Actor David Haydn-Jones shares his thoughts on getting inside the mind of Supernatural’s resident sociopath and what the rest of the season holds for Mr. Ketch.
Supernatural’s season 11 finale introduced the British chapter of the Men of Letters – the secret organization of scholars who study the supernatural. Meeting them was somewhat of a mystery: Sam and Dean’s grandfather was a Man of Letters, they live in the Men of Letters’ American base, and, aside from a rogue or two, the organization was not inherently evil. When Lady Toni Bevell showed up in “Alpha and Omega” and shot Sam in the leg, we weren’t quite sure what was going on – whether there had been a misunderstanding, whether the Winchesters were perceived as a threat from afar (well, they have kind of caused a couple of apocalypses) or whether this was an outright enemy.
After Sam was rescued from Toni’s torturous clutches, she was removed from the scene and replaced by the rather more benevolent Mick Davies, who made apologies for her behavior and tried to make friends, and the elegant assassin Arthur Ketch, who does the cold-blooded dirty work. Since then, Supernatural season 12 has focused on the controlling presence of the British Men of Letters in America as a strange sort of powder-keg, and it’s about to explode.
On the surface, they are allies, albeit with very different methods. The British agents have been attempting to convert the American hunting community to their ways – to work for them as foot-soldiers, utilizing their advanced methods of mass-murdering monsters, with a vision of eliminating all supernatural life from the world. Not too many of the Americans they met seemed all that keen on the offer, but they managed to convince one major player: Mary Winchester, who wanted that “final solution” in order to save her boys from the life she never wanted for them.
Mary’s secret work with the Brits led to the life-threatening events of “Stuck in the Middle (With You)” and when they discovered her part in this, her sons saw it as a betrayal, leading to a falling out. However, her experience with the Brits’ excellent resources convinced her to invite Sam on board anyway, he heard her out, and Dean grudgingly followed. Sam and Dean worked with Ketch and Mick Davies on a few jobs, until they discovered first-hand that the British Men of Letters had a very different ethical idea of innocence, guilt, and personhood in terms of what kind of creatures should be killed or saved.
The Winchester influence rubs off on Mick, and after he helps them save Claire Novak, he starts to lean towards their ideas of right and wrong. This was his downfall. The death of the slowly-softening Mick in “The British Invasion” signified the end of the British Men of Letters’ attempts to recruit the Americans to their cause. When Eileen Leahy accidentally kills a British agent, the high-ranking Dr. Hess – Mick and Ketch’s former training mistress – orders all the Americans to be taken out, following their principle of “assimilate or eliminate.” Mick, defending the Winchesters that he now believes in, was the first casualty, and since then, the Brits have kept even tighter surveillance on the Winchesters, creating fake correspondence from Mick and breaking into the Bunker in order to bug it.
Mary keeps on working alongside Ketch as usual – even having casual sex with him – until her discovery of the truth last week, in “Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes.” While the brothers were off helping the beautiful Banes twins look for their mom, their own mother was getting into some deep trouble as she begins to realize just how much of a sadist and a psychopath the polite and dapper Mr. Ketch actually is. After a difficult argument about the use of torture, Mary overhears some suspicious phone conversations and eventually discovered Mick’s dead body in storage, as well as the enemy surveillance on herself, her sons, and many other friends.
— Supernatural (@cw_spn) May 8, 2017
Confronted by Mary, Ketch tries to play innocent, then seems to want to get her onside in order to save her – he’s projected, over the course of the season, on both Dean and Mary, trying to adopt them both as kindred sociopath spirits, but their pesky emotions keep getting in the way – but qualmlessly turns on her in rage when pressed. They fight, Mary wins in terms of physical combat, but Ketch manages to incapacitate her with a stun gun. She awakes to find herself back in the torture chair, observed by both Ketch and Toni Bevell, working together. Mary is deemed too valuable to kill, but the teaser for tomorrow’s episode, “There’s Something About Mary,” promises that things are about to get very messy between the Brits and Sam, Dean and the rest of the American community.
We spoke with actor David Haydn-Jones about what to expect next from this unique and volatile character.
The threat of Mr. Ketch loomed over season 12 for a long time before we actually met him in “LOTUS” – a elegant entrance indeed, it kind of reminded me of Kingsman. However, we see his faceless presence in a few earlier episodes – the packing of bags, the bike, the killing of Magda in “American Nightmare.” What was the first episode that you actually shot for?
The very first episode or piece of Ketch that was actually me was the phone call to The Old Men regarding the clean-up of Magda as a loose end. It was a second unit splinter set-up and I was fortunate enough to work with executive producer and director Phil Sgriccia, so I was able to pick his brain about where they thought the character might be going a little bit. Up until then, Ketch was body-doubled.
Did you know the full scope of the character when you got the role? If not, what most surprised you about him as it unfolded?
No idea, honestly! When I booked it, I thought I’d be dead in three episodes, which was my original deal. Then I kept getting scripts with more Ketch, which of course I was delighted and surprised by. The most surprising development for me was the unfolding relationship with Mary. I am so glad I chose to give a little flirty wink and a nod to her in the scene where Mick and Ketch meet up with her and Cas($). To have that moment actually flourish into something very complicated is a happy actor moment for me.
Actors who play villains must always empathize with them in real life in order for it to be authentic. But when playing such a predatory role – someone who does not really have the capacity to ever believe he’s wrong, and therefore is entitled to everything – what do you feel is the key to balancing that out and making sure the audience knows that it’s inappropriate while having to “believe” it yourself?
Great question, but I would slightly frame the verbiage a wee bit differently. Obviously, as you’ve so astutely noted, my job is NOT to judge Ketch in any way. That is up to the audience after they see his actions and reactions. I need to build rapport with his belief systems and the way he thinks. He’s a guy that very much lives in id and hedonism. He’s also a programmed zealot, of sorts, so the only real honest way to approach that as an actor who is NONE of those things is to simply give into his world, release all societal responsibility (fictionally of course) and just have fun. Freedom of a character like this in the confines of a safe, make-believe environment is so liberating to play!
— Supernatural (@cw_spn) May 7, 2017
In line with that, this episode saw much more of his response to Mary – almost childishly keen on her and hoping for her approval, but turning on a dime against her, with no qualms about getting violent when she doesn’t fall in line. There’s a ton of toxic and contradictory behavior there, with his seemingly truthful hope to keep her safe, but his easy willingness to take her out himself. What’s the most genuine thing about Ketch?
I think the most honest thing about Ketch is his unapologetic embracing of his animal, ape, primal being. He may be posh and dress like a dandy, but the man is all ferocity when crossed, wronged or shamed. I believe his lust for the hunt from an early age is what got him “selected” for the British Men of Letters.
You and Samantha Smith both got a chance to play the shifter this week – what was that experience like from a technical perspective? And given that the shifters can access the cloned body’s memories and emotions, what unpleasant things do you think the shifter might have been ready to taunt Ketch with?
Yeah, that was a very long and technical scene to shoot, but I love that. I love the engineering and artistry that goes into shooting a scene like that. And it feels so short when it’s cut together, haha! Boy, I think that last punch from Ketch revealed the shifter’s original accent and persona. There are layers of psychology there that I’d prefer the audience ruminate and speculate on. Let’s just say, the layers and history of Ketch have so many places they could go.
— Supernatural (@cw_spn) May 5, 2017
“Anyone who tells you that torture is never the answer, they haven’t been under the knife.” This was particularly poignant given that Dean went through this in Hell – 30 years on the rack, causing him to break and become a torturer himself. Was this meant to imply that Ketch himself has been tortured, or that he’s reporting on his findings as the torturer? And given that Ketch has claimed to see a lot of himself in Dean, was there any input from the writer or director or Jensen or yourself about the implication of that quote in regards to Dean?
First off, I think it’s very fair to deduce that Ketch has learned a lot from torture, both as the torturer and the recipient of torture. We can only imagine what Ketch’s experience in the British Men of Letters training was, but suffice it to say it was brutal and abusive. There was no direct mirroring of Dean or explicit explanation of that specific analogue but we can definitely see the themes through Ketch that he may be the dark side, alter ego to Dean in many ways.
What’s going on with Ketch and Toni Bevell? Her first mention of him implied that she hated and feared him, he seemed to think she was volatile and crazy – yet now, things are looking very different… Are they, in fact, birds of a feather? They seem extremely cordial.
I think you’ll see “cordial” may be a very loose term here. Haha. It’s the stiff-upper-lip, passive-aggressive, got a job to do “integrity” thing. Have no fear, the friction and backstory of those two will be flushed out.
I’ve written before about how the British Men of Letters remind me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Watchers’ Council, and you have a unique perspective in that you actually once played a Watchers’ Council member in the rather important Buffy episode “Helpless.” Why do you think these governing bodies work so well as antagonists in this kind of genre?
I think we as viewers like to hate the idea of secret, ordered societies that on one hand keep order in a world of chaos, but also we resent them for their power and secrets. It’s the whole Illuminati thing, in a way. Plus, the rigid, authoritarian, British Empire villain I think appeals to the free-wheeling American spirit. Flipping the bird to those stuffy codgers is still appealing considering world history.
Do you have any thoughts on the use of the British Men of Letters as a symbolic device for a lot of the world’s current right-wing hysteria, particularly privilege and xenophobia?
I can’t confirm the writers’ intentions personally, but it is safe to say I certainly see it that way. Any good art form should be reflecting the current culture and asking the audience to reflect on very real current events through the avatars of fictional storytelling.
British classism and traditionalism fascinates me, and there’s certainly a lot of classism within this system. I’ve speculated on the origins of Mick Davies and Ketch – how do you think upper-class Ketch felt about being the inferior lackey to working-class Mick’s command-center strategist? Did Ketch respect him? Does Ketch respect anyone?
Great observation! Yes indeedly-doodly, I am sure it gets on Ketch’s wick that he has to answer to someone he perceives as a weak bureaucrat from a lower class. Filthy street urchin in a suit! Haha. I think Ketch respects Mary for her hunting prowess and skills. He certainly respects his “evil stepmother” Dr. Hess in very unhealthy ways. And he did respect the Winchester boys up to a point, until they hurt his feelings. Poor Ketchie! “Low rent Christian Bale” indeed!
Tomorrow, it’s game on, in terms of the American hunters becoming the hunted. Give us five random words to describe how the rest of the season plays out for Ketch.
Conflicted. Savage. Ruthless. Desperate. Posh ;)
— David Haydn-Jones (@DavidHaydnJones) February 17, 2017
This was a written interview which has been published sic erat scriptum. Stills courtesy of The CW.