with him at the con. Several of the actors had their kids at this con and other recent cons, which seems like a very good idea. As Richard said, “I want to make sure they’re part of it, so that they know what I do.”
I’m looking forward to Richard returning to Vancouver to direct Episode 20 in March – and also looking forward to his first solo album that Jason Manns recently announced was in the works! Before we wrapped up and headed home, I asked him what he could say about that project now in its beginning stages.
Richard: Jason and I have decided to team up and record some tunes. I’m looking forward to exploring that further and seeing – and hearing! – what we come up with and how it all shakes out.
Lynn: Me too!!
Stay tuned for more on Richard’s album as the process of making it goes on, and the return of Supernatural with Wayward Sisters on January 18!