(Osric’s jacket during his panel. I didn’t have a copy of this picture at the time I wrote Osric’s story, but Alesia shared it with me so I absolutely had to pass it along to you!)
I also professed that Richard Speight Jr. gave the convention its spirit, and Jared and Jensen were its soul. In truth, though, Jared and Jensen are the soul of the entire Supernatural world. Professionally, their talent brings the show to life every week. They have created a supportive, confident and constructive (goofy, irreverent, fun) atmosphere for their cast, guest stars, writers, producers and filming crew. Personally, their individual and combined charisma, their friendship and their obvious respect for everyone involved with the show, including fans, is inspiring. Seeing them, talking to them, being near them at conventions is, at its core, a moving and emotional experience.
Photos courtesy of Alesia
J2 Day at conventions is filled with unparalleled excitement. Other guests have panels at the conventions on Sunday, but if I’m honest, nothing can compete with or distract from fans’ anticipation of the photo ops, Meet and Greets, autographs and panels with the boys. Last year I wrote about my first experience seeing Jared and Jensen in person. It was an overwhelming, joyful, nerve-wracking day. This year I felt relatively calm and better prepared because I had lived through it once already. I was still nervous and excited, though, because this year I decided to do something different. This year, I was going to a Meet and Greet session with Jared.
Meet and Greet
Jared’s Meet and Greet session was the first thing on my Sunday schedule (I do not buy Gold tickets so I cannot attend the breakfast panel with the boys). What a way to start the day! You know those nights when you can’t sleep because you are worried you will miss your plane or that important meeting or your class final in the morning? Well, Saturday night I kept dreaming of oversleeping and missing the M&G so I woke up like every hour to check the time! UGH! Then I got up extra early because I was worried about hitting traffic and being late (8 a.m. on a Sunday. Traffic? Really? Get a grip!)
Let me start by saying that purchasing a ticket to a meet and greet private group was not a small decision for me. I debated about the decadence of spending that much extra money on the convention. I rationalized the cost by compromising and commuting back and forth to the convention rather than paying for 3-4 nights at the hotel. I wrote to friends that had previously attended M&Gs to try to determine if they thought it was worth the extra money. I felt guilty the entire time between winning the ticket at auction and attending the convention. Then there is the auction itself. Talk about nerve-wracking! I had to learn how to navigate the bidding process and determine how much to bid. In the closing minutes of the auction I just stared at my computer screen hitting, refresh, refresh, refresh every 10 seconds. Was this all worth it??
Yes, it was. It was more than I had hoped. It was wonderful. It was something I plan to try to do again next year, because I loved it. There is no going back now. Convention rules prohibit me from reporting on the questions and answers of the meet and greet sessions. I can, however, describe what it was like to be in a small group of 20 people, talking personally with Jared for 30 minutes.
The small room is set up rather formally. Two rows of 10 chairs. You pull a number out of a bag to determine where you sit. I was in the second row. Ok, I was disappointed, but that meant I was 6 feet away from Jared instead of 3 feet! (Inner dialogue: “Disappointed? Do you hear yourself? You are elated to be in the same room with him! Adjust attitude. Ok. I’m good. Smiling uncontrollably again.”). Upon entering the room, we had to put everything we were holding (and I mean everything!) into a closet. We weren’t allowed to have pens, paper, notes, purses, phones, cameras – nothing. If you weren’t wearing it, it was locked away. Once I took my seat, I started looking around at the other people in the room. I have to admit that I was surprised by my fellow M&G fans. There were three generations of fans present; young ladies, middle aged women and men, and several seniors. I guess I expected to be one of the oldest people in the room (not a totally unreasonable expectation given the average age at the convention). Some of the people were M&G veterans while others were first-timers like me. We had a bit of a wait before Jared arrived so we had time to notice the loud, rather questionable music blaring through the wall. We were actually worried it would be hard to hear Jared! Jensen was posing for his solo photo ops right next door (a movable partition separated the rooms) and the photographer was playing “background” music. The M&G organizer asked for the music to be turned down but it didn’t change a lot. After about another 10 agonizing minutes of waiting, very large bodyguards entered our room. My heart skipped a beat. Jared had to be close. Maybe 5 minutes later, Jared walked in. OMG. Here I go again!
For weeks I had practiced the question I wanted to ask Jared. I practiced it several times just that morning on the drive to the hotel. I really wanted to ask him a complex question without stumbling over the words or forgetting what I wanted to say. I had asked the very nice, experienced M&G fan next to me how the Q&A would work. She said to not be shy about raising my hand early and often, as Jared likes to talk a lot and doesn’t always get to everyone’s questions (this is in contrast to Jensen, who I learned methodically goes around the room giving each person a turn to talk). Jared greeted us with a few questions like how were we liking Season 9 and generally making small talk. How on earth was I going to raise my hand without being rude and cutting him off?? When he paused for a breath, my new friend whispered to me, “Raise your hand, now!” I wasn’t quite fast enough and someone else got the first question. Just as well. I never intended to go first for heaven’s sake! I don’t remember if I was exactly the second question, but it was close. My question was about Jared’s performance in “Sacrifice”. My expectation was that I would at least relay my question and his answer in this article, but I have to confess that his answer stunned me. It was so personal and honest that I feel I should respect his privacy and not share it. I’m really not trying to tease. I just don’t feel it was meant to be a public response. I will say, though, that he talked again about how it was his “choice” to really feel those last few scenes and that it took a very long time for him, Jared, to recover from what he did to himself. Someone asked him about his recent charity work. He told us the story of the Austin “Thinkery” auction, and how blown away he was by the bidding (he had been afraid it wouldn’t make the required opening bid of $5000!). One fan brought him a cake which was decorated with congratulations for making 1 million followers on Twitter! Other questions dealt with his family and him playing Ezekiel. He did not share spoilers, but he did talk a long time about his portrayal of Zeke and how very, very excited he is about this storyline.
Throughout the 30 minutes what struck me the very most was that Jared seemed like he was being himself. Not the lead actor on stage in front of a thousand people. Not the spokesperson for a studio or a TV show franchise. Just Jared. Relaxed. Enjoying talking to friends. I didn’t think it was possible for him to be nicer in person, but he was. Nicer. Sweeter. Darn.
(This picture is from the main panel, but it truly portrays the Jared I saw in the M&G)
People had told me that the M&G goes by in the blink of an eye. I didn’t feel that way. I absolutely wanted to sit there and talk with Jared for hours, forsaking everything else that was supposed to happen that day. When the 30 minutes was up, though, I was content. I couldn’t wait to get to my iPad to record everything that was said. My mind was racing, filled with questions, answers, looks, smiles – what was said, what was not said. I loved every minute of our time together, even from the second row.
Next on the schedule – Solo Photo Op
I had 90 minutes to recover from the M&G before my solo photo with Jared. Last year I took a picture with both Jared and Jensen, but again, I wanted to try something different this year. Just Jared. Last year I described how I embarrassed myself by unintentionally ignoring Jensen when I approached the boys for the picture (my mind just couldn’t handle Jared and Jensen!), so I thought I would try one at a time this year. It absolutely was a different experience. I am not exaggerating when I say that the whole process was over in less than 15 seconds! Load this into your mind’s film projector: It was my turn. I walked the two feet separating the line from Jared. I said “Hello! Would you put me into a one-arm hold?” He says, “Sure!” and in one move I turn toward the camera and he puts his arm around me. Obviously I smiled but I don’t remember smiling. The photographer snaps the picture. Jared lets go. I say “thanks” and walk away. Next in line. I have never, ever witnessed a production line like that! It was moving at lightning speed! It was a complete testament to the millions of pictures Jared and Chris (the photographer) have done together that they were able to take fabulous pictures so mechanically. There was no connection between me and Jared. There was no small talk. We were told to know what pose we wanted and to keep things moving. I’m not complaining. It got the job done. I am ridiculously happy with my photo (it is what greets me every time I turn on my PC!), but wow! There was some positioning, some talking, some movement to getting between the two J’s last year. That whole process took maybe 45 seconds. This year, truly 15 seconds at most! Again, attitude adjustment. I have a picture with Jared’s arm around my neck, smiling over my shoulder. This was turning out to be a really good day.
For all the Dean fans out there, sorry it has taken me so long to get to Jensen. Let me make it up to you by starting with a picture.
The auditorium session began immediately after Jared’s photos (and Jensen’s M&G which coincided in the same time slot). Alaina Huffman began the session with her panel. As I said in Part 3, I don’t know if it is an honor to be the warm-up act for J2 or if you know that people can only partially concentrate on what you are saying because they are so excited for the main event! I wrote about her panel separately, to at least give her (and Nicki Aycox) the dignity of having their own report! Towards the end of Alaina’s time, Jensen peeked out from back stage, snuck up on Alaina and gave her a big hug from behind her chair! It was a wonderful moment! It also meant, though, that it was finally time for Jared and Jensen!
I am always torn about how to best enjoy the boys’ panel. I want to snap a million pictures to capture the fun for all eternity, but I hate looking at them through my tiny camera viewer. I want to just watch them and take in every move, every smile, every laugh. I also try to hang onto every word they say. I strain my ears to hear the questions and the small bantering that goes on between them on stage, yet afterward it is hard to remember a single detail of what they said. I remind myself to live in the moment and soak up every ounce of the wonderful experience, but I also find myself marveling at the phenomena of what is happening.
Photos courtesy of Alesia
Questions and answers range from silly and theoretical (I was happy that there were very few of those this year) to questions about the characters of Sam and Dean. Jensen talked about Dean’s time in Purgatory. He said he thinks of it as rehabilitation for Dean, curing him of his alcoholism and making him understand his priorities more clearly. One of his favorite episodes is still “Yellow Fever” and the theme song he would pick for Dean would be “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Jared answered that “French Mistake” is one of his favorite episodes for a variety of reasons and that “I am Human” by Brian Buckley Band best describes Sam. They were asked if they ever read a script and just wonder if Sam or Dean will ever learn from their mistakes. They both said that poor choices make for a more interesting story. It would be boring if Sam and Dean made good choices all the time (Jared then speculated on several “good choice” story lines that would be horrifically boring!).
My favorite questions are usually about Jared and Jensen’s acting, directing, or favorite/hardest/ most memorable something. The answer I liked the most from Jensen was his afterthought to the question about their reactions to scripts. He said that he “hangs his head” after reading a script when he sees it will require a big emotional scene from him. He said those are a big challenge and he just thinks ““I have to figure out how to do this”. Light spoiler alert: In a related answer about the hardest episode for him, he said that actually the episode they had just finished filming (I believe it was 9.10) was the very hardest because it called for an extremely emotional outpouring from him. Jared commented that we wouldn’t see it until January, though. Jared then added that the hardest scenes to film are the most fun. Jared also admitted that playing Ezekiel is “getting harder” than he thought it would be “which is awesome”. Both of those answers made the coming episodes sound ominous but utterly amazing!
There are always a few funny moments on stage too. For example, one fan prefaced her question with “Jensen, you are perfect, but my question is for Jared”. Jared interrupted her to ask if she meant “Jensen you are (or have) a perfect butt”. Jensen complied by standing up, turning his back to the crowd and raising his shirt just an inch or two so we could judge for ourselves! Well, Jared couldn’t be upstaged, so as he sat back down in his chair he pretended that he accidentally dropped his microphone. He proceeded to dramatically bend over, with his rear end prominently pushed out toward the audience, to pick it up. Then, oops, he dropped it again, and had to repeat his command performance! The joke was on him in the “end” though, because he actually DID break the microphone by dropping it repeatedly. He couldn’t be heard for the next few minutes until the convention people replaced his equipment!
The Real “Soul” of Supernatural
My very favorite moments of a convention are always when the actors are asked serious questions and their answers are both personal and touching. The last question for Jared and Jensen was a fan revealing that she had been going through a lot lately and wondered if Sam or Dean would ever have been suicidal because of how hard their lives are. Jared answered because he observed that Sam had been through the worst most recently. Jared confided that when times get tough for him personally, he tries to think of what he can do for someone else, as opposed what is not being done for him. He advised fans to turn things around by thinking of others instead of focusing on themselves when they are struggling. “No one can get through this world alone... We all get overwhelmed… Just keep fighting… Keep fighting.” Those were his closing words for the panel. It brought tears to my eyes. I have tears in my eyes now, remembering it.
Then Richard introduced Osric, who had been sitting in the audience listening to Jared and Jensen’s whole panel. Osric ran onto stage, jumped up into Jared’s arms for a hug, then reached over to receive a hugging embrace from Jensen. The love they have for each other was obvious. That was how their panel ended.
Throughout these reports I have held back a few comments from the actors because the stories or answers they gave were poignant, honest, revealing insights into life. It is time to tell you those stories.
During Richard Speight’s panel, someone asked him about his experience filming Band of Brothers. Richard’s whole demeanor changed as he began his response. He started his answer by thanking veterans for their service. It is commonly known that Richard supports many veteran charities partially because of his experience on that show (In fact, there were a few donations to his charities during the convention, including a gesture from one fan who bought a large banner during a convention auction, then donated it back so proceeds could go to a veteran charity - I think Wounded Warriors). He went on to say that while we may not always support the cause, we must always support the veterans. Then he became even more solemn. He said that the real veterans that were portrayed in Band of Brothers sometimes came to the set to watch filming. It was very hard and eerie for these men to watch the reenactment of scenes that they lived through, because this was not a distant history to them as it is to some. To them, these were deeply stirring memoires. Richard’s character, “Skip”, actually died in the war (in a scene depicted by one of the episodes). One of the survivors of that battle was on set and kept referring to Richard (who was in character at the time) as Skip. The vets had told the cast that East Company always said a Catholic Mass before each battle so a Mass was inserted into one (or more?) scenes in the show. This man told Richard that they had said Mass right before the soldier that he portrayed died. The man also said he never got a chance to say goodbye to Skip before he was killed. Richard asked him if he would like to use him as a surrogate to say goodbye and get closure now. So the two men sat together, facing each other, and the WWII vet talked to Richard as if he was really Skip, telling him what he wished he could have said before Skip was killed. Richard wouldn’t reveal what the man said in detail, but he did give us an idea of the conversation. Richard said it was a cathartic moment for the vet, and one of the hardest and dearest moments of Richard’s life. Everyone in the audience was teary eyed. There was no pretense or punch line. Richard said he treasured that his acting was able to heal someone from a hurt in their life.
That sentiment was repeated by Misha during one of his panel answers. Someone asked him about his most memorable experience with a fan. He said that about six months ago a fan wrote him a deeply personal letter that described tragedies in her life and how the show had helped her through them. Again, he wouldn’t breach her trust by telling us what was in the letter, but he carries it with him everywhere, always, to remind him how important their work is to the fans. His whole presence changed when he talked about this letter. He wasn’t performing anymore. His speech became quieter and more personal. He was being honest and vulnerable telling us about something that mattered to him.
It happened a third time, during Sebastian’s panel. I described how he is generally a madman during his “performance”, delivering manic comedy, one-liners, sexual innuendos, and all around mayhem for an hour. Yet, for about 60 seconds in the middle of this chaos, he got perfectly serious. His body language changed. His voice calmed as if he was having a quiet conversation with a few intimate friends, and he said he wanted to thank us all for supporting him and the show. He said it was “like a miracle” to be included in the fandom. He loves being with the fans and couldn’t have ever imagined what that little role of Balthazar would open up in his life. His admission really touched us all, then in a blink he switched back to Sebastian, the uninhibited performer.
Last year I described how I got glimpses of these moments in the autograph line when talking to Rachel Miner and Richard about their performances, but this was on a much larger scale. All of these people trusted the SPN family enough to share a little insight into their hearts. To me this was the character of this year’s Chicago convention. To me, these people, who have created friendships even though they never met on set; who mentor guest stars and young actors making them feel welcome and supported; who respect fans enough to answer our questions with personal insights; who realize how much their actions impact real lives and extend themselves to give inspiration and support to fans – these people are the soul of Supernatural. This is what we all get about this show. It is different. It is special.
One More Thing…
Jared and Jensen’s autograph sessions take place after their panel. These generally consist of very long waits, followed by very long lines, followed by 10 seconds of trying to say something memorable to the boys while they sign whatever memorabilia you place before them. I asked Jensen to sign my “Essentials” Supernatural book since it is my goal to get the signature of everyone associated with the show in one place. I had something different in mind for Jared, though. I asked him to sign a copy of the “Dear Jared” letter I wrote and you all added to with your comments and well wishes after “Sacrifice” last year. I was thrilled and astounded that he remembered the letter we posted! He shared with me the circumstances of how he learned about the article and what it meant to him to read it. I asked him if he would like a copy of it, even though we are strictly forbidden from trying to give the stars anything personal during the autographing. Again he surprised me by accepting the copy, and placing it with his things. I believe he took it since he remembered it and said it was special to him.
Four days later, as I sat at my desk writing the first of my convention reports, Jared proved he was a man of his word. He tweeted that he was having a really bad day and to make himself feel better he reread our letter to him. In trying to cheer himself up, he did something wonderful for this shocked, humbled writer. Jared, I have your back. Anytime, for any reason. You know how to reach me now.
(It may be blurry, but I know he heard me…)
So that was the day with our boys. They never, ever cease to amaze me. It is an honor to be a part of this fandom. I hope my descriptions have helped many of you “live” each moment as I saw it. I already can’t wait for next year’s convention to see what new experiences it will bring!
All pictures were taken by me, unless otherwise indicated. Please credit the photographers if you reuse the photos.