Two networks. A writers' strike. COVID-19. Now, 'Supernatural' faces one last twist

Jared Padalecki as Sam, left, and Jensen Ackles as Dean on an upcoming episode of "Supernatural". (Colin Bentley / The CW)
"Supernatural" has seen masked and fictional characters on the set for 15 years, but in the final weeks of production a different type of mask has been on the minds of the cast and crew.
"It was strange not seeing the faces you've been looking at for 15 years because they're covered in a mask," says Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean Winchester - a nomadic hunter of demons and other supernatural beings - on the show .
"It was unique, but I feel like 'Supernatural' has been through a lot. Writer strikes and network changes and characters die and characters return and families and births and deaths," says Jared Padalecki, who plays Dean's younger brother and companion hunter, Sam . "'Supernatural' is used to change, so let's embrace it."
One last change is imminent: "Supernaturals" last run with seven episodes starts on Thursday in the CW. When the show started, the CW was still the WB Network, and after the series airs its finale, the completed 327 episodes of "Supernatural" become the longest-running science fiction / genre show in American prime-time history - make television. (The UK still has a specific doctor to deal with.)
We met Padalecki and Ackles via video conference as the duo prepared to bid farewell to their career-defining roles. The interview has been edited and condensed for the sake of clarity.

How are you two doing during the pandemic?
Padalecki: It was a pretty big change. If you walk from the show where you have about a hundred people every day and you see thousands of people with conventions and things on the weekends - I just ran a marathon - and then it's like, "Hey. It's you and yours Wife and your children and you're in your house. And you can't go. And you don't film. And you don't wake up and have your hair cut and all. "
Ackles: It was weird that the show got interrupted. I came home. I spent most of the non-stop time I had with my wife and children. And then they call us back to work and I have to go into quarantine for two weeks and then film for four weeks - so six weeks go by, that's the longest time I've ever been outside of them. Live our quarantine zoom life.
Jared Padalecki as Sam in the "Last Holiday" episode of "Supernatural". (Colin Bentley / The CW)
How did you feel about filming last season, given the times we are in?
Padalecki: Much unknown. I felt like we've been making a TV show in "normal times" for 15 years and now it's like, "Hey, we have some rules". There are lanyards of different colors and only certain people can be near certain people so we can get in touch if God forbid someone is contracting COVID [-19]. There's a taped entrance and a taped exit so we can keep it one way. All food is individually wrapped and there is no rummaging through craft services.
Between action and cut it was business as usual. You are with your director and your cameramen and women and your cameraman and with your fellow actors. And you say, "I understand. It's comfortable. It's like a warm blanket."
Ackles: The good news for our industry is that you can keep working and use these protocols to stay inside and stay healthy. I know Jared and I are guided by the reactions of our crew members, who are essentially our audience. Our audience is two dozen people who are on stage with us. The guy holding the microphone, the guy behind the camera who pulls the focus. We know we can do something if we can make them laugh or cry or get any kind of emotion out of them. And that was taken away. So that was interesting. We just have to rely on our instincts and each other to tell each other, "You hit it, you nailed it, you got it."
I miss shaking hands. I know that sounds weird. I just miss hugging someone. I know this sounds trivial, but that contact is an important part of our daily work in terms of the tone we set on our set.

The show's research on mythologies is impressive. Was there anything that you have learned over the years that you will take away with you?
Padalecki: Cold spots, flickering lightbulbs and, in this case, salt circles. I think Jensen and I agree that if a ghost or an unwanted visitor decides to visit, we can just wake up and say, "Bitch, I'm Sam Winchester."
Ackles: You picked the wrong house!
Padalecki: It's like breaking into a Navy SEAL's house or something. We are the Navy SEALs of the ghost hunting.
Ackles: I would hate to see what would happen if he and I were working on a medical procedure. We'd say, "You have a heart problem? Don't worry. Lie down. I have this!"

Was any of you particularly religious on the show and how did that affect the show?
Padalecki: I was not a religious person as far as organized religion is concerned. I am a very spiritual person. I believe much of what religion teaches - you know, be kind to others, honor your elders, work hard, be grateful, sacrifice, stay disciplined and committed. I am telling this story. I remember once meeting an actor who gave me lessons when I was in high school. He said, "Hey, if you eat an apple in one scene, you're not saying Jared loves apples. You're telling the story to that person." It never really seemed like a religious show on "Supernatural," although we're one of the few shows in history that regularly features God and Lucifer and angels and demons. We weren't trying to preach and say, "Hey, go to church" or "Hey, don't go to church". It was just, here's a fictional story about these two guys trying to make the world a better place.
Ackles: My grandmother, who is no longer with us, was the religious head of our family for the longest time and thought she had a white courtesy phone next to her that went straight to the man upstairs. When she saw the show, she would call me and give me her opinion, and I often had to remind her that this was a fictional story. We're not trying to tell the story from the Good Book, we're telling a story loosely based on a variety of subjects. Loosely in witchcraft and loosely in folklore and loosely in the Bible. Let's take it all and put it in a large stew.
Jensen Ackles as Dean and Jared Padalecki as Sam in the "Gimmie Shelter" episode of "Supernatural". (Colin Bentley / The CW)
Why do Sam and Dean keep so many secrets from each other? Have you learned outstanding secrets about each other as human beings over the years?
Padalecki: In general, when people keep secrets, I think they think they're doing the other person a favor. I find it almost altruistic to keep secrets here and there. I think Sam and Dean kept secrets for the most part to protect one another and not to hurt one another.
Ackles: If Dean is struggling with something, he doesn't want to tell Sam because he doesn't want Sam to struggle with it too. He'd rather struggle with it alone and not burden his brother with what he is burdened with, and I think a lot of it has been played out throughout the show. I think that also happens in society. I mean, I don't want to burden other people with my s. As far as he and I know each other personally, I know a lot about him that people don't know. But there's a reason we're good friends and because I can keep these secrets.
Padalecki: It's altruism. I don't have to tell people that Jensen cried on Finding Nemo. I just don't have to tell them that.

Was there a show that you enjoyed growing up on and that shared what you're doing now or that you returned to during the Supernatural's run for inspiration?
Padalecki: My dad and I liked Twilight Zone. And the original "Star Trek". William Shatner [as] Captain Kirk, Leonard Nimoy [as] Spock. And I've seen a lot of animated shows that grew up like "The Simpsons" and they were kids' shows because they were animated but also had a lot of adult humor. Like "Animaniacs". I think "Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek" are the most important ones to inform about what I have done over the past 15 and a half years to treat the fantastic as reality, which both shows have done.
Ackles: I didn't watch much TV when I grew up. I would say that a lot of what you saw on Supernatural was more inspired by characters I saw, like Indiana Jones. In my opinion, you can take him to any world you want as long as you keep Dean Dean. I can stay true to this character no matter what canvas you paint him on. I love characters like that. You can see Dean sitting at the end of the bar with Norm in "Cheers". You can also see Dean in "Star Trek".

You beat Harry Potter as the top fandom in pop culture in 2016. How has your understanding of fandom changed when you appeared on a popular show like Supernatural?
Padalecki: No way! I had absolutely no idea. Being mentioned in the same sentence is really testament to how talented our writers and crew are, and how wonderfully and passionately our fandom is supporting. Behind the scenes, we refer to "our fandom" as "The #SPNFamily" because they have become a family of their own. They have spent countless hours spreading the word about the show and showering us with the love and support we definitely needed and felt during difficult times. On the other hand, I've found how much good people can achieve together. Many of them have made best friends, visited different cities, and raised incredible amounts of money and goodwill for various charities. It was an honor to be a part of it.
Ackles: We beat Harry Potter? That's crazy! I think the Harry Potter fans were probably just looking for a more mature show and that was us. I will say that the fandom that found this show or that found this show has really become an integral part of the success of this show. They're part of the stuff of what kept this show alive and going as hard and fast as it has for 15 years. They are also well connected which is really rare for a show that started 15 years ago. It's probably more common now for fans to go online and have chat rooms. "Supernatural" started before the iPhone was around. We still shot on 35mm film.
Jared Padalecki as Sam and Jensen Ackles as Dean in the "Last Holiday" episode of "Supernatural". (Colin Bentley / The CW)
It seemed that the show could have ended in many earlier seasons. Was your walk into the sunset what you imagined?
Padalecki: Let's just say our last scene - we don't know if they're alive or dead, but the last scene I shot as Sam Winchester, both as Sam and Jared, couldn't be happier.
The first few seasons, and that's the nature of television, write where it might end or stay because for a few months you don't really know whether or not you will be going back to work. I would say that when Mark Pedowitz came on the network and said he believed in the show, then I said, "OK. Let's do the show that we can only do with the support of the head of our network. "
Ackles: I think this was the version that had to happen - that had to exist. There could have been other ways to get there, but I think the finality is right. I also think this could have happened a long time ago. To be fair, Eric Kripke, who started the show and created the world, said he was five years old and he stuck to it. That could very easily have been the whole run of the show. The fact that he left that door open and we could go through it and find another 10 years of history was just testament to what a great world he built and what great characters he created.

What was it that bothered you for 15 years?
Ackles: There's an old saying in Hollywood: "You want an actor to complain and give him a job." Well, that wouldn't happen to me. The last thing I wanted to do was sabotage a good gig just to go back and find someone else. I was amazed by the story and this character from the start. It's the kind of character I've always enjoyed seeing in films. The character was modeled after Han Solo and another of Harrison's [Ford] characters, Indiana Jones. He had something of that flavor in there. Kind of John McClane. ...
Why have I stayed all these years when it counts? Because I really loved it.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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