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Bianca Kajlich Discusses The Winchesters, Mental Health, And Working With A Young Jensen Ackles - Exclusive Interview

This interview contains discussions of mental health issues.

"The Winchesters" isn't shying away from showcasing more than a few badass women in the "Supernatural" prequel. While fans already knew quite a bit about John and Mary during the original show, John's mom Millie Winchester was more of an enigma. "The Winchesters" even peeks behind that curtain to reveal that John's mom was actually his mechanic inspiration.

The fourth episode of "The Winchesters" hones in on John's military PTSD and Millie's refusal to let him go through it alone. The mental health-centric episode is a part of The CW's November initiative to showcase positive onscreen mental health representation across its swatch of shows (via Deadline). The scene where Millie comforts John at the end of the episode is arguably the most powerful moment in the show to date, and it's no surprise, given Kajlich's acting background. Before becoming a Winchester, Kajlich appeared in hit films like "10 Things I Hate About You," "Bring It On," and "Halloween: Resurrection." She also appeared in "Dawson's Creek" alongside Jensen Ackles and played Sheriff Macado on The CW's sadly canceled show "Legacies." 

Looper exclusively spoke to Kajlich on Halloween, where she discussed Millie's heartwarming moment with John at the end of Episode 4, the importance of mental health representation, and which classic "Supernatural" character she wants on the show. Kajlich also went down memory lane to a time when she worked with Ackles during "Dawson's Creek." 

An epic NOLA Halloween

I love the episode so much. Are you guys filming right now?

We are. I took a quick trip home to take my daughter out trick or treating tonight, but I'm back on set tomorrow.

Did the cast do anything for Halloween?

A few of them I know were going to some big vampire ball. It's at Anne Rice's mansion or something like that. Pretty exciting. A few of them were going out in New Orleans because being out and about on Halloween is fun enough.

Jumping into the episode, given that you play Jensen Ackles' onscreen grandmother, have you had a chance to talk with him at all about the role or what it means to be a member of the Winchester family?

We all talked at the beginning, right before we filmed the pilot. It's funny because Jensen and I were on "Dawson's Creek" together in the early 2000s. There's some ribbing about now playing his grandmother. We talked about the story and about the fan base, and what was really important to him was us understanding what we were stepping into and  trying to convey how passionate this fan base is. We got a little grasp of that, but then, the show airing is where we've seen it in full action. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced, that's for sure.

A badass mechanic

I love that John's mechanic inspiration comes from his mom, which is one of the many awesome feminist components of this show. Are you at all interested in cars, and why do you think it's so important to show badass women like Millie in careers traditionally associated with men on screen to inspire young viewers?

To answer the first part, I do love cars. My dad loved cars. When he passed away, he was a Jeep guy, and he had, a '68 Jeepster. I ended up getting a 1979 Jeep Cherokee Chief, and then I knew nothing about working on it. When I booked the role of Millie, I started working with an organization in the Austin area that teaches auto repair so that young men can have a vocation and can be knowledgeable about cars. It was really cool because they took me in and they taught me some of the basics. I still know so little, but it's cool, and I love when a role allows me to learn about an area of life that I have not gotten to dive into. I was excited about that.

It's so important, because we're talking about a time period where this was not the norm for women, and women weren't getting to do much of anything independently. When you think about Millie in the '50s and '60s, and '70s, she's starting to enter into an era where women had more freedom and were allowed to take up occupations that were previously only held by men. I love that she's a trailblazer in that way, and it's a very telling characteristic of her that she is a mechanic and owns her own garage in the early 1970s.

I love to see women out there who are badass because they know they're badass, not because society is dictating. When you see Millie, she is who she is. I don't think Millie really cares what anyone else thinks about her. That's the ultimate definition of a badass: a woman that is so comfortable in her own skin that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or says.

What do you think Millie would think of John's '67 Chevy Impala that sort of became the third major character on the original show "Supernatural"?

Millie probably, in some respect, had a big part in that car, whether it was a genetic carry-down, or was it a car that was lusted after or dreamed out? Who knows. We haven't seen yet what Millie's actual car is, and there's been lots of debate over that, and that's what I'm excited about, because I'm sure it's going to be something totally b*******.

Dare to defy toxic stereotypes

There's a beautiful moment at the end of the episode where John is crying with the water boiling in the bathtub, and Millie comforts him. Especially in the '70s, but sadly still now, there's this toxic narrative that boys should hold in their emotions, and they're not allowed to cry. Why do you think scenes like this are so important to combat that? And how do you think John could have raised his own kids with a bit more grace?

Whether it be the '70s [through] present day, collectively as a whole, and we're feeling the repercussions of this right now, we all want to be held. We all have precious wounded hearts that haven't gotten to express our real true needs. I love this moment for John and Millie, because for Millie, it's a moment of recognizing that her son is deeply scarred and that there is nothing that she can do, as a woman who is very adept at fixing things, to fix this. It speaks so beautifully of her character that she is able to, in that moment, know that the best thing that she can do is to be there with him in that space.

We moved to Texas last year, and some of the burliest, rough-around-the-edges cowboys are the most sensitive softies. I have found that and it's so true that we have this idea that to be tough, you cannot be soft. That is the ultimate expression of true strength, to be able to stand up for whatever it is that you believe in, and also be able to contain the softness of being a human being. This beautiful moment with this mother and her son, I hope that it speaks to people in the sense that it's something that we all need, but also something that we also all need to do for each other.

Honoring mental health struggles

I love The CW's focus on mental health struggles in TV shows this month. What does it mean to you to be such an integral part of that message with this episode?

As somebody who's struggled horrifically with mental health — first of all, I'm an actor, so that comes with the territory. I went through an intense bout of anxiety starting when I was about 19 years old. I had debilitating anxiety attacks and depression. I remember at the time thinking that I wanted to hear someone else's story where it turned out okay, where they were okay, that they made it through. I'm that story now. I'm on the other side of all of that.

To be a part of a network that extends that message outwards to people, and then also is continually showcasing programming that addresses those topics is really a lovely love letter to my younger self and to all people out there struggling with any mental illness, because it is so incredibly hard to come out and speak to what is actually happening.

I, like Millie, hold everybody in that state and want people to know that it will be okay.

John and Millie have such a special relationship. What have been some of the highlights of working with Drake Rodger, and what have been the most exciting parts of Millie and John's dynamic for you that you've gotten to explore so far?

I feel so fortunate to get to work with someone like Drake, who is as giving of an actor as you can ask for as a scene partner, and  his enthusiasm from the get-go to dive in fully and do silly things that actors do to try to motivate ourselves to get into certain moments. It's a relationship where we both can be completely vulnerable and honest with each other, and I truly cherish him as a friend and as a coworker.

What I'm really excited about ... there's an episode coming up, Episode 9, where Millie has to confront one of her greatest fears, and it has to do with John. We haven't filmed this yet, but we're both nervously biting our fingernails, trying to figure out how best to approach it. We're working through that one.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Millie Winchester: A newly-minted hunter

Are there any other "Supernatural" actors from the original show or characters that you'd love Millie to interact with, and is there anyone on the show now that you want more scenes with?

I would love seeing more scenes with everybody because I adore everyone, but we haven't gotten a really good moment yet with Carlos and Millie. We had a little hint at it in [Episode 4], but Jojo [Fleites] and I are both chomping at the bit to get something really good, big, and raw with each other. I know everybody loves him, so it's not saying this because he is everyone's favorite, but a Millie and Cas scene would be awesome.

Millie is the one grandparent that we don't see or hear much from in the original "Supernatural" run. How did you prepare to take on the character? Did you go back and watch some of those important family history episodes of "Supernatural" to inspire you, or did you want to go in with a fresh lens?

I purposely avoided the show until after the pilot, because Millie was so adamant not to enter into that world, and I wanted to honor that. To be honest, it's such a compliment to Robbie Thompson in that Millie had probably the smallest part of the pilot, and yet he had written her so fully fleshed in those small moments that we saw that everything that I needed was on the page. I had to show up and let it slip on like a glove, and I feel so grateful to Robbie for that.

Millie proves in this episode that she has the formidability, the smarts, and the sense of urgency that it takes to be a hunter. Can you see her jumping into the fray again or even becoming an honorary member of John's rag-tag hunting team?

Not only can I see it, it's happening. She is raring and ready to go. She's definitely a case of, she gets a little taste, and she's not turned her back on that. The apple does not fall far from the tree, correct?

Czechoslovakian lore

Do you have a favorite monster or mythological creature that you'd love to see on the show or have Millie go up against?

My family is from Czechoslovakia, from the old country. I know that there are some pretty dark monsters from old legends. That's the area where vampires come from, but that's a little too basic for me. I have to think on that. There are some pretty dark and mysterious monsters from the old country.

It seems like the show is really diving into different aspects of lore that we haven't seen yet, so that would be really cool.

Isn't it awesome? We're all impressed weekly when we get our scripts and what they're coming up with. I cannot wait to continue to see what they write.

You mentioned that you acted with Jensen before. Do you have any fun memories from acting with baby Jensen?

[Laughs] Baby Jensen. Probably none that could be printed. It was a young group of kids in Wilmington, North Carolina. Everyone was just starting out with those "Dawson's Creek" kids, and all I'll say is, we all had a very good time.

Is there anything else about the show, the character, [or] any upcoming projects that you'd like to talk about?

For now, it's "[The] Winchesters." What happens after that remains to be seen. We're enjoying our time doing this. It's been an absolute joy and the highlight of my career, for sure.

New episodes of "The Winchesters" air Tuesdays on The CW, with episodes streaming for free on the website and app the next day. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.