I was fascinated with Lisa Berry’s character when she first appeared on Supernatural as Billie the Reaper, and chatted with her shortly after her second episode aired. So needless to say, I was thrilled to see Lisa return to Supernatural as Billie in the finale of Season 12 (to be killed by Castiel) and then again in Season 13 – this time as Death herself. We had a chance to chat after her appearance in Episode 13.05, the aptly named Advanced Thanatology. Billie had a pivotal confrontation with Dean Winchester, which was one of my favorite scenes in the episode, so I couldn’t wait to ask her about that and more!
Lynn: This last episode that you were in, that scene between Billie and Dean was so pivotal to that episode… it was amazing. What made it so pivotal is that Billie was in a sense the audience’s point of view – through her eyes, we realized how much Dean had changed. How hopeless and despondent he had become. Going into it, how much if anything did you know about what Dean’s mindset was at the time, because you really played that realization so well?
Lisa: Oh thank you so much, I appreciate that. As a fan of the show, I appreciate that you appreciated it! (laughing)
Lynn: I did!
Lisa: I didn’t get much background, I kind of was just assuming a lot of things. So when I got the script, I had to fill a whole bunch of things in. But the way that Steve [Yockey] wrote it, it made it easy enough to see that this is the path to where Dean is probably at, this is what he’s probably doing. A lot of clues were given in the script. So I think that was a really big help, but I didn’t get to read the first four scripts beforehand so I was kind of just like an audience member left with the Season 12 finale.
Lynn: That’s what I thought, especially because it was so early in the season. I often wonder how you as a guest actor are able to so seamlessly put yourself there, in the moment. Obviously, the writers are following along with the story, but it seemed like you were able to put yourself right there where the viewer was and Billie just sort of jumped in to explicate our point of view.
Lisa: I really appreciate that, because you know I’m a huge fan of the show myself.
Lynn: (grinning) I know, and I love that.
Lisa: I had the history and the background [of the show] and so in my interpretation of the character I’ve always put myself as right next to Death, his number one, even if you couldn’t see me. So I endowed my character with a lot of knowledge and background and history and being there for all of those touching Dean moments, because I have it in me. I’ve seen the series like a couple of times over. Not just the show, but the whooooole series, and there’s so many of them! I have really dedicated a lot of my TV watching time to Supernatural….
Lynn: (laughing, because err…me too)
Lisa: I have! And a lot of times, I’ll just go back to one of my favorite seasons which is like when Death was introduced, which was so mind-blowing for me. And I’ll have it in the background while I’m working. I’ll have it on, and then I’ll just get caught up in a moment, and then you find yourself just watching it again – and I’m like, you’ve seen this, like seven times!
Lynn: I totally love you.
Lisa: You know?
Lynn: I totally do. I do that too. Like, a lot.
Lisa: (laughing) OK then I don’t feel so crazy because it’s a comforting show to have on in the background when you’re doing something. And then when I got the call that I was gonna be back, and I got the script, I immediately messaged Steve and said OMG this is so amazing and I’m so grateful that you trust me with this role. And they gave me lots of time with the script. I was also working at the Shaw Festival at the same time, so I was doing two plays in rep.
Lynn: Oh wow, that’s a lot.
Lisa: And then on my long weekend on Labor Day, I had to go and film the episode, and they somehow made it work. They were like; this is a big scene, are you sure she can do it in one day? And I was like; I can handle it, you’ve given me plenty of time to learn my lines and really digest the character. So I just went and basically had fun on the day. All the work was done, and then Jensen is like an amazing actor and scene partner, it’s just like, “Annnnnnd scene.”
Lynn: It’s funny when you say that, it didn’t occur to me that it might have been filmed in one day because it was such a big and complicated scene. But I’ve talked to other guest actors on the show who have said – I remember Curtis Armstrong telling me that when he did that really long dialogue scene with Rob…
Lisa: Oh yeah…
Lynn: That they wanted to do it as much as possible all in one day, just get in it and do it and he felt like that was part of why it came off as so powerful. I wonder if that’s part of why that scene with you and Jensen came off as so powerful too. The energy just crackled between the two of you.
Lisa: Oh yeah, and our director [John Showalter] was so great – at the time I was very much in the theater world, so all you do is you show up and you do a play. You know all of your lines, and you just go for it. There’s no cut, try that again. And [on this episode] everybody was kinda just like ohhh he wants to kinda film it just like one shot, like continuously going and not breaking it up. In TV a lot of times you only have to know so much of your dialogue, and then you cut and then you can take it from there and space it out. But a scene like that, I was definitely an advocate for no, let’s just do it as one scene.
Lynn: And it so worked. It’s interesting too because Jensen has said that one of the things that frustrates him sometimes – and they’ve sorta gotten away from it in Supernatural because they’ve been doing this so long – but it’s doing those very fragmented repeated takes kind of thing. He and Jared sorta joke about it like when they do it too many times, it’s like ‘I’m running on repeats’. Like you won’t get the best stuff.
Lisa: Yeah and really, if you show up and you’re prepared, the set is completely open arms for you. I mean that as much for Supernatural as for any set. When an actor shows up and is prepared, then they can have fun. When an actor is not prepared, then it can become a really long day.
Lisa: But it’s such a fun role, and it’s just gotten better and better every time I’ve gotten a script. I’m just so humbled – you know the show, there are about a million gazillion people they could bring back and story lines they could weave in and could be a part of their consideration – it always just makes me a little teary eyed to be brought back, like really?
Lynn: You’re right, but it’s interesting, some fans long ago thought maybe Billie will be the next Death. And Julian Richings, a few years ago, said that he’d like to see you play Death if it isn’t him – and he said he loves you too, by the way. So maybe it was in the collective consciousness of the show.
Lisa: I was just like, I hope the fans don’t hate me, because I love Julian too! So I was just like, I really want to play the role with as much dignity and honor as I possibly can, because it’s like picking up a baton, you know?
Lynn: Was that intimidating? We’ve talked before about Billie’s epic entrances. And this one was too – I think I said something in my review like the character is both beautiful and intimidating. That long coat and the ring and just the way she has about her. Was it intimidating to step into that role?
Lisa: Awww, thank you. Absolutely, absolutely, because it’s such an iconic role. Whether you play it on television or film, or whatever. I went to see Thor Ragnarok and I thought OMG she plays the goddess of death – as do I. It’s like a role that I don’t know any woman who wouldn’t be like, YES PLEASE.
Lynn: Oh yeah
Lisa: And to sink your teeth into it…I was nervous obviously, I’m not gonna lie about that, but that’s the beauty of playing a role like that. I know when I’m in Billie, because Billie doesn’t have any nerves. She doesn’t get afraid and she doesn’t feel judged and she doesn’t worry about those things. And Lisa does. So it’s very easy to tell when I’m in the character and when I’m not. It’s a wonderful opportunity just as a human being to stand your ground and be confident and bold and to live in that energy. You don’t get to live in that energy that often, or stay in it that long, because something comes around to be like uh you’re actually human and you can be hurt, scarred, bruised, cut.
Lynn: Alas, you have to go back to that. Alaina Huffman and Ruth Connell have said that too, that stepping into the shoes of their (powerful female) character who really doesn’t give a damn in the way most of us do is kinda therapeutic
Lisa: Oh my gosh, yes. And especially with the role that I was playing on stage, it was so nice to straighten my spine and get to say how I feel and have an opinion and move through the world with confidence. Because when you’re playing a slave girl in 1833, you don’t get to do that.
Lynn: I guess not, what a contrast!
Lisa: It was, oh yeah. This past year I went from playing the handmaiden to the queen to a slave trying to make it through the day to Billie. It’s been all in a week, and that was kinda cool.
Lynn: This is why I’m a psychologist and not an actor – I think that would mess with my head!
Lynn: I don’t think I could do that
Lisa: Oh man, tools. As a psychologist you absolutely know that people have their tools and I just always try to be the sanest actor I know. We do have a reputation for being crazy. So I do try and go in and out as gracefully as I can from roles and still be a functioning human being in the rest of the world.
Lynn: It’s interesting, I know that’s the stereotype. But I know so many actors now from doing this research and writing these books for so long, and they’re some of the least crazy people. High strung maybe, and emotional – very empathic often – but not crazy.
Lisa: Yes, yes.
Lynn: So if you put yourself in your head canon for Billie right now, where is she in terms of the Winchesters? She said that her perspective has shifted, so how does she view them now? Is it a little grudging admiration, or is it why do I have to keep these guys around?
Lisa: I think, and this is with having zero information, I think she has a soft spot for them now, now that she can see the big picture, you know?
Lynn: Mmm hmm
Lisa: It’s like when you’re mad at somebody and then you find out they go home to a cardboard box and they actually don’t have a home and their puppy died, and it’s that whole bigger picture. And you realize, I was really hard on you, looking through my little telescope, but now I have the bigger picture and wow, it really costs you guys to do this. And what you’re doing is for a much greater good. I don’t know any human who has ever made that sort of sacrifice. So I think she’s begrudging because she’s just hated them for so long and she’s had this sort of thorn in her side with them. And now it’s like she has to take it out and feel that weight.
Lynn: That makes sense, that’s what I would guess too. I think you played the opening of that in the last few lines she had. And talk about iconic, Steve Yockey gave you a call back to one of the most iconic lines in the show – when Billie said ‘you’ve got work to do’ it was a call back to ‘we’ve got work to do.’ How did that feel, to deliver such an iconic line?
Lisa: The whole scene hit me, like every word, hit me as important. I really did my absolute best to mine the script as best as I could and just try to find and turn over every stone and understand what is going through her mind and where she’s coming from and what she wants and needs. I asked why to every single thing that she said. Because as human beings, we always know why we’re doing what we’re doing, very specifically. Even when we’re telling a story about people needing to mind their own business, it’s like you have someone in mind.
Lynn: Totally, you’re so right
Lisa: You’re not just randomly saying that, you know? So I really wanted her to be able to think in and around the words and they all really struck me as this whole scene is very iconic. It made me think of when we first met Death, in the slow motion and the car and everything. This is a new spin and a different play to it, but lines like that – and hearing you say it now makes me hear it even more than I even heard it then, which is kinda cool. I really thought that about a lot of the scene, even the ‘we need to talk’.
Lynn: Oh yeah
Lisa: Like wow, you’re just given me one like everyone-wants-to-speak-like-that kinda line.
Lisa: I remember doing a guest spot on Lost Girl and my superpower was I could ignite fire from my hands.
Lisa: And I was ready to burn a building down with my hands and in the end they’re like cut, no, we’re scrapping it, and I have to be like ‘I hate getting all hot and bothered for nothin’
Lynn: (laughing) Great line!
Lisa: What actor doesn’t want to have to say that line? So as an actor and an artist, you’re grateful when you get to say the cool lines and do the echoes of the episodes that came before. Because it’s been well over a decade, so to be able to bring that back – and I also think it kinda represents where the show is at right now, kinda like when I read the script I was like – okay and now I’m talking as a fan here – when I read the script I was like whoa they really could keep opening up one dimension after another, and this show really could go on forever!
Lynn: That’s what it feels like.
Lisa: Yeah, I mean it evolved from being a show about monsters and then it got very biblical and now we’re talking about worlds and galaxies and I was like whoa, okay. Okay!
Lynn: I know, right? So much potential.
Lisa: Exactly. And it was also very exciting to be part of opening up a new avenue, a new portal. That was cool; I was like wow.
Lynn: I’m assuming that you watched the episode when it aired. The other thing that worked so well, I think, is what Jensen did in that scene. It’s something that Julian Richings has talked about in his scenes with Jensen, that what worked so well to invest Death with awe and fear is that Jensen played all that in Dean, through Dean’s perspective, so Julian didn’t have to. And he did that in this scene too, with you. The way he was looking up at Death, looking like a little kid, like absolutely in awe of her.
Lisa: Totally. Totally. He, like I said, he’s one of my favorite actors to work with. He makes you better, I think, he’s that kind of actor.
Lynn: You both played off each other masterfully. And it was an important scene too because we learned a lot about the main character. Any scene in which we learn a lot about the mental state, and the emotional state, of one of the main characters, it becomes so important.
Lisa: Mm hmm. Thank you. And personally, I’m just a fan of Dean monologues, so I’m always game for that.
Lynn: (grinning) Me too. I remember when we chatted before, you said that the first time you were on the show you were nervous, because you were a fan of the show. How is it now, after multiple guest appearances? Is it more relaxed?
Lisa: You know, I’m like a hair – and I mean that literally, like a cat hair – more relaxed (laughing) But because I shoot these episodes with a lot of time in between shootings and I’m there for a day or two, so all in all I’m probably there for like eight days over three years (laughing) so the nerves haven’t had a chance to completely subside. First, I get a script and I’m like I can’t believe they’re bringing me back!
Lisa: I always look at it like what a wonderful way to go out, that’s how I am – any time I’m a recurring character on any show, the last episode I shoot I’m always like, that’s a great way to go out! And if I come back again, that’s great.
Lynn: That’s a great attitude to have, especially on Supernatural! And then if you come back, it’s a lovely surprise.
Lisa: It’s always a lovely surprise. That’s the beauty of it. And this was definitely one of those episodes where I was like oh THAT is the way to go out!
Lynn: You’ve had epic entrances and exits, come to think of it. And you’re still there. Only on Supernatural!
Lisa: (laughing) Only on Supernatural, it’s so true. God bless that show. So I do feel more at ease as an actor because I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve continued to work on my own projects, so I feel more prepared as an actor, having learned and grown as an actor. I feel like I’m able to bring something new when I come back, so I feel more confident as an artist. But fangirling out, feeling like a nerd? That hasn’t subsided.
Lynn: I think I like that about you, Lisa – don’t let that change!
Lisa: (laughing) I’m still like, can I get a picture with you, Jensen?
Lynn: Hey, some things you never get used to. When I’m talking on the phone with them I’m fine, but then when it’s in person, I’m distracted all over again.
Lisa: I know, seriously. And they’re just such loving people, that’s also what makes the gush happen. It’s like well you can’t be super nice, because now I’m gushing even more!
Lynn: (laughing) That’s right, it doesn’t help. If they were only standoffish…
Lisa: (also laughing) Totally.
Lynn: I know you did some viewing parties with some of the other guest actors, and I know they all think very highly of you. How has it been to get to know some of the other SPNFamily?
Lisa: When I was living in LA for a while I spent a lot of time with Alaina and Ruth especially, and they have really taken me under their wing. It’s crazy. And Briana and I knew each other from back in the day, and Kim has just been so kind, and Sam is literally like just such a nice person. One day when I had off, she was like hey, you wanna hang out today? And I was like, you wanna hang out with ME?
Lisa: I was like um yeah sure! And I find that to be really heartwarming and it makes me really grateful to be a part of something that’s more than just a show.
Lynn: Oh yes, it is more.
Lisa: And getting to do a calendar with them was wonderful [for Stands], and even though I haven’t met everyone in person, we know each other on social media and via email and text, because we’ve got a little group thread that’s ongoing.
Lynn: Everyone seems to value that so much
Lisa: Sometimes people will just chime in with a great quote or something or just send somebody some love. And I find that to be really cool. I lost a friend this year to mental illness…
Lynn: I’m so sorry
Lisa: And I put it out there like hey I lost somebody today. To be welcomed back like I was, because we don’t see each other a lot, I haven’t done the conventions like many of them have, so we don’t talk on that level, but I just wanted to still keep them included in my life and what’s going on and they are just super kind people.
Lynn: They really are. It’s a unique bunch of women. And speaking of the kickass women of Supernatural, I wanted to ask you – Kim, Briana, Ruth and Rachel all wrote chapters in my book that’s out now, Family Don’t End With Blood…
Lisa: Which I have! I bought it. I’m about to start reading it when I head back to Chicago. It will be the first thing I read in 2018.
Lynn: Oh, awesome! You have to tell me what you think when you read it. Everyone – both the actors who wrote chapters and the fans who did – really did an amazing job writing very personal chapters. My next book is focused on the women of Supernatural, and I wonder if you might want to write a chapter.
Lisa: OMG I would be honored to do one, are you serious?
Lynn: I am, it’s right here on my list of questions.
Lisa: Oh my god, thank you so much. Oh my goodness, you don’t wanna know – literally when I picked up your book I was like, this is so cool.
Lynn: The actors who wrote chapters had some really important things to say, and I think what they wrote has made a difference. That’s what we wanted to do. Okay, last two questions. Why have we not seen you at conventions?
Lisa: I don’t know!
Lynn: Fans would love to have you at cons.
Lisa: I would love to be at conventions. To be honest, I’ve always tried to be the person who says well if it was meant to be, it’s meant to be. Everything is trying to find its way to you and you’re trying to find your way to it. I did get to do a convention in the UK and it was such a wonderful experience. But I only want to be there if people want to hang out and have a good time, I’m not really a push my way through the door person, so if nobody invited me, I just kinda move on and go with the flow.
Lynn: I think people would love having you there. And you’re back as Death, so it’s a no-brainer now!
Lisa: Aww, thank you.
Lynn: Okay, last question. I know you can’t really say anything even if there was something to say, but it would be so awesome to have you on the new Wayward Sisters if the pilot goes forward.
Lisa: Oh wouldn’t it be? I’m so excited about that!
Lynn: I am too.
Lisa: I think, to me that’s like, the coolest thing to happen and what a wonderful manifestation of one’s internal beauty and desire. Believing in something and getting to see it happen. It’s what dreams are made of, one of the most powerful representations of follow your heart and keep going after what you want.
Lisa: That is the coolest things to happen in a long time.
Lynn: And it feels really important in an industry that’s struggled with women and a society and culture that is still struggling.
Lisa: Exactly. Exactly. And on that network. Because for myself, I was thinking this today, why don’t they cater TV shows to people my age?
Lynn: Good question.
Lisa: Like why don’t we have more shows, and I know it’s changing, but where are the women who are 35? Something happens in that 35 to 45, it’s like we disappear.
Lynn: Then you come back as a grandmother at 50.
Lisa: It’s like where did they go, what did they do? There has to be a story. And so when that [Wayward Sisters] happened I was like, things are changing for the better and I’m happy about that. And it couldn’t happen to two more awesome people.
Lynn: Agreed. And I’m very proud that Supernatural, after being on the air for 13 seasons, is gonna try to break the mold and try something new and take a chance.
Lisa: Me too, like I’m just SO in love with that. And you want them to do well because if they do well, you do well.
Lynn: Fingers crossed! Do you have anything else you want to say?
Lisa: You know what, the only thing I just always want to say is how humbled and how grateful I am for this opportunity.
Lynn: Well, you’ve made really great use of it. And this was so much fun – it’s so much fun to actually have a conversation.
Lisa: I think so too, some people get nervous about it. I’m a performer, so I’m always like, let’s talk! I actually call people, I’m a child of the 90s, so…
Lynn: And I’m a psychologist, so I always prefer talking to people. I feel like I know people so much better when I get to talk to them.
Lisa: I’m always like, what do you look like or sound like when you’re saying that, I want to know! Because in a tweet, you don’t know how they’re saying that…You miss all the inflection and the tone
Lynn: Well hopefully we’ll see each other soon, maybe at a convention… Fingers crossed!
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