Jim Beaver Exclusive Interview: ‘Verdigris,’ ‘Supernatural,’ and ‘Crimson Peak’

Jim Beaver Interview on Verdigris, Supernatural and Crimson Peak

Deadwood, Justified, and Supernatural fans are well acquainted with the work of well-respected actor Jim Beaver. Beaver played Whitney Ellsworth on Deadwood, was Sheriff Shelby Parlow on Justified, and his character Bobby Singer may have died on Supernatural but that hasn’t stopped passionate fans of the series from campaigning for his return. In addition to numerous guest starring appearances and film roles, Beaver is also an accomplished writer who credits his play, Verdigris, as helping to launch his career. Now 30 years after its initial debut on stage, Verdigris will once again be performed at Los Angeles’ Theatre West (3333 Cahuenga Blvd W, Los Angeles, CA) beginning March 13th and running through April 19, 2015.

The Verdigris Plot: “A can’t-do life, but a can-do lifestyle. Margaret Fielding’s entire adult life has been spent in a wheelchair. She can barely move a muscle. But that doesn’t stop her from throwing the lives of a half-dozen people into the air and twirling them like saucers in a circus act. Verdigris can be defined as corrosion. But it also glows in beauty.”

Although he’s busy preparing for Verdigris‘ opening night, Beaver graciously took the time to discuss not only the play but also his continuing love of his Supernatural co-stars and fans as well as his experience working on Guillermo del Toro’s much-anticipated thriller, Crimson Peak.

Why is now the right time to do an anniversary staging of the play? Why a 30th anniversary run?

Jim Beaver: “The fact is that the decision was made to do the play again without a lot of consciousness to the fact that it would be the 30th anniversary. We didn’t go, ‘Oh, what can we do for a 30th anniversary show? Oh, let’s do that one we did 30 years ago.’ It was a decision on the part of the theatre that they’d like to do the play, and it was serendipitous that it was to be done in a year that ended in a zero. I suppose it’s maybe more of a marketing tool. I don’t know. Nobody set out to do anniversary productions of anything. We just happened to realize that that’s what this was. I guess it is a good way to let people know that this is a play that the theatre thought enough of that they would like to revise it.”

Given the impact this particular production originally had on your career, is it really important for you to go back and stage it again? Is it something you’ve been wanting to do or thinking about?

Jim Beaver: “Yeah. When we did it in 1985, it was an extraordinary experience that we weren’t really ready to let go of. The nature of the production at that time, it was produced in repertory with two other plays. Although it ran for three months or so, it only had nine performances in that three months. It was always a play that we felt hadn’t had a full exposure to an audience in this theatre and in this town. It was a play that we had been working on right up until opening, in terms of really finessing and polishing the script, and then we had to start doing it for the audience. My director, Mark Travis, and I have always talked about we’d like to go back to it and continue the work we were doing before.”

Did you have to do much finessing this time around?

Jim Beaver: “When you go back to visit a play you wrote more than 30 years ago, you begin to find out the places where the callow youth somewhat restricted the full potential of the play. [Laughing] There have been a few places in it where my more mature self gets it a little better. There was one thing – I won’t say what it was – but there was a scene when we did it before that I always felt was a little weak that I hadn’t quite figured out how to make it work fully. That scene is now one of my favorite scenes in the play because of the work that we have redone.

Verdigris Play Poster

Considering how few performances we had back in ’85, a lot of people saw it. I know that quite of few of them are coming back to see this production. I think they will see basically the same play, but I think they might find it a litter richer. I hope so.”

It was so well received in the first place, I’m really shocked that there were so few performances initially?

Jim Beaver: “The play came about at a time when there were a couple factors in the American theatre that had a real detrimental affect on it. One was, for a long time it was really hard to get a lot of interest in rural or Western or Southwestern plays. Certainly in the ’80s, when we first did this and I was first shopping the script around, there were a lot of plays about Nicaraguan Contras and rich people in hot tubs in California. Small town rural plays, they seemed to be from a different time.

Also, it’s a play with a large cast and that, I think, is one of the most critical things. There was a time when most of the popular shows in the American theatre were shows with very large casts. The time when it was easy to afford a show with a large cast has pretty much passed. It’s a lot easier to get a two-person play done now than it is one with 11 characters like mine. I guess that had something to do with it. Also, the very fact that the production here in LA in ’85 really set my own personal path into high gear, if I can mix metaphors there. If a path can go into gear.”

Go ahead and mix away.

Jim Beaver: “I began first off writing a lot of television and film stuff which rather quickly changed into a lot of acting which was always my first love. I suddenly didn’t have the time to really kind of pursue this for the productions of the play. It was something wonderful that had happened but my life went off in a different direction. I suspect that if I had concentrated primarily on my play writing and on trying to get further productions, I guess there would have been more. All of those things combined, I think. Eventually the passage of time and the fact that I was so busy with other things, it just began to be on the back burner as they say.

It’s always a play that I thought would be well received if it was seen enough places. This past year I began a real campaign to get it seen in more places. I reached a point where I could take the time to kind of push the play. It’s now had at least one other production this past year in Illinois, and I have a couple coming up next year. It’s belatedly starting to have some life outside of the theatre that premiered it.”

How important was it to get support via Kickstarter to get this going? Could you have done it without launching a campaign on Kickstarter?

Jim Beaver: “I always planned that we would do the play, even if I had to pull it out of my own pocket. Once the theatre decided that they were interested in reviving it, I was going to make it happen. I was going to do whatever I could to help it happen, come hell or high water.

Around the same time, the whole crowdfunding thing began to really clearly be a viable part of getting any kind of creative endeavor underway. The fact that I’ve had this amazing fortune with some of the television stuff I’ve done, and particularly the massive and vigorous fan base from Supernatural, and the fact that the fans of that show in particular have so wonderfully embraced me and almost any project I put my hand to, I thought, well let’s make this a family affair. Let’s see if some of these people would like to be involved in this project. That’s really the way we approached it. It wasn’t so much, ‘Please give us money,’ as it was, ‘We’d like to do this with you. We’d like you in on this.’ People really, really responded far beyond what we expected.”

It must be very gratifying to have created a character on Supernatural who people have embraced so much. There are fan pages on Facebook specifically for the campaign to bring Bobby back. That must be a really good feeling to know that these people love Bobby so much and love what you did with that character.

Jim Beaver: “I don’t know an expression that is the opposite of ‘taking for granted’, but I don’t take it for granted at all. It’s an amazing blessing in my life that I stumbled into this role in a show that I didn’t even know very much about and found myself not only with a creative family that I have treasured working with, but this family of people from all around the world who find something meaningful and enjoyable and excellent and affecting in the show. The way that they embraced me is … I’m kind of astonished. I get up every morning and look at myself in the mirror and think I wouldn’t embrace me. [Laughing] The fans have been spectacular to me and have really made my life richer.”

I’m a fan of the series and I miss Bobby. I wish he’d be back full time.

Jim Beaver: “I do too. My whole professional life seems to have been catapulted with luck because, while I hated getting killed off on Deadwood and hated that show getting cancelled, but if it hadn’t I wouldn’t have been available for Supernatural. I hated getting killed off on Supernatural, but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do Justified, and I wouldn’t have been able to do Guillermo del Toro’s new movie. At the same time, every once in a while I get that lovely phone call. They say we need you for a day or two up in Vancouver and go back and I see everybody and it’s like the family reunion without the jerks. It’s great. If they said they’re bringing Bobby back for all of season 11, I’d be there in a heartbeat. It’s such a fun part, it’s such wonderful people to work with. I certainly can’t complain because every time there’s been something that disappointed me, there’s been something wonderful that came up to fill in the gap.”

You mentioned Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. After 15 years of interviewing actors and filmmakers, I continue to geek out every time I get the opportunity to talk with or about Guillermo del Toro. He’s so amazingly creative. What was it like on the Crimson Peak set?

Jim Beaver: “It was incredible, especially considering that I spent most of the last few years mainly in television, and I had just finished a very low budget but wonderful feature film called The Frontier. You get to the set of Crimson Peak and see the immensity, if that’s quite possible, it’s by far the biggest movie I’ve ever been in, in terms of budget and effects. The fact that I have one of the principal roles, the fact that Guillermo claims he wrote it for me – to be on this film with one of the most gorgeous gargantuan sets I’ve ever seen – it was just a very, very different experience from what I’ve been used to lately.

On television everything runs so fast and there’s daily, hourly close attention to costs. There was a budget that allowed for us to take our time, for us to be comfortable and be extraordinarily well dressed and made up. A big picture is like no other thing in the acting business. It’s a very different experience from all the other forms of work. On Supernatural we’d shoot two or three scenes a day where on Crimson Peak, sometimes a similar scene would go on for three, four, five days. The amount of detail work that’s possible is extraordinary. Guillermo is a gift to the world. I absolutely adore him. He is one of the two certifiable geniuses I’ve ever worked for and on top of which he’s such a loving and kind and generous man. It was such a gift. It was such a gift.”

Who is the other genius?

Jim Beaver: “David Milch. Between those two guys, it’s hard to imagine I’m ever going to improve my lot beyond the experiences of working with them. I’m a pretty lucky boy.”

What I really appreciate about Guillermo del Toro’s work is how he understands the characters and he makes sure each has their arc throughout a story. Can you say anything at all about your character?

Jim Beaver: “I play a Buffalo industrialist in 1901. That’s one of the appeals the movie had for me. There was no way I was going to turn it down. I was excited to play something … Although I’ve played a wide variety of characters over the years, I guess I have something of a niche of the gruff-but-lovable rural types. This was not really any of that. This is a character of great wealth and panache and style. I spend 99% of the movie in white tie and tails. He’s a man of real prominence. He’s a very steely businessman who nonetheless loves his daughter a great deal. Mia Wasikowska plays my daughter, and the movie centers around her. I’m very protective of her. And things come into our lives that cause me to ramp up that protectiveness. Things that she may not initially see as dangerous seem very much so to me. [Laughing] Saying anything more than that would get me killed.”

For tickets or for more information on Verdigris, visit theatrewest.org/onstage/verdigris/.

-By Rebecca Murray

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