'Supernatural': Jim Beaver's real-life experience informs his performance
"It makes lying in the mud in a graveyard that much harder when the odor from a nearby 20-ft high pile of pig manure is wafting by," Jim Beaver tweeted on Tuesday.
Graveyard dirt and Twitter: it's just another day on set for Beaver. A film history buff, Jim has been a working actor for over 30 years, but is perhaps best known for his recent roles on "Deadwood," "Harper's Island," and of course, in his current gig as Sam and Dean's gruff father-figure Bobby Singer on "Supernatural."
Beaver joined the "Supernatural" cast in a guest-starring role in 2006, expecting a short stint. Four years later, Bobby is one of very few recurring characters who hasn't been killed off... yet. He came close in this season's premiere, when he was possessed by a demon and had to stab himself in order to keep from killing Dean (Jensen Ackles).
As a result, the character who was once a formidable opponent in any fight is confined to a wheelchair. "You know, they don't ask my permission on these things!" Beaver laughs. "I was a little nervous at first. I thought being in the wheelchair might be kind of limiting for me as an actor. It turned out cool in a lot of ways. Of course, at the end of the day, I can get up out of the chair and go home, but I'm very acutely aware that most people can't, so I try to give the situation that depth. Bobby being in the chair has given me a lot of really interesting, dramatic scenes that I wouldn't have had otherwise."
He pauses. "On the other hand, I got a little tired of watching everybody else go out and have adventures while Bobby stayed home and cooked." Though his use of the past tense may imply that Bobby will walk again soon, Jim won't confirm it. "Wait and see!"
It also remains unknown as to whether or not Beaver's character will survive long enough to see the series' sixth season, which has been green-lit by the CW. One thing is certain, however: fans will see Bobby when "Supernatural" returns tonight with the first brand new episode after a six-week hiatus.
"I haven't seen the episode, 'Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid,' but if it comes off the way it felt while we were shooting it, I think it may end up being my favorite episode," Beaver says. "You know, obviously, my favorite episode has a pretty high chance of having me in it, because I always like that about a show: me being in it."
In "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," Bobby spends time with his wife (Carrie Ann Fleming), who has returned from the dead as a zombie. "You don't see that on 'Grey's Anatomy,' do you?" Beaver joked. (No - on "Grey's" the dead lovers return in the form of cancer-induced hallucinations.)
All joking aside, Jim treats the material with a refreshing sincerity, considering the zombie genre's potential for cheap gore and campy B-movie fare. "I come at this particular aspect of Bobby from a relatively well-informed place," he says, referring to the 2004 death of his wife, "Star Trek" actress and casting director Cecily Adams.
His real-life experience has colored his performance as Bobby, who, when faced with his long-dead wife, struggles with the idea of hunting her. "The character is given a second chance at something wonderful in his life, but on the other hand, it's "Supernatural," so there's always a nasty catch," Beaver notes. "In some ways I think Bobby would've been better off had this episode never happened. It's a question we all face in our lives. If we can have back the thing that we lost, would we want it back? Would we take it if we could only have it for a little while?"
For a moment, it's easy to forget that Beaver is talking about a CW show. Jim has been unusually candid with the public about his own struggle with devastating loss. His memoir, "Life's That Way," is comprised of a series of e-mails that chronicle his painful, often clumsy, and always honest navigation through his wife's illness, his cavernous grief and his endeavors to be the best possible parent to his daughter, the now 9-year-old Madeline Rose.
"I had a lot of hesitations," Beaver says, when it came to publishing the e-mails that he had intended to only go to family and friends. "It just seemed too private, too personal. It's hard for me to talk about it in terms of whether it's helpful or inspiring or whatever. I don't feel that way, but I've had people respond that way to what I wrote. Now I'm very pleased that I published the book, but ultimately, I had to be convinced. It seems like the book has had great value for a lot of people."
When speaking of his book's positive influence, Jim is remarkably humble. His voice fills with pride only when he says, "Mostly, I'm very happy that people around the world have gotten to know a little bit about this girl I was married to."
Beaver is a seasoned writer; in fact, his one-act play "Mockingbird" will be opening at Secret Rose theater in North Hollywood on April 16. "It's part of a collection of one-acts under the umbrella title 'Bedroom Secrets.' I was going to be in it, but it turns out I've got to be in New York, so we'll let somebody else do it," he says.
Despite his busy schedule, Jim always manages to make time for the "Supernatural" fans. This weekend, he'll be appearing along with co-stars Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, and more at Creation Entertainment's Salute to Supernatural Convention at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. "I've probably done six or seven fan conventions now," he says. He starts to tell a story about an outrageous fan, then hesitates. "No, no, Beaver, don't say that," he chides himself good-naturedly. "I'm not usually very good at self-censoring, but I just did."
"Supernatural" fans are known to be incredibly devoted and enthusiastic. "I was a little surprised to discover that they were like 99% women," Jim says. "I was at a convention in England and there were nearly 1,400 people there, and I bet not 10 of them were men. I was surrounded by adoring women! I was very pleased, you know, because you can't just make that happen."
"They're a wild bunch of girls, mainly," he says. "They don't come to see the cast; they come to party, and boy do they party."
Jim regularly uses Myspace, Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with his fans. "I've got no ego; I just like to have thousands of people write to me and tell me how wonderful I am," he teases. "When I was a kid the high point of the day was to go to the mailbox and see if any mail came for me, and I'm still stuck in that mode. I love inflicting my life on these people."
"I've been doing this acting thing for decades, and it's only the last four years that anybody cared. I welcome every chance I get to interact with fans. I've made some very close friendships amongst fans, and I look forward to seeing them." He laughs. "You know, Marlon Brando said an actor's a fellow who, if you ain't talking about him, he ain't listening. So maybe there's a little bit of that. Maybe."
Show Trackers, are you looking forward to tonight's episode? Leave your predictions for "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" and your thoughts about Jim Beaver in the comments, and come back here after the episode airs to discuss Sam and Dean's latest hunt.
"Supernatural" returns tonight at 9 p.m. EST on the CW. Jim Beaver's memoir, "Life's That Way," is available now and will be released in paperback April 6. Tickets to Creation Entertainment's Salute to Supernatural Convention will be available at the door at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott this weekend (March 26-28).
--Carina MacKenzie (let's chat on Twitter: @cadlymack)
Photos: Top, Jim Beaver as Bobby Singer. Bottom, Dean (Jensen Ackles), Sam (Jared Padalecki), and Bobby (Beaver). Credit: The CW