Lisa Berry, who plays Death/Billie the Reaper on the CW’s Supernatural and Sister Cleophas on Freeform’s Shadowhunters, has been impressing fans with her talent both on screen and on stage for years. From her first appearance in season 11’s “Form and Void,” Berry has become a beloved cast member and recently even joined the Creation Entertainment convention circuit.
Berry agreed to answer a few questions for us about her work on Supernatural, her convention experiences and more in part one of our two-part interview:
Nerds and Beyond: How did you feel when you got the part of Billie the first time?
Lisa Berry: I loved it, oh my goodness. I’m such a fan of the show and when I got to audition in the room with Phil (Sgriccia) and Jensen (Ackles), I was already over the moon and that was more than enough to make me feel like I’ve made it. And then when I got offered the role I only knew…a name and then I knew that I would be singing and then I knew it would be a scene with Jared (Padalecki) and I knew that it was a Reaper and what the scene was. It was just fireworks and is really exciting. An artist hopes that they get cast in shows that they watch and love and admire and so when it was all starting to happen for real, I was just trying to take it all in and just breathe as much as I could because it really is a dream come true. I’d wanted to be on the show since I saw it in its inception 14 years ago, so it was really really wonderful.
Nerds and Beyond: How did you feel when you read the script for Billie’s return?
Lisa Berry: I look at every time I get to show up as truly a one time experience. I have no expectation that they’re going to draw my character’s storyline out or bring me back every season so I really do look at every episode as well “If this was my last, what a wonderful way to go, and if I get to come back, I’m sure it will be a wonderful story unfolding”. I’m always in a good place when it comes to the show because there’s so many storylines they can choose, there’s so many characters, past, present and future I’m sure that they’re thinking of that they can draw from and pull from and use in the storylines. It is such an honor to be a part of the show and to have them to like what I do enough to continue to bring my character back.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you think of the evolution of Billie, going from just being a rank-and-file reaper to Death?
Lisa Berry: First, I’ve always kind of seen Billie as Death’s second in command, so she was never just a reaper, she was a high, high up reaper, and from the beginning of this journey, I always saw Billie as being there with Death, you just couldn’t see her. Her energy was a part of the scene, you just couldn’t see her and she was right next to Death, being like “don’t make that deal, I told you, you know what he does, why are you making the same deal.” But at that time that’s not the story we were telling. And so the evolution of my character has just been wonderful to play because I had wanted her to be invested in a way that hopefully will be interesting to the audience and something they haven’t seen in a Reaper before.
Nerds and Beyond: What was it like filming that scene in “Advanced Thanatology” with Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester)?
Lisa Berry: That was the best. He’s a true pro and a champ. I was in the middle of working at the Shaw Festival when I had filmed that so I was doing two plays in repertory theatre at the time and I was also doing Shadowhunters and doing this so it was really focused work. I just dived in and just went for it and Jensen and our directors, everybody just seemed to really like my re-imagining of Death and where she was coming from and how she’s changed. And so it was a lot of fun to work with Jensen because I love working with them. They’re really really really good at what they do and they become masters at it because they’ve been able to practice it and hone it every single day so every time I show up on set, I’m always looking with such an educational eye and trying to learn a little more, a little something extra and just being around them makes you feel a lot more grounded. So when you’re working with artists who feel confident in their work, it just instills confidence in you and everyone around you is feeling really confident so it was just a lovely, lovely opportunity.
And I was not tired, surprisingly enough. I was completely invigorated because these are the dreams we have when we’re young and when they all come true you’re just kind of like “I just hope I have the energy for it”. Basically I just started eating really healthy and because I was gonna be changing time zones and working on different projects, I needed to be able to think and be able to memorize lines and keep everything clear so the work puts me in such a great place. I need to be my best self in order to be able to do Supernatural and then go back and be in two plays the very next day, and then fly across the country and being a completely different time zone. So for me it’s like the evolution of getting to play these characters has actually made me a better person, made me take care of myself way more than I probably would’ve if I didn’t have to travel or change time zones, and the goal being to enjoy it. A lot of times, success binds us and it makes us extra busy and then we get tired and we get run down and we get drained and the gifts that get given to us become the problems in our lives.
I just did not want that to be the case as things got busier. So it’s been wonderful if that answers your question, getting to play this role because it’s demanded different things on the outside so that I’m able to actually bring something in front of the lens that I wasn’t having to be super conscious of before.
Nerds and Beyond: Have you ever gotten a chance to compare notes with Julian Richings (Death) about the character?
Lisa Berry: I wish I had but I have not. But I did go back and watch all of his episodes to really chart his evolution so that I could be right beside him and know what specifically in my mind’s eye was happening and to have an image for when I’m referring back to things. He’s just done such lovely work that I just wanted to be a complement. I wasn’t, and I’m still not trying to replace Death. I think there have been many Deaths. I think the way that they’ve written the anthology now with another Death being able to take the place and with it being the first Reaper who dies after is the one who takes (up the mantle of) Death. They’ve written an anthology that allows for our imaginations to believe that there could have been a Death before the Death we knew and now it’s opened up the question of where does he fall in line in terms of how many Horseman have there been, and each of their ranking. Or at least that’s where my mind went, “oh, well I can’t be the first”. Unless they write something and that’s the way that it is and then I’m completely wrong. But it does leave room for the imagination to explore was there a Death even before the Death that we knew and is that how he became Death, now that we’ve created an anthology for it.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s it been like on the convention circuit both with Creation and comic cons?
Lisa Berry: It has been such an amazing experience because Kim Rhodes is such an amazing human being and was one of the first people to really take me under her wing, with Ruth (Connell) and Briana (Buckmaster). They really gave me the heads up that these conventions are going to change your life in a way that you’re not gonna be able to predict or expect.
I didn’t quite know what they meant until I experienced it for myself and getting to meet the people who had only sent messages on social media was such a rewarding experience because I didn’t expect to basically fall in love. I didn’t expect to be moved as much as I am by it.
I didn’t expect to sing again which is really kind of cool because when I got to do the conventions with Creation, I was stepping in for Briana who does the Saturday Night Specials. Briana was the one who suggested that I fill in for her because I also sing and perform and it would be a really great fit. And so when I found out that I was gonna be singing again, I was completely petrified because I hadn’t sung with a band in front of people in well over a decade. I was extremely nervous to say the least, but then once I got out there and the energy and the vibe and I was like “I have missed this.” I did not know just how much until the Supernatural family gave me an opportunity to share a side of myself that I had let go dormant and to find out that that something that’s happening to everybody in the community is just powerful.
Nerds and Beyond: Since Briana Buckmaster is releasing her album next month and then Richard Speight Jr is also doing his own, have you ever given any thought to maybe working with Jason Manns on recording something?
Lisa Berry: Oh my god no. Literally I have just started singing again for the first time a couple months ago. I am not at that stage in my vocal career yet. I’m really more looking at it like it’s just a lot of fun and it’s wonderful to sing now because just spiritually I’ve released so many insecurities and it’s manifested in my singing voice, that freedom has manifested in my singing voice. And so I’m just more interested in playing with it and exploring it and just loving what it feels like to sing which for me feels like flying. That for me, right now, that’s enough. Know that I am not opposed to (recording music), and it seems to be the stars are aligning in that way, but I’m not rushing the train.
Stay tuned to Nerds & Beyond for part two of our interview with Lisa, coming soon!