I really enjoyed the recent Supernatural episode “Tombstone,” and not just because we got Dean Winchester back in cowboy garb (along with Castiel this time. Sorta). The episode had both humor and emotional resonance, which is how I like my Supernatural. It also had some interesting guest characters.
I was especially taken with Athena Lopez, who isn’t your typical coroner – or your typical guest character, for that matter. So I reached out to Sarah Troyer, who brought the character to life and made her memorable even in one episode. Sarah had tweeted that she had watched the show since she was a kid, so it was a thrill to work on it – which let me know she has excellent taste in television. She agreed to answer a few questions so we all could get to know her better.
Lynn: How was the character described to you or described in the breakdown?
Sarah provided the description, which is always fascinating to me to see.
Role: Athena Lopez
20s – early 30s, please include all ethnicities in your suggestions. This “Goth Rocker Betty Page” is a sexy, offbeat undertaker who has lived in an Old West cemetery her whole life…GUEST STAR (17)
Lynn: What did you add to your understanding of Athena to ‘flesh out’ the characterization? Was there any backstory that you constructed other than the bits of information we got on the show?
Sarah: After reading the script, I believed Athena to be a strong, determined character with a loving side to her. Although she may be seen as different (her style, music interests, job), she’s absolutely confident in who she is. I don’t think viewers got to see much of her office, but it was plastered with her favourite bands, artists, pin-up girls, etc. She definitely didn’t hide who she was. Secondly, she didn’t have much issue telling anyone off, whether it was Sam, Dean or Dave (one of my favourite things about her). However, I knew Athena had a loving side, and I tried to keep that in mind so she didn’t become too brash or even standoffish. When she finds out Dave robbed a bank and murdered someone, I didn’t think she could just flip him the bird and say have a nice life. I think there would be a lot of confusion and mixed feelings in a situation like that, a moral dilemma. She loved Dave and was with him for so long, she thought she knew him but now he’s turned into someone she doesn’t know – who is he really? She should walk away but it’s hard to walk away from someone you have so much love and history with. I reflected on my own relationship and tried to play it as honestly as I could. So maybe I didn’t give her much of a backstory, but I read in between the lines of the script to add little details about who she was and her thought process behind each of her actions.
Lynn: Actually I think all that thought you put into making sense of her motivations and emotions totally came through. I had a feeling that you had put time into figuring Athena out, and that’s why she came across as a fleshed out character who grabbed my attention. One of the things that made Athena appealing was that she seemed to be in a relationship with a guy who was just a bit too possessive and controlling, who sometimes seemed to ignore her boundaries, and yet she also seemed drawn to him. In other words, she seemed very real – I think many of us, as women, have been in those situations. Was this dynamic something you played up? (Because some of your subtle choices really showed Athena’s ambivalence about Dave’s way of showing his affection).
Sarah: Dave giving Athena a slap on the behind and her standing up to him was a playful dynamic between the two of them, in my opinion. If it wasn’t, she wouldn’t have given him a big grin and a kiss. However, I do think we see Dave’s manipulative, possessive side when he says “we got it good here, why do you want to mess that up?” causing Athena to falter and second-guess herself and her wants.
Sarah: Unfortunately, we all can get into relationships with someone who we think wants the best for us when in reality only wants what’s best for them, i.e., Dave only wants to move once it becomes in his best interest, faking his support for Athena’s dream. Athena’s blind to his manipulations because she cares for Dave and believes he does too. This further plays into her confusion as to what to do when it comes out that Dave robbed a bank and killed someone.
Lynn: And you’re right, that’s realistic. I think we’ve all been there, and I’ve certainly worked with lots and lots of clients who were struggling to let go of a long-term relationship when it became clear the other person didn’t have their best interest in mind.
I also wanted to ask Sarah about Athena because to me; she really had that ‘fangirl’ vibe. And Sarah had tweeted that she watched the show before she got the audition, so she was a fan herself.
Lynn: Supernatural has had quite a few female characters who fans related to because they seemed like ‘fangirl’ type characters, including Athena. We meet her when she’s dressed in a way that many Supernatural fangirls might dress, and she’s clearly a music fan. I think that might be why I was drawn to the character and wanted to know more. Was that something you were conscious of in playing her since you said you’ve been watching the show for years?
Sarah: I mainly focused on script analysis and scene work when developing Athena but I’m over the moon that I could play a character that so many Supernatural fans relate to. I know I always appreciate seeing female characters that have more to offer than their looks. I think Supernatural does a great job of giving their female characters more dimension and character.
Lynn: I agree, the Show has gotten so much better at that. Were you aware of the Supernatural fandom and how much of a force it has been over the past thirteen years?
Sarah: As a Supernatural fan, I knew of the fandom. I’m not overly active on social media so I never knew its force. But after tweeting about my role, I definitely felt it. What an amazing, loving, inclusive fandom! Everyone is so positive and supportive. Apart from a great cast and crew, no wonder the show has gone on so long! All the love from the supernatural fandom keeps it going. I feel so blessed to have received some of that love <3
Lynn: When did you start watching the show and would you consider yourself a fan?
Sarah: I’ve been watching the show since season 1! I would watch and re-watch episodes like crazy. Sometimes I still do – some of the more comedic episodes especially. When I was about 13, on a soccer trip to Vancouver (I’m originally from Calgary), I was praying that I might see the boys driving the impala, or get to meet them.
Lynn: How was it working on the show you’ve viewed as a fan? I know that the first time I went on the Supernatural set as a journalist/writer, I was very aware that I was a fan, and it made me much more nervous than I would ordinarily be!
Sarah: In the past, working with big name actors I’ve always kept my cool but not this time. I was incredibly nervous! The first day I barely spoke two words to Jared and Jensen. I had no idea what to say, and was nervous that I would say something stupid – which I did, but the guys were great about it. Richard Speight (the trickster) was even on set one day and I just sat in my chair keeping my eyes averted – I’m such a big fan of his! Still kicking myself for not chatting with him.
Lynn: Oh no, he’s so awesome too! Hopefully he’ll read this and know you were fangirling him from afar. Or from close up. So can you share some behind the scenes insights from filming the scene with Jared and Alex? Your delivery of the ‘did his parents sign a permission slip’ line was priceless.
Sarah: The guys were great! Alex kept mostly to himself but was ready to work whenever we were rolling. Jared was, of course, improvising funny lines and keeping everyone laughing. I hope some of it makes the blooper reel! Everyone was very inclusive and we all joked around with one another on set. At the end of the first day Jared gave me a big hug. The whole experience was amazing. I can’t get over what a positive experience it was.
Lynn: Can you share some behind the scenes insights from filming the scene with Jensen and (guest star) Eric where they finally kill ‘Dave’? Were you there to watch Jensen come tumbling out of that hole in the wall, or was that filmed on a separate day?
Sarah: That was a cool day on set. I love filming scenes with multiple characters. Everyone coming together adds a whole other aspect and feel. With the scene creepily lit, the gunshot, the blood and everyone’s different energies the scene definitely felt more intense.
Lynn: I’m guessing the blood splatter wasn’t all that much fun, but it came off perfectly. How was that done?
Sarah: I’m always happy to do the nitty-gritty part of the job. In Wynonna Earp I got to do my own roll and drag stunt so the blood splatter was a walk in the park! Very simple, I sat in my chair and the special effects team used a spray gun. The first take, the splatter wasn’t enough so I had to quickly wash off and change into another set of clothes for a second take. Luckily we go it the second time round!
Lynn: I got to know Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as I interviewed them for my first few books, almost a decade ago, and when they wrote chapters in my most recent book, which let me get to know them in a different way. I’ve been consistently impressed with how much they care about this show and these characters, even 13 seasons in. I’ve also seen them goof off on set until the last possible second. What was your experience like working with them?
Sarah: Oh exactly that! Lots of laughs. I believe a big portion of one day was finding crazy gifs of Jared and Jensen.
Lynn: That could definitely fill a day. Or two. Or a hundred. Your IMDB says you’re also a composer – is your first love acting or music?
Sarah: Acting for sure! Although in my upcoming short film I get to act, sing and I composed the main theme song.
Lynn: What’s coming up for you that you’re excited about?
Sarah: This December (2017) the short film Under Pressure will be released. I get to play the lead character, Sophie, a struggling musician. I’m super excited about this project as I feel many artists will relate to Sophie. Secondly, I have been writing music for a while but have never shared it – Under Pressure will be the debut of my first song! It will be available for download on Renegade Productions’ website and iTunes.
Lynn: That’s awesome, congrats! I’ll be on the lookout for Under Pressure – and hope to see you back on Supernatural one of these days too.
I’ve said it many times, but one of these days I’m going to send a gigantic fruit basket to the people who do the casting for my favorite show because they find the best people – main cast and guest actors. Keep it up, folks!
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