Richard Speight Jr. had a tough task at hand in a recent season five episode of Supernatural. He had to turn his character of the Trickster from a candy-eating thorn in the Winchester boys' side to an arch angel who really should be out to help them in a way. The role is complicated for Speight not only because he doesn't really like candy all that much-- "The only chocolate I really like is mousse, but I guess he's just not as sophisticated a character as I am!"-- but also because it rides the line between dramatic and comedy, and he is often forced to turn on a dime within a scene. But all of those challenges just make the job even more fun for Speight, and really, this is what he has been training for his whole life anyway.
"My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture" chatted with Speight during his appearance at the Creation Entertainment opening day on Friday, March 26 2010. What he had to say is a must-read for any fan of the show but also any young (and aspiring) actors out there! The man knows his stuff!
Well, I just want to point out that I'm a fellow Trojan--
- Oh nice, fight on!
[Laughing] Yeah, well, I was wondering what brought you out to USC in the first place. Did you major in film?
- Theater actually because there is no film acting major, and in truth the study of acting is the study of acting. It used to be that in the old days every movie star started in theater in New York and London and then were brought to California. Now so many start only on TV and film. [I think] that's probably not the best thing; it's probably better to get the full show. You know, in TV and film you're only doing snippets, and then they edit it together, but when you have a theater background, you learn the entire arc. You're forgetting lines; the audience isn't responding right; you learn on your feet. You learn to do it on the fly and hopefully well, but you become self-sufficient in the process, and you're not just a peg in someone else's game. It's a good foundation.
Do you get to do many plays now in any downtime from your television projects?
- [Shaking his head] I used to do a ton of theater, but Los Angeles is not a town that supports it. You can't make a living just doing theater here. There's really only one or two venues for it.
Having such a strong and somewhat classical training, were you leaning more towards doing dramatic roles as a young actor?
- I can't say I wanted something in particular when I first started. I kind of assumed I'd be doing more comedy because in large part that was my background. I wasn't a stand-up comic, but I did a lot of improv work and a lot of comic acting, to be straight-forward about it. A lot of the plays I did-- almost all-- were comedic roles. It was impossible for me to get cast in dramas for a lot of years because I was viewed as a funny guy. Then when I did Band of Brothers, the pendulum kind of swang in the other direction. Even though I didn't necessarily play a super intense, heavy character, but program-wise, it was viewed as super intense and heavy. The jobs that followed that were dramas, and this is the first job that really straddles the line, and I love it! I feel like I'm really getting to do my homework and studying the arc and picking the moments on when I'm going to turn and how much in those moments. It's so different than your average TV guest spot.
Definitely. One of the things I love about the show is that so many really serious moments get punctuated by comedic line delivery or even a simple look between actors.
- One of the things that makes the role so awesome [is that I get both worlds].
So I know when you first took the role, you were just the Trickster. You were a needle in the boys' side, and you seemed like just another demonic villain. Then, all of a sudden, this year we get the surprise that he's-- that you're-- really Gabriel. How did that revelation, a couple of episodes in for you, change your portrayal of the character?
- What I noticed about in the script "Changing Channels" was that they had the Trickster trying not to reveal information. So many of the times they have the characters doling out information in slow, clever ways, but he was [the opposite]. And that made it a very interesting process and creative energy of reversing to keep everything inside and accidentally let them pop out. That's where it was fun to map out. Like in the scene on the sitcom set when Dean gets a little close to the family-- a nerve-- he tweaks a little bit, and something comes out. He backs up and tries to regain control, but something comes out a little bit more. He views himself as a puppeteer in the ways he manipulates people in terms of how he thinks they should feel or act but the boys aren't making it easy, and in the process, he's losing the control that he relishes so much.
So how do you set yourself up for those turns?
- A lot of times I'll plan, but a lot of times it happens on the fly, too, when I get in there and see how Jensen comes at me. I thought I had an idea of how this would be, but if he's going to play it that way, then I'm going to play it this way. And that's what's fun about acting [in general].
And I have to ask: what can you tell me about the fate of Gabriel?
- I will make an appearance at the end of season five.
An open-ended one?
- I don't know if I'll be back in season six, but I hope so, and I'm thrilled to know there will be a season six because I know for awhile that was up in the air.
Definitely. It will be interesting to see how the show deals with a post-apocalyptic world. But let's not get ahead of ourselves with speculation-- what are you most looking forward to in the immediate future of this weekend?
- The Q&A is one of my favorite things; I really enjoy it! I've never been the first guy up, like Friday, opening act, and I was wondering how that would be, but it was a lot of fun. The crowd was here and eager, and you never know-- if they're still driving up or whatever.
I think when they saw you were going to be here early, though, they rushed to make sure they didn't miss your appearance!
- Well, even if you're making that up, it's a lovely thing to say! I'm glad they did. Why I like doing these conventions is the give and take with the fans. As an actor you sort of live in a bubble, and I've done a lot of work in twenty years that didn't really have a life outside of the show. I like the interaction. What I really like is getting on stage and answering questions because there are always these funny moments that come about...As an actor it's always great to have people give a crap about seeing you!
And that's why you will be attending the special fan-thrown karaoke party tonight, as well, right?
- [Nodding] Usually you're out of town-- you know, New York or Chicago-- and you're there for the weekend. I'm only here [today]; tomorrow is actually the tenth anniversary barbecue for Band of Brothers, so I'll be there. People are here because they want to see the actors, and I think it's fun for them to see us in a non-structured environment. If they want to ask a question-- they didn't get to the microphone or were too nervous-- or want to sneak a picture, it's an extra added [something]; more bang for their buck, so to speak. But for the fact that fans watch the show, I don't have a job! So I say, if you're going to come out here and do it, do it all!