He was the Trickster. Then he was Gabriel. And then he was dead … for seven-and-a-half seasons. That’s the journey of Richard Speight Jr.’s snarky archangel, who first appeared on Supernatural in season 2.
Gabriel would meet his demise years later, in season 5, at which point many fans thought that was the end. And even if they didn’t, by the time season 13 rolled around, they certainly started to believe. And yet, halfway through the show’s 13th season, Gabriel returned, along with the revelation that he’d been held captive in hell for years. And now it’s finally time to find out how Gabriel wound up in hell when he returns in this week’s episode.
EW hopped on the phone with Speight, who not only plays Gabriel but also directed this week’s episode, to talk about what to expect from Gabriel’s latest return.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you find out that Gabriel was coming back?
RICHARD SPEIGHT JR.: It was funny because I was on the phone with [showrunner] Andrew Dabb about episode 1307, which I was directing, and in the midst of a phone call he goes, “Oh, and by the way, you’re coming back.” I go, “I know, I’m directing episode 20,” and he said, “No, Gabriel’s coming back.” I’m like, “Ha? Really?” Because I had long since put that idea to bed. I loved playing that character and always wanted him to return, but for me, that was two children ago. It’s been a long time. So it wasn’t ever in my mind that the character would come back. And then I was thinking that it was going to be in the alternate world, but it was the real world, which was super-cool because it led to this ability to tell the story of where the hell this guy’s been and what’s been going on. I also love that they did the tortured version of Gabriel; it’s a different side of him to see the beaten-down, broken version. I thought it was very well done, and for an actor, I was stoked. I was happy to be involved again.
Did you do anything to get back into character? It had been a while, though you were playing a different version of him.
It was interesting because you’re not wrong, it was such a long time. Granted, the way we see him return is nothing like the last time we saw him. It wasn’t so much that I had to go back and see old Gabe — I kind of had to do that later on as he was coming out of his shell — but what was interesting is the last four times I’ve been on Supernatural have been as a director. So to then go back and go to a trailer and put on an outfit and wait to be called to set, it felt like I’d gone back in time. And of course they had my character’s lips sewn shut, so my joke was, “Did my wife pitch this idea? I feel like this is a win for a lot of people.” Trust me, the crew loved me coming on set with my mouth sewn shut and being unable to talk. They thought that was hilarious. My one little piece in episode 13 was shot the day the crew was breaking for Christmas, so they all considered it an early Christmas present — I was there to be mocked, with no way to retaliate.
This week we get to see Gabriel out in the world. He got his revenge on Asmodeus. Does it feel like we’re getting a bit more of the old Gabriel?
It’s the guy that the fans knew in the first five seasons. This is where you see him back. Yes, he’s got new demons and new issues to deal with, but this is him firing on all his snarky cylinders and being the Gabriel that we established and loved back in the early part of the series. It was really fun to dust off those elements of the guy and re-embody that spirit of who he is. And it adds more levels. Now I know where he came from in terms of the last seven years. And certainly his journey in this episode is very intense. It’s born out of a dark need to avenge his own mistreatment, so there’s a dark side to his drive that we haven’t really seen before that I think is a really cool new color in Gabriel’s palette.
You’ve obviously directed Supernatural before, but what was the experience of directing yourself on Supernatural like?
It was a real trip. I had directed myself before in Kings of Con, so I’d done it once, but on a much smaller scale. To do it on Supernatural was a challenge that I was excited to take on. It was awesome that Jensen [Ackles] had done it so many times because he was a great resource, and Jared [Padalecki] was a great resource because he helped Jensen during that period be an ally on screen. And I say ally on screen because when you don’t have anybody watching the monitor for your performance, you’re really leaning on the actors in the scene to be your sounding board and be sure that the scene is popping the way that it should. Jared and Jensen and I had a dinner before I started shooting: Jensen to share all of his experiences, positive and negative, at being an actor directing himself in a show, and Jared to bring up the fact that he and Jensen would like to be able to speak freely if they feel like scenes that involve Gabriel aren’t where they need to be. I said, “Absolutely.” The only eyes that are watching our characters are our own, and so it’s very very helpful to have the trust that I have in them and the support that they have for me. It was invaluable because that’s what made the difference.
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.