TrunkSpace sits down with the affable Nate Torrence, an actor whose laugh is as infectious in real life as it is onscreen, to discuss his memorable guest starring role as Sam’s imaginary friend Sully in “Supernatural,” appearing as Clawhauser in the smash hit “Zootopia,” and achieving his Hollywood bucket list goals.
TrunkSpace: Congratulations on everything that’s been happening with “Zootopia,” especially with the Oscar nomination.
Torrence: Yeah, it’s been a really crazy ride. That was pretty amazing. I’ve been a part of that thing for like five years, so for it to come to this fruition…
TrunkSpace: It’s amazing how far animation has come, not only in the animation itself, but in the storytelling. It’s incredible.
Torrence: It is. You know what was cool about that process was, to watch the writing and plot just how much they were putting into it. If it’s not working, they work themselves through it and I really respected that. Obviously it’s Disney and they’re on this peak in that all of their stuff is really hitting and doing well and being embraced… like a renaissance for their animation.
TrunkSpace: What’s so wonderful about animated films now is, both kids and adults can watch them and enjoy them in two very different ways.
Torrence: Yeah. And I feel that’s so new. I know that with the directors and guys I was working with… it was “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen”… it just feels like they’re getting really great at creating these worlds first and then creating plots that happen within those worlds. I feel like that’s a real, now, a style of writing that is really getting in-depth. I would like to be a writer, but I’m not to those levels. (Laughter) I really respect it and I took a lot out of it.
TrunkSpace: And in those worlds, what’s nice is that because it’s animation, you can literally do whatever you want visually.
Torrence: Exactly. And the detail that they go into on them… I mean, it was like two years of just saying, this what we want “Zootopia” to be, now let’s try to create the greatest story from that world. And how much time and effort they put into it… we got about two years into that and then they decided to change it. It was like, “We think this is a better idea… we think it’s better to come from the bunny’s perspective rather than Nick’s perspective.” Because that’s where they were coming from… this predator aspect and then they were like, “Let’s go this route.” I was just like, “You guys just got balls!” (Laughter) Literally, we had already done testing internationally. The toys were being made and they were like, “We’re changing the script.” (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: That’s awesome. It’s almost like a television mentality in that they were still making big changes while in the process of production to make the best end product possible?
Torrence: Totally. They did. On the DVDs or the Blu-ray… I’m sure it’s like the Blu-ray set or something… they have a documentary they did on the last couple of years of “Zootopia” when that change happened, so it’s kind of interesting. But, it was cool to be a part of. I literally just sat back and was like, “Man, this is just 101 in the idea of killing your babies as a writer.” (Laughter) And now it’s winning Golden Globes and Oscars!
TrunkSpace: And not only that, but it is 1 of 28 films to reach 1 billion dollars worldwide. That’s huge!
Torrence: Yeah! And on the international scale, what was crazy was… I think in seven or eight countries, we’re literally the number one movie. We took out “Avatar” in like, I know it was Ukraine, Spain… all of these countries. And not just as an animated film. I’m sure it will be defeated at some point, but just how cool! It was so funny because the whole cast got together to watch it with John (Lasseter) and it was really cool. They kind of make it a special evening and we all watched it… maybe a month before it premiered. And none of us knew what to say. “Is this thing going to be good?” We really loved it, but I had no idea! I think it gave me a lot of peace with my career whereas you just can’t predict anything. So many times I’ve been on the other side of it where it’s like you think it’s going to go great and then it doesn’t and you’re like, “Aww, crap.” (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: And what’s hard is that it’s always so difficult to lock down just what that lightening in a bottle is that made it so accessible to so many people. Obviously studios have teams to break all of that down, but you can never purposefully catch that type of lightening in a bottle.
Torrence: No. It’s so true. It’s funny you bring that up because what was crazy was… there were focus groups and testing on different levels. I just learned this because I had to do a lot of junket stuff with one of the producers so I had heard Clark (Spencer) talk about it a bunch and in the Asian countries specifically, they were infatuated with the story’s take on forgiveness. There’s this moment where how quickly Nick forgave the bunny for what she did… just this small scene… and they said that, culturally, that had such a heavy hit that people were really emotionally being charged about how quickly he forgave her for wronging him. That was like this huge niche where people were seeing it again and again. And also, coming from rural to a large population, which obviously happens in a lot of countries, but again… you’re just like, “Wow!” I’m seeing kind of the back end business side of this thing because it was such a global phenomenon and I’m really just trying to learn as much as I can.
TrunkSpace: You hear the term “grounded in reality” thrown around so often, and while it was a world of animals inhabited by animals, it really was grounded and relatable.
Torrence: Totally. It was a whole year… just the press alone… was a whole year of my life. I went straight from it going and just never stopped. Then we went straight into DVDs and into awards. And with these larger awards, obviously I’m not playing a huge part in it, but every now and then you’ll do an interview or something. But yeah, what a ride. It was pretty cool. (Laughter) And I got like stuffed animals of myself! Action figures and stuffed animals! And I’ve got two kids, so literally that’s on my small list of things I want on my bucket list. My Hollywood bucket list is pretty much complete with an action figure.
TrunkSpace: They make some pretty odd things overseas based on popular brands and characters. Have you seen any bizarre things based on Clawhauser?
Torrence: (Laughter) Well, mostly I just see some really messed up stuffed animals. You’re like, “Wow, that’s a take. I’m an artist, but boy, that’s pushing the limits.”
TrunkSpace: (Laughter) The unlicensed versions you can win at carnivals.
Torrence: (Laughter) Exactly! Clawhooser! (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: In season 11 of “Supernatural” you portrayed Sam’s childhood imaginary friend Sully. What we found so interesting about your portrayal of that character is that you brought humor and heart to it in a way that another actor may have approached differently and completely missed the mark on. On paper, it sounds like a character who would be very one-dimensional and built solely for comic relief, but that was not the case at all.
Torrence: Yeah. I had a lot of talks too because, quite honestly, in my career, a lot of my characters can be a little broader and whacky and I wanted to touch into that. I think there’s an innocence sometimes that I love to portray in a lot of my characters. That’s what I get looked at and booked for. But, this one specifically, because you’re dealing with so much fantasy around you and this aspect of supernatural to the show, you knew it had to be so grounded in those moments and that was a team collaboration. I mean, that set… they take it so seriously, which was so cool. And they’re so laid back, but then also, there was no arguing. That’s what was cool. When I gave my first… we get to the set and I read the scene… I’m trying to remember because the biggest scene that we definitely had was when we were in the garage and I got to give that speech to Jared (Padalecki)… and that day, I think we did it just one time in rehearsal and got no notes. They’re like, “Yeah, let’s just film it.” I was excited about that because you never know. With that one, I read one scene on tape and sent it in and they went with me, so I hadn’t actually read anything. They shoot in Vancouver and I was obviously flying in, so, you never know if you’re going to get heavy notes after you give your portrayal. And they were like, “It’s perfect… let’s do it.” And it just got better from there. And it got more grounded from there. And when it was in a two shot… aww… so good!
TrunkSpace: One of your most powerful scenes in that episode was in the motel room with the actor playing young Sammy.
Torrence: He was so great. I think we did it all in seven days of actual shooting and I think it was two weeks total. I give Speight (who directed the episode) a lot of credit in that scene because his staging of it… having us hang off the bed… those are all choices that need to be made. You’re in a room and the last thing you want to do is be like a talking head. And then, just having that energy… they would always allow me to have enough innocence and playfulness that wasn’t human necessarily, but at the same time, just not jokey. I was so concerned about that. Literally, I think what I asked every time I did something, I’m like, “Am I annoying? Please, I don’t want to be annoying in this.” (Laughter) We knew in the first scene with all of the candy that we wanted to come out big and establish that it’s this one whacky, fun character, but at the same time, to have like this ebb and flow. Oh, and then with Sparkle on her face! That day was so fun and amazing and… I mean, it was… it was a highlight last year for me as far as a project and a role. They all know it, but I would die to bring Sully back. (Laughter) Pleeeeeease! Please bring him back!
TrunkSpace: As an actor it must be kind of daunting going into a role like that, because in a way, you’re participating in completely rewriting what viewers know of Sammy’s past… at least in terms of his motivation.
Torrence: Oh, man. That’s exactly it. One, thank you to anyone who watches and comes up and says hi to me. They’re the sweetest, most amazing, supportive people in the world, but that idea… we knew that we were dealing with doctrine. It’s like, “whoa, whoa, whoa… you can’t throw this in and expect it to stick without being very, very aware.” And that happened quite a bit. When I was in that hotel room with young Sam, this idea of how forceful I should be… how much am I trying to convince him. This idea of what have we already created that we think he’s experienced and gone through. And it was… it was high stakes. And you felt it the whole time. It could have just went south. It could have been a hated character of like, “How dare you say this has been happening and this happened in this sense!” And, once we brought Sully out, you can’t make him crazy and just say, “Oh, that was all nonexistent” because then that hurts what we think of Sam now. But, they did… they weighed it with that much. And they would talk to me. They’d be like, “Hey, this is why we’re putting the army soldiers here. This is why we’re putting the LEGOs here. This is the story we’re telling and creating that has happened already and this how you should react. And this is how you should react to Dean!” You know, this idea of… some of my wording was frustrated and angry with him, but that idea that it was always surface hurt. I actually knew that I loved Dean because he did take care of Sam and I was aware of that, but he was always hurtful to me or mean to me… so I was allowed to react to those jabs, but that it was never a trait of his personality or character. Like, I respected his character, so, those were great. Nothing is better than as an actor to come in as a guest star… because you’re just coming in and you’re like, “I don’t want to interrupt this world at all.” (Laughter) And to be able to jump in and get that deep into things… and then on the personal level… the guys on the set, I’ll tell ya, I’ve been the part of a lot of TV shows in my career, unfortunately (laughter)… quick one-offs… and just like we said with “Zootopia” with what lightening in a bottle looks like, and they sure got it up there. And I think it is, it’s in their work ethic, and they’re just good people. Even to the idea… I’m a Midwest guy. I don’t know what that means necessarily besides that I like to work hard and I like to be a nice guy and I like to be supportive. And boy, the Texas boys got it too.
TrunkSpace: It certainly could have been a disaster, at least how it looked on paper, but it worked on so many levels.
Torrence: Yeah. Well, and even when they put me in the outfit. (Laughter) I went to wardrobe and I was like, “Oh man… these pants… I am busting out of them.” (Laughter) They were like three inches too tight and I was like, “I kind of think it’s funny.” (Laughter) I just like poured out of them. (Laughter) We were all like, “We are really going to have to ground this thing… and do some dark lighting.” (Laughter)
Be sure to check out Nate’s short film, “We Think Nate Torrence is Dead,” below!