“This role wasn’t packaged up and delivered to me by any means,” shares Jensen Ackles regarding his path to joining season three of Amazon Prime’s “The Boys.” Coming off a coveted Best Drama Series Emmy nomination for season two, Ackles enters mid-season as the darkly comedic (and just plain dark) character known as Soldier Boy.
The actor had a long road to landing the part that would reunite him with showrunner, writer, and producer Eric Kripke. Following Ackles’ season-long guest starring role on the CW’s “Smallville” in 2004, he went out for another CW series… “Supernatural.”
That series solidified Ackles as a star with his portrayal of Dean Winchester, running for fifteen seasons under the stewardship of Kripke. Ackles and Kripke forged a lifelong friendship and collaborative trust thanks to “Supernatural,” and that relationship blossomed even further on Amazon Prime’s gritty superhero series.
Ackles recalls the rather innocuous conversation that kicked off his path to landing the meaty role of Soldier Boy. “Kripke and I were having a conversation about something unrelated, and I wrapped it up by saying, ‘Hey, when are you going to bring me over to The Boys?’ He chuckled and said, ‘If you want to come over, we’d love to have you.'”
Of course more than Kripke had so sign off on Ackles, so the actor set out to win over the studio executives who had already compiled a list of equally notable names for the part of Soldier Boy.
Ackles spoke to Awards Focus about crafting his audition tape with Kripke, dissecting Soldier Boy and his many flaws, and recording the voice over for the animated backstory and how truthful that is to Soldier Boy’s past self.
Awards Focus: Can you talk about your initial reaction when you heard you were going to get Soldier Boy?
Jensen Ackles: This role wasn’t packaged up and delivered to me by any means. Eric Kripke and I were having a conversation about something unrelated, and I closed with, “Hey, when are you going to bring me over to ‘The Boys’?” He chuckled and said, “If you want to come over, we’d love to have you.”
I thought he was probably thinking of something small. But then Kripke said, “I wouldn’t want to waste you on just a couple of scenes. I’d like to bring you in at a bigger capacity. There is this role coming up in season three. There’s a shortlist of pretty recognizable names that the studio and the network are considering, but I’d love to have one of my guys in there, somebody I know and trust.”
I said, “Well, who better than me?” and he sent me over some of the material. I read it and immediately thought, “Oh, this is my guy. Who do I have to kill?” (laughs).
Kripke told me that it wasn’t going to be an easy process, and I would need to convince Amazon and Sony, and I didn’t necessarily have a relationship with those places. So, Kripke had me put myself on tape and he coached me and gave me a lot of good pointers. I just went back and forth, and back and forth, until we finally got a tape that we felt good about.
Then Kripke went to bat for me, and luckily, they all signed off. I don’t know what he said, or what he threatened, but I got the role. And he was, and then he was able to call me and say, “You’re my Soldier Boy, let’s get to work.”
AF: Tell me about the scene in the finale, where you’re almost embodying your own father when talking to Homelander? What was your process of building the arc of that scene?
Ackles: That was a roller coaster of emotions that was all subtext. As an actor, you hope for scenes like that, because you get to really play what’s in between the lines, and it’s not all written out for you. When you get a writer and a showrunner that really trust their actors to bring the material to life, you can infuse performance with that and not putting it on the nose with dialogue.
Luckily, I had that trust and I was certainly excited to explore that scene with Antony Starr. Homelander was Soldier Boy’s son, and it was somebody of equal power and very similar to him, and it touched a nerve. I never want to become like my father, but then in those moments, you see that it’s just in your DNA. It’s who you are. It’s something that you can’t fight. That was such a brilliant piece of writing to have that switch in that moment because you think he’s gonna go one way. Then, at the last minute, he flips and it’s very telling of the turmoil in the character.
AF: How did you feel when you realized you were going to record some of your most cruel acts as Soldier Boy in the voice over booth?
Ackles: That was of the most brilliant backstory explorations in modern entertainment. I remember reading it and recording all the voice work for it, and it was such an inspired way to pull back the curtain on this story line. Also, it gave a lot of color to Soldier Boy and what he had gone through as a character.
It wasn’t just Black Noir’s backstory that got clarity through the animation, it was the whole payback crew, what they had gone through and where they’d come from. Personally, I don’t think the animated character of Soldier Boy necessarily reflected who he was, but that was the perception that his team had of him. That really helped me as an actor, getting into Soldier Boy’s role, knowing that this is how people view him.
AF: You have these darkly comedic lines and moments in the show that you execute brilliantly. One of the funniest has to be when Soldier Boy is in the hotel room with Jack Quaid’s Hughie and he mentions the strong drinks that Bill Cosby used to make.
Ackles: The series has always been incredibly funny with the graphic action set pieces, but I got some one liners that people, even today, say “That’s one of my favorite lines.” There’s a good dozen lines out there that the people just love to repeat to me (laughs).
AF: Is there a sense of play on set and freedom to deviate from the script?
Ackles: We’d always do one exactly as scripted. Usually, those are already home runs crafted by Kripke and the writers, but they do let us play and improvise, especially if Kripke is on set. He would encourage me to go nuts and he knows how dark I can get in my sensibility and what I can come up with, so he let me run wild a few times.
AF: Therre are many iconic, stoic first appearances in sci-fi, like Arnold when it comes out of the time warp as the Terminator. How did you feel about exiting your cyro chamber in Russia? What were you thinking about?
Ackles: That’s all I was thinking about for about six months leading up to it, because that was my first day on set. So the first time I walked onto the set, the first time I met my new cast, met the new crew, and played this new character, I was walking out of a chamber in my birthday suit. That was liberating. That was the first time I’ve done that.
AF: There are… shall we say bold moments this season, as there are with every season of “The Boys.” You and your cast mates recently got together for a TV Academy FYC screening and panel dicussion for the third season episode “Herogasm.” There seemed to be a great response to that episode, despite the TV Academy skewing older in its demographic. I thought it was great fun to see those voters lean into the boundary pushing of the series’ action and comedy.
Ackles: It’s great to be able to get away with some of the stuff that we get away with. Some people could view it as just shock value, but it’s done so smartly. It’s done in such a necessary way for advancing the story and advancing the relationships between the characters, that it’s so hard not to accept it as great storytelling, even if it is done with sex toys and a massive superhero orgy.
AF: The fallout at the end really started to bring home the volatility of your character, and it’s so interesting to see how the other characters try to handle this. It’s funny to actually see Karl Urban’s Butcher trying to butter up your character, compared to his normal disposition.
It was also so interesting that Hughie stands up to him and brings up that Soldier Boy didn’t really serve in the war. Instead trying to deflect or deny, Soldier Boy just decks Hughie.
Ackles: Everybody has those people in their lives that you just have to walk on eggshells around because they’re just a constant ticking time bomb. That was very indicative of this guy, as not only is he a massive fish out of water in his current situation, but he’s also walked around being the most powerful person in any room. If he feels threatened, in any regard, then he’ll snap… that’s his M.O.
He’s not someone to try to explain himself and say “Oh, well, maybe I wasn’t in the war.” He’s not going to do that, he’s just going to pummel the person that questions his story. That’s such a relatable quality — maybe not within everybody, but certainly within society.
AF: Where do you think Soldier Boy would be on his next awakening? First, it was his team that betrayed him, then it happens again with Butcher and Hughie. Do you feel like he’d take a scorched Earth approach upon his return or would he just want to check out and just smoke weed for his PTSD?
Ackles: I don’t know. I don’t ever pretend to try and second guess what Kripke’s got up his sleeve. Personally, if I’m looking at it and thinking what would happen, I think you’re right. He might say, “Maybe I overreacted with the son. Maybe there is something to build here.” Or maybe, he thinks, “There’s no room in this town for the both of us.” Then it’s scorched earth. I think those are all very plausible scenarios. We’ll wait and see.
AF: I certainly hope that Soldier Boy returns before the series ends. Your work bringing him to life was magnificent and my hope is that “The Boys” gets a second Best Drama Series nomination this year.
Ackles: That means a lot. It meant so much to this cast in this crew. Everybody put their hearts into it. It’s a story and a show and set of characters that everybody is truly invested in personally. They love it, and it shows. When you get some magic like that, and you get a story and characters in the way that Kripke has crafted this, that it is something truly special and unique and worthy of all the accolades. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of it.
“The Boys” is available to stream Amazon Prime Video.