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Warning: spoilers ahead for Episode 20 of Supernatural Season 13, called "Unfinished Business."
Richard Speight Jr. made a triumphant return to Supernatural in Season 13 as the not-so-dead archangel Gabriel. The show revealed that Gabriel wasn't actually killed by Lucifer back in Season 5 and he was eventually sold by a group of Norse demigods to Asmodeus. After Gabriel roasted Asmodeus, he decided the time was right to exact his revenge on the demigods who had sold him. "Unfinished Business" (directed by Richard Speight Jr.) saw Gabriel recruit the help of the Winchesters to take down the literal daddy of the demigods: Loki himself, also played by Richard Speight Jr.
The big climax of "Unfinished Business" saw Gabriel face off against Loki in an epic hallway fight, and Speight spoke with CinemaBlend about the unique challenges of filming a fight scene in which he played both fighters:
That right there is the challenge. The only three key people involved in the scene were all three me! The director and both the actors. It was enormously challenging in an exciting way. It was the thing I was looking forward to the most the whole time we were doing it. The opening sword fight and the Rich-on-Rich fight sequence were super exciting to me from a directorial standpoint. From a performance standpoint, I had to understand that fight very well from both characters' perspective because I shot it out of sequence and I was leaping back and forth between one guy and the other guy. Do one sequence this way, go change costumes, flip around, play the other guy, do that again and again and again and again. That, in and out of these characters, back and forth for the entire run of the shoot of the fight.
The hallway fight sequence had Richard Speight Jr. on triple duty as Gabriel, Loki, and director. The confrontation between Gabriel and Loki was a long time coming, and it wouldn't have been very satisfying if the scene was just two people battling it out without any dialogue. Speight couldn't just play either Gabriel or Loki and throw down with a double who happened to be around the same height and weight. No, for the scene to work, Speight had to play both Gabriel and Loki, and that added an extra element of difficulty. He had to direct himself as two characters who both had lines and motivations and wore noticeably different costumes. Sure, a double was used whenever Gabriel and Loki were both needed in the same shot, but both performances were all Speight.
The good news for Gabriel (and fans of Gabriel) is that he ultimately triumphed over Loki and stabbed him to death with the wooden sword needed to take him out. Admittedly, Gabriel may discover that revenge isn't all it's cracked up to be when all is said and done, and Loki had a dire prediction for good old Gabriel before he died. Loki accused Gabriel of standing for nothing and claimed that Gabriel was ultimately going to die for nothing. Gabriel obviously wasn't thrilled with that prediction, but he didn't deny that he could very well die for an unworthy cause or after a big misstep. Instead, he simply told Loki that Loki would die first and stabbed him with the sword. Good for Gabriel that he survived the fight; not so good that he might take Loki's words to heart.
Richard Speight Jr. went on in our chat to say this about the choreography of the big fight:
I had to have a very clear perspective on what the fight is about, what the character beats are, and then how to execute the fight from a cinematic standpoint. That's the nuanced part, because though it is a fight, it's a fight with character context in it. So the characters are talking while this fight's going on. So it's not just a beatdown. There has to be all the nuance element involved in an acting scene that play into the fight sequence... I had to have a very clear vision of what I wanted this fight to be and how I wanted it to be seen on film. Like I said, shooting it out of context, the crescendo would be shot before the buildup, and all these elements sort of had to work perfectly into each other, so they had to be well-planned out in advance. I worked a lot with Rob Hayter, the stunt coordinator, to be sure that every move was carefully choreographed for both characters synced up with where I wanted the dialect to play out. Obviously things are going to be loose and change a little bit when you start shooting, but they were loose within a structure that was very, very well thought out and pre-planned.
For all that the showdown between Gabriel and Loki was a messy affair between two former friends, it was actually tightly choreographed so that it could be directed and acted cleanly. Richard Speight Jr. as actor(s) and director had a vision of what needed to happen, and so the episode was able to pull off a truly unique fight sequence. Supernatural has done doubles of characters in the past, and there has been no shortage of bizarre beatdowns in the series, but the Speight vs. Speight directed by Speight throwdown is one that won't be forgotten any time soon.
As it turns out, the whole sequence is even more impressive due to how little time Speight actually had to film the big scene. When I asked how long he had to shoot the hallway fight, he told me this:
I think we had four hours to shoot that fight. Which is not a lot of time! It's small enclosed space, takes place in an enclosed space, so that helps us. But we kept the fight, although it's a pretty dramatic fight, it's not built around the idea of a bunch of special effects or visual effects. It's built around the confrontation of these two characters. So it was a focused fight. An exercise in telling the story and using violence as a part of the storytelling. It's not a fight for fight's sake. I think that helps it a tremendous amount. But that's also why we had to be so well planned out. We just didn't have a lot of time. That's not a lot of time when you have both actors on set. When you only have one actor on set and the other guy's a double, and then you have to flip around and put another guy in a different outfit and put him back on the other side, that added a level of challenge to it that you just don't get all the time.
No matter how you look at it, four hours is simply not a lot of time to film such an intense scene on a TV show. Of course, filming episodes of Supernatural do equate to shooting half a feature film in around eight days, so there's always a time crunch. Still, it couldn't have been easy changing costumes over and over again within a four-hour window, let alone turning in two performances and directing the whole fight!
Fortunately, Gabriel's journey on Supernatural Season 13 didn't end as soon as he got his revenge on Loki. In exchange for Sam and Dean's help in taking Loki down, Gabriel agreed to help them find a way to stop the Michael from the hellish other world, so he could be around for at least a little while longer. We can only hope that his final exchange with Loki doesn't lead Gabriel to reckless behavior that gets him killed for real. After all, Supernatural was just renewed for Season 14, and it would be a bummer to end Season 13 on something terrible happening to Gabriel yet again.