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Wingman Wednesday

A.J. Buckley

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Photo By: James Dimmock

Being a child of the 1980s, A.J. Buckley grew up playing with G.I. Joe action figures, so it comes as no surprise that his inner child is gung-ho about getting to portray a gun-toting soldier with swagger on the hit CBS series “SEAL Team.” As the cowboy Sonny Quinn, Buckley has ventured far away – in a Black Hawk helicopter no less – from those previous characters who thrust him into the spotlight, including Ghostfacer Ed Zeddmore from the long-running genre series “Supernatural,” which he hopes to one day find some narrative closure with.

We recently sat down with Buckley to discuss dreams come true, beard functionality, and why the SPN Family needs to Tweet out #bringthefacersback.

TrunkSpace: You’re in your early 40s, which means you were a kid when “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” took off in the ‘80s. What would eight-year-old A.J. think if he was told his future self would get to play an on-camera G.I. Joe one day?
Buckley: I would play for hours and hours with G.I. Joe. Me and my cousin, Alex, had pretty much every one of them. All the tanks, every character – I was obsessed with it. And as a boy running around the neighbourhood playing guns, and reading a few red dot sight reviews on sites like Sniper Country! I was doing all that sort of stuff was really part of my childhood, so this in a sense is every little boy’s dream. I get to show up to work and fly around in Black Hawk helicopters and shoot big guns and blow things up. It’s a dream job, it really is.

TrunkSpace: Is it one of those things where you show up on set and there’s a new set piece or prop and you get just as excited as you did on your first day?
Buckley: Oh, without a doubt, and we haven’t even touched half of it. I got to drive on top of a Hummer firing a 50-cal and blowing things up. I got to shoot live rounds out of it. Not during the filming, but just to understand what it felt like to shoot a live round. My character carries all the big guns, so it’s really fun to show up and they hand me the gun and a big pack of ammo and I just unload on something. I don’t know how I ended up so lucky but there’s not a day that I don’t drive to set thinking, “Holy shit, this is the greatest job in the world!”

TrunkSpace: And you get to have a beard, which is pretty awesome for an on-camera gig!
Buckley: Yeah, it’s true. Last season it was a little more crazy because when Navy Seals deploy – our tech advisor for the Seals said that you don’t shave at all. You don’t cut your hair and you don’t shave. One, to blend in, but two, it’s sort of like a badge of honor to how long you’ve been there. So depending on how long your hair is and how long your beard is, it shows the length of time that you’ve been over there.

We went, I think, seven months without shaving once… any sort of trim or haircut. And my hair and my beard were so long that my daughter… one night she had put a LEGO person in my beard and I totally forgot about it. I got to set the next day and the lady’s combing my beard and she was like, “What is that?” And I reached into my beard and it was a little LEGO person.

TrunkSpace: It’s like a wallet!
Buckley: It was a long beard. I found toothpicks in there too. We’d be on the Black Hawk and my character would have a toothpick. Because you’re all geared up; it’s hard to reach into your pocket, so I would just put them inside my beard and then if I lost one I would just pull one out of my beard. It was very useful.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned having the Navy Seals as advisors. How important was it having access to them to sort of not only secure the realism of the series, but to understand who Sonny was?
Buckley: We would 100 percent not be the show that we are if it wasn’t for the men and women that are veterans on our show, who have now become producers or veteran writers, or are behind the camera or in various different departments on the show. Sixty percent of our crew are veterans and they’ve gone out of their way to do that, so there’s a real sense of pride in the show that we’re making. And I feel that with our executive producer, Chris Chulack, he sort of set the tone that said we want to have the authenticity of what these guys do. Although we’re making a TV show, we want to be as authentic as possible. And our veterans on the show, our tech advisor producers, they have the ability – which never happens – that if a guest director is shooting something or any director is shooting something and if it’s not the way that we would move or it’s not the way that we would do it, the veteran has the ability to step in and say, “Cut.”

Buckley in “SEAL Team”

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the love of coming to set, but what is it about Sonny himself that you’ve enjoyed throughout these first two seasons?
Buckley: He’s a real cowboy. It’s such a fun character. I’ve never played a role like this before. There’s a guy that my character’s loosely based on, and I got to spend some time with him and he’s got this kind of swagger to him, this cowboy, and he’s got the one liners and sort of that dry sense of humor. He’s a fun, whiskey-drinking, beer-drinking, red meat-eating cowboy that kicks some ass. It’s kind of a dream role for any guy.

TrunkSpace: Did it come with a bit of pressure when you first signed on, knowing that he was specifically written for you?
Buckley: Yeah. Ben Cavell, the writer of the first season, when I spoke to him he had said, “I wrote this with you in mind for the character.” And knowing that this is based on a real group of guys and that they’re with you every day on set, yeah, there is a certain amount of pressure. But I like the pressure because it keeps everybody on their toes and it’s our responsibility to portray this group of men and women in a certain light… and portray them right by giving them the respect that we should and honoring them in that way, so it’s a good thing.

TrunkSpace: You’ve played a lot of diverse characters over the course of your career… guys with different internal ways of thinking. Was that a conscious decision… trying to keep each new role different from the previous one you portrayed?
Buckley: I think so. I would say more in the second part of my career. I always like to find each character I get to kind of push the envelope or create something that’s really different from who I am. Coming off of “CSI: New York” and “Supernatural” – I was a regular on “CSI: New York” and a recurring on “Supernatural” – I was fearful when the show ended that I was going to be typecast. And for me, my favorite character growing up was John McClane, that sort of every man that can do the impossible. And that’s where I wanted my career to go, so I really had to put the time in and shift gears in the sense of being laser focused on the roles that I choose, and physically how I looked. It became really a nine to five job where I had to hire a nutritionist, Kevin Libby, to really dial in sort of who I was and the characters I wanted to start portraying.

TrunkSpace: Was part of that physical transformation an extension of getting executives and casting people to see you in a different light?
Buckley: Yeah, it was. And I think it was for me, too. I needed to feel that way, to kind of get there. In a sense you kind of become the character a little bit or whoever this idea you have… it’s obvious if you’re a superhero or an action hero, you’ve got a good chance of working, and pudgy little dad bod wasn’t going to cut it. So I said, “Fuck it!” and I just decided that I was going to put everything I had into it, and in a sense, manifesting this next chapter.

Supernatural — “#THINMAN” — Image SN916b_0278 — Pictured: AJ Buckley as Ed — Credit: Diyah Pera/The CW — © 2014 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

 

TrunkSpace: We had read that your “Supernatural” character, Ed Zeddmore, was one of your favorite characters that you’ve ever played. What would Dean Winchester think of Ed if he showed up all jacked? Dean’s such an alpha male, how would that play out?
Buckley: He’d be terrified. (Laughter)

I always thought it’d be really funny because the Ghostfacers are the longest living characters. And Travis Wester, my partner on that, on Ghostfacers, who plays Harry, he also started doing a lot of crossfit and he got pretty jacked. I always thought it would be funny if they brought us back, and through the years that they hadn’t seen us, we come back and we are who we are now and sort of give the boys a run for their money. I think it’d be fun. Those guys, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, are two of the nicest human beings you could possibly meet. For our characters, when we came on the show, we kind of took over it. It became the Ghostfacers show, and some actors wouldn’t be cool with that, and they were just… they’re as successful as they are for a reason, because of just the types of guys that they are and how open minded and cool they are. They’re just a good group of guys and I would love for our characters to go back and at least… like kill us or do something, because it ended just so oddly. We separated and we never came back.

The Ghostfacers were Eric Kripke, who was the original show writer, they were kind of like his babies. Him and Tre Callaway were the writers who gave birth to them, so to speak. Eric Kripke really got behind us and kind of gave us our spinoff. We got to write it and direct it, and it was a whole thing, but once Kripke left, we both felt that the new showrunner wanted to take the show in a different direction, which happens and that’s totally cool, but Ghostfacers just wasn’t on that direction train.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been on a bunch of high profile projects over the years. Do any current fandoms compare, at least passion-wise, to the SPN Family?
Buckley: There’s no other fans like “Supernatural” fans. “Supernatural” fans are the most loyal fans that are out there. They’re diehard. Our characters, the Ghostfacers, became who they were and we got that spinoff and that incredible run because the fandom really got behind us and talked about it.

The fans, if they’re reading this, they should do this thing and hashtag #bringthefacersback.

SEAL Team” airs Wednesdays on CBS.

 

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Wingman Wednesday

Travis Wester

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Travis Wester grew up a fanboy. He attended conventions, geeked out about “Star Trek,” and spent prolonged periods of time rolling 20-sided die. He was a proud, card-carrying member of nerd culture long before nerd culture became the cool faction. And now, as a grown up, Wester has found himself a part of the most passionate fandom universe of the current pop culture age thanks to his turn in “Supernatural” where he reoccurs as Harry Spangler, founding member of Ghostfacers.

We recently sat down with Wester to discuss the SPN Family, going from con attendee to invited guest, and what it was like to work with Tim Curry.

TrunkSpace: You’ve acted in so many great shows over the years, but in your experience, did any of their fandoms compare to that of “Supernatural” when it came to the passion and love for a particular show?
Wester: There’s no comparison between any fandoms. I was kind of one of the proto “Star Wars” fandom people, I think. I still remember wearing “Star Wars” T-shirts to school back in the early 90s.

I just dated myself.

I kind of came up in the geek community. I used to play “Dungeons & Dragons” in high school and stuff like that. I went to “Star Trek” conventions when I was 12. That kind of stuff. So I’m very familiar with fandoms and I’ve got to say, the “Supernatural” fandom is absolutely a thing of beauty. The fact that they think of themselves as family, it’s really something else. It’s all the good parts of tribalism in my opinion. It’s all about togetherness and community and maybe I’m sort of outside the bubble perhaps, but I’m not super aware that they go out and attack people and make people from other fandoms feel bad or anything like that. Like I said, it’s all the best parts of tribalism where you feel like you’re part of a community and everyone supports each other.

When you’re out and about and you see someone with an “Assbutt” shirt or something like that, you kind of give them the knowing nod. It’s really cool.

And it’s also sort of underground, which I like about it too. People who are into it are super into it, but people who aren’t into it are barely aware of it. It almost kind of reminds me of a “Vampire: The Masquerade” of fandoms. Once you’re in the “Supernatural” fandom, you can exist in all of these other fandoms, but you’re in this other dimension when you step into the “Supernatural” fandom.

TrunkSpace: It seems like every actor and actress who has appeared on the show is genuinely and wholeheartedly excited to have been a part of it.
Wester: I think a lot of that has to do with the guys… J & J, Jared and Jensen. You go up there and you feel like part of a family while you’re up there. I think what happens with a lot of actors is that they get up there, they do the work, and they kind of feel like they’re a part of that family because Jared and Jensen are so welcoming and they’re just such awesome guys to have on set. I don’t think anyone has ever gone up there and has been like, “Aww, man… Jared and Jensen! They hardly talked to me. God, they’re such jerks!” (Laughter) I have never spoken to anyone that has been on the show that has thought that. The culture of family really starts with them. They’re both from Texas and they both have families themselves and I think it kind of starts there.

And then when you’re done with the show and you get invited out to a convention or something and you show up and you meet the fans… you see how that culture has spread out into the fandom. You can’t help but get excited. You can’t help but be stoked that you’re a part of this project. People use the word systemic a lot and a lot of times they misuse it. Systemic means it’s root to tip. It’s root to stem… it’s the whole system. I think that when it comes to “Supernatural” it is systemically a family because it starts right with Jared and Jensen and it goes out to everyone in the community.

TrunkSpace: You were working in TV for over a decade before you stepped into the role of Harry Spangler on “Supernatural.” With the show being so early in its life cycle at that time and when the network itself was kind of in flux, did you have any idea that you’d still be talking about it now and participating in conventions and all sides of the fandom?
Wester: None. No. You’re right, I did a lot of work in TV up until then and I’ve done plenty of pilots and shows where it was like… show number three, their third episode ever. And then five episodes later the show is in the wind and it’s gone. If you look at my resume, I’m sure you’d see a lot of that. So, you get on a show like “Supernatural” and it was kind of at a time when the WB was a thing and the CW was still a thing. They were two separate networks. I remember, I think it was while we were filming that episode, we got the news. I remember Jared coming out of his trailer and telling Jensen, “Hey, the WB and CW just merged.” And they were looking at each other and Jensen was like, “What does that mean for us?” And Jared was like, “I don’t know, bro!” (Laughter)

It was at a time when the WB was throwing a lot of stuff at the wall. They had a lot of success with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” so I think they felt like that there was something in that genre and it wasn’t the only thing like that that they were trying at the time, but I think the reason it stuck is… it all comes down to the story. The universe that Eric Kripke created allows us as an audience to play ourselves in the narrative in a way that is fairly rare and something that I think most show runners are striving for.

Supernatural — “#THINMAN” — Image SN916b_0268 — Pictured: Travis Wester as Harry — Credit: Diyah Pera/The CW — © 2014 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that as a kid you used to go to “Star Trek” conventions. What is it like for you now being on the other side of the convention table?
Wester: I think I’m fairly unique amongst actors. I don’t think too many of them have ever actually been paying members of any conventions, much less paying members of like, a role playing game convention, which I have also been to. (Laughter)

One of the best times I’ve ever had in my entire life… I think I was like 15… and I got my dad to agree to allow my buddy and I to go to a convention and actually stay overnight at the hotel. For two nights. We were able to go Friday to Sunday and we just played games for hours and hours and hours.

Anyway… so I don’t think too many actors have had that experience, so for me, it was kind of emotional at first to be on the other side of it.

TrunkSpace: Knowing that you are a fanboy yourself, how cool was it to work opposite Dr. Frank-N-Furter himself, Tim Curry in “Turbocharged Thunderbirds?”
Wester: It was intimidating. Just seeing him on set, I was like, “Oh my God, it’s Tim Curry!” I actually met my wife at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

TrunkSpace: Nice!
Wester: Yeah. I first went to Rocky when I was like 15. Being able to be around Tim Curry and to say that I’ve worked with him, it was pretty exciting.

Nice dig, dude! That was a deep dig. That was actually my first narrative TV gig too.

TrunkSpace: You did quite a few episodes, right?
Wester: Yeah. We did like 13 or something like that. It was back when “Power Rangers” were hot, so they were trying to find something in that space… something in the space of mixing their own live action with stock puppetry that they had already purchased. Tim Curry was like the main bad guy. It was awesome.

Honestly, I don’t care what they do with the new “It.” Tim Curry’s always going to be “It” to me!

TrunkSpace: One character that you played who really seemed to deserve more fleshing out because there seemed to be a side to him that the audience never got to see was Billy Mac from “Justified.” He was a pretty straight forward guy on the surface, but there was some stuff going on underneath it all that deserved some exploring.
Wester: I thought so too, but I guess the narrative demands of season 1 of “Justified” called for someone getting shot in the head. (Laughter)

That was actually one of the more challenging characters that I think I’ve ever played just because I had to be straight up racist to a black man to his face while we were acting. For sure, that was maybe some of the most uncomfortable I’ve been on set, but it was also kind of the most transcendental because I rarely feel like I’m just completely synthesizing and fabricating a character. Most times I feel like there’s something in there that I’m tapping into that’s really a part of me. Obviously acting is always kind of like that, but with Billy Mac I felt like I was having to tap into the mirror version of me… the Travis with the evil goatee and what I would be in that other evil dimension. I was kind of having to reach through the dimensions and tap into that. So that was intense.

JUSTIFIED: L-R: Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens and Travis Wester as Billy Mac in JUSTIFIED airing Tuesday, May 11 (10:00PM ET/PT) on FX. CR: Prashant Gupta / FX.

TrunkSpace: Timothy Olyphant’s character was such a bad ass on “Justified” and Jensen Ackles character is such a bad ass on “Supernatural,” so if the two universes met and Raylan Givens and Dean Winchester had to go toe-to-toe… how would that play out?
Wester: (Laughter) Well, guns or no guns?

TrunkSpace: They both like their guns, so it would make sense that they’d be packing.
Wester: If it’s a straight up duel… they go out into the middle of the street and it’s just a showdown… I’m going to go with Raylan. But, if it’s just kind of a bare knuckle, shirts off, guns are cast aside thing like that, where it’s sort of Captain Kirk meets the lizard guy type of situation, I’m going to go with Dean.

TrunkSpace: You just got the fandom in a tizzy because you said “shirts off” in the middle of that.
Wester: (Laughter) Yeah. So if Raylan’s shirt is off and Dean’s shirt is off and they’re just bare knuckling it, yeah, I think Dean’s got the edge.

TrunkSpace: So looking back over your career and at all of the projects that you’ve worked on, what is the one that has had the most profound impact on you?
Wester: I’d have to say the “Supernatural” role. It’s been the most fun ride. It’s sort of carried on. And it kind of inspired me the most creatively. A.J. (Buckley) and I got together to make a number of shorts, which I think are still available on the internet somewhere. We put together a quick thing of us going down to San Diego Comic Con back almost 10 years ago. We were both just really energized by these characters and I don’t think I’ve ever been so inspired after a shoot wraps to try to continue to explore that character because I enjoyed it so much.

TrunkSpace: With that being said, has there been talk to bring the Ghostfacers back?
Wester: There was talk of it, but A.J. is on this new “Seal Team” show on CBS, so he’s going to be out there taking down ISIS or whatever on CBS. (Laughter)

But we were… those talks were happening.

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