Friday, December 2, 2022

Interview: Executive Producer and Writer Robbie Thompson Talks ‘The Winchesters’ [EXCLUSIVE]

INTERVIEWSInterview: Executive Producer and Writer Robbie Thompson Talks 'The Winchesters'

Robbie Thompson, writer and executive producer on The Winchesters, is an alumni of the flagship production in the show’s universe, Supernatural. Having created some of the most beloved fan-favorite characters and episodes alike, he’s now bringing that same magic to Supernatural‘s spinoff. We recently had the chance to sit down with Thomson and chat about his work on The Winchesters. Read on to see what he had to say.

NOTE: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Nerds & Beyond: Supernatural obviously has such a big legacy, meaning so much to not just the fans, but the people who worked on the show as well. How did you find a balance between paying homage to Supernatural, yet also making sure The Winchesters stands out as its own independent show with a unique identity?

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Robbie Thompson: Boy, that’s a great question. Because I feel like I’m kind of in three different categories here — like I worked on the show, but I’m also a fan of the show, and now I’m working on this show. I think the real question for me was always, “What was the story that we wanted to tell with these characters?” When Jensen and Danneel pitched me the idea, what was intriguing to me about it was specifically these two characters at this time in their lives and then falling for one another and that sort of star-crossed lovers, sort of aspect to it. John is wanting to get into the world of hunting and Mary’s wanting to leave it as we learned from the pilot. And so it was always a question of doing exactly what you said, which was finding a balance between how do you let the story live on its own and then how do you let the story live within the Supernatural universe.

And it was the crux of a lot of the initial conversations that we had on the development side of things. Then eventually as we as we got closer and closer to making it, we started to realize we needed to let this live in its own space as much as possible. And then as you bring on more and more partners, you start to realize that you’re not the only person telling the story. You’re telling it with a group of amazing storytellers, from our cast to our crew to the amazing writers that we have here in LA. So I think as it became more of a group effort, the world itself started to organically flesh itself out. I think the more and more we can kind of live in our own space the better, but we obviously want to pay homage and pay respects to the mothership.

Obviously, these are two light-years different shows, but a calling card for us was what they did with Better Call Saul, which obviously exists within the Breaking Bad universe but really stands on its own for new viewers as well. I know plenty of people who have just watched Better Call Saul and have never seen Breaking Bad, and I think it’s a sort of true north for us. How do we bring people and welcome them home, while also leaving the door open for new viewers?

Elliot Brasseaux/The CW

Nerds & Beyond: Unlike Supernatural, the Winchesters is set in the past. We’ve already seen allusions to big historical events during the show, from John’s service in Vietnam to Lata’s experience with the Partition to Carlos being a member of the queer community only a decade before the AIDS crisis. Has it been tricky finding a balance of putting this series in its proper, historical context and fleshing out those stories while also trying to keep the monster of the week/Supernatural connection strong?

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Robbie Thompson: No, actually, it’s been one of the true joys of it. Whether it’s touching on things from a historical standpoint, being very direct like you’re talking about, or it’s just finding music that kind of evokes the era. It’s really just kind of another palette or another part of the palette that we’ve been working with. I think one of the things that Supernatural always did well was focusing on the character stories and the rest of the stuff kind of gets built around that.

And so using 1972 as almost a character on the show has only helped strengthen each episode that we’ve worked on. We have a lot of CB radios in this week’s episode and in the previous episode, we had like a commune and things like that. There’s always an organic way to kind of bring and evoke the era into the story. And it’s been one of the fun things in the writers’ room as we’ve … some of us like myself are old enough to remember the 70s [laughs] whereas a lot of our crew are not, so it’s really also been interesting to see the history play through their eyes. Also, there’s a lot of — in both good ways and unfortunately bad — parallels between 2022 and 1972. So it’s a way to kind of help evoke an era while keeping the show timeless.

Nerds & Beyond: So far, the monsters we’ve seen on The Winchesters haven’t been the same ones that we’re familiar with seeing on Supernatural, which is doing a really good job of keeping things fresh and exciting for veteran fans. We’ve definitely seen some branching out with monsters like the loup-garou, which for fans who don’t know is a Louisiana derivative of a werewolf or rougarou, and La Tunda, which hails from Columbia. In terms of the monsters we’ll be seeing in the future, are you guys generally still trying to stick with the vibe of backroads Americana lore or will we be seeing a wider variety of things that go bump in the night?

Robbie Thompson: You’re gonna be seeing a wider variety of things go bump in the night. And some of that was just an intentional thing which was trying to differentiate ourselves from the mothership, but also, there’s going to be a plot reason for that. But that we’ll find out sooner rather than later.

Matt Miller/The CW

Nerds & Beyond: You spoke about this a bit with one of my colleagues at New York Comic Con, but since we as viewers have gotten to know the characters a bit better by now, I’ll bring it up again. Bringing the level of representation to The Winchesters that was often lacking on the original show has been really important to the team behind this production and to the fans as well. Specifically, I know Nida’s talked about you working with her and Jojo to help paint an accurate picture of these characters’ experiences. Can you tell us a little bit more about the process of writing to your actors’ strengths and incorporating these cultural insights that they bring to the table in order to build more holistic, realistic depictions of these characters?

Robbie Thompson: That’s a fantastic question. It was enormously important for us as a group — this is from Chaos Machine to Warner Brothers to The CW as well. From my perspective, when I first moved out to LA, most of my friends were actors. I literally think what they do is magic because [laughs] I don’t know how they make it work. But I’ve always really loved the dialogue between what I do and what they do and having one inform the other. So I’ve just reached out to our actors directly. I started doing that on the Pilot. We try to have weekly or semi-weekly Zooms individually so that I can kind of get a good sense of what they’re playing.

And now that we’re shooting episode eight right now, we have a better sample size to kind of talk about, “Hey, here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not.” I love hearing from them because I’m looking at the whole story in my position, but they’re focused on the story from their characters, a specific point of view, and specifically their character’s history, and specifically what they bring as people and as individuals to those parts. It’s invaluable to me to sit with them — you know, I wish I could do it in person, but being in LA often it ends up being on Zoom — but I could not ask for better partners from every single member of our cast.

They’re all fiercely protective of these characters in a good and productive way. And they’ve also done their homework and want to play the authenticity of the things that you’re talking about, and it’s important to them. So it’s just something that… it’s sheer joy to me to be able to get their best ideas, and I take those conversations, bring them into the writers’ room, and then it ends up on the page pretty directly. So I’m just grateful that they’re so open and have such wonderful ideas and that they’re able to, again, stay focused on the story from their character’s point of view, and then bring that to me so that we can all tell the story together.

Matt Miller/The CW

Nerds & Beyond: Even though we haven’t spent that much time with them yet, John and Mary’s personalities already really seem to parallel Sam and Dean’s in many different aspects. I mean they are their children’s parents, no doubt. Was that intentional? Can you tell us about fleshing out those different character traits and behavioral quirks and how you chose to incorporate and distribute those choices between them?

Robbie Thompson: You know, some of it came from just watching and observing what actors like Sam [Smith] and Amy [Gumenick] and Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] and Matt [Cohen] did with those characters. And then obviously, the history of the show. And then again, it was conversations with Meg and Drake, as they’ve done a pretty deep dive into these characters and the history of these characters. Some of it came out organically from that and then some of it has just come from us as writers asking ourselves questions. There’s sort of a classic thing of like, “Are you who you are from nature or nurture, or is it a little bit of both?” And we found that in our depiction of them, it’s a little bit of both. Obviously with Mary, she was born into a hunting world, so there’s an inherent walled-up nature to that. When you’ve been living what she’s been living for so long, it’s a challenge to let people in. And yet that’s also something for us to really kind of dramatize, particularly as it relates to the romance.

Nerds & Beyond: To end on a fun note, I’m sure it’s no secret that fans (present company included) have been wildly speculating on what the big twist at the end of the season is going to entail and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Have you actually seen anyone successfully guess the big twist on the internet yet?

Robbie Thompson: I’ll be really honest with you. I am — with great purpose — not online as much these days. But I will say that knowing the Supernatural fans the way that I do, I’m sure that there are 15 billion different iterations [of] theories. I can’t imagine with smart and savvy fans that some folks may not have been able to kind of pick up what we’ve been laying down. But in terms of actual reactions to it, no, I don’t know. I’m hopeful that people are speculating. We certainly designed it in a way that we were hoping would generate some debate. As I said before, it’s not something we’re going to … those are cards that we’re not going to hold close to our chest forever. We really want to attack that in this first season.

Nerds & Beyond: Well, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. We’re really excited to see what you guys do next. We’ve gotten an outpouring of support on your behalf and have been sent a lot of comments. People really wanted us to tell you we believe in this show, we support your vision, and that we’re just really excited for what’s to come next. So thanks for taking the time to sit down with me.

Robbie Thompson: Thank you so much, anytime. And please let those folks know I really appreciate the kindness. I really do.

Nerds & Beyond: I definitely will.

A big thanks to Robbie for making time to chat with us and giving such thoughtful answers as always. You can read our other recent interview with Thompson in addition to Jensen and Danneel Ackles, Meg Donnelly, and Drake Rodger from New York Comic Con here.

The Winchesters airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on The CW. You can find our other coverage of the show here. Additionally, be sure to check out On The Road Again, Nerds & Beyond’s podcast covering all things The Winchesters!

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