by Sablegreen - October 10, 2012
Recently I had an absolutely wonderful time speaking with Ty Olsson, a gracious, intelligent, VERY humorous veteran actor. He is well known for his genre work, which includes the “Twilight Saga” films, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Defying Gravity,” and “Battlestar Galactica.”
Olsson has an impressive career dating back to 1998. The Canadian born actor is best known for being the voice of the dragon Ord on “Dragon Tales” and for portraying real life 9/11 victim Mark Bingham in the A&E television movie “Flight 93.”
As a troubled teen, Ty was nudged into acting by an amazing instructor not realizing she would stimulate a cinematography career that would eventually encompass over 135 roles in movies and TV shows, and the number is still growing. Ty is a very “in demand” actor.
We, of course, know him best portraying one of SUPERNATURAL’s most pivotal characters of the season, the mysterious, dark and dangerous vampire Benny, who befriends Dean in Purgatory and helps him escape. Even before the character graced out TV screens last Wednesday in the season premier, he had become a fan favorite, fueling a lot of speculation about his and Dean’s new relationship. Benny is shaping up to be one of the most riveting characters of the series.
Vampires are not new to Ty, though as an actor he never thought he would play one, let alone two. He first made his appearance on the series back in season two’s episode “Bloodlust” as one of the many vampires in Lenora’s band.
Here he talks about his career as a multi talented voice and live actor, his start in the business, his deep and abiding love for what he does and of course his part on SUPERNATURAL.
Many thanks to Ty for taking the time to talk with me. He is one super dude and SOOO easy to talk too, and even more fun to listen too. (Smile) Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it.
So you have been very busy lately with two films soon to be released and two TV series, “Hell on Wheels” and, of course, SUPERNATURAL.
Yeah it’s been a good year. I like to stay busy here. I tend to get in trouble otherwise.
So a lot of SUPERNATURAL fans aren’t familiar with Ty Olsson. I know you from “Battlestar Galactica” and “Eureka” but I thought maybe you could just tell us a little about yourself. For instance I recently saw on twitter that you are taking classes. Are you going for a degree in something special?
No. Actually I’m doing a lot of martial arts. I was referring to a Tae Kwon Do class actually but I have trained a little bit in FMA and Tae Kwon Do for a number of years.
It’s good and a fun way to stay in shape. You know most people get in shape for the summer weather. I get chubby for the summer weather. (Laughs) When it’s rainy and cold it’s much easier to go to the gym then when it’s sunny out.
Funny! One of the people you have been working with on SUPERNATURAL, Osric Chau, is quite the martial arts master. He even has gold medals from competitions.
Oh really. I didn’t know that. I’ll have to chat with him about that. But we are not in the same weight class.
Ah… from what I’ve seen him do, he can handle any weight class.
(Laughing) I have to go to my wrestling base and take him down then.
That would be fun to see! Tape it and put it on YouTube. People would get a kick out of it.
So I saw in your bio that you attended Canterbury high school in Ottawa which specializes in drama. So you must’ve known you wanted to be an actor for a while. What actually made you decide to go into acting?
Well it’s an interesting story. I grew up in group and foster homes. I was living in a foster home in a small town called Kars in Ontario, and one of the French drama teachers there dealt with a lot of kids that came from group and foster homes. She kind of put me under her wing a little bit. I was having a little bit of trouble making it and she had me audition for the school play. Because she was the only teacher I liked, I reluctantly agreed and then discovered I had a bit of a knack for it. Then she got me to audition for the next year’s school play and I did that. Then she said, “You know there’s this high school, Canterbury high school that specializes in the arts. Would you like to go?” And I was like “Okay. Cool.” She’s like “Want me to get you application?” And I was like, “Okay. Sure, sure.”
So she gets me the application and says, “You’re not going a fill this out are you.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah.” I was a 13 or 14-year-old student with not a lot of direction. So she says, “I am going to fill it out and send it in for you.” And I’m like, “Okay.”
So she fills it out, sends it in and soon we get the package back with a couple of audition monologue. She coaches me on these auditions, DRIVES me to the school to audition because Kars was about 40 miles from the school.
A few weeks go by then she gets a letter back that says I’m not accepted. So she calls them and asks “Why wasn’t he accepted? He good!” Their reply, “His audition was great but his grades are so poor. We can’t take him out of his district school with those kinds of grades.” So she says, “Well okay, what if I tutor him?” “Well yeah if you can get his grades up that‘s fine.”
So she did. My grades went up and I got to go. But I’m kind of a bit of a punky kid and every year they try to kick me out of the program. I’d barely squeak by each year because I was doing what troubled teens do.
And then in my last year of high school, [it] kind of occurred to me all my peers were prepping for university and sending out applications and considering better schools and all that. I finally realized I actually have to make a decision about what I’m doing here. And it finally dawned on me at 18-19 years of age that this is something you can actually do as a career. So I buckled down, graduated on the Dean’s list, and graduated my theatre programs after having scraped by with a 55 every year because I was just terrible. I ended up choosing a school in Vancouver called Studio58. They have a three year program, went there and graduated in ‘97.
So the answer to that question is it never really dawned on me at all coming from the background I had, and with a lot of other things going on in my head, until I was 18-19 that this is something people do for a living. I was like, “You’re kidding me. I’ll do this.” And so that’s kind of how that came to be.
Wow. That’s some teacher!
Yeah! You know what… I have been fortunate in my life to have a handful of people who were very pivotal at the right times. And she was certainly one of them. He name was Judy Cragg. She just recently retired actually. And when I heard she was retiring, I put a little video together for her and sent it back for her retirement party.
That’s a great story. Some teachers just aren’t recognized enough for what they do.
I also see that you have done quite a bit of voice work besides live acting. Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer live….live action…in front of the camera. I’m so fortunate to do something that I love and when you get to do the voice stuff so often it’s kind of over the top. It’s more of a theatrical kind of performance so it allows me to kind of keep that range alive. It’s not easy work, but it’s kind of nice to show up to work, and you don’t have to shave, you don’t have to memorize any of your lines and you don’t have to do the same amount of footwork. There is always something nice about that. I mean the voice work is actually outstanding. I’m so fortunate whenever I get a voice gig. I have two voices that I do well, but there are people out here who do like 20 voices and can turn them on a dime. So I just get by with my acting.
You’ve done a lot of that for sure. You have been in many supporting roles in your career. I remember you from Eureka” where you played Sheriff/Deputy Andy, but you were only on a few times and then another actor took over the part. Is there some special reason you didn’t go back?
I had been hearing at the end of the season, the buzz was Sheriff Andy was really strong. People were loving Andy, and fans loved what I was doing. I actually loved the character. Loved it…one of my favorites!
I had heard they were going to write me back in next season and use me lots and lots, but you know you hear this stuff all the time and you learn to not hold your breath. You just don’t react until the contract is in front of you. I start to wait and wait and kept hearing from crew members and other cast members. Then a week before they were about to shoot, they called and ask for my availability. My agent at the time said,”Well he’s on this other show, and he has a lock down on that show, but we can work around it.” They acted like they were surprised. “What? What do you mean he’s on another show?” The agent was like, “Well take a look at the body of work Ty has done over the years. How can you believe that he’d be sitting around waiting for your call? You’re a week before the show goes on. You have to talk to him.” So we were trying to work out the scheduling, and it wasn’t about money or anything like that. I loved the role, and they were paying me a decent amount. We were just kind of saying, “If you guys are planning to do a multiple episode kind of thing, maybe you should try to lock him in, because he works a lot.”
And they didn’t want to do that. So I shot the first episode back and like I don’t know what kind of flavor was going on between the agent and production, whether it was getting miscommunicated or heated or what, but I guess they said they were worried I wasn’t going to come back and they planned on doing my character so they could slice me if they had too.
So fast-forward to the initial episode my character’s not in it. Another episode comes up and my character’s in and it was like one day of work. Well this one day they wanted, I was over on a movie for SyFy, which was a number two position and a director I liked. Not the best movie but the paycheck was good. Two weeks of work and as an actor you take the work. Right? Well I can’t turn down this movie for one day of work with no guaranty or anything. I guess it got into a pissing contest or something and they replaced me. (Laughs)
Actually it stung quite a bit, because in the film television industry as a working actor, unless you are at a place where you can pick and choose your roles, so much is mundane…making a living and being happy to be working on your craft. But that was a role I developed and was quite proud of, and was thrilled that the fans enjoyed it so much. It still stings a little bit that they replaced the character so easily because honestly it wasn’t money. They just didn’t want to commit to just tying me down for a chunk of episodes so that you know work is coming. And then because they didn’t do that I ended up getting a job that was going to pay a lot more than what they were going to. So that’s the business. No animosity because the guy who replaced me is a very nice man. Kavan Smith did a great job. I’d worked with him before and the fans, after a little bit of huffiness were fine. Kavan has a great fan base so they were all happy over there.
But I’ll tell you as an artist, having one of those rare moments where you get a character you really enjoy, that you feel proud of and lose out to a competitive situation…..it stung a little bit. He was so much fun to play and I would have loved to explore him further. But I get it, it’s all business and I think for them in their defense their schedule is so tight that for them it just became a situation. I hope they realized they screwed up because you know that if you want an actor to be back for multiple episodes, they have to let him know. It’s okay if you have an actor who only works once a year but that’s not the case with me. So they did what they had to do for their schedule at the same time, but it still stings a little bit. It’s just that kind of ugly part of the business.
I also saw you in “Hell on Wheels” and your character ended up being decapitated.
That happens a lot on SUPERNATURAL and I’ve always wondered how that was done. Is there some special way they film it? Was that a hard scene to play?
Well you know, SUPERNATURAL does it a different way than they did on “Hell on Wheels.” I don’t know….I guess SUPERNATURAL has just taken so many heads off, they have got it down to a roaring science. (Laughs) When I was in “Hell on Wheels,” the hardest part about it was they actually put me in a green space suit, a tight spandex suit. And let me tell you, it doesn’t matter who you are, nobody looks good in it.
That was by far the hardest part of the day. And I will confess I had a little grumpy mood most of the day. It was hot and tight in all the wrong places and I felt like one of the Teletubbies. So I was like, “Can you please cut my head off now?”
I haven’t actually seen the episode, but I hear it looks great and the beheading looks amazing. I have been so fortunate in my career to have the opportunities to work with such great shows with other great actors. You know “Eureka is also one of them, great show, great crew, great cast. Just all around wonderful experience, the shoot with HELL ON WHEELS and now I’m fortunate the same is doubly true with SUPERNATURAL.
SUPERNATURAL is one of a kind for sure.
Well you know they got eight seasons under their belt for a reason. Right? It’s a show that fans enjoy, and they have a big chunk of the same cast and crew year after year after year because it’s such an easy show to work on. I love showing up on that set. I never have a day where I go, “Oh no!”
(Laughing) That’s what everyone says.
It’s true! Everyone complains about their work from time to time, and I have been around long enough to be given the bad and this is one of the good ones. And I always feel that good things should be talked about. And so anybody who will listen, I’m telling them.
Yes, I’ve heard from many guest stars that the set is very easy, relaxed, and comfortable to work on.
Yeah and that stuff always goes from the top down, right? They are pretty serious and exact in their art. And of course Jared and Jensen are the same cool guys they were in season two. And that filters down and makes the set so easy to work on.
In season two you were in “Bloodlust” and now you’re back as Benny, both vampires. Is it just a coincidence that both characters you played on that series were vampires or are the two characters connected?
We have had no direction that they are connected in any way. You are working with a very small community in the grand scheme of this for an acting pool. So by the time you get to season 8, they are double dipping all the time. We have these social images of vampires as these tiny skinny, sleek, pale heterosexual characters, and I was like, “I’ll never play a vampire.” I look too much like a redneck. (Laughs) But turns out, SUPERNATURAL loves their redneck vampires.
You came back to the set six years later. Did you notice any dramatic differences or did the set seem basically the same as when you left it six years ago?
Oh absolutely the same. It surprises really…it surprises. If anything it has gotten easier and more laid back and easier going. I suspect that by season eight, and there are not a lot of shows that don’t get that far, everybody kind of realizes it’s great and they got something that’s working. Of course you want to keep it interesting, the fire hot, and challenging the story line and what have you. But at the same time, you know it works, you’ve got something that you’re confident in and that you’re proud of and just keep plugging away. So you just kind of chill, right? You get this far into it and it’s like all gravy at this point. I’m mean season eight. Come on!
Well I guess they are now working on an end-game that hopefully with take the show into its tenth season which would be phenomenal.
No kidding! Yeah, there’s not many shows that do it. But it’s one of those shows were they can keep reinventing within the world they have created. And the fans are continuing to enjoy it. And I’m glad that Benny can be a part of that. It’s an interesting storyline.
You have certainly generated a lot of interest with the character before he even aired. So how did you get the role? Did you audition for it or did playing Eli in season two help you get the role?
The old fashion way….I went in and read for it. I guess they liked what I was doing. Funny, I got the audition sides and it was this an amazingly crazy monologue that never made it into any of the episodes. It’s too bad too, because it was a great scene. I would love for them to put it in somewhere.
Did you know at that point that is was going to be a major recurring role?
No. I think they had said it would be four episodes but I’m going into episode 7 now.
(Laughing) I was going to say, you’ve been in a lot more episodes than four!
Yeah, yeah. And we have a story next week that is just really heavy about Benny. Great episode, going a really cool way for the character. So I’m happy to come back as often as they will have me.
When I interviewed Rick Worthy, he said that when he returned to the series, to his surprise, they had kept his teeth and nails from his earlier episodes. Did they still have yours, or were you recast?
No, they redid the mold for my teeth and they changed the design a little bit. They made them more streamlined so you can possibly say a couple words with them in now. (Laughs) The old teeth were like you couldn’t do anything. Everything sounded all slurry. (Chuckles) So they made me new teeth. I’ve done it before and it’s always interesting.
You know Halloween is coming up and I’m like (whispers) can I borrow them for the holiday. (Laughs)
That’s good! (Laughing) Wonder if they would know if you walked off the set with them for a while.
(Laughs) That would be so cool!
We don’t know a lot about the character of Benny right now, but Jensen Ackles has made a number of comments about how well he likes Benny. We know Dean and he are fast friends after Purgatory. Will we ever find out more about Benny’s history? How he died, how he became a vampire and so on?
We do learn a lot about Benny actually but I can’t tell you about that cause the swat team would come in and we don’t want that. But there is an episode that deals quite heavy in Benny’s past and how he met Dean and a lot of it is done in flashbacks, some of it in the present as well. We get fairly deep into who he is and I’m really intrigued about where they are going with it. We cover a lot.
Do you think Benny will be a character the fans will love?
I think the fans will like him. Usually they will either love it or hate it. No one is really halfway with these kinds of characters. But I certainly do think the fan will like the story of Benny.
Jensen Ackles has made a point of saying a number of times how excited he is to work with you. What is it like working with him? Is there a special chemistry between you and he that makes it easy to work together?
Working with Jensen is really easy. We mix it up well on the screen. And the writers do such a good job it makes our lives as actors easier. The lines flow so easily and I hope the fans enjoy the work. You never do anything hoping the fans will enjoy the work, but on a personal level I hope they will of course. But when I’m on set, I just do my thing and not try to worry about who likes it or who doesn’t. Inevitably there will be people who love it and people who don’t.
You have played many supporting characters. How would you rate Benny? Was he easy to play? Do you find you identify with him in some personal way? Do you bring something special to the character?
Well I hope so! (Laughs) I bring something special to all my characters. I have a burning desire to give to my part my best. Despite all my years of doing this and despite my understanding of how this business works, I take pride in what I do. I think Benny is going to have a special place in my heart. He is a very interesting character to play. I think I went into him very easily and as you learn more about him and how he interacts with the other cast, the other characters, then the challenges start to creep up. But I never worry about that stuff. I just take one thing at a time. I had someone on Twitter ask if Benny had a last name. Truth is he was human once, but they didn’t tell me!
I don’t worry about that; I take the scripts as they come. And there have been a few struggles like where I would go with this guy and how I would handle the situation. And sometimes the writer’s vision isn’t what you thought so you have to find a way to navigate through that because the writer has a vision, the director has a vision, I have a vision.
There have been occasional times when someone would say, “My character wouldn’t do that” where it’s valid. But at some point you got to go, “Well it’s written there. So he did.” He did do that so you navigate that to make sense for you as the actor playing the role. So I know cheap solutions rather than fake problems when it comes to the character.
There hasn’t been anything gigantic with Benny so when I get a new script, it’s nice to be able learn new things about Benny. And I don’t worry about it if I didn’t worry about them before or if it takes a little bit of direction that I didn’t envision. I just go, “Ok. How am I going to weave this is in.”
So you don’t know any more than what you read in each script?
I know nothing about Benny. (Laughs) In fact, at the very beginning, the fans knew more than I did. I kid you not! Like I went into a wardrobe fitting and the wardrobe was talking about, “So Benny has a beard and Benny did this and so on.” And I’m like, “How do you know that? I didn’t know that! Nobody told me that?” (Laughs) They keep me in the dark. If I don’t know anything, I can’t get in a spot!
What we have been told is that Benny helps Dean out of Purgatory and then he eventually becomes more of a problem for Dean. But it seems you and Jensen have such a good rapport that you should be able to play those scenes pretty easily. You agree?
Yeah absolutely. He’s a good guy and he’s a very generous actor on set too. I had a scene with him where I had the lion’s share of all the dialogue and one of the AD’s came up and said, “Jensen wants to know if you want to shoot your coverage first or his coverage first or what?” I’m like, “Oh well whatever you guys need. Whatever you want is fine with me.” And that’s something you do some times when someone has a really chunky scene. And sometimes is nice to go, “Can we just do your coverage first so by the time I actually get to my coverage I know what the hell I’m saying?” It’s just one of those courteous things that you do and again eight seasons in and I’ve got Jensen asking me if I want my coverage first or second. Then coming over and running the dialogue with me. He is just a gracious, giving actor and man. Yeah, working with Jensen has been so easy.
Sounds like a very nice memory for you which a lot of the guest stars have carried with them from the set.
Yeah. You know we are in the business where we get told ‘No’ a lot. We’re told you’re too big, you’re too fat, you’re too tall, you’re not blond enough, you’re not young enough, you’re not old enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good-looking enough, you’re not ugly enough. You get told ‘No” all the time. That’s my theory behind why we suffer from low egos. I have seen some of that, people that are difficult to work with. So when you get someone as grounded as the boys are, it’s important to make note of that.
Both those guys are so easy to get along with. I haven’t had a lot of scenes with Jared but those I have have been great.
They are quite legendary for playing pranks on guest stars. Have you been the victim of any of their jokes?
I haven’t been the butt of any joke or prank and I like to believe that in their hearts they know that I’d get them back!
Really hope something like that would make the spoiler reel if you do! LOL
Do you currently know how many episodes you are going to be in? Many wonder if Benny will span the entire season.
I don’t know. Originally it was four and now I’m on seven so I’m just going along and not worrying about it too much.
I believe they are starting on episode nine so you’ve only missed two, so that’s pretty good!
Yeah! I’m in nine and ten and that will make my seventh. So that’s not a bad run!
No! Just missed three so far, and fan reaction to Benny has been strong. We just love these evil characters that seem to want to turn good or be a frenemy to the boys. So we are really looking forward to Benny’s story.
Well I hope so. You know I kind of hope the expectation isn’t too high. You know it’s kind of like hearing about this amazing movie that’s out of this great book and you’ve been hearing about it for months and months and then you read it and you say, “Well, it’s alright.” I just hope people like it. I’m happy with the work and I trust the guys in charge. If we get it in a couple takes, we’re out of there. They know what they are doing and I’m enjoying what I am doing.
You know this is so crazy too. Like I’ve done scenes where it just ROCKS, and people say it will be the best scene ever. And then for whatever reason by the time it got filtered down through studio announce and the director’s cut, and the editor’s version, and the time restraints because it was a TV show. And they cut out this and they cut out that and by the time you see it you go, “OMG, that’s not the same scene” and it’s garbage. I’ve seen it happen and I’ve also seen the opposite where I go, “I don’t think we got that scene.” And then you see it and it’s been edited it together just beautifully, the beats are all playing and it’s like, “Oh…we did get that scene.”
So all you can do is worry about your own stuff and hope that they take your best face and again SUPERNATURAL has a team that has been making magic for eight seasons so I don’t have to worry about that.
You have had many roles during your career. Do you have a favorite one that you like the best and why? And no, you don’t have to say Benny. (Smile)
You know, it’s funny but some of my favorite characters are for roles I never got to play. Auditions that I went to and just had so much fun developing the character and creating the character, and for whatever reason I didn’t get the job. Sometimes you lose a job because somebody is friends with somebody, or you’re not the right age, or you don’t look like the brother of so and so. But I like what I do so much that part of me goes, “Does it matter that nobody ever saw that?” That only a handful of people in the audition room saw it? It’s just so fun, so rewarding so fulfilling.
Also, I’ve had a few more that I never got to do because of scheduling conflicts.
Of those that I have actually gotten to do, Deputy Andy from “Eureka” was something I was proud of and really enjoyed and was elated when people liked it so much. Griggs from “Hell on Wheels”, a lot of fun cause he is such a gritty shyster character and period pieces are so much fun to play. As a character actor any time I get to stretch is when I enjoy myself the most.
But I kind of like moments too. We have all done our share of movies that aren’t blockbusters to say the least, or shows that don’t make it that long, scenes that aren’t particularly well written. I like to focus on each individual moment you can find in any performance.
So Sheriff Andy and Griggs were fun. I played a goofy character in a movie called “Just Friends” and got to do different things with that. And yeah, I think Benny might be on top of this list.
I’ll tell you one that I am actually proud of but I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. I shot a show pilot last year called “Borealis”. I played the lead guy who was an ex MMA fighter who’s killed in the ring, but was revived because technology. He buggers off up north to be part of a gold rush town as an entrepreneur. It has all this international intrigue and I’m a huge MMA fan. This guy is a little tough ass character that is scarred and damaged; alcoholic and violent, but had a big heart and helps people. It’s a role I’m quite proud of and one I hope people will get to see. So that’s one of my favorites.
It’s listed on IMDb as completed. I was going to ask if there is a release date.
They are still trying to sell it. The word I had is that a bunch of people had green lit it to go series and then someone at the top of the food chain decided it didn’t fit the demographic they were going for. And that’s part of this business. It’s not personal. He or she at the top decided that it wasn’t aimed at the audience they were trying to attract whatever the case maybe. Good shows go down and there is nothing you can do about it. I’ve seen terrible shows go forever. How does that happen? Right time slot, right fan base, right time, a little bit of luck, a little magic.
So I’m hoping it will be released as a TV movie.
Also listed is a movie due to be released in November, ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.” Are you a vampire in that also?
(Laughing) No, I’m not. I play mom’s new husband. I actually replaced another actor in that part and I’m not sure why he wasn’t available but I just got a call, the agent sent a head shot, and that was it. It’s a very small part and it’s a very funny thing when you find yourself in a piece of cinematic history and you don’t know how you got there. I’ve read the books though.
Course all SUPERNATURAL guest stars end up on the convention circuit. Have you been asked to participate in any so far? Is that something you’d want to do?
I actually have, yeah, the fellow cast members gave me the heads up about it…letting me know that this was going to happen. And absolutely I’d like to do it. Get the opportunity to travel, meet some of the fans and talk about what you like to do, absolutely. I think I have one booked for May 2013 in Birmingham England. I think it’s great for an actor to do, great for the show, and the fans enjoy it.
Besides doing SUPERNATURAL, are you working on any other projects currently?
Well I’m doing a voice series for Disney right now which I’m not allowed to talk about. So between that and SUPERNATURAL and SUPERNATURAL is keeping me very busy, so I haven’t even had time to audition. And if you don’t have time to audition, you’re not getting another job. They have done it in a way that is completely okay with me. They keep me busy. That way I don’t look and that’s a fine arrangement for me. They have been great. I have my first audition that I have had in months tomorrow and it’s for a feature film that shoots in November.
So last question, do you have any special message for SUPERNATURAL fans?
(Laughing) Enjoy Benny. Enjoy the show.
So ended an absolutely wonderful interview. I really hope he makes the convention circuit here in the states next year. He would be a riot on stage!
Many thanks again to Ty for taking the time from his busy schedule to do the interview. Here’s hoping Benny spans the seasons and becomes one of the series most memorable characters.