After a season finale where one of the two Winchester brothers - Sam (played by Jared Padalecki) - was vanquished to hell, the sixth season of "Supernatural" picks up tonight after some time has passed as Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) - now living with girlfriend Lisa and her son Ben - has moved on from the "death" of his brother. This being "Supernatural," however, Sam returns from hell and while the brothers eventually return to their demon hunting ways, stars Ackles and Padalecki told our Jim Halterman on the set in Vancouver (where they were shooting episode 8, "All Dogs Go To Heaven") that the relationship between the brothers continues to go through some changes.
"We're picking up a year later," said Ackles, "so Dean has basically been living a year with the knowledge of thinking that [Sam is] gone. When Sam shows back up unexpectedly obviously there's surprise but then there's also anger at the fact of how long has he been around and why hasn't he told me? So that's the first bit of friction that they get into." The brothers will act out this tension by more than mere verbal sparring. "There are physical and verbal confrontations between the brothers," he said. "They do have that common denominator that they are both hunters so they get back on the right track eventually but there's still a strain in the relationship that needs to be worked out."
While Dean has become domesticated, however, Sam's experience "down-under" has changed him. Padalecki explained that Sam "is a bit different because I went to hell for a little bit but not only hell but Lucifer's cage... so I come back a lot less lovey-dovey and more like 'Hi, I've been to hell a couple of times. I died, I came back, I've done this and I've done that' so I think Sam is more no-bullshit this year." While what exactly happened to Sam in hell isn't revealed right away, Padalecki quoted the character of Crowley (played by Mark Sheppard) who says on the show "'I can't imagine what it's like in the cage and I can imagine so many things' so we can get the idea that Sam has been in the slums of hell."
In fact, that change in Sam was evident during the Vancouver location visit where the actors were shooting a scene where the brothers Winchester masquerade as crime scene investigators. Padalecki laughed when telling about how Sam's approach to the corpse found on the docks is markedly different due to his hellish experience. "We go to this dead body and my line is 'Yeah, we're specialists. We answer the questions of mouth-breathing dick monkeys' with a straight face! It's like 'Who is this dude?'"
With the changes in the dynamic between the brothers, however, Ackles admitted that it took some time to get used to the new direction of Dean and he wasn't necessarily happy about it. "There was a big kind of shift in Dean's character, actually much to my chagrin. I was not happy with it. Dean was really kind of being written soft and I've spent five years with this guy being a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of guy and now all of a sudden he's lived one year in more of a domesticated life and he's gone soft on us. I was upset as a fan of the show myself. I did my best to curb that in the acting. It read pretty soft on the page."
Padalecki stepped in and defended Ackles' feelings by adding "It was kind of staying true to your character. It wasn't like we were just not doing what the writers were writing for us but 'how can I work this in so I don't completely lose.'"
Despite the changes in the characters at the start of the season, Ackles also said fans shouldn't be too concerned about "Supernatural" being too different in the long run. "There has been a little bit of change in the characters," he explained, "but from what I understand once we get into the meat of the season everybody kind of gets on the same track We find out a lot more as to why their motivations have shifted a little bit."
Padalecki explained that the brothers may not appear on the same page at first but in terms of their relationship they do both want things to be better. "In their own way, albeit, but at least they both want the same thing. Maybe they word it differently but it's no longer Sam going 'Alright, I've got this demon and I'm going to see what's happening this way... " I think we're just wording differently what we want. 'Let's try to work together and let it flush itself out.'"
Another change with the sixth season is that longtime writer Sera Gamble has stepped in to the role of showrunner. "We haven't noticed it too much," Ackles said in terms of any big changes that he and Padalecki have seen in the change at the steering of the "Supernatural" ship. "She's been part of the game since day one and Eric [Kripke, the show's creator and former day-to-dayshowrunner] is still kicking around and puts his stamp of approval on just about everything."
"I've always been a fan of [Sera's] work with my character," Padalecki added. "I always liked what she did with Sam so I was like, 'Cool, fresh ideas but still somebody who's been in the family for a long time.'"
Do the guys think the show is getting back to the roots that from the first season? "I think it's in the same vein," Ackles offered, "but I don't think it's exactly like that monster of the week thing. We're starting to get a little bit of that but there's definitely an overpowering storyline going on whereas season one we were lighting the fire of that storyline."
Padalecki added, "I think it would be hard to go back to season one just because our characters have been developed and part of season one was developing the characters so they try a bunch of different things where the characters that we've built and known are more developed."
While it was previously announced that Ackles would be directing the "Weekend At Bobby's" episode (which shot first but airs fourth this season), Mark Sheppard, who plays Crowley on the series, was also on the Vancouver set and talked about the experience of being directed by Ackles. "He's fantastic. Everyone's going to say that but the truth of the matter is that he's a natural. He's really, really good. He was extraordinarily well prepared and it was a lot of fun to be directed by him... he's very good at getting what it is that he wants but he's very open to getting what is there.
If you think about what directing really is, it's really making a place where magic can happen. You've got parameters of the script, you've got the parameters of the show and rules the show must adhere to... it's the most important thing for the fans more than anything else that there are rules to the show like what can and cannot happen. He was really, really good at sticking to these and finding nuances."
The sixth season of "Supernatural" kicks off tonight at 9:00/8:00c on The CW.