This is what I saw, and felt, for the entire hour of Jared and Jensen’s panel....
Picture yourself sitting in the first row of the Vancouver auditorium. I am sitting just beside you. It is Day 3 of the Supernatural convention. Even though you are deliriously tired, you are breathlessly excited for the main event. The J2 panel is about to begin. The Elastic Waste Band strikes up “Carry on My Wayward Son” and the room electrifies. Everyone knows Jared and Jensen are close. Richard Speight, Jr. sneaks on stage and whispers something to Rob Benedict, the leader of the band. There’s a very good chance that message is “Stall, they aren’t here yet”. Typical. Jared usually gets blamed, but those boys are always rushing, just a few minutes late for their over-crowded schedules. Rob shakes his head in acknowledgement, then tries to remember all the words to our most beloved Kansas song…unsuccessfully I might add. He “la-la-las” his way through verses, repeating something about a ship on the ocean a few too many times. Suddenly, the cheers erupt and without looking behind him, Rob knows he has been upstaged. Jensen has appeared from behind the curtain, followed closely by Jared.
The J2 Panel
Seeing Jared and Jensen in person is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I don’t mean to put either guy on a pedestal. They are just people, but they happen to be the “boys” that these 2000-3000 people dearly love. The excitement in the room makes your heart race and your skin tingle.
They each grab their chairs, using them as air guitars being strummed then smashed on stage. Unexpectedly, Jared exits the stage for a few seconds, leaving Jensen watching, a little confused. As it turns out, Jared has realized that his belt isn’t clasped. He walks down the stage steps and, standing immediately in front of me, discreetly corrects his “wardrobe malfunction” [My thoughts? Oh My Dearest God in Heaven, this man is going to check that his pants are closed properly while standing just one foot from me! So THIS is happening now!]
As if it was planned that way, Jared returns to the stage at the exact moment he, Jensen and Rob all jump into the air in unison, to dramatically emphasize the last chord of the song. This synchronized movement, this unison of thought, is the kind of thing that happens all the time when Jared and Jensen are together. They are two halves that make up a whole. You feel their closeness just looking at them.
I then notice that Jensen is putting their chairs back in place, exactly where they need to be. Again, my thoughts racing, I realize I am witnessing Jensen’s unconscious awareness of a kind of blocking, the technical process of placing people and props precisely where they can best be seen by cameras or an audience. Several directors have complimented both boys on their technical acting, saying that they have developed a sense of lighting and space that makes filming them not only easier but also delivers a superior final product. It is actually amazing to watch it happening so instinctively.
All these sights, sounds and thoughts have assaulted my mind already, and the boys haven’t even sat in their chairs or said hello to their fans yet. In reality, they haven’t been on stage for more than maybe two minutes.
Jared begins by teasing that he is responsible for Jensen joining Twitter, saying “Send all thank yous this way!” then acknowledges the Supernatural crew members in the audience. Jared is known for always being hot (in temperature!!) and he mentions that he is already sweating (noticeably, actually, from the first row). He and Jensen momentarily lift their shirts to cool themselves, exposing their stomachs and causing ear-splitting screams from exhilarated fans. Kidding aside, it is clear that they are being scorched by the spotlights. Jensen removes his long-sleeve shirt (more screaming). Jared jumps around, mimicking a fan-girl’s excitement at Jensen wearing one less layer of clothing. Suddenly something gets thrown onto the stage at them. They are a little startled, as am I. What is someone throwing at them?? A BIG con rule is not throwing anything on stage. Two of their five hulk-size body guards (who are with them everywhere they go at the convention) take a few steps forward to assess the risk posed by the thrown object. A fan threw a fan to Jared.
Jensen makes a joke about the irony, then makes fun of Jared, who is struggling to ceremoniously open the fan. They are still seared by the heat, though, so Jared raises his hand against the spotlight, resulting in a picture of him in a dreamy haze, my absolutely favorite picture of Jared from the convention:
They can’t decide from which side to take questions first, so Jensen extends his fist to Jared, again silently communicating that they should decide via “Rock-Paper-Scissors”. Jared wins, and shrugs, “Of course”. Life imitating art, as Dean doesn’t usually have much luck with that challenge either. Did Jared and Jensen at one point collude that Jared would always pick rock, and Jensen would always pick scissors to reenact a gag out of the show? Maybe, or maybe these boys have worked together for so long that they just wordlessly understand each other. A fan asks the first question, wondering what they thought of Misha when they first met him. As part of his answer, Jared imitates Misha as Castiel. Jensen picks up and continues the story, then silently glances at Jared, giving him the cue to replay his Castiel/Misha face. Jared immediately, intuitively, understands and repeats the performance.
Watching them together is mesmerizing. For more than nine years, they have had to be completely open and vulnerable with each other, exposing their emotions, flaws, anxieties, mistakes, embarrassments and triumphs to make their characters believable. They grew up, on screen, together. They met as inexperienced, wild, single, daring young men who were thrown into huge responsibilities as the lead actors in a hopeful, emerging franchise. Their personal and professional lives were fused, and their dependence on each other on and off set is clearly visible through every small movement, look and cue they exchange.
The next question from a fan leads to a conversation that unexpectedly but perfectly exemplifies my point. They are asked how they leave all the “angst” on set and not bring it home.
Jensen: “[For] He and I from the get-go, it helped that we had each other to decompress after the scene or the day’s work or whatever. That has evolved into not just us, but our crew members. If it’s been a long tough day, maybe we’ll go over to the camera truck for a “coca-cola”” (wink, smirk).
Jared: “...or two. Or a diet coke if we have a shirtless scene”.
Jensen: “There is a comradery that exists on set that is very much based in reality, so that when we have to suspend reality to do what we do on camera, we can more easily get back into our normal, goofy selves. That is what has made it tolerable. Otherwise, it would be really, really difficult to go through ten months and just be weighed down by what these characters go through on a daily basis.”
Jared then begins to tell the story of when he personally “lost it” while filming “Croatoan”. His story is interrupted, though, by his son, Thomas, suddenly yelling “Hi Dad” from behind stage. It is indescribably adorable by itself, and the audience is instantly all gooey hearing Tom’s voice (“Awwww”). Tom’s interruption reminds Jensen of a story. It seems Thomas cried when he didn’t find “Uncle Jensen” in the green room before they went on stage. Jensen pumps his fist into the air, proud of his importance in Tom’s life. Jared and Jensen have repeatedly said that they are as close as brothers, so why wouldn’t Tom consider Jensen his uncle?
The connection, almost a symbiosis, between these two is obvious, but I have also always been impressed with the sincerity and thought they put into their answers.
Continuing his “Croatoan” story, Jared shares,
“It’s a fine line as an actor to give your character the gravitas and the thought process it deserves, without using it as a launchpad for you to get rid of your own crap. It is certainly important to bring your own experiences into your character but if you make your character purely about you getting on your “soapbox”, then your character dies.”
Then, without missing a beat, in a straight, dead-pan face, he adds,
“…ask Rob or Richard (pointing to the two actors who were now standing at the side of the auditorium).”
Jensen cracks up.
Besides being genuine, insightful, and interesting, these two guys have an impromptu, sharp wit that keeps both of them and the audience laughing for the whole hour they are on stage. They know they are there to entertain, but they are truly having fun themselves. The fun is happily, joyfully, willingly, contagious. So when one of the next questions is of which movie are they the most proud, Jared generously reflects how every experience has been good for one reason or another, but finally chooses Cry Wolf as one of his favorite projects.
Jensen, having had time to think of his answer, mischievously cites “New York Minute” as his favorite movie! [This was the movie in which I hear that Jared wore, or rather didn’t wear, some rather skimpy *ahem* wardrobe.]
Jared cracks up.
Then, unexpectedly, Jared gets up and turning his back to the audience, parts the curtains and talks to the people back stage. Jensen makes a crude joke about Jared needing a restroom. I suspect Jared is actually asking stagehands to set up a fan because he is quite literally soaking wet in sweat. Poking his head backstage has an unexpected and very welcome aftereffect, though. Tom must have seen his dad and wanted to be with him, or maybe Jared had said it would be okay to let Tom walk on stage. Either way, after a few moments of Jensen trying valiantly to answer the next fan’s question, the panel is again sidelined by the absolutely adorable Thomas walking onto stage, throwing his arm out in a hello gesture, sticking his tongue out, then asking to be picked up by Cliff, the bodyguard to both the boys and their families.
Jared not only trusts his fans enough to share his life with us, he trusts us enough to share his baby boy (2.5 years old). I think it endears the fans to him even more, and really proves we are all family.
A stagehand finally sets up a large electrical fan behind the two drenched actors. Now it is Jensen’s turn to disappear. While Jared earnestly listens to and begins answering the next question about how Sam and Dean’s relationship affected his and Jensen’s own real life relationships with family, Jensen drops out of Jared’s sight, causing Jared to wave his hands around as if looking for the “invisible” Jensen, while making a comment about relying on people who are NOT there. In fact, Jensen has walked over to the fan and is raising his shirt to let the wind cool his torso. It also has the very welcome effect of billowing out his shirt and again exposing his mid-section.
Jared feigns being scandalized by bare skin… then a few minutes later starts making gestures that are superimposed over Jensen’s head on the auditorium’s large screens.
Jensen fields the next question, giving Jared an opportunity to cool himself over the fan. When Jensen sees what Jared is doing, Jensen empathizes, saying “It’s heaven, isn’t it?” Then, to accentuate his point, he spontaneously starts singing “Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away” (with the band backing him up by the second line!)
“Heaven, isn't too far away
Closer to it every day
No matter what your friends might say
We'll find our way.”
The questioning proceeds with the next fan asking about getting into character after so many years. Jensen starts to explain, but through some stream of consciousness that I won’t even try to replicate, all of a sudden he and Jared are mimicking a crew member’s “dancing”. The two of them stand up and spasmodically jump around the stage like uncoordinated Gumby’s!
Spontaneous, ridiculous fun.
Returning to the question that had been asked about getting into character, Jensen recovers, saying:
“We have a lot of fun doing what we do and sometimes, arguably, we have too much fun doing what we do. …but if we don’t have fun doing what we do after 9 years, we’d kill ourselves. So [if having fun] is part of the problem it is most certainly part of the reason for its success. ”
Mark Sheppard actually talked about this in his panel just an hour or so earlier. He said one of the reasons that Jared and Jensen are such great actors is because they haven’t lost the “silliness gene”. It may make them constant pranksters, but it also allows them to make believe, i.e. to suspend reality and step into fantasy so convincingly.
The next question is “What do you think is the most important lesson people should learn from Supernatural?
Jared: “To Not Give Up. Just keep fighting and you’ll find someone or something. Keep fighting until you figure out what you’re fighting for. There is a great quote that “Success happens when you are too busy to notice it”. I think it is the same thing with figuring out what is important to you. Don’t wait for the morning when you say I don’t know what I’m fighting for so I’m not going to fight. Just keep fighting and it will reveal itself.”
Jensen: “I would have said the exact same thing.”
Spontaneous, ridiculous fun…mixed with touching, genuine, heart-felt moments.
The next question is based on the “wishing” episode. Jared teases that Jensen doesn’t remember the wishing episode, which leads to five full minutes of hilarious looks from Jensen as he “fakes” remembering it. Fans shout out clues, which Jensen pretends help him remember. He tries to squirm out of his “embarrassment” by rephrasing the question to not be based on the episode, but the fan at the microphone won’t let him off the hook. She tries to explain the question further, until Jensen blurts out “so it [the episode] really wouldn’t have helped anyway.” Suddenly he realizes that he just acknowledged out loud that he does not remember the episode:
Jensen: "Could we edit that??"
Jared is in tears laughing, and so is the audience.
Spontaneous, hilarious humor.
Jensen turns the question around to Jared. “What would you wish for?” and he pushes and pushes and pushes, not letting Jared escape the question. Jared, who just a few minutes ago had given a philosophical, wise, sincere, insightful answer, turns on a dime and says:
“I really wish they still made Crystal Pepsi.”
Jensen’s reaction is priceless. He instinctively senses that they have stumbled into an impromptu comedic gem, and he is going to run with it.
Jared continues, with a straight face, as if he is being entirely sincere,
“…and I’ve always been one piece away from winning McDonald’s Monopoly!”
Jensen: “That piece doesn’t exist.”
Jared: “In my wish, it does.”
Jensen, acting as if trying to answer the fan:
“I would wish for 10 more wishes, then give him one so he could redo the Crystal Pepsi one”
Undaunted, Jared keeps up the gag:
“….and it would be really cool if they still made Thundercats.”Jared has to add one more thought:
Jensen: “Thundercats, Hoa!” [which was the Thundercats rallying cry]
“Can they uncast Ben Affleck as Batman?”
Which leads to Jensen imitating Christian Bale’s Batman in growly, unintelligible voices.
Splitting sides, not-a-care-in-the-world laughter.
These two boys are creating perfectly timed, impromptu stand-up comedy. This very long, spontaneous, stream of consciousness was possible because they take each other’s lead seamlessly. They traded places as the straight man to the guy delivering the punch lines, back and forth, over and over, keeping the bit full of energy and genuinely hilarious. They added physical comedy, first Jared, then Jensen. Dropping chairs, then cooling atop the fan. Suddenly Jared goes backstage again, as if he can’t handle Jensen’s “sexy voice”. We are all still laughing, wondering what can possibly happen next, when an unexpected, precious moment takes us by surprise. Jared has given his microphone to his son, and we hear from backstage:
Tom: “Hi Uncle Jensen.”
Every last person in the audience melts into a pool of “Awwww”.
Jensen: “Hi buddy. Are you eating my gummy bears?”
Tom: “What gummy bears?”
If you haven’t yet found this clip on line, you absolutely must listen to it. It is the most precious thing you will hear, ever. Earlier in the panel, Tom had twice distracted me from watching his father on stage. I am sitting at the end of the stage, which is also where the stage curtains that hide back stage activities end. Being a normal 2-year old child, there were no fewer than three adults (Genevieve, Cliff and a volunteer) trying to entertain Tom and keep him busy during the panel. He had repeatedly squirmed away from them, though, and had walked out to see his dad. Someone was always trying to catch him and corral him back stage again.
Heartfelt advice, followed by hilarious comedy, followed by touching moments… full circle to us all being family. J2 share their personal lives with us, and we love even more them for it.
As if on cue, one question later, a fan apologizes for completely breaking down in her photo op [it can be a tremendously overwhelming emotional experience]. Jared, back to sincere and genuine, comforts her saying,
“You don’t owe us an apology. We’re family here. This is where we all come to be ourselves and be accepted, not to apologize.”
The amazing thing is that he actually believes it.
The fan has an excellent question about what Sam and Dean would think of each of the characters Jared and Jensen had previously portrayed. Jared’s answers were strikingly accurate, as were Jensen’s. The audience starts shouting out more characters, though, curious for more of Dean’s reactions. Jensen is back in brilliant comedy mode again, giving witty, top-of-his-head one liners that are hysterical! They feel it coming - they are on a roll again! Jensen simulates a stripper dance as he cools himself over the fan. Jared uses Jensen as a prop for an answer. Before we know it, Jared jumps up and is cooling his crotch over the fan. This leads to another five minutes of him putting the microphone on the fan to simulate ghostly hauntings of Jensen, flatulence noises, then the Jaws menacing music. Truly, your sides just ache from all the laughter when these guys get going!
All too soon, Richard and Rob step onto the stage, signaling that this wonderful hour is ending. We all sing Happy Birthday to a crew member (the same guy whose dancing they lovingly made fun of earlier) and they are whisked away to their next convention slot (Meet and Greets or photographs). Luckily, I know I will still have a few seconds with each of them in the autograph line, so I am consoled that my day with them is not yet over.
So what is it like to be at a J2 panel in person? For a full hour, two motivational speakers who are sincere and genuine, inspire you to believe anything is possible. Uninhibited talent entertains you with brilliant improvisational comedy. Two gifted, dramatic actors share their secrets on how they create the characters you love so much. You feel genuinely appreciated by two celebrities you admire, and you feel the comfort of a family who has accepted you.
A Jared and Jensen panel is:
Spontaneous, ridiculous fun…
…mixed with touching, genuine, heart-felt moments…
…followed immediately by hilarious humor…
…and side-splitting, not-a-care-in-the-world laughter…
….which turns into an unexpected, precious moment…
…because “We’re family here”.
How would I sum it up?
It’s Joy. It’s fun. It’s reassuring. It’s heartwarming. It’s genuine.
It is an honor.
Want to read more about the fun at VanCon 2014? Check out my other reports:
Saturday Part 1, featuring Mark Sheppard
Saturday Part 2, featuring Misha
Bardicvoice's live tweets on each day, as reported by Alice:
Sunday's Gold Panel of Jared and Jensen
Sunday, including the J2 Panel!