A Man of Many Talents: An Exclusive Interview with Actor, Writer and Producer Jim Beaver

Jim-Beaver-pgThen, he moved to New York City, where he established himself as a critic, columnist and feature writer for Films in Review, the magazine of the National Board of Review. After receiving an assignment for an article on actor George Reeves, Jim moved to Los Angeles, where he was hired as a writer by Sam Adams, partner in the esteemed Triad Artists agency. It was then that his career as a successful television writer started, with him penning episodes for shows such as Vietnam War Story, Tour of Duty and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for which he was nominated for a CableAce Award. However, once he landed his first big role as Bruce Willis’s best friend in In Country, he began to focus less on script writing and more on acting.

Some of his early television and film credits include: the television shows Reasonable Doubts, Thunder Alley and Third Rock from the Sun, and the movies Bad Girls, Sister Act and Joy Ride. It was in 2004 that Jim landed his first major television role as Elsworth in the acclaimed Western series Deadwood. And from there, his success as an actor skyrocketed. After ending his stint on Deadwood, which earned him a Screen Actors Guild nomination, he scored recurring roles on several other TV shows, such as John from Cincinatti, Harper’s Island and Justified, before landing the role of Bobby Singer on the hit series Supernatural, which earned him not only a loyal fan following but also gave him a leg up career-wise. Following the death of his wife in 2004, Jim Beaver began writing an autobiography titled Life’s That Way, which was published in 2010. He is also in the process of penning a full, novel-length biography of George Reeves, after serving as a historical consultant on Reeves for the biopic Hollywoodland.

Acting-wise, fans can anticipate seeing him in the upcoming season of The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy as George Darling and as Carter Cushing in Crimson Peak. In addition, he will be appearing in the new series Internity, which chronicles the experiences of a group of young doctors. The Talk Nerdy With Us team recently had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable interview with Jim, in which he chatted about his character on Internity, which storyline he wished would have been explored for Bobby Singer on Supernatural and whether or not he plans on writing or directing for television in the future. Keep reading to find out what Jim had to say!

Can you tell us about Internity’s premise and what drew you to the project?

Well, the show’s premise has been described by Joey Adams, the creator, as Scrubs meets Grey’s Anatomy at Comic Con, which I know that sounds like every other show on TV but it’s not. It’s about a bunch of young people—a bunch of young doctors, fresh young doctors, interns—going through the hell that is being an intern at a major hospital.

It’s a rite of passage for young doctors, going through intern hell. The character that Joey will play is someone who’s grown up on television and has a very special relationship with a lot of Shonda characters and in various ways, those will enter into the storyline and, with any luck, we’ll get some really interesting guest stars from those shows to be a part of our show.

How was the decision made to crowdfund the project?

I don’t know exactly how the decision was made because it had been made by the time I was getting connected. I don’t know how the decision was made but it’s not a surprising decision for me because of the combination of the Internet phenomenon of crowdfunding plus the fact that technology has made the equipment for filming much cheaper, cameras in particular, has encouraged a lot of people to create their own projects. This method of doing it not only makes raising the money a little easier that it was in the old days but it also gives fans a way of getting on the ground floor of a show and participating and feeling connected to a show before it even gets made. Add in to that the fact that there is a pretty good chance that presenting a network with a completed pilot is going to draw their interest more than just giving them a description. So, we’re all hoping that this works out well. At this point, as we’re raising funds on Indiegogo, it’s pretty much up to the people who have been so great in supporting those of us who are maybe going to be on this show. That’s kind of long-winded!

I don’t think it’s long-winded at all! So, is there anything else that you would like to tell us about the campaign?

Well, people should go to Indiegogo and search for “Internity” and join in. Marina Sirtis, who’s also involved, has said that if all my followers on Twitter sent $1, we could do this show in a heartbeat. So, we’re not asking for people to donate their life savings; just a buck or two is enough to really make this thing step forward. We’ve got a few days left in the campaign and we still have a good ways to go, but if any of this sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll give consideration to jumping over to the Indiegogo.com and looking for the “Internity” campaign.

Are you looking forward to working with the cast of “Internity”?

Yeah, I guess so (laughs). Yeah, of course! I hadn’t met Marina Sirtis before this show but I certainly knew of her because she has a great following from “Star Trek: Next Generation.” I’m certainly very excited about this project and very supportive of her. I’ve heard that Julie McNiven, my fellow Supernatural actor, is going to be joining the cast as well. My friend Joey, who helped put it together and has one of the leading roles, is a pretty cool guy, too.

Can you tell us what has been your favorite character that you’ve played in your long career?

Well, that’s hard to answer in a lot of ways, partly because there have been so many great characters that I’ve gotten to play, and also because sometimes people want to know about television characters and sometimes the whole range of what I’ve done. Probably, in so far as the most public aspects of my career, it would be a tie between Bobby Singer on “Supernatural” and Ellsworth on “Deadwood”.

I’ve played some stage roles that are incredibly close to my heart, but the fact is that I’ve been really, really lucky. I’ve played an awful lot of characters on stage and on camera that I’m really proud to have played and have had great, great fun. As far as TV, it would be those two.

Some of my favorite too! Can you tell us, what in your career haven’t you had the chance to play that you’ve always wanted to?

There are a lot of roles, a lot of character types that I would really find interesting to play. I can’t off-hand think of any in particular that I haven’t had a chance to play. I haven’t had a chance to play an 18th century fireman, but that doesn’t mean I particularly think about that. (laughs). I would love to have played a role in a really strong, traditional Western feature. I’ve done that, but I haven’t had a whole lot of chances to go galloping across the canyon chased by Apaches or anything like that. It sounds like that would have been fun.

The fact is, I’ve been handed so many great things that it’s hard for me to say, “Well, I wish I’d gotten to play this or that.” I’m pretty content. Now there are roles that I went out for and didn’t get and things like that. For the most part, I don’t regret those things because almost every time I’ve missed out on something I’ve wanted real bad, something even better came along that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d gotten the first thing. I like to see what comes along. So far, as I said, I’ve been real lucky with what has come along.

Right. Do you have any plans to direct or produce in the future?

Oh, golly, that sounds like so much like work. (laughs). It’s funny. I was having a conversation the night before last with Jeremy Carver, the executive producer of Supernatural, and he seemed really surprised when I told him that I didn’t have any interest at all in directing. As I told him, I would do it if somebody said, “Here, we want you to do it,” but it’s not something I would seek out ever. I don’t know that I have great gifts in that direction and I sure don’t have a lot of energy. I find it so satisfying just coming to a set and doing my scenes as an actor.

I’ve written scripts before, and I suppose under the right circumstances, I would be happy to produce or maybe even direct one of them. There are so many people who can do that sort of thing better than I can. I’m pretty content with the way things are going.

I don’t feel a great urge to step outside my wheel house, but that could change, you know? Somebody could call up and say, “Here’s half a million dollars to come direct this thing.” I’d say, “Do you really want me to do that? Okay.”

That goes into my next question. With your writing, have you ever been approached to write for “Supernatural”?

I’ve never been approached to write for the show. I resisted the idea of writing for the show for a long time, mainly because one of the reasons I got out of the daily grind of writing television was that I wasn’t terribly interested in writing for characters that already existed. I was much more interested in writing projects that I came up with the idea of, and I came up with the characters. It was original to me and in some way expressed something I wanted to express.

The idea of writing for a show that already existed wasn’t terribly interesting to me. And like I said, nobody ever asked me. There was a point a few years ago where I’d been on “Supernatural” long enough, I was familiar with it. I thought it might be fun to write an episode now. I started writing one on spec and I got a few scenes. I was really happy and excited about it and the whole thing took place inside Bobby’s house.

When I was about three scenes into the script, they called me up and told me that Bobby’s house was being burned down. “Oh, well, I’ve got to rethink that,” I said. While I was rethinking it, they called me up and told me that Bobby was headed for the last roundup. I thought, you know, this script just doesn’t match the future. I put it aside.

Writing is such a difficult task for me. I don’t find it particularly easy. These days, there’s so much going on, I don’t have the time to devote to it. It really takes a lot of solitary, uninterrupted time, and I don’t have a lot of that these days. I may drag something out for them one day, but it would probably be something I just came up with and then sent over to them and said, “Hey, what do you think about this?” I would be very surprised if they ever called up and asked me to write. It just doesn’t work that way.

Thank you very much for being here, Jim. We do really appreciate it. We’re all fans here. I have to tell you that in my former life, I worked as a nurse at a teaching hospital. I think there is a ton of material to found in the interns first and second years rotating through departments and floors. It’s a great premise for a show. These days when I talk to my friends from the ‘olden days’ we’re often like, “hey, remember when so and so threw up on the floor that one time” that was really funny. So I really do, I really like this idea and am totally supporting the pilot. I really hope you guys can get this done.

Well, great, great, thank you. We’ll have to tap into that well of experience!

Since we were just talking about Supernatural, is there anything you wish that Bobby could have done that you never got a chance to do?

Uhhhhh, can I get away with saying Sherriff Mills? (Laughter)

A whole bunch of us in the fandom wish you had done that as well!

(laughs) Well, the truth is I have always regretted that they didn’t pursue that story line further. I was talking to Kim Rhodes the other night and we were both…every time we run into each other and have a conversation, it seems that it eventually leads to, “Wow. They had such a great opportunity there and they didn’t follow up on it.”  I think both of us regretted that the character of Bobby and Jodie didn’t go a little further with what looked like the beginning of a relationship of some kind. But you know, the show’s still on so it could still happen, I’m perfectly willing for it to. I think aside from just staying alive, that’s the only regret I have about things that didn’t get to happen.

As I said before, so much, a lot of the fandom would love to see Bobby come back and we noticed the chemistry between you and Kim – Jodie and Bobby – and say the same as you, “there was a missed opportunity” but of course the show is what they write. It’s interesting that you guys noticed the same thing that we did.

Oh yeah, we definitely did. I think part of it is was based on the fact that Kim and I are such great friends and it was such wonderful, fun stuff to shoot. It’s not the first time that it’s happened to me on a show; that a really intriguing potential storyline was set up and then it wasn’t followed through. I’m not usually in any way privy to what goes on in the writer’s room but in every such case I’ve wondered, “That really seems rich. I wonder why they didn’t do more with it.” Nobody’s ever given me a reason; I think I think they probably got caught up in the main storylines and never got back to it. But, the show’s still on and its starting to look like it’ll be on for another twenty-five years so there’s plenty of time to fix that situation.

Absolutely! You’ve already been back once, so there’s nothing to say that you can’t make reappearance. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Please do, please do. That would be great fun.

Turning to Internity now, I was wondering if you could, if it is even possible for you to sum up Internity in one word.

Um, wow, one word. That’s kind of limiting. (laughter)

Yeah, it’s meant to be a challenge. (laughs).

Yeah, well, I guess the most encompassing word is entertaining. I found the script both dramatic and funny, touching and innovative and all of that adds up to me to be entertaining. Trying to encompass everything about a show in one word means you kind of have to generalize but, I think that would fit as well as any word.

I think entertaining is a great word and any show that’s described as entertaining would be something that I’d look into personally. So, here’s the big question for you, something that we’ve been wondering about and we were told we were allowed to ask about this. Can you tell about your character in Internity?

Yeah, I can tell you some about my character. Most of the regular characters on the show are young doctors or new doctors, but my character, Andrew, is not a doctor. He’s a patient. He comes into the hospital to be treated, he’s sort of down and out, and it’s revealed that he’s a veteran who has come on hard times and is a very dark place. What eventually connects him dramatically to the show is that it’s revealed that he has a much more complicated history with one or more of the characters on the show. I can’t go too far into saying what that history is but there’s a very strong connection that anchors him to this group of interns.


Was acting something that you were passionate about early on in your life?

Passionate, no. I did a couple of little plays in elementary school. I auditioned for a couple of plays in high school and didn’t get them. I never really thought much about it as a career. In high school I was more interested in the idea of someday being a stunt man. Then as I got out of high school, I thought a little bit more about being a writer. It wasn’t until I got out of the service and college that I discovered acting and pretty much fell in love with it instantly.

My passion for it pretty much showed up the first time I did it as an adult. As soon as I did and had a tiny bit of experience, I thought, this is it and it was.

What do you look for in a role?

The glib answer is I look for somebody to be interested in me because that’s the hard part (laughs). Frankly, it’s an extremely rare situation when I get to choose the role. Most often, at least at my level of the game, you take what is offered to you. When choice comes in that’s when you’re lucky enough to be able to turn things down. There was a long period in my career when I wasn’t in a position to turn anything down, so I did lots of parts that weren’t terribly interesting and weren’t any fun at all. I simply needed to work.

In my later years, I had a certain amount of luxury to say, well, this one doesn’t seem like a good fit to me and I can pass on it without feeling like I’m going to starve my family. As far as choosing a role, that’s about as close to any real choice as I get, the choice to say no.

That said, I’ve had things that make me not say, no…good writing is important. But a good story and perhaps even more so, a good handle on dialogue is important. A lot of people write, but only a few write dialogue that sounds like an actual person would say it. There’s been an awful lot of scripts that come my way that have been ruined by the dialogue.

That’s probably one of the first things I look for in different kinds of roles. I’m perfectly happy playing a comedic role. I guess it’s all in the writing. If it’s not a good story or not a good character, or it’s not good dialogue, I’ve got to really need a paycheck to take it.

What types of characters appeal to you?

I’ve been very lucky for an actor of my generation to have done quite a few Westerns. I don’t know any of us who have done one who won’t want to do another at the drop of a hat. They’re really really fun. They make so few of them so like I said, I’m very lucky to have done as many as I have. I’m always up for a good Western!

In terms of things I would gravitate to, there’s nothing in particular. I find it curious considering the time I spent in the military that I haven’t played more military parts. I’ve played a couple here and there. But once again, it comes back to the writing. It’s the writing that makes a role intriguing to me, that makes it something I yearn for. It can be an interesting character type, but if it’s badly written then it doesn’t matter that it’s an interesting character type.

There are lots of roles I’ve had the opportunity to play that I’ve said I’ve got to get that because of the interesting writing. You always look for a part that allows you to be seen well. If a part’s got meat and it’s well executed, then I’m all in regardless of what type of part it is.

In addition to being a very good actor, you’re also a talented writer. Are there any ideas, from a writing standpoint, you would bring to your Internity character?

That’s interesting. As a general rule, when I’m acting in a part that someone else has created, I’m generally very content to explore whatever they hand me to explore. I very rarely, if ever, bring ideas to the producer. Partly, I suppose that’s been because I’ve been lucky to be on shows where the characteristics and activities have always been interesting to me. I didn’t feel they need any help.

I did suggest, going back to something we talked about earlier, that they do something about tying up the loose ends between Bobby and Sheriff Mills. If I’m acting as a character someone else has created, I like to explore what they have given me without necessarily bringing in my own concepts.

Years ago, I played a character on a television show who had lots and lots of exotic pets and was a real animal lover. As I began working on the show, they decided that it would also be fun if this guy was a big hunting aficionado and I remember saying it’s weird that he’s so crazy about animals but he’s also a big hunter and they went, “oh, I think you’re right (laughs).” They eliminated the hunting thing and went back to the original concept of the character. I’ve sometimes said “do you think that’s a good idea?” But I don’t often bring my own ideas. I kinda save them for the things I’m creating for myself.

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