It was September 2015 when the dark fantasy series “Supernatural first aired and Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki came to television to fight off demons and the powers of darkness: you know, “saving people, hunting things, the family business.”
And it was in September 2015 that Samantha Smith first made her debut on the show as Mary Winchester, the mother to Ackles’ Dean Winchester and Padalecki’s Sam, though her role at the time was less hunting things, and more burning on the ceiling. That is, until The Darkness in the show, Amara, God’s sister, saw fit to resurrect her in gratitude to Dean.
Though Smith’s character had made a few appearances in memory through the years, returning to the show as a main part of the cast was something new, and definitely unexpected for Smith, who will be heading to FanX: Salt Lake Comic Convention this weekend to meet with fans.
“It was an interesting thing for me when Mary came back because for the whole first seven or eight seasons, she was canonized as the perfect mom – a beautiful spirit who got set on fire and died too young, and (Sam and Dean had) spent their whole lives avenging her death,” Smith said in an interview with the Daily Herald earlier this week. “When Mary actually came back to life, she was a human being, flawed with opinions and an agenda of her own which pretty early on caused problems with the boys because she was not who they thought she was.”
According to Smith, it took a couple seasons for the family to find their new norm, but the opportunity to return to the show was the chance of a lifetime for Smith personally.
“When ‘Supernatural’ decided to bring me back, suddenly I was on TV every week,” she said. And not only that, this revived Mary was a dream role of sorts.
“Arguably, had I not been playing Mary all along, I would not be the person to cast for this incarnation of Mary – she’s 29 or 30 and a badass fighter,” Smith said. “I’d never fought or done boxing classes or anything. I wasn’t 29. The idea that they just sort of went for it and called me back and said you’re doing this, it’s fine – it was a huge gift, an enormous gift for me. I’ve always wanted to play this kind of character. … It’s not how people normally see me out of the gate, but (they said) ‘you can do it,’ and just handed it to me and I’ve loved every second.”
The opportunity to play Mary was a fun career shift for Smith, who said she had previously been mostly cast “almost exclusively in comedy,” with “lots and lots of sitcoms,” including spots in “Seinfeld,” “Wings,” “Friends” and “Two of a Kind.” Then after her first appearance in the dark drama that is “Supernatural,” she started to “get killed in everything,” from “Psych” to “Monk” and obviously “Supernatural.”
“It was one gruesome death after another and I didn’t do comedy so much anymore,” Smith said. “I didn’t have a quick turn, more of going sideways, but it was a turning point as sort of high visibility and more attention.”
One of the biggest points came with her role as Sarah Lennox in “Transformers,” which she even reprised for some seasons in the sequel, though they were ultimately cut.
Several roles followed that, including spots in “House,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “The Mentalist” before her role reprised on Supernatural in 2016, just over a decade later.
“It’s harder sometimes to find roles that are interesting – I’ve played a lot of crying wives – and though I’m thankful for every job, it’s not always equally interesting and rewarding,” Smith said. Mary Winchester, however, had it all. “This role had everything: parenting, regret, fighting, humor, just being loving and supportive, arguing – everything. And I just felt like it was a rejuvenation of everything I wanted in acting, in my career. It just reminded me how much I love this art form and it’s just been a gift from the get-go.”
And Mary isn’t the only role on “Supernatural” that offers that kind of an empowering character to women.
“I had a conversation with Rachel Miner who would play the character Meg on the show,” Smith said. “She said the same thing (about Meg) that I love so much about Mary. Here she was this badass fighter, take no prisoners, a little cold, a little hard, but still clearly a woman. She wasn’t like a male character written as a woman, but a female character.”
According to Smith, some fans struggled with Mary’s characterization when she returned to the show, including how she took some time away to find herself.
“It was never because she didn’t love them,” Smith said. “First, these boys are in their thirties, and they don’t need me all the time. Second, I was not contributing to their lives in this state. I needed to go figure it out and know they’ll be fine. People didn’t see it from that view, but I understood it completely. If Mary had come back and been the mom baking cookies and cleaning the bunker then going on hunts as a third wheel all the time … it would very quickly become annoying. Being the perfect mom that is always on hunts with them, the three of them instead of two – the character super well-adjusted and just wanted to hang out with her kids – it wouldn’t make sense and the fans wouldn’t like it any better.”
Smith said the characterization really followed the “essence of family first.”
“Nobody is perfect, nobody does what you want them to, but you love them anyway,” she said.
Beyond just the Winchesters on the show, Smith reiterated what so many have said before about the cast and crew themselves being family.
“I know people say this about a lot of shows and I’ve said this before, but I feel like this show takes it to a new level,” she said. “We’re literally family. It wasn’t even chosen – other people chose us and put us in this family, and we’d do anything for any of us. I don’t think (the end of the show) could be the end of that.”
Part of that family is Mark Pellegrino, who plays Lucifer and his human host, Nick, on and off throughout the series, and who will also be in attendance at FanX.
“I love my scenes with Mark Pellegrino so much, and I loved the relationship that Lucifer and Mary had,” Smith said. “It was like an old bickering married couple. He’s so terrific, so funny, and I do everything I can to not laugh because he does things is such an unexpected way, but that’s so natural so him. … He’s delightful and I’m so excited to get to hang out with him.”
Though their time together on the show was limited, it quickly proved to be a fan favorite relationship with the best kind of chemistry that continued when Pellegrino interacted with Mary as Nick as well.
“We have a whole episode in Season 14 where Nick kidnaps Mary and it’s the same thing,” Smith said. “He could kill me at any second, but I still find him so annoying we just argue the whole time. There’s a scene where if you look closely … he takes me out and has me try to unlock a door. The director asked us to do it without any dialogue, to just to it quietly and he’s so funny even without talking that when I go to unlock the door, if you see my face, I have to press my lips together so I don’t start laughing.”
Pellegrino also enjoyed the duo’s relationship on the show, despite wishing it could have unfolded more.
“I really wanted our relationship to come to something,” Pellegrino said. “I feel like it went to a dead end. I don’t know why they couldn’t’ exploit more of that old married couple vibe. In the alternate universe, we felt like an old married couple. I’ll explain this by way of analogy. Growing up I had neighbors that fought all the time, and I’d sit up on brick wall that divided our property from theirs and listen to them fight. That’s all they did. One day, the husband passed and the wife was devastated for years – it was as if she lost a limb. You wouldn’t know that from way they talked to each other, but they were in some defensive mode they couldn’t get out of. Lucifer and Mary were also in defensive mode because they weren’t supposed to like each other, but how could Lucifer not admire her smarts, her toughness, her tenacity.”
Lucifer isn’t the only darker role Pellegrino has been in, and they all come with their challenges.
“I think somebody early on thought when I walked into a room there was something dark and sinister about me,” he quipped of his roles. “They thought, ‘Let’s exploit it and put him in dark sinister roles. Maybe it’s something in me I project to the world that immediately I pop into casting directors’ minds, ‘I want a bad guy, let me talk to Mark Pelligrino.’ I just kind of fell into that.”
According to Pellegrino, things evolved from there.
“Luckily the evolution from ‘Dexter’ on was a good one,” he said. “My characters were considered bad guys but there was a lot more dimension to them, actually a through line with respect to what their character wanted that you could actually grip onto as an audience. … The characters I played could be bad guys but they had grains of nobility in them that were really a relief for me to latch on to.”
Facing the darkness of those characters on a regular basis can be excruciatingly difficult, and it comes down to having “the confidence in my craft to let go of it.”
Pellegrino said gratefully his time in “Supernatural” has veered from that with such a complex and unique character.
“With Lucifer, luckily he’s not like the devil,” Pellegrino said. “With ‘Supernatural,’ the mythology version of the devil is very different from what I would think the devil would be like. I think there’s these positive elements in that particular character that the fandom latches onto, even though they’re hidden behind the sarcasm and silliness, and that’s part of what makes him palatable. If you want to be a nihilist, killing people, have a good humor while doing it and you’ll win people over to your side.”
According to Pellegrino, there is mythology regarding Lucifer that was missed by all by author Mark Twain.
“He was the one that said no against arbitrary authority and refused to bow to vice and was condemned for it,” Pellegrino said. “If you latch on to that devil characteristic, it’s a major animating force that gives Lucifer a bit of a moral edge we don’t have in our society. What did he give humanity when he tempted Eve? He tempted her with the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and gave us the rational capacity know right and wrong. He wanted us to get to the tree of life. … Humanity is infinitely intertwined with this mythological being.”
“To me, he’s a hero, a demigod, but I don’t know that he carries that stature in the show,” he continued.
Pellegrino said his’ take on Lucifer is more “impish” and “boyish” like Cal in “East of Eden,” a “raging individualist,” not afraid to stand alone.
“Lucifer stood against the host of heaven to not stand for vice,” he said.
Outside of the charismatic characterizations in “Supernatural,” Pellegrino said one of his favorite roles in his career was as Gavin Q. Baker III from “The Closer.” Baker spend about eight episodes defending Kyra Sedgwick’s character, Brenda, from a murder charge.
“I love him because he was a cross between two of my favorite television personalities: Tim Gunn and Carson Kressley. I melded the two of them together and that became Gavin Q. Baker III. I loved the idea of a flamboyantly gay man who’s the most powerful person in the room; the most smart person in the room. He took that police department by the balls and won. I love that about him. And he got to wear great outfits. … Every week I got to wear great clothes, a different pair of glasses every week, and whoop a prosecuting attorney up and down.”
Regardless of the role, though, Pellegrino said he’s enthusiastic to spend a few days on a return visit to FanX.
“Dan (Farr) is super cool and made me feel so at home,” he said about the show producer and co-founder. “It’s like a family, like being embraced by a family. … I like any place where the people are kind and welcoming, open-minded and interested. We don’t get enough of that in (Los Angeles).”
Unfortunately, it isn’t always kindness in response to Pellegrino’s characters – an issue a lot of celebrities deal with. For Pellegrino, dealing with the negativity is a matter of soul.
“It’s really a matter of the size of your soul, how much of that stuff you let in,” he said. “The smaller, the more you let get to you. If it’s larger, wider, if you have more knowledge, the wider your consciousness is … (You can get to the point where you say)I have enough information now, that this pinprick doesn’t bother me. I’m trying to acquire that information.”
When it comes to life, Pellegrino defines himself as a “rugged individualist” and “anti-tribal.”
“People who don’t fall into tribal identities become the victims of persecution,” he said. “I just try to urge people not to identify themselves by their tribe – each and every human being is a unique individual and their identity is in their character, not in birth, gender or class. I would urge everyone to identify themselves as the smallest minority on earth – the individual.
Pellegrino and Smith will both be at FanX at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City throughout the day Friday and Saturday. For more details on the event or to purchase tickets, visit fanxsaltlake.com. Keep up with the Daily Herald’s continuing coverage of the event at heraldextra.com/comiccon.