Saturday morning. The dreaded “morning after” Karaoke. Everyone is more than a little blurry eyed and definitely a bit sluggish. I turned in at 2 a.m., and that was only because I left before Karaoke was over! Rob Benedict and the Elastic Waste Band opened Saturday’s festivities because Richard Speight, Jr., our fearless leader, was nowhere to be found! Rob had a gift-wrapped opportunity to rip on Richard for over sleeping (if that is indeed what happened), but Rob mostly refrained, being his usual kind self. Those first notes from the band were a bit jarring, though. A giant speaker was set up immediately in front of me. Hello!
The first guest of the day was the striking, distinguished Tahmoh Penikett! Perfect placement in my opinion. His deep, Yukon voice was a beautiful way to start the day!
This was Tahmoh’s first appearance at the Supernatural Vancouver convention and he was outstanding! It was fascinating to hear about his background and all his acting roles.
Tahmoh talked extensively about his First Nations heritage (the Canadian equivalent to Native Americans, i.e. the indigenous people of Canada). He said most people don’t pronounce his name correctly, even his closest friends. It actually should be “tat-moe”. He grew up in the Yukon, in a town of less than 100 people. He explained that they were completely cut off from the outside world, “in one of the most isolated parts of Canada. Until the American government built the Alaskan highway, connecting Alaska through Canada to the States, there was really no trade…it is one of the harshest environments in Canada. There were natives in their 30s and 40s who had never seen a white man or technology… When the Cats [Caterpillar tractors] came through building the highway, there were some natives that just ran for the hills!” He also shared stories about his childhood. He is very proud of his background and I was mesmerized listening to him. He has family on both the Canadian and Alaskan sides of the border, but more on the Alaskan side. When the two countries established the border, the natives, who saw the land as one large expanse, were suddenly split between two “countries”. Tahmoh misses his childhood home. He reflected that he really wants and needs to go back home more often to visit family and reconnect with his roots. Since he has been (thankfully) so busy lately with acting jobs, he hasn’t had a chance to return as much as he used to.
Fans asked about many of his other shows, as well as Supernatural. Tahmoh shared that after telling the producer that he could do anything he wanted with Dollhouse, the network rejected the original pilot, so they had to completely rewrite and reshoot the whole thing. They spread the pilot footage across the first four episodes, which was very confusing for the actors, and probably the audience. He believes that change got the show off to a very bad start and was probably instrumental in its premature demise.
He also talked about his role and final scene in Castle (extremely high praise for Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic), and the finale for Battlestar Gallatica. He knows some people didn’t like the BSG ending, but he thought it was epic.
Referring back to his debut as Ezekiel in Supernatural, he put a lot of time into determining how he wanted to play the angel but literally five minutes before his first shot, the director asked him if he wanted to see how Jared had portrayed Zeke. Tahmoh didn’t even know that Jared was going to play the same character! Shocked and a bit unnerved, Tahmoh watched the clip and tried to memorize Jared’s body positioning and voice cadence. That was all he could do in the 2.5 min he now had left until his shot! He then got out of his chair and demonstrated his impression of Jared as Ezekiel! He broadened his shoulders and stood stiff and tall! Hilarious! He later commented that movement is everything for an actor; integral to the character being portrayed. He said in genre shows you have to make strong acting choices and stick to them, but he had to change up his character choices very quickly! Tahmoh was originally only signed for three episodes, so that was all he expected out of the role. He added, though, that if you are asked to play a “B or C” storyline, there won’t be many layers to the character, but if as an actor, you imagine the layers and play the part accordingly, the writers will see that potential and eventually write more layers into the script. That worked for him when the writers picked up on his depth and wrote him into 5 or 6 shows that ended up being a great arc!
When asked if he felt he’d been typecast into genre show roles, he answered that when he finished Dollhouse, he didn’t want to do another genre show right away. Now, he’s grateful for genre shows. The work is imaginative, with good stories and character. The fans of genre shows are the best and the industry is just starting to figure that out. The big blockbusters are all genre hits and he’s happy to be a part of that movement.
As I said, Richard Speight, Jr. was supposed to be our emcee for the day, but he hadn’t yet graced up with his presence…until…
Bath robe, sun glasses, pen in his mouth to simulate smoking…
Photos courtesy of Karen Cooke Photography
What a gag! Were we supposed to believe he had a hangover and couldn’t make his call time? Sure, whatever you say, Richard! Still, Karaoke did run really late….
This was one of those hilarious moments that adds to these conventions. Richard plans out the introductions to make them interesting and fun!
Gil McKinney and Osric Chau
One of the things that was different about VanCon as compared to the two prior Chicago conventions I had attended was that the guests were often paired together for a panel. Chicago, or maybe all prior conventions, tended to have one person on stage at a time. I’ve noticed that the past few conventions, though, have combined two, three or four stars into one time slot. It really works well, I think. The stars play off of each other so well. They are all completely comfortable (if not overly familiar!) with one another, even though most of them did not work together on the show. In fact, many of them weren’t even in the same seasons, but they all have something in common – their characters all died!
The next panel on Saturday was one such pairing – Gil McKinney and Osric Chau. Try as we might, no one could think of a relationship between Henry and Kevin that would suggest why these two guys were put together, but hey, one shouldn’t overthink these things! It worked, so you just go with it! My theory? They are two of the most lovable, charming (the word “sweet” comes to mind referring to Gil’s twinkle and Osric’s trusting openness) guys of the group, so they were perfect together!
I’ll rapid fire some of the questions and their answers, because so many of them were both insightful and funny!
Osric: Honey badger
Gil: Owl. Wise, looking down and judging everyone.
Who would they like to be for a day?
Gil: would like to live Jensen’s life for one day.
Osric: wants to be Mark Sheppard so he could be mean to people without his conscious nagging him!
Neither one has any regrets. Gil is still so honored to be asked to be on any show.
Have they ever quoted their characters in real life, to help them understand or get out of a situation?
Osric could see himself yelling “What’s happening?” but he hasn’t yet quoted himself.
Gil has never quoted himself to get out of a situation.
They quote other TV shows and movies, but not their own characters.
If they could get away with it, who would they slap?
Osric would slap Misha because he is responsible for so many things that are uncomfortable in Osric’s life (laughing, referring to GISHWHES tasks that always seem to involve Osric)!
Gil would slap Mark Sheppard. He doesn’t know why because he has never really worked with him but he liked to try!
Genre shows they watch?
Gil geeks out about Game of Thrones.
Osric: (He listed so many I couldn’t catch even half of them! Some of them were games I’d never heard of!) Avatar Last Airbender, Futurama, Game of Thrones, Pokemon, Dragonball, Adventuretime. He has read Harry Potter twice, which is extremely rare for him!
What does it mean to be a man, to both their characters and to them?
Henry/Gil: to be humble and to help others.
Kevin: the end justifies the means because there is something greater than yourself. He explained that Kevin could never forget why he was doing what he was doing.
Osric: Being a man is no different than what it means to be a person. Look at both sides. There will always be something higher and something lower. You can be both humble and be gracious always. Look for the silver lining.
Osric said he knew that his participation on a team meant that he would end up changing the lives of 14 people forever but it ending up changing the lives of 15 people (referring to himself). He knew that was corny (he blushed) but it was absolutely true. (This is what I mean about this guy. So open and unassuming!)
We were then treated to an unplanned, acapella serenade from Gil singing a verse of John Legend’s “All of Me”. Gil has a melodic, smooth voice. (I might have recorded him singing but, you know, convention rules and all…)
Does it seem like I absolutely love these two guys?
Matt Cohen, Rob Benedict and Richard Speight, Jr.
I’m not really sure why these guys bother having their own panel because they are more or less omnipresent at the convention. We see them all the time, to open and close the day, giving introductions and jamming background music, leading Karaoke and belting out a concert at the Saturday Caberet. Giving them their own dedicated hour, though, gives them the stage to do their thing, rather than supporting other guests or worrying about timetables and logistics… and their thing is fun! Don’t get me wrong. They work hard to entertain, but I’m not sure who’s having more fun, the audience or them. They crack each other up!
Strangely, this was Matt’s first appearance at the convention. He missed all day Friday because, according to Richard, Matt had the “extremely rare opportunity to actually get paid for acting!” Matt was filming a Criminal Minds episode on Friday, then he took the red-eye flight from Los Angeles (or maybe New York?) to Vancouver! I think Richard might have missed Matt more than the audience, though. We were so busy with the other guests than we didn’t have time to worry about who we were not seeing, but it did mean that Richard didn’t have his partner-in-crime, his comedic counter-part…the other half of the dynamic duo! Sometime during the panel, Matt mentioned that he had been up 20 hours straight already, so he was a bit punchy…
Someone asked Matt to do his impression of Jensen, so Matt hid behind the chair ( as actors often do before an improvisational scene) and “rose” to the occasion as Jensen! There was a lot of walking around bow-legged and making funny faces! Rob took on Jared’s personna by flipping his air and tossing around his shoulders! Richard joined in by not just flipping hair, but saying “F-you, American Airlines!” with rude gestures by a motion-limited right arm (according to Bardicvoice’s live tweets)! They were all hilarious!
Then Matt jumped off the stage and started roaming the auditorium. Soon afterward, Richard left the stage to hand microphones to fans asking questions. My head had to be on a swivel to keep track of these guys!
What one word do they think is the most important thing to remember about their respective characters?
Look closely. I have several really good pictures of Matt…with his eyes closed! The poor guy was dead on his feet!
Richard shared that he did NO background research on Loki/Trickster because he showed up on set thinking he was playing a janitor! He was very relaxed because he was confident he could successfully portray a janitor, by sweeping, cleaning, etc. He didn’t learn that his character had a “secret identify” until he was together with the production staff (There seems to be a running theme here that the actors don’t understand or aren’t told about the complexity of their characters until last minute!)! Panicked, he thought he would pick up the attributes of his character by asking Bob Singer and Eric Kripke to describe the role. He said they were NO help, because the only word they could think of to describe the new character was “supernatural”. They said it over and over again, in different sentences, but it was literally the only adjective or adverb they used. Richard said he was ready to scream “Grab a thesaurus. I need more than supernatural!” The first shot he was in was the “bed” scene when Dean was getting thrown around by the scantily-clad women. He said “I had NO IDEA what my character was supposed to be doing”!
Matt ended up narrating an improvisational scene between Chuck/God and Loki/Trickster. I felt like I was watching an acting class where the students have to make up scenes from prompts! Matt would start a story, with something like “and then he said…” and wait for the guys to fill in the blank, then Matt would continue, “Well, that was such a surprise that he…”. None of the three of them had any idea where the story was headed, but they just kept building on each other’s leads! I still don’t know what they said!
How does one describe Mark Sheppard?
Unpretentious? Certainly. He wears comfortable (dare I say well-worn?) t-shirts and jeans to his panels and he is just as likely to challenge silly questions or debate with a fan about their opinion as he is to actually answer the question.
He is funny, with a dry wit that sneeks up on you. He is intellectual, turning most questions into a teaching moment.
Mark listening to a question
He is indomitable, mesmerizing and smart. A great deal of his characters’ wit is based on his own intellect. For example, a fan asked him if the line “No one in the history of torture will be tortured with the torture that you will be tortured with” was hard to say. While pondering the question, he noticed it was quoted on the shirts of a few fans in the front of the auditorium, so rather than answer the question, he told the girl asking the question to read the shirt (while he disappeared back stage to munch on some veggies!). She read it aloud, in a rather monotone voice. He then said (into the mic from backstage), “OK, now read it better”, so she did it again. He then explained (lectured? taught?), “See, you were able to say that line with only two tries, so why would you think it was hard for me to say? The trick is to say it in a way that your audience believes the character thought of it on their own, in the spur of the moment. The inflections are important. You can’t look like you are thinking about what you are saying.” He then proceeded to demonstrate by saying the line over and over again. He said writers give him lines like that all the time, because they know he can deliver them convincinly. They actually write the lines with him in mind. Later he revisited this line, and said that the only part of it that bothered him and trippped him up was the fact that it ended with a preposition! He said “….tortured with….what? Tortured with torture? My mind wants to finish the phrase. It drives me crazy that my character left that dangling!”
Another fan asked him is he gets irritated when fans find filming locations. After several minutes of walking around and truly avoiding the question entirely, he quite suddenly got serious and said, “Why on earth would I be irritated by fans? Fans pay our salaries. I come to cons specifically for this right here – interacting with fans. I love this. When people ask me will I hold some sign so they can take a picture, I say, NO, that’s not funny… or will you wear some hat – No, I won’t. I’m not here for you to dress up. But I love talking to fans.”
(At this point, Mark was standing about 2 feet in front of me.)
That Mark applies his intelligence to his acting craft was clear when he talked about his monologue at the end of the finale. He said that he and the director worked a long time on how it should be interpreted and delivered. Mark said they broke it into three distinct parts. The eulogy, followed by a section that was more vague to build suspense so that the audience wouldn’t know how it was all going to end, then the punch that Crowley had a plan for Dean. They specifically wanted the speech to be received a certain way.
His astuteness is a part of all of his interactions. During his autograph session, I presented him with a page from my report of his appearance at the Chicago Supernatural convention last year. It had his picture and the paragraph I had written about his panel. I have done this with other signers. They look at it politely, thank me for supporting the show, sign their name and I move on. Not Mark. When handed the page, I quickly explained what it was (each person has approximately 30 seconds with the actor). Rather than looking up, he seemed to be examining the page. I jumped in and nervously added, “It was all very complimentary” to which he replied, “I know. I can read. I just read through it. I’m a very fast reader”. Then he signed it. I walked away and quickly reread what I had written, just to make sure I had said only fabulously positive things and that I didn’t have any spelling or grammatical errors! Some portion of his stately presence is a purposeful public personna. For example, he joked that Rob Benedict’s voice climbs higher which each passing moment that he talks to Mark, Rob intimating that he is afraid of “The King”. Still, Mark has a commanding presence. Jared has talked about being hypnotized listening to Mark. Osric openly admits how much he idolizes Mark (the feeling is mutual, by the way. Mark answered a question about Osric saying something like, “who wouldn’t love the kid?”)
Mark rarely stays on stage. He begins walking through the auditorium, from front to back, through the aisles and up and down the sides. He is in constant motion. He stands only a foot or two away from fans asking him questions. This has the effect of simultaneously connecting with, thrilling and intimidating the people brave enough to ask questions! He talks from the back of the room and from behind the curtain (his diet and exercise routine made him hungry so he munched on broccoli, celery and other cut up vegetables while he was talking!). A girl in the first row pointed out that his shoe lace was untied, so he hiked his foot up onto her chair and waited for her to tie it for him.
Another example of his humor mixed with seriousness was in answer to the question “Do you think Crowley has honor, or only when he deems it convenient?” Mark’s reply? “Aren’t we judgmental? Bloody hell!” Then he paused, and turned the question around. “What do you think?” After discussing the issue for like 10 minutes (IF Crowley lied, WHEN Crowley lied, WHY Crowley lied), he finally said, “A LITTLE honor? This is bloody Hell, not Wall Street! Of course he’s bloody honorable, or he’d have killed the Winchesters!” It was a masterful way to expand the time spent on the question, insert loads of humor on the subject, build suspense, engage fans in speculation and lead everyone to their own conclusions before answering with insights from the man who portrays the character!
I encourage you to read Bardicvoice’s live tweets from Mark’s panel. She captured so many of his sarcastic, witty, funny stories and banter with fans. The “Bloody Hell” quotes above were from her report. It will really help you understand and appreciate how, for almost an hour, we laughed with Mark. We were mesmerized by Mark. Mostly, though, we learned from Mark.
Part 2 of Saturday’s report will include the Production Panel of Russ Hamilton, Kevin Parks, Adam Glass and Jim Michaels, plus a picture-filled account of Misha’s antics! Coming soon!