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During the past 10 seasons, The CW’s fan-favorite demon-hunting family drama Supernatural has explored many iterations of its core characters, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester.
They started out as boys on a quest to find their father, who didn’t come home after a hunt. Dean was the quintessential first born and big brother — often overprotective, trying to walk in his father’s shoes, forced to be the man of the house at a young age, usually a “shoot first” kind of guy. Sam was studious and more outwardly sensitive, trying to make his own path, and special from childhood in a way only a supernatural series could show. In many respects the two characters were very different, but they were always bonded by a deep love and brotherhood, and more times than not proved just how strong a force they were when together, fighting whatever came their way side by side.
“We may not have all the strength of these otherworldly creatures, but we can still fight, we can still make a difference, and we’re going to do that until we can’t anymore,” Ackles told The Hollywood Reporter. “That mission statement brought him to where he is now. No matter what the odds and what the adversity, there’s always a way to fight. And I think that’s one of the big themes of our show [in general]. We have that ‘never give up’ mentality — never give up on yourself and never give up on each other.
“I think that’s really brought the brothers to where they are today,” he adds. “Even though there’s been a lot of bad blood between them, and there’s been all kinds of different variations of Sam and different variations of Dean, I think at the core of all of that there’s a connection that is family, that’s brothers, and that is something that you never, ever, ever give up on — no matter what situation you’re faced with. That gives them a pride and a powerful resilience to the evil that they fight all the time. And that, in my opinion, is where they are today; there’s a resolve between the two of them knowing that, ‘Yeah, I could go down a path of destruction … but whatever it is, we’re going to work together, and we’ve got each other’s back, and we’re going to fight through it and figure out a way, and if there is no way, we’re going to go out swinging’.”
And with the show showing no sign of slowing down — it was just given an early season 11 renewal — there will be quite a few more versions of Sam and Dean to come.
THR caught up with Ackles to talk about where Dean is in season 10 and what key moments from the previous seasons have most informed who he is today.
Dean seems to have almost resigned himself to the fact that he might have to live with the Mark of Cain for a while, if not forever, and he is making great strides to attempt this, but they are strides that are forcing him to suppress so much of who he is, so how long will he be willing to do that before he just says, “Screw it, I can’t live like this”?
“Clean Dean” is what I call him, but the spoiler alert is that it doesn’t last that long. As we will see in the next episode, he starts to teeter a bit. It’s kind of against his fabric; it’s against his code; it’s not who he is. And sure, he can clean it up a little bit, but at the end of the day, he’s a burger-and-fries kind of guy, so I think the mentality of wanting to get a clear head and wanting to make some new life choices is a good thing, and that will continue to carry on, but from an audience’s perspective, I like my Dean a burgers-and-fries-and-beer kind of guy!
Dean’s arc this season is very internal and very emotional, as opposed to seasons past where what the stories were building toward were showdowns with a “big bad.” What are the added challenges in that?
Really the big bad hasn’t come to fruition yet. I believe it will; I believe they’re building toward that, and we’re going to start to see it in the next few episodes. So that being said, I think this is his cross to bear right now. And he’s always internalized a lot of things, which drives his brother crazy because Sam wants to be there to help, but if Dean doesn’t allow him to help or tell him what’s going on, he’s really left out in the cold. So even though Dean is trying to put on a brave face and face this thing, like he faces most adversity, he really knows that he doesn’t have a clue on how to fight it. We will see in upcoming episodes Dean saying, “Look, there’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well get back to business as usual.” And that is really his attempt at saying, “Look Sam, there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing I can do, and we might as well do something that we’re good at until I can’t do that anymore.” It’s a bit of a steady decline — a slow deterioration — for Dean. It’s a ticking time bomb, and we’re really starting to realize there’s no way to put the fuse out.
There is such a dichotomy to the darkness Dean is staring down right now, as opposed to the start of season 10 where, yes, he was a demon, but he was lighter and having so much fun, which was in itself the opposite of what season three Dean had nightmares he would be if he ever turned demonic.
The way that it appeared to him in season three — you know, a snarling, demonic, raging psychopath — those were the kinds of demons that Dean had dealt with [at that point], so subconsciously that was how he would personify a demon if he was one. And I thought that made sense [then, but] I thought that it would be a nice juxtaposition that [when he was] transformed into something completely different, that all of that guilt and all of that weight that he had to bear last year was gone. He didn’t have to bear it anymore, so instead of being some maniacal, angry, gritted-teeth kind of a snarling demon, he was carefree and loved life — or at least loved the demon life. I thought that was interesting and would maybe allow for some more interesting scenes, especially against Crowley, who if he can’t get a grasp on somebody who’s so flippant and doesn’t care about anything, especially his boss, seemingly, that would drive him even more crazy than just someone who was being a jerk and defiant. I didn’t want to play Dean as this defiant, bratty son or something like that. I wanted him to be like, “Screw you. Screw you and everything you want me to do. I’m going to do what I want to do because you know what? I don’t care.” To me, that was even more crazy in my mind, so that’s what we went with, and it was a nice lighter break from what we spent all [season nine] doing with Dean.
There were times when Dean as a demon seemed happier than we had ever seen him.
I did love Demon Dean, and I would have loved to stretch that out longer, but to be honest, we don’t know that he’s entirely not a demon anymore. I think that question mark is still somewhere hanging out there. [But] when he came out of Purgatory, and he’s like, “This is where I belong: driving down crazy street with my brother by my side,” I think those are the moments that he is the happiest. Sure, it’s a long road, and he knows there’s going to be all kinds of evil that he’s going to be up against, but that’s where he thrives, and that’s where he belongs, and he knows that now.
As the years have gone on, Dean has changed and grown and been affected by the things he’s seen and done in ways that allowed you to play many different versions of him. And then there are the times when someone else gets to step in and take on this very complex character, like in the upcoming season 10 episode “About a Boy.”
Dylan Everett playing Young Dean [in “About a Boy”], he knocked it out of the park. Here’s a kid who’s played a young version of Dean before, but it was Young Dean, and here and now he was challenged to play Present Dean in a younger body, and to come onto a set and to take on a character that’s been portrayed by another actor for [so many] years, and to put in the performance that he did, I as an audience member and as a huge fan of the show and as someone who is highly protective of this character that I have been playing for the past 10 years, I was very impressed, and I was very pleased.
Click here to see what Ackles has to say about Dean’s evolution over the years in our special gallery. Supernatural airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW. Which is your favorite Dean? Debate that in the comments section below.
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