In advance of Supernatural season 15, episode 17 ‘Unity,’ guest star Emily Swallow slipped us some great teasers and joined us for a longer conversation about all things Amara, plus much more.
Emily Swallow currently has a lot of plates in the air – she’s currently in Los Angeles in order to film season 4 of CBS action drama SEAL Team, where she plays Dr. Natalie Pierce opposite David Boreanaz’s Jason Hayes. Her new horror movie, Haunting of the Mary Celeste, came out earlier this week on demand – just in time for Halloween, and on Friday, we may or may not see her return to a galaxy far, far away as the Armorer, the noble clan leader of The Mandalorian.
There’s no such Star Wars secrecy on Supernatural. Amara will definitely be making another appearance on the show this Thursday, in the season’s fourth-from-last episode, “Unity.”
The official synopsis for Supernatural season 15, episode 17 reads:
ONE WAY OR ANOTHER — Dean (Jensen Ackles) hits the road with Jack (Alexander Calvert) who needs to complete a final ritual in the quest to beat Chuck (guest star Rob Benedict). A difference of opinion leaves Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Castiel (Misha Collins) behind looking for answers to questions of their own. Catriona McKenzie directed the episode written by Meredith Glynn (#1517). Original airdate 10/29/2020.
Supernatural fans first met Emily Swallow back in season 11. Her character Amara – God’s sister, the Darkness in contrast to the Light – is one of the Supernatural universe’s most powerful beings, and, despite her role as season 11’s antagonist, she left the show in a peaceful way, as somewhat of an ally to the Winchesters. It was no surprise that when God revealed himself as the true villain of the story, Amara would soon find herself back on the board for the Supernatural endgame.
“Unity” marks Emily’s third episode of Supernatural this season – she initially appeared with God – that is, Chuck – in the 2nd episode “Raising Hell,” and reunited with Dean two weeks ago in “Gimme Shelter,” where it became clear that Amara may have a significant role to play in preventing the cosmic collapse of the Winchesters’ world.
Emily joined us recently for an in-depth conversation about Amara’s past, present and future on the show. She was able to give us quite a few teasers about what you can expect from Amara in episode 17, and we broke down how Amara feels about the current state of affairs with Chuck, and why, exactly, Dean was able to get through to her. She also shared some the special experiences she’s had working with Jensen Ackles and Rob Benedict, who bring to life “these two guys that matter more to her than anything else in creation.”
Read on for all this and more, as well as some updates and reflections on a number of Emily’s other big projects, including The Mandalorian, SEAL Team, and Haunting of the Mary Celeste.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was your reaction to not only coming back to Supernatural, but also finding out that the show had twisted to this Chuck-as-villain story? What did you think Amara’s part in that might be?
I was thrilled because Supernatural is one of the most enjoyable sets I’ve ever worked on. Just across the board, the cast are all incredible, the crew is incredible, the producers are lovely – which I think is part of the reason it’s been going for 15 years. Even if fans enjoy something, if the people working on it don’t like each other it’s not going to continue.
So I mean I was just thrilled that they wanted me back at all, and then I thought it was a really interesting twist, especially because I spent most of season 11 trying to convince everybody that Chuck was not the good guy that they all thought he was. But I didn’t know when I came back for that first episode how many episodes they would have me back for so I didn’t know if I was gonna get to play a part in the bigger thing of the season or if it was just that one fun little appearance.
Chuck is now destroying worlds, and we know Amara has the ability to create. In episode 15, Amara says that they’re really twins, and they might be more similar and equal in power and possibility than the way it was originally spun. Did you have any suspicions or validations about that role reversal, and reveal of the siblings being the same rather than being fundamentally oppositional?
I thought it was so interesting that they introduced that element of the two of them not being polar opposites, because really, the basic situation that happened, in the Supernatural theory of creation, is that they were both sort of creating things at the beginning, Chuck didn’t like what Amara was doing and so he locked her up.
But then his version of events – because it was the only version – became the good, and then she came back in and because she was going against that, she became the bad. But I feel like in this world, it’s all just sort of a matter of perception. He was the one that everybody knew, he was the God of this world and so he was automatically the good guy – you know that’s what they all just assumed.
I think that it’s a really interesting detail and it just makes it so much harder to kind of decide who to root for. At this moment, Chuck’s being a total jerk, but then in the past we’ve seen him be a good guy so you kind of never know where they’re going to stand in this dichotomy.
One of the things I loved about Amara from the beginning is that even though she is technically “the villain,” I feel like a lot of people could relate to why she was so discontented and why she was causing so many issues. We’ve all been somewhere where we feel like no one’s listening to us, we feel like we’ve been rejected, we feel like we don’t have a voice and that can cause us to do horrible things. So in those moments in season 11, she was the bad guy because of the circumstances, and now Chuck is upset that the things that he created are not going the way he wanted them to, so now he’s the bad guy. So I love that. I think that the writers are so smart with all the different things they set up in that.
Re-watching Season 11, it did somewhat strike me that she really didn’t do anything wrong in terms of her scale of understanding the universe. To someone like Amara, the existence of this little world is not that big a deal – the perspective of what matters to a cosmic being is so much bigger than that. What she was doing, it’s bad for us, the humans sitting on Earth that only know our own scope, but it’s not villainous at all. And on the flip side, helping might seem like an afterthought or something of no consequence. But here we are at the end of season 15 and she says, you know, maybe I’ll help. Obviously that conversation with Dean was the crux of the episode but what element of that was the turning point for “I’ll think about stopping Chuck because of what you’ve said?” What part clicked or convinced her?
As we’ve seen, Amara’s always had a soft spot for Dean, but beyond the flirtation of it, it’s really that when she first showed up on Earth, he was the only person who would listen to her. He wasn’t completely on her side, but he was listening. There was something that he understood. And so they had this connection and I think that that was something in her – like you were talking about – this cosmic scale of things where she’s seen worlds come and go, she’s seen so many different creations, there’s this personal moment that has an impact on her.
At the end of the day, she’s kind of the one of the two siblings who’s like “Well, you know, things are gonna happen. Whatever. We’ve seen this before, we’ll see it again. I dunno, life happens.” She goes off to Reno to just gamble because she’s not really invested in making a profound impact or anything. So I think for her these personal moments matter and this personal connection she has with this random guy Dean, who listened to her – I think maybe because she’s so overwhelmed by the scope of everything else that she knows, that’s the thing that breaks through and I think that that’s so relatable.
The season 11 conclusion is really the only season of the show that has ended in a peaceful way – a clean ending that was basically conflict resolution, we used our words and we’re done. So I guess she learnt that Dean is worth listening to. But he sees Chuck and Amara off on their little reunion trip and by the time you come back in season 15 she’s sick of Chuck! Will we find out why she’s so annoyed at him, or what made them split up on Earth?
Well, first of all I have to tell you that in the interim between season 11 and season 15, Rob and I came up with lots of scenarios as to what was going on, and what that family counseling would look like. At one point we were hoping to just shoot some little episodes to post online of like Chuck and Amara in therapy, I mean – what if, like, Gabriel was their therapist or something? But yeah, we’ll get a little more insight into that but you’ll have to wait and see how it unfolds.
Did Amara know that Chuck was puppet-mastering to the degree that we’ve learned he is?
I don’t think she was really paying attention to be honest. When we see her for the first time in season 15 she’s been – well, apparently going shopping which is great, I’m glad she got a new wardrobe – but I think she’s sort of been an escapist. She goes to Reno to play keno and I think that she likes being lost in that little bubble. A lot of people asked after that episode like “Well, does she know what he’s doing?” and no one has told me this for certain, but what I decided is that she just wasn’t really paying attention. And so I think that she starts to get wind of what’s going on and I think she’s always sort of kept an eye on Dean, and has been ready, maybe, if he did ever call. to say “Okay, let me see how I can help you.” Because he helped her – even if it didn’t go well, that wasn’t his fault, that was Chuck’s fault.
Dean really hammered home like: “You know he didn’t just make our world and make it a bit crappy, he’s really constructed some weird voyeuristic game for us,” and she does seem a bit taken aback by that.
Jensen is such a phenomenal actor and he really invested in that, and like I was saying before, in season 11 when she was sort of saying like “What if everything was just nothing, what if it wasn’t good or it wasn’t bad” – I think she is always trying to stay in the gray area and not get too invested, because maybe it has hurt too much when she has.
So then to see him care so passionately about this – I think it sort of wakes her up and it opens up her heart a little bit, and the part of her that is human – because that’s also one of the brilliant things about the show, all of these characters, even if they’re not human characters, they have a very human element in how you relate to them, how they relate to the world in that way.
You and Jensen are just so great together. What is your favorite part of working with him specifically?
First of all, I think that it’s impossible not to have chemistry with Jensen because he has enough of it for the rest of us in spades. But really, I was just blown away by how gracious he was when I came in. You go into a long-running show and you never know what it’s going to be like. You don’t know if people are tired of what they’re doing, you don’t know if you’re going to go in and they’re going to be like “okay, hey good to see you, here’s how we do things.”
But from the beginning he wanted to know what I thought about Amara, what I thought about their relationship, and throughout that season it was always just a breath of fresh air for me to do those scenes with him, because everything else that I was doing was – I mean it was so cool, but it was, you know, I’m smiting people, I’m sucking their souls. All of season 11, I feel like almost every scene, I had a giant fan on me and I was having to hold my arm out and point at somebody, trusting that there would be special effects.
So having those scenes with him that were so simple and so connected and every time, he just showed up so fully. And then I also appreciated how towards the end of the season, as we were trying to make some of these connections with things that maybe didn’t make sense… The guy’s on set basically all day every day, but he never was too tired to sit down and talk about how to make sure these moments worked and if that meant tinkering with the dialogue a little bit, or just talking things through so that we knew we were on the same page… It’s clear that he loves what he does, he cares passionately about it, he loves other people, he’s such a gracious, gracious actor in person so it was just a gift to get to work with him every time.
When you say that as an actor – and this is not necessarily about Jensen, but I guess here it is – when you sit down and you talk about the script, what might that look like? You’d say ‘This is what it says on the page but I think that in her mind she’s thinking this,’ or him, ‘it’s not in the dialogue but I am aware he’s coloured by this prior experience’ – is that the kind of thing that you’d talk about, like motivation or tone?
Yeah, a lot of it was “Okay, how does this encounter between Dean and Amara – how does it differ from where we’ve seen them before? How have they changed since the last time?” and then especially in that last episode, making sure we were connecting on why what he was saying would get through to her, and why she would go along with that. and you know, I don’t always want to know everything my other actors are thinking – half of the fun of it is like seeing what you get and responding to it, but because of the emotional connection and because some of those scenes in different episodes were kind of similar, in just like the picture of the scene, we wanted to make sure it was fitting into the arc of the season in very specific ways.
What was the best thing about working with Rob?
Oh my gosh. Well, first of all, I got so excited when I found out – because I didn’t know at the beginning of the season. I knew that I was God’s sister but they hadn’t told me who God was, that they knew he was this character, that he was Chuck.
So when I found out that it was Chuck and Chuck is Rob and I think Rob’s such a fantastic performer, I got so excited. I was sort of hoping that we would see some scenes between them – which we wound up getting this season – where they are just like siblings bickering. I was like “Oh, this is gonna be great, we’ll be fighting but then there will be some really stupid moments of just like ‘you’re dumb,’ ‘no you’re dumb,’ and we did not get that on camera.
But I feel like Rob is my brother at this point, in a good way, and he too – I mean he’s just so giving, he’s such a humble performer. We have so much fun just kind of goofing off and being idiots together off camera, and I think even those kinds of connections – even though it was us joking, I think having that connection helped inform what we saw on camera even when they’re having this fight.
I loved that episode where I did finally confront him and it was really like this Greek tragic thing, the stuff that they’re saying to each other. He’s just so available and so in the moment and works so hard and then since that season, getting to do the convention circuit with him and perform with him, it’s just been such a joy. and I was thrilled when I found out that we would be working together for that that earlier episode because he’s just phenomenal.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed this season is that we’ve got a lot of big female power players at the end. We have Amara. Rowena is the Queen of Hell, Death – Billie – who’s been really involved, and then most of the actors portraying the other big cosmic entity, The Empty have been female. Aside from Chuck, all of the major beings are these very cool ladies right now. I’m wondering if there’s any that you would have liked to team up or work with. Maybe this is a spoiler, but which of the Supernatural women do you think could kick ass with Amara?
I got so excited back in season 11 when I got the scripts, when I was with Ruth [Connell,] when I was with Rowena, because I thought that that relationship really had potential to be a great power couple and it was just interesting to see these two women who both… You don’t always know when you can trust them, to see how they would join forces. Also just selfishly I think that Ruth is like such a phenomenal person and a wonderful actress so I wanted to have more scenes with her.
I could say that about so many of the women on the show. I think for comic value I would like to see Amara and Sheriff Donna pair up. I think you get a good buddy cop drama out of them. So many of the women – I actually have a text thread with several of the other actresses from the show, most of whom I’ve never been on the show with, but there are just such incredible women who are playing these strong female roles and I’m so glad that the writers did that and I think it’s sort of necessary because the fulcrum of the show are these two, you know, very strong men, so it’s great to have these strong women come up.
What do you want to tell us now about what we can expect from Amara next? What can you tease about the big picture?
Well I think at this point, she can’t help but get involved in some way. I think she is still torn as to which side she should take and you know, there’s probably part of her that would like to see all sides agree.
That’s very interesting to me because right now they’re saying we’ve got to kill God and we’ve got to kill Amara and I’ve got a feeling that’s actually not what’s going to happen, so that approach kind of sounds useful. Dean helped her with conflict resolution, maybe she can do the same.
Yeah, we’ve got these two guys [Chuck and Dean] that matter more to her than anything else in creation, and because of that it would be great if she could get them to agree but I can’t say if she will succeed in that, so we’ll see.
Let’s get more specific. This week, in “Unity,” Amara has shown up at the Bunker, presumably ready to help? What can we expect from that conversation?
Amara is open to hear what kind of plan Sam and Dean have in mind; she has spent the first part of this season distracting herself from anything family-related by basking in the glow of Keno and other Reno delights (I hear she loves the all-you-can-eat buffet), but she’s ready to face reality, which includes trying to sort out conflict between the family she’s required to be part of (Chuck and Jack) as well as the family she has adopted (Sam and Dean).
What can you tease about what Amara will make of her grand-nephew Jack?
Well, her first family reunion on this planet didn’t go so well, so I don’t know if she’s smothering Jack with hugs just yet, but she might be willing to show him the ropes in Reno to make up for lost time…
Where we left off, Dean convinced Amara to think about helping and the audience knew that Dean was leading her to doom. Can you tease anything about that deception coming to light – especially now that she’s met Jack? Should we be worried?
Wouldn’t it be nice if Amara could inspire unity (hint, hint) amongst all the involved parties so no one has to trick anyone?
We know that Rob Benedict shot for “Unity” as well, so what can you share about Amara’s scenes spent apart from the Winchesters in “Unity,” and her eventual reunion with Chuck/God?
Amara has spent most of this season outside the conflict by choice, probably because she knows it’s the only way to protect herself from being hurt again. Now that she has made the decision to get involved, we’ll see new sides of her and new sides of her relationship with Chuck.
Moving into some of the other things that you have going on right now: you have this horror movie just released on demand, The Haunting of the Mary Celeste, which is a real legend, right? Well, your movie isn’t true – but it’s a true story?
It’s inspired by a true story. Because there was a ship called the Mary Celeste – it was sailing from New York to Genoa [in 1872] – and it was discovered by another ship very close to the Azores Islands with nobody on board.
Oh, yes, it’s the ghost ship! The empty ship, right.
Yes. One of the theories is alien abduction because there were things like pipes that were abandoned mid-smoke, and all the food was still there, all the supplies – the lifeboat was missing and there was a rope hanging over the edge so nobody has been able to confirm what happened. The movie introduces another theory that I think is one of the ones that’s been floated around – that there was something supernatural, there was a rift in the space-time continuum, so my character Rachel is this this scientist who’s become obsessed with this ship and with what could have created this phenomenon, so that’s the journey we go on.
That sounds like a great Supernatural episode.
Is it really scary, like a let’s watch it on Halloween kind of spook?
It is, yeah. It’s not gory, but it’s a thriller though.
You recently went back to filming SEAL Team – that’s happening in LA during this COVID situation. What’s that like on set – I know Canada had it a little easier, more under control, but how is it in LA at the moment to work like that?
There are lots of safety measures in place. I was flying in from New York so I had to get tested before I flew and then land, quarantine for a few days and then get tested again. The actors get tested three times a week, the rest of the crew gets tested once a week, and there’s different zones depending on how many times you get tested, so they’re trying to keep it so that not everybody is crossing paths with everybody, and we all wear masks up until the moment that we start shooting.
So there’s a lot of weird things in place given what we’re used to but I have to say, first of all, I’m beyond happy to be back at work. I’m so grateful that the producers were willing to do this, because it’s a lot of extra money for them and they’ve got a great attitude about it. No one’s complaining, everyone’s willing to like, wear the mask, do what you gotta do, because we’re all so grateful to be back at work.
It’s definitely been a little weird, but not in a way that impedes the work at all, which is great, because I was a little worried that the protocol would be so disorienting that it would just mess up whatever flow we were in artistically, but I don’t feel that way about it now.
I am not asking this to get a spoiler, but if Natalie was to get back together with Jason, would you and David be allowed to kiss? Is that a thing? I’ve been really curious about that kind of thing.
Yes, people can kiss. I wondered that too. It could be that writers across the board are trying to write those moments in less – I don’t know how it’s influencing it but it is allowed and the assumption is that everyone’s getting tested so frequently that hopefully nothing will slip through the cracks.
SEAL Team is actually able to come back to screens for a fall season [November 25 on CBS] – was that always the plan? How did the shutdown affect the schedule for season 3 and 4?
We had to shut down production while we were shooting the last two episodes [of season 3.] I was supposed to come back in the season finale and I think just a couple days before I was going to fly out here, they had to shut down. They’d already started shooting the episode. So now, they got renewed for a whole new season, but the first two episodes of this season are sort of re-tinkered versions of what would have been then beyond that they expand to what they already had kind of in mind for season 4.
And then obviously in a couple of days we have The Mandalorian coming back for season 2. I know that’s like pain of death – are you allowed to even say if you’re in it?
I don’t even know what show you’re talking about. I’ve never heard of.. The Manda-what? No! I’m not allowed to say anything!
Well in that case, going back to season 1 – I actually noticed similarities between the Armorer and Amara. They’re internally very still and very peaceful no matter what’s going on, inside their mind. Do you feel that? What else do you feel like you took to the Armorer to get that faceless but very deep performance?
Yes! I never thought of Amara consciously, but I love that you pointed that out, because I came to that. I started to realize that. I was like, “Oh, these two – they’re kind of similar,” which is such a nice change of pace for me because in real life, I’m very animated and I talk with my hands and I’m very rarely at rest. But the Armorer’s stillness came from – they described her as being very Zen-like, a Zen-like leader of these people and so based on that, I knew that she carried her authority very… soft is not the right word..
Without ego, I feel is a big part of it. It’s not about power.
Yeah! And without aggression. And she trusts that she has their respect. And I think also because of that, because she’s sort of the one that has to maintain the calm in this time of chaos – our Mandalorian clan is in hiding, we can’t go out, and that’s causing a lot of panic and a lot of fighting and a lot of fear and so it’s on her to be the calm in the storm.
I sort of decided on all of that, also based on some things that Jon Favreau had said – he told me to look at some Kurosawa films and think about Samurai warriors and there’s this grace and this deliberateness – but practically speaking, I was glad I had arrived at those choices because when I actually was in the whole suit and the helmet in this dimly lit set, it was hard to see so I was in constant danger of running into things or tripping on things. So then it became very useful that the Armorer did not move around super quickly.
Also, the fact that I had to do that but couldn’t look around – I couldn’t check where I was going, I really had to trust – being required to have that trust then fed into the confidence that she had, just because I had to do it. There was no way to make sure I was always moving in the right direction and checking while still conveying this authority, so then it was sort of a circular thing because it just made me more confident because I had to be.
What was the difference of the scope of working on something like Star Wars, Disney level production versus the production level of something like Supernatural, long-running but small scale genre TV? What are the similarities? Both have passionate fandoms, for one.
Well, in both situations, the thing that’s always most important to me is that I’m working with people who care about the work and care about the artistry and in both of those situations I feel like I got to work with people who really cared about the story they were telling, so every expense that they had or whatever effort was put into it – there was a real humility to it. Of course they’re always trying to do spectacular-looking things because people like that, but never at the expense of the story and so that was similar with both of them.
It was cool to work on something like Star Wars because it was fewer episodes so they had a little more money for each episode and the level of detail was just incredible. Television, episodic television like Supernatural, the shooting schedule is just much more contracted and compressed and so you just don’t have as much time to stop and really take things in and really have the detail that you can have, where The Mandalorian was basically like working on a film. People had spent many many months building these costumes and my tools as the Armorer were just exquisite. The amount of detail that was put into them, it was such a pleasure to get to play with those things. There were definitely details like that, you could tell like “Oh, there’s a little more money here.”
For me, I already have the experience of being connected to the Supernatural fandom who are so passionate and lovely and creative and giving. I remember one of my first episodes working with Jensen and he had just come back from a convention and I had no idea what these things were like, and I was asking him about it and he spoke with such affection and respect about the fans and some of the the work that the fans do towards charities and to support each other.
But Star Wars [fandom legacy] was sort of like, because it’s been around for 40 years, it’s just beyond. The same energy but it’s so much bigger and it spans generations and it’s just – it’s epic, because these stories have been going on so long, so that was very cool.
Is there anything else that you want to say about Supernatural and the rest of Amara’s journey? What questions should we be asking ourselves from here on out?
I guess as we’re watching – I don’t want to give anything away. Be prepared for the unexpected and I think there are no easy answers. I think we’re going to see that. I mean, how on Earth do you end a show that’s been going for 15 years in a way that makes everyone feel satisfied or in a way that makes it feel even concluded?
The Mandalorian returns to Disney+ from October 30
SEAL Team returns to CBS from November 25
Rent or buy Haunting of the Mary Celeste on iTunes, Google Play, Youtube, or wherever you get your films on demand