The iconic character actor talks about juggling two series while promoting his new book
For those in the know, Jim Beaver is an awesome force to be reckoned with. He has two iconic characters under his belt, both equally beloved by fans. And he is currently going for a third. For three seasons on Deadwood, Beaver played goldminer Whitney Ellsworth, a filth covered reprobate that went on to win the hearts of many while marrying the richest woman in that bedeviled Dakota mining town. He has made a name for himself on The CW's Supernatural as Bobby Singer, spook-hunter extraordinary. And his popularity has far surpassed even the Winchester brothers this season. Now, he holds the starring role of Sheriff Charlie Mills on the just launched CBS horror drama Harper's Island. He's also appeared as a popular recurring character on both HBO's Big Love and John from Cincinnati.
In his spare time, Beaver is a film historian. He constantly contributes to the Internet Movie Data Base, offering biographies and trivia about various film legends. In 1978, he published the book John Garfield: His Life and Films. And in 1982, he co-wrote the text Movie Blockbusters with Steven Scheuer. Along the way, he has penned many articles focusing on actors John Wayne, James Stewart, and Steve McQueen. On April 16th, he finally turned his creative attention back on himself, publishing the memoir Life's That Way. It's not the typical Hollywood autobiography one might expect from someone as well versed as Beaver. The hardcover novel is built from a series of emails chronicling the courageous cancer battle of his beloved wife Cecily. It explores his relationship with her, his time spent on various Hollywood sets, and his adventures in raising an autistic daughter as a single parent. It's as equally heartbreaking as it is uplifting, offering a unique light on this great actor and the struggles he's had to overcome in recent years.
We recently caught up with Jim to talk about the book, as well as his current place on television as one of this generation's greatest character actors. Here is our conversation:
I interviewed you about a year ago, and I asked the asinine question, "Do you think you'll ever return to Deadwood for the proposed film?" You gave me a reasonable answer without spoiling the end of the series. And you didn't call me out for not knowing what happens in the third season. It's interesting to me that after two years, you still didn't want to spoil the show for people that hadn't seen it yet.
Jim Beaver: I'm still careful about that. For example, DirecTV just bought the rights to Deadwood. And there are obviously a lot of people out there that still haven't seen it. I don't want to ruin the nuggets of it. I don't want to show my cards even this far out.
I definitely won't give anything away. In the last month, I watched all of Deadwood as well as Supernatural, and in the process became a huge fan of yours. Because of that, it was extremely gratifying to read this book. Life's that Way is a very interesting memoir, different than anything I've seen before. Did you always intend to collect these emails and turn them into a book?
Jim Beaver: Somewhere in the middle of that year, writing these emails every night, I began to think of the possibilities of turning them into a book someday. I was pretty far into the experience before I had any idea what the experience was going to be. I got a lot of encouragement to turn it into a book. But it took some time for me to come around to that idea myself.
When you first starting writing these emails, how many people did you send them to? And what was the initial response?
Jim Beaver: The response was quite surprising. I was sending them out to about one hundred and eighty family and friends every night. After a month or so, I started getting email responses from people I didn't know. They were from people all over the world. I figured out what was happening. My family and friends were forwarding the emails to other people. And those people were forwarding the emails to others. Before long, I had several thousand people reading them every night. By the time I had been doing it for several months, I realized it was resonating with people in a way I never expected. At some point in the future, I figured that if four thousand people a night were following along, then perhaps there was some good to be had from sharing it with even more people.
Were you at all nervous or apprehensive when you found out that many people were looking at your emails? Or did you welcome that?
Jim Beaver: I welcomed it in the sense that we were looking for all the support we could get. We welcomed all of the moral support and the good wishes. It was very strengthening to see that so many people around the world wished us well. It was a little strange at first to realize so many people that I didn't know were interested in what was happening in my life. I am a little more used to it now, having been on Supernatural for a few years. Interacting with those fans, I've become a little more used to it. At the time, I was pretty obscure in the television and film world. The idea that there was anybody outside of my immediate family and friends that cared about my life was strange, to say the least. I got pretty used to it, though.
As a film historian, is it weird to go back and explore your own history as an actor?
Jim Beaver: I guess I never looked at it quite that way. Having written a lot about film history, I am very adamant about getting my facts right when I am writing about someone else. There were probably times in preparing this book that I wanted to get my facts straight. There were times where I remember going back and checking dates and times to make sure I had been accurate when I wrote the original email. I hadn't really thought about it too much in that regard. I am sure it was subconsciously there. It is part of who I am.
For your fans, how much insight into the making of Deadwood and Supernatural did you want to offer? And was it hard to balance that aspect of your life with your wife's story?
Jim Beaver: Those aspects of my own history, as an actor, that are in there, came about organically as part of the things we were talking about. And what was going on with us. I was aware that the messages I was sending out each night were going to my family and my friends. All of whom knew my history. But an equal number of them were going out to my wife Cecily's family, and her friends. Some of them, especially as the circles widened out, didn't know me at all. Sometimes, I filled people in on my background. I filled in people on Cicely's background. A lot of my extended family and friends didn't know her. It just seemed proper that everyone reading along had some sense of who we were. This shouldn't be looked at as an autobiography. It is not the story of my life. It's not the story of Cicely's life. It's really the story about one year out of our lives.
This has been a very busy time for you, with the book coming out and two series on the air. How tough has that been to juggle all of it at one time?
Jim Beaver: Even good stress is stress. That is a bit of an issue. The fact is that I am wonderfully blessed to have all of this happening at once. Sometimes my schedule is a little difficult to juggle. I am very happy working. I have a great time when I am at work. I love what I do so much. The book has been a lot of work. There has been some emotional stress to go back through all of this. But I am really happy. And it has been a wonderful bit of synchronicity to have the shows and the book all at peak points of interest all at the same time.
Bobby Singer is more popular now than ever before. What role does he play in the upcoming season finale, and will we be seeing him next year? Also, how do you feel about the show coming to an end with season five?
Jim Beaver: I don't know too much about next year. Or what they have planned for the show. There was some scuttlebutt on the set about next year being the end of the series. But that often times doesn't play out. I haven't really heard anything definitive from the powers that be about the future of the show. I know that Bobby is back for the final three episodes of this season. There is some really strong stuff there were Dean and Bobby are trying to get Sam to kick his demon blood addiction. There is some really powerful stuff in the relationship between the three. As to how things wrap up? Well, when you are a character on Supernatural, you can get killed and come back. When you are an actor on it, and you spill too many beans, they can kill you and you don't get to come back. There is only a little bit about what I can say in regards to how things wind down. It's been such a trip being on this show. It was very much under my own personal radar when I first joined it. It was just another job. I had no idea that it had the kind of fan support that it does. And that has certainly increased year by year. Boy, they have been so wonderful to me. After toiling in obscurity for many years, it is incredibly satisfying and gratifying to have the kind of fan support they managed to come up with on this show.
Did you ever think that purple gloves and a dirty trucker hat would become your signature? And do you think they are deserving of a place in history as a film and television historian?
Jim Beaver: I am not sure how to answer that. I never took it for granted. I never thought anyone would remember what I did for long. If anybody remembers any of this stuff a year from now, I will be pleasantly surprised.
You can catch Jim Beaver as Sheriff Charlie Mills on the just launched CBS horror drama Harper's Island this Thursday at 10 pm. The final four Supernatural season 4 episodes begin airing this Thursday at 9 pm, only on the CW. Bobby Singer makes his return in the April 30th episode The Rapture. And Jim's book Life's That Way: A Memoir is in bookstores now.