Supernatural introduced two fascinating characters in its fourth season: the angel Castiel, and the prophet Chuck. We've got two exclusive excerpts from a new Supernatural season four guidebook — learn which Winchester brother put his foot in Misha Collins' crotch.
Supernatural: The Official Companion Season 4 is out August 31 from Titan Books, and we're lucky enough to publish a couple of excerpts. First, there's the amazing section dealing with the creation of the angel Castiel, in which Misha Collins explains how he came up with that famous voice, and the tragedy that almost befell him in his first big scene. And then there's the behind-the-scenes section about the episode "The Monster at the End of This Book," which introduces the character Chuck, a porn-loving slobby writer of cheap paperbacks who turns out to be a prophet.
You should show me some respect. I dragged you out of Hell; I can throw you back in.
As Misha Collins puts it, Castiel made "a very superhero-ish entrance" into the Supernatural universe, and ever since that first impressive scene, fans have embraced the character wholeheartedly, so perhaps that's the reason the show's ratings spiked at the beginning of season four…"Yeah, obviously," Collins deadpans. "I would love to say that it was all because of me," he says, "but the truth is that by introducing angels to the story the writers opened up an entirely epic chapter in the mythology of the show. There's just so much to draw on from biblical lore that had been overlooked in the show up until that point, so suddenly they'd handed themselves a vast amount of rich material to work with, and I think that really helped the season in the ratings as well."
Even with a great script in hand, Collins still shouldered a large share of the burden of introducing the new pivotal species. The actor reveals how he approached the role of an angel. "When Castiel first appeared on the show, he hadn't been around human beings for thousands of years, so he looked at humans as strange alien beings; he looked at them with scientific curiosity. He was quite different from humans at that early stage. Then, as his arc unfolded, Castiel became more empathetic to humans, more personally connected to them."
Right from the start, Collins loved playing Castiel. "What's not to like about playing a super-powered being?" he asks rhetorically. "People are stabbing you and you just smirk at them!" But it wasn't all just about striking an angelic pose. "It was very difficult not to flinch and scream like a little baby when all the squibs were going off on my chest and the sparks were showering down on my scalp," he admits. "They spritzed my hair with water before we shot that scene, and I was like, ‘Why are you doing that?' And they said, ‘Oh, just so your hair doesn't catch on fire…' And I'm like, ‘What do you mean? How would my hair catch on fire?' ‘Well, the sparks come up, but they're not really hot - it'll be fine.' And of course it was really quite hot. I could literally hear my scalp sizzling when the sparks fell down on my head. But I got to look like a superhero, so it was totally worth it."
Another sacrifice Collins made for his art was to strain his voice in order to make Castiel sound imposing. "I didn't know I was going to be on the show for a long time," he explains, "and in the first script it said that Castiel was trying to communicate with Dean and his voice was blowing out windows, and Dean was having to cover his ears in pain, so I thought the human version of that voice must be something that's very deep and commanding. I created that voice and then had to keep it going for two years. I probably would've made a different choice had I known that it was such a long-lasting character, because it is a bit of a strain, honestly, to have to talk like that all the time."
Maybe that's why Collins cites ‘The Rapture' as his favorite episode to work on in season four, since he got to spend a lot of time speaking in a normal human voice as Jimmy Novak. "It was a good challenge to play both the human and the angel. I really enjoyed working on that episode, so that one stands out for me, but I also really liked watching the meta episode ‘The Monster at the End of This Book'."
While there was a lot of meta humor in that episode, there's been a whole other kind of humor behind the scenes, where many of the laughs are derived from pranks. "The hardest thing on the show for me is keeping a straight face," Collins shares. "I don't know how Jensen does it. He can keep a straight face no matter what Jared is doing, but I crack at the drop of a hat… which of course just fans the flames even more, and Jared can be totally relentless. He'll do little things like when it's my close-up he'll take out a pair of tweezers and start pulling the hairs out of the camera operator's ear, which is very difficult to work against. There was one scene where I was standing across the table from him and he stuck his foot in my crotch! Jensen was standing next to him in that scene and every time I looked at Jared he'd go cross-eyed or something and I kept cracking up, so Jensen said, ‘Don't even look at him, just deliver the line to me.' So the next take I delivered to Jensen and he licked his lips and made salacious expressions at me, so of course I cracked again. That's par for the course. "
Collins concludes on a more serious note. "Those guys were so welcoming - the whole crew was - that I eased into working here quicker than on any other show. It's been awesome."
The Monster at the End of This Book: behind the scenes
When Sam and Dean question Dan Dabb of Golden Comics about a possible haunting, he thinks they're live-action role playing because they're acting like the characters Sam and Dean in the Supernatural books by Carver Edlund. The boys buy all the books and are shocked to discover that everything they've done since facing the Woman in White until Dean went to Hell has been documented in explicit detail. The brothers visit publisher Sera Siege, and after they prove they're "big fans," she gives them the author's real name, Chuck Shurley.
They travel to Kripke's Hollow, Ohio, where they confront Chuck. He thinks they're stalker fans and that he's a god, but the brothers convince him he's just psychic. Chuck's latest vision has Lilith visiting Sam for a night of "fiery demonic passion." Sam wants to attack Lilith, but Dean convinces him to make it opposite day so that they don't do what Chuck predicted. However, Chuck's visions keep coming true. Dean accosts Chuck and demands to know how he's doing it. Castiel arrives and says that Chuck is a Prophet of the Lord who is writing the Winchester Gospel.
Dean goes to the motel to get Sam, but Sam refuses to leave. Dean is worried Sam could be killed or go dark side, so he prays and Castiel tells him that if Chuck is put in danger an archangel will protect him… Lilith then arrives and offers to stop breaking seals in exchange for Sam and Dean's souls, but Sam attacks her. His powers don't work on her, and Lilith gets the upper hand, but Dean drags Chuck in just in time, and the imminent arrival of an archangel scares Lilith off. Later, Chuck has a horrifying vision, but Zachariah appears and warns him not to tell Sam and Dean.
Up until ‘The Monster at the End of This Book', Lilith was always portrayed as a sweet young girl. Creator Eric Kripke explains why the character's tastes in meatsuits suddenly matured. "Once we knew that Sam was going to have to slaughter her, we realized that we needed to start thinking about making Lilith an adult," Kripke says.
"We just weren't that interested in the scene where Sam murders an eleven-year-old girl… We tend to go far on the show - we delve bravely into baby-eating - but for some reason the on-camera death of an eleven-year-old girl was something that made even us a little weak-kneed. Along with being the eater of children, though, the other part of Lilith's myth is that she's the seducer of men, and Katherine Boecher really brings a sexuality and a menace to the role."
On screen, Boecher's sexuality and menace were evident as she commanded the camera, but when the cameras weren't rolling, it was a whole other story. "Working on the seduction scene with Jared Padalecki was really hilarious," Boecher says. "We could not stop cracking up in-between takes. Then Jensen Ackles came to the set and started making wisecracks left and right. We almost couldn't keep shooting because everyone was cracking up. It was so funny."
Ironically, that scene was probably the only one in the episode that didn't have underlying humor to it. "It was really funny writing," agrees writer's assistant Nancy Weiner. "Every note was funny; there weren't any missed opportunities. All the juice was fully squeezed!" Which explains why this episode was Kripke's favorite of season four. "That was probably the one I enjoyed the most," he says. "We, the writers, collectively related so closely with Chuck, and we just had such a ball with that character and being able to go as meta as any show has ever gone. There have been very few shows that have actually referenced themselves as an ongoing series and what fans think of that series and what the creator of that series thinks about it, so that felt like really fun and fresh ground."
Aside from the humor, one of the things that really make this meta concept work for Supernatural is that it's tied so completely into the show's mythology. "The way the episode came together was serendipitous," says executive story editor Julie Siege. "Whenever we're looking for story ideas, Eric says, ‘Come up with a movie you like and we'll do the Supernatural twist on that.' And so Nancy Weiner came up with, ‘What if we do a version of Stranger than Fiction?' As we were talking about what that would look like, Sera Gamble and I both independently and simultaneously came up with this idea that since we're in this season that's all about mythology and prophecy, he's got to be a prophet. That was the thing that really grounded the concept and made it very relevant for the entire mythology."
"I don't think it could've possibly turned out better," enthuses Weiner. "I'm really proud of that episode," continues Siege. "My favorite thing is that Chuck is a composite of all of us and every single one of the writers had a hand in creating him. That made me very happy. Having said that, when I was writing that character, the person that I was basing it on was Eric."
One of the things that was not based on Kripke was the inclusion of larping. "I haven't done any live-action role playing… and I don't intend to," states Kripke. "Credit for that goes to Andrew Dabb. We hadn't discussed it in the break; that dialogue with the comic book guy just showed up in Julie's draft. One of my notes to Julie was, ‘Is this real? Please let this be real!' She said, ‘Yeah, Andrew knows all about it.' She showed me some websites, and apparently people do this. And I thought, ‘That is the greatest.'" Not great enough for him to try it himself, though. Siege also has no intentions of ever larping, but Weiner qualified her "no" with, "Not yet."
Rob Benedict was probably thinking, "No, not yet," when he started filming this episode, but for a totally different reason. "I'm in a band, and we had played this weekend-long gig at a ski resort in California called Mammoth, so when I arrived on set my voice was shot," Benedict relates. "Fortunately, the thing we were shooting the first day was when Sam and Dean first find me, where I'm in the house, I'm dishevelled, and I'm supposed to have been up drinking, so it worked. If you look at those first scenes you'll think that I'm just playing it up, but I literally didn't have a voice."