When you decide to interview someone who plays a villain on your favorite show (Supernatural, of course), you’re never entirely sure whether it’s going to be a conversation that makes you laugh or one that makes you grind your teeth. I was in the midst of grading a gigantic stack of papers when I took a break a few weeks ago to chat with Supernatural’s David Haydn-Jones, so I really wasn’t in the mood for any more teeth grinding – and frankly, I sort of needed a laugh. Luckily, despite playing Mr. Ketch, who’s not very funny, Jones himself proved to be a lot of fun. Also, not British.
Lynn: You’re giving me a break from grading papers, so thank you.
David: Good! Any time you can have a break from grading papers, that’s a good day.
Lynn: I’ll say. So, I’ve got a few questions. The reception to your character has been much more complicated than usual – at first, everyone hated the notorious Mr. Ketch. Then you invested him with so much charm that some people started to sort of like him. Then he slept with Mary and shot Mick and now he’s about to torture Mary, so most people are back to hating him. How have you negotiated that roller coaster?
David: (laughing) Well, that’s delightful! From my point of view, any time you can keep people guessing, when you’re going up and down, going on a ride, love-hate-hate-love, I mean hopefully that’s me doing my job. So that’s good news.
Lynn: I agree. You’ve done an amazing job, because usually it’s more black and white. Not that fandom isn’t perfectly capable of nuanced reception to a character, we are, but it’s not usually THIS much of a roller coaster.
David: And that’s what’s kind of fun. I didn’t know where the character was going, I don’t think the writers really did either at the start. They had a general idea, but when I first got the script, and even in the audition process that developed with me, I got notes and I had to come back a few times and go the totally opposite different way. It started way more as like a biker guy, like heavy, maybe a darker more East end London version. So I went in with my whole Cockney accent doing my best East ender, like… [suddenly with an accent] a bump to the head, you tosser…
Lynn: (laughing and definitely enjoying the accent)
David: And with a beard and shaggy hair and stuff, and then two weeks later they said no, we want to go more James Bond, we’re going Cockney with another guy, which we now know is Mick Davies.
Lynn: Right right.
David: And so we just started playing with a sort of more posh, refined, elegant guy, and I sort fused my dear Uncle Dave, who is this posh as-English-as-they-get sort of Roger Moore slightly Americanized English accent. So his version of Bond and then I sort of brought myself to it, and so we sort of found our Ketch.
Lynn: That’s interesting because one of my questions was how much of the character’s story arc did you actually know going into this, and did you know that fans would eventually hate him? I’m a psychologist, so I can’t help but wonder about things like that.
David: I love that!
Lynn: What’s it like knowing that eventually the fandom would come to dislike your character? Was that anxiety provoking, like waiting for the moment when the fandom is going to turn on you?
David: Well, there was a very specific day when I was like oh no, because I knew the Mick thing was going on, and I just had a really hard day shooting. In fact, because it’s not a spoiler anymore, shooting the fight scene with Mary was the same day that I knew that Mick was gonna get shot, and I was just like – first of all, my body was completely stiff because Sam and I really brought it that day…
Lynn: Oh yeah you did, it looked amazing, well done.
David: We brought the noise on the day, so I was feeling like I needed a hot tub and some yoga…
David: … and no social media in my life. So anxiety? A little bit, but excitement as well because that’s my job. I knew I’d done the charm offensive as long as I could, and that moment was gonna be like – the duplicitousness and the programmable sociopath in terms of the audience’s eyes was there. I wanted to have as much of a charm offensive as I could up until that moment, if that makes sense.
Lynn: It makes total sense. In fact, you keep anticipating my questions, which is making me laugh. Because the next question was, did the initial description of the character include something that said “charming” or is some of that your twist on him or something that evolved with the character?
David: It was never written in the copy, in the actual scripts that I got. I actually only got two scripts and then a character breakdown from the casting department. And again, I think it was more the evolution during the call back process, because I had to go in to audition four times all in all. Some of them were just more like voice auditions where they would say, can you give us this accent, and that accent? Because I have a full British background, I gave them a few options – from heightened pronunciation to a bit of an estuary, I gave them all of those, and then that Roger Moore sort of Peter Cushing classic. But I just knew, from my story and what was on the page, that my shorthand for myself is that I consider him like the butler assassin. I wanted him to be very prim and proper and posh as a mask, where he would try to get as many things accomplished through charm and etiquette as possible. That first scene in the forest where he’s introducing them to the tools, he’s trying to get them on board, he’s like ‘come on board, come with us, come along, have some tea’, you know?
David: But I knew from a story perspective that if the character did go forward that there would probably be a dark side or a betrayal there, just knowing that it was a guest character. So I just tried to layer that in, and thankfully it turned out as the layers were peeled back, all my choices were actually deepened, so that worked out beautifully.
Lynn: It did. And that’s fascinating to me that you sort of anticipated his dark turn based on the fact that he was a guest character in that context. I know that from talking to many many guest actors who have been on this show over the years, some of them construct a whole backstory for their character because they feel like they need to have enough understanding of their character to really empathize with them and put themselves in their shoes. Did you do any of that and at this point, do you see him as a villain or not?
David: Absolutely, absolutely. You never judge a character – that’s the audience’s job. The actor has to build a rapport with the character, and as much as Ketch is completely different from me in almost every way
Lynn: (silently) Well, that’s a good thing…
David: What you do is you build little moments of belief and rapport and you do exactly that, you build a backstory. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a fully true backstory as it’s revealed, but a lot of my choices ended up being ultimately where it ended up going, which was a happy accident. Because in terms of how the fandom would describe it, you have to create your own head canon versus the actual canon, because the canon you don’t know yet. But you have to do detective work just from what each script is telling you. So they give you a lot, you break it down as an actor, you read it multiple times, you just keep looking at the script and there are all these hints from the writers. Just like you as an audience, you have to then take that detective work, internalize it, make some subtext and backstory for yourself to make it true, rooted and grounded. And again, you can’t play sociopath, you can’t play bad guy. You’ve gotta play this is a guy who does this stuff because he feels it, he believes it. And you stay there in that truth and just go, and the story and all the stuff around it is what builds the tension for the audience. But you can’t play that, if that makes sense.
Lynn: It makes perfect sense, and this reminds me of conversations I’ve had with Curtis Armstrong, who played another villain on Supernatural for a couple years (Metatron). He says almost exactly the same thing.
David: Oh, a great villain, he was.
Lynn: He was, yes, and it makes sense to me as a psychologist too. The reason it comes through as genuine is because you’ve actually done that work, and so you can step into that character’s shoes. And that’s I think what makes a character who’s set up to be a bad guy nevertheless a popular character. Same with Metatron, who turned out in the end be a popular character as well because of what Curtis did.
David: I love to hear that because I think in general, not to put myself in that same place at all, but the goal is always, if you’re going to pull it off successfully, to just find the truth in the guy and do it honestly. One of my favorite villains, just watching reruns, is Larry Hagman as JR Ewing.
Lynn: Oh yes, Dallas.
David: I don’t know if you’re familiar with that from way back when. I caught some reruns on a country music channel and I thought, this guy is so good, because there’s just pleasure in what he does! And with Ketch, I just wanted it to be like, he LOVES his job – even though he’s programmed, he doesn’t really know that, he’s not self aware completely. I think he has moments that I’ve tried to build in where’s he’s like maybe the programming is starting to break down, and I’m so glad that some of the audience has gotten it. But you know, he loves to hunt, he loves to do this thing, and he loves to dress up nice and he loves to drive cars and motorcycles, he’s a total hedonist, right?
David: And I think people can relate, he’s like complete id, he’s just full on hedonist, id, doing what –within regards of his training or orders — but this guy is just like, let’s do this, who cares? And it’s fun to play that, someone who doesn’t judge themselves.
Lynn: Pure id isn’t something we get to do in real life very often, after all.
David: Exactly! Exactly. But it’s so liberating, right?
Lynn: Totally. You get to play at that with no real life consequences. I think you have done actually a really good job at showing some of those cracks in Ketch. Taking the little hints we got from the script, it seems like what the BMoL have done is to find people who were already lost and damaged and had terrible attachment histories and trauma, because then they’re very easy to indoctinate and manipulate. And I think you’ve showed little flashes of that vulnerability, even in the scene of Mary and Ketch in the bedroom, she’s like yeah that was fun bye, and with very few words or sometimes no words, just an expression, or a tone, you conveyed that there was a little vulnerability there for him. That’s one of the things that makes Ketch such an interesting character, those little nuances you’ve brought out.
David: My heart just grew a thousand times hearing you say that.
David: That’s great for me to hear, I’m serious, because you do this work in private and in quiet and you bring it to the set. You do get feedback from the director, but you never really know how it’s gonna land, so I’m really glad about that. Because honestly, Ketch could have been played so on the nose, like bad guy, black and white, start to finish. And I think my job, the piece of that three legged stool that I bring, of writer and production and actor, I’ve gotta get greedy about how can I make this guy a full living breathing interesting character? And hopefully those nuances and complexities and a little bit of that stuff comes through, and that’s what I get to bring to the table. So I’m very gratified that you said that. Thank you.
Lynn: It’s true. I watch this show pretty seriously after writing five books on it!
David: Yeah, when is your book release party? I want to go!
Lynn: [at the time] Next Wednesday in Hollywood.
David: Aww I’m flying out to Asylum that night. Boo. Great problem to have though, being able to do the conventions, but I was really hoping to be able to fit your book release party in.
I spent a little time telling David more about ‘Family Don’t End With Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives’ and about the powerful essays that Jared, Jensen, Misha, Mark and the other SPN actors contributed to the book.
David: Hopefully our paths will cross soon. Congratulations too, that’s so exciting!
Lynn: I’ve known Richard Speight for many years, and I’m always so excited when he gets to direct. What was your experience with Richard’s directing?
David: Oh man, Dick and I hit it off like very fast. You know, it’s funny because I actually knew him from when we both used to do the commercial circuit back like ten or fifteen years ago, back in Los Angeles.
Lynn: Small world!
David: When you first start out as an actor, you do the commercial circuit, in your early 20s, and you see the same faces and the same guys are on the commercials a lot. You know, there are the bookers and the people who are going out a lot. That’s how you get your foundation as an actor. I just knew him from a lot of commercials he’d done and from auditions, and so we were both like Oh! I didn’t know he was directing now, so we had a little catch up on that, like go team, like the grinders, the working class actors, we’re making it!
Lynn: (laughing) Damn right!
David: So that was a really nice thing to bond on initially and then, when you work with an actor-director, meaning someone who can talk actor and knows the process of an actor, he really got a shorthand with me quickly and I him, and it was just such a delicious fun experience. Especially on television, it’s really fast, you don’t have a lot of time for the acting sometimes, it’s like “moving on.” With him, if we were in between light shots, he’d be like okay, what can you do, to bring this out, and do you need other takes for the acting? Stuff like that. So we just had rapport and laughter and shorthand. I would do anything with that guy again and I’m looking forward to connecting in Rome next week.
Lynn: Oh, you’ll have a blast, the Rome con is always so much fun.
David: And he’s just a good guy, he’s got that southern charm, he’s such a hard worker, and you love it when the good guys are succeeding in this business.
Lynn: Yes! You mentioned that epic fight scene with Sam Smith. How long did it take to film that and how complex was the choreography?
David: It was very complex. I think Sam even did like a twitter post of all the tape marks on the floor for her scene, like a little tease about the choreography. We lost track of time, I think we filmed just shy of eight hours shooting with the coverage. Because you have to remember, it’s all the re-lighting set ups and we had to do it in takes. There’s only one set up that Sam is doubled for, most of the fight was us. There was only one little part stunt doubled.
David: But when you take it piece by piece like that, you have to re-light and re-light and re-light. And then the camera guy, you’ve got to move out lights and move out furniture. It was a very complicated do-si-do around the room and because the choreography was complicated. It looks like a two-minute scene, but it was easily between six and a half and seven and a half hours.
Lynn: Wow. I’ve gotten to watch Lou Bollo work with the actors on a fight scene when I was on set, and I was amazed at how it really is choreography.
David: Oh Lou, yes, he’s the best too, oh my God I love Lou. What a great gentle soul and a cool guy, we had so much fun with him.
Lynn: It’s an amazing set, isn’t it? I had only been on movie sets before I visited Supernatural, and was struck by how television is very different, everything moves so quickly. It seemed like a well-oiled machine.
David: It’s a special place. And it’s kinda unlike any other set I’ve ever been on ever, and I think it comes from that family atmosphere and the leadership from J Squared and the executives.
Lynn: (silently) I love that you call them J Squared (also silently laughing)
David: It all comes from the top, the tone of the set, and when your two leads are grateful and fun and happy and welcoming and collaborative, the whole atmosphere changes. It comes from the people at the top. You know you have long days and people get cranky, you’re shooting long nights, but with the core of that enthusiasm and happiness you get through all of that without drama, it’s amazing. Amazing.
Lynn: Honestly I’ve never seen any drama happen on set. I’m not saying people don’t get annoyed, but no drama, which is weird.
David: Go to a telemarketing office and you’ll probably see more drama than you see on the SPN set!
David: Hanging around with the same people for eight hours a day can get anyone riled up anywhere, but that respect and collaboration is there. And people know that they’re on a show that has broken so many barriers and so many records. The gratefulness is there and people don’t take it for granted at all.
Lynn: I’ll send you a copy of Family Don’t End With Blood, because all the actors talk about their gratitude, very eloquently. (You can still get your own copy of the bestseller here!)
David: I can’t wait to read it!
Lynn: There was a hilarious outtake video from Shaving People Punting Things, where Jared and Jensen were absolutely cracking up over Ketch’s pronunciation of ‘chupacabra’. How did you learn about that video and what was your reaction?
David: Okay, first of all, let me reverse engineer that for you a little bit. So they shot their part of that, I know people don’t always know how tv editing works, but I was not even remotely interacting with them at all. I was on a completely different set on a completely different day and time.
Lynn: That’s what I figured.
David: The joke is the genius of editing, and some people had the theory that because they prank everyone, that this was their prank on me. So they shot their side of that coverage like two or three days earlier and they just started improvising and laughing about the word chupacabra but I hadn’t even done my side of the equation.
Lynn: (already laughing) So they haven’t even heard you say chupacabra yet, right?
David: Exactly. So Phil Sgriccia, the director and executive producer, when it came to shoot my coverage, I smelled a little giddiness from the crew, like they were all like under their breath laughing, but I didn’t understand it at the time. Like they were under their breath going ‘chupacabra haha’ sort of like Beavis and Butthead, because they were remembering the day of shooting with Jared and Jensen, because apparently the whole crew is like that, what you see in the clip.
Lynn: Oh yes, exactly.
David: So what the editors did was, TJ in post production is I think the mastermind of all this, so he was like let’s get as much coverage of Dave as Ketch saying chupacabra even though Ketch saying chupacabra is just the normal way of saying it. I didn’t roll my R, but… So the absurdity of it came in the editing. And what I loved so much is that they used multiple takes of me saying chupacabra, extended takes, and then Phil – and this is where they kinda knew where they were going with it already as a prank – Phil had me do various extra versions, like oh do it this way, now do it this way…
Lynn: (still laughing)
David: (also laughing) I think he was filling up the tank so they’d have more options, so you’d have to ask Phil or TJ or the guys whether there was a master plan there.
Lynn: I probably will.
David: When I saw it – it was very sweet of them, they were like it’s a little post-production thing, we can’t pay you but you have to sign off on it because it’s your image, so I had to preview it before it got sent out to the universe. They knew I wasn’t gonna be an uppity actor about it, but so I got the preview two days before and tears were streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard.
Lynn: Me too! (at this point we’re both laughing just thinking about it)
David: You know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of the Ben Affleck video when he did the interview and he was talking about Batman and Superman, that was the moment the way they just pushed it. And the other thing, as the actor who plays Ketch, this actually helps me a lot for anyone who has sympathy for Ketch because like, you almost feel bad for the guy!
Lynn: You do! You totally do!
David: Like you poor abused nerd, you sad lonely man…
Lynn: There’s something about someone being laughed at like that, you do have sympathy.
David: Just the schadenfreude of it! I was delighted and I felt like it was my initiation, I was really brought into the family at that point. They could have a laugh at my expense, like really bring me in. I really felt like okay, I’ve arrived here.
Lynn: I think that’s true. It’s a fun loving set, and I think that’s why they’ve been able to do it so long. Jared and Jensen are definitely fond of laughing at each other and at themselves.
David: You feel it on set and that’s always been my philosophy too, take the work seriously but not yourself seriously. And that goes for everyone on that show.
Lynn: Totally agree. You’ve been pretty active on twitter, which can be a bit of a minefield. That contributed to the popularity of the character though, as people really enjoyed interacting with you on twitter.
David: Here’s one thing. I didn’t enjoy it before, I just wanna do my work, I really enjoy acting. But it’s become the new norm in Hollywood that you have to connect with the audience. So I thought if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna commit to it, I’m gonna lean into it and try to commit to a few rules for myself – gratitude, humor, engagement and some performance art as the character, I’m just gonna lean into the character. I’m not gonna tweet my food or my personal life, I’m just gonna talk about my story, a little bit of cheeky jokes in character, you know? And just a lot of gratitude, like thank you so much, let me share. I think it’s worked 99% of the time, but inevitably you’re going to step in a minefield. Some people confuse character for actor, like why did you kill Adam? I’m like, I actually had drinks with him last night, Ketch is a fictional character who killed a fictional character named Mick, but I’m glad you’re invested in the story, because that means I’m doing my job! So even though I was sort of like urgh social media, since I’ve tried to lean into it and just be grateful and loving and a little self promotion with humor and kinda in character a bit, I’ve actually interacted with this extraordinary SPN Family and it’s been so overwhelmingly positive and so kind, even though they don’t like my character! I’m really excited to go to conventions and connect with the audience, and interact as a genuine human being. I’m a gregarious person, I like real interaction, I like conversation. Social media is limiting, you can only do so much.
Lynn: You’ll have lots of time for actual conversation at the conventions, which I think you’ll enjoy. So, last question. I’m guessing the British Men of Letters will get their comeuppance in the season finale tonight. I know you can’t give me spoilers nor do I want any, but is there anything you can say about Mr. Ketch’s future on the show?
David: (after a long pause): Nope.
Lynn: (cracks up) That’s pretty much what I expected. And that’s a perfect ending for this article.
David: Congrats again on the book, I’m so sorry I’ll miss the book release party. But I’ll see you in Chicago!
Lynn: Safe travels until then – I can’t wait to see what happens tonight!
(At least I think I can’t wait…I’m also stocking up on tissues and trying not to bite my nails in anticipation and trepidation…)
Here’s to surviving the Supernatural finale tonight!