Supernatural’s third most important cast member after Dean and Sam Winchester (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) isn’t a person, it’s a car. Chuck Shurley said it best in the Season 5 finale: the 1967 Chevrolet Impala is “the most important object in pretty much the whole universe.” The car that was handed down from John Winchester to Dean has carried the wayward sons across the United States multiple times, survived any number of crashes and blemishes, and been a constant in the ever-changing lives of the brothers. The Impala took center stage in “Baby.”
The episode was told from the perspective of the Impala—no, not as in the Impala narrated the story. We saw Dean and Sam as the car saw them. It meant a lot of unique angles and a fresh look at the life of two brothers on the road. While visiting the set of Supernatural, we talked to Ackles and Padalecki and picture car coordinator Jeff Budnick about making the episode and about the return of Matt Cohen as John.
Warning: Spoilers for “Baby” follow.
On the surface, a concept like “Baby” seems impossible to sell. However, Supernatural excels at executing ideas that sound ridiculous on paper–“The French Mistake” comes to mind. The logistics weren’t easy. Ackles said, “It was certainly different and unique.” He said getting the shots and angles was all about the rigging. Once the cameras were set up, they took off. “We’ve done things for a scene that were similar but certainly have never shot an entire show like that. So there was a bit of learning curve and I think once Tom [episode director Thomas Wright] figured out how he wanted to do that, it was just getting it set up,” Ackles said.
Luckily, they have an abundance of Impalas on hand to make the shots work. One of the cars is cutaway, meaning the roof, the front, the back, and the doors come off. They can even remove the floor. Budnick says, “There are a lot of shots in that episode that are like, ‘How did they get that shot?’ Most likely that’s the car that we used.” Given the nature of the episode, it’s not surprising that it kept Budnick busy. “That was the busiest show I’ve done in 11 years. We had all eight cars working and wrecking them. A lot of that stuff we have to build before the crash, so we had to anticipate what damage the crash was going to do and then I had to crash a car to make it look like that. It was a lot of taking cars apart and putting them together. We worked night and day for that episode, but I think it turned out good.” Five of the cars had to receive new headliners because cameras ripped through the existing ones. He mentioned it took a lot of work to get the cars back to normal.
Budnick said no one got too claustrophobic while shooting the episode. This despite the fact that the sound guy–Donald Painchaud–rode around in a bucket seat rig built into the trunk of the car. Painchaud shared video on Twitter:
The placement of the cameras made navigating a challenge. Ackles said, “What was really weird is when I would have a full camera rig because they take the windshield out. They would just mount a big camera right on the hood, and it was probably this close from my face while I’m driving on an actual road and I’m driving a real car and I have real live passengers and basically my focal point is completely gone so I’m using peripheral vision to drive the car.” This is where Padalecki jumped in and joked Ackles also used the screaming of passersby.
“Baby” did a wonderful job of illustrating the time on the road between jobs. Padalecki especially liked the scene at night with the two brothers talking in the car. He said, “When I read this script I thought, ‘We never see the boys do this stuff.’ That should be something we do more often. We usually have the ‘come to god’ in the middle of a library or something and it’s always fun, but what a cool glimpse into how the Winchesters travel.”
Besides showcasing the Winchesters rolling home, the episode featured a poignant and mysterious scene with a young John Winchester. Is he a manifestation of god answering Sam’s prayer? Or some other kind of vision? Either way, Padalecki was happy to work with Matt Cohen again. He said, “It was fun for me to play that part of Sam. He’s been through a lot. He’s been to hell and to heaven and to purgatory, and he’s died and killed, so Sam’s not often caught totally off guard. And I love Matt. On the call sheet his name–they didn’t want to put Matt Cohen, so they put Leonard Cohen in case anyone picked it up. We’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not going to be suspicious. Leonard Cohen is doing a guest spot on Supernatural. He’s going to play the troubadour.’ Matt’s a great actor. He brought something great to the character. It was really neat to use him instead of Jeffrey Dean Morgan–who I also love–because it puts Sam in an even more awkward position. This wasn’t the dad he knew. He met him later in life, but it wasn’t the dad he knew. He really had Sam unawares.”
And about those ghoulpires building up their forces to fight the Darkness? That will be a recurring theme. Ackles said, “People are getting their defenses together, and they’re forming these alliances and [saying] ‘Listen, it’s not about you and me anymore, it’s about us and we’re going to lose all of this if we don’t join forces and man up.’ I think that we’re going to see a little bit more of that in the future but again it goes back to the brothers and those immediately around them–with Cas and what he’s dealing with and Crowley and Rowena. It’s all these different players in the game and where they’re going to go to find safety, if there is any safety.”
Images: The CW