Jim Beaver is most well-known – and loved – as veteran hunter Bobby Singer from the hit TV show Supernatural. However, Jim’s acting experience encompasses much more than that, with western series and shows being included. Here are Jim’s answers to this week’s blog:
1. When/how did you first learn to ride?
I rode horses on a very few occasions as a kid, so few that it seems still to have been a dream. I rode a little bit during college, again not very much – a couple of times when I was working as a gunfighter at a cowboy amusement park, we did shows where I had to ride. It really wasn’t until I came out to Hollywood in my early thirties that I seriously got into riding. I got a part in a western TV series called Paradise that required substantial riding, and while I was fairly familiar with horses, I knew I needed some real quick refresher work. I turned to Nancylee Myatt, a TV writer-producer friend who has lived with and around horses all her life. She put me on her animals and gave me the basics for what I would need for the show. I’d always loved riding, and now with a friend nearby who had horses, I began spending more leisure time in the saddle. For a year or two, I exercised her horses at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, which luckily was just down the rode from Disney Studios, where I was doing a show called Thunder Alley. I would ride before and after work, and sometimes at lunch, too. It was great fun, good practice, and I got the benefits of easy access to horses without the expense!
2. You’ve been involved with both English and western riding in your acting career; a racing stable owner for The Mentalist, a Texas Ranger for Revolution; which do you prefer, personally?
To be honest, I’ve never been aboard a horse with English tack western is my preference because it’s the only style I know.
3. What is your favourite horse-related scene in any of the films/shows you’ve appeared in?
The show I first rode on is the one I mentioned before, Paradise. I was very excited because the first scene called for me and my gang to ride hell-bent-for-leather down a hill and hold up a stagecoach. Unfortunately, that scene got cut before we ever shot it. So we rode into town in one shot, and that was all.
I’ve largely been disappointed with my on-screen riding experiences, because they’ve rarely amounted to much but riding into or out of town, maybe climbing aboard or getting down. Nothing very exciting. I had a relatively extended riding scene in a TV movie called Follow Your Heart, and my character ended up falling down a hillside on the horse and getting trapped underneath the animal. But a stuntman did the fall, and I just shot the scene where my leg was trapped underneath the horse. I rode in and out of town in the movie Bad Girls and in an episode of Revolution, and drove a buckboard in Deadwood once. But I haven’t had my shot at galloping or rearing on film yet. I did a Priceline commercial on horseback with William Shatner and got to pretend to round up cattle, but Shatner did all the rearing and fast riding. (He’s really good!)
4. Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories regarding horses you can share?
My favourite story about horses and filming happened during Bad Girls, the western with Drew Barrymore, Madeline Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Andie McDowell. I was one of two Pinkerton detectives chasing the outlaw girls across Texas. I had been riding for years by then, but my fellow Pinkerton, Nick Chinlund, had never been on a horse. So the first day we showed up on the set, the boss wrangler, who’d clearly been informed that only one of us knew how to ride, asked us which one it was. I answered that I’d ridden a lot. So he and the other wranglers brought over our horses. Nick was put on to a very mellow, slow-pokey mount and they led him around to get him comfortable with the horse.
The horse they brought me had spirit, I could tell, but I’d been exercising a very spirited Quarter Horse named Jim Beam for a couple of years and I wasn’t worried. So I swung into the saddle, and that’s when trouble started. The horse I’d been working, Jim Beam, had a habit of starting off quickly the moment you stepped into the saddle, even before you had a good seat. And Beam had a very hard mouth. So for a couple of years with just this one horse, I’d gotten into the habit of yanking hard back on the reins to keep him in place while I got seated and my other foot in the stirrup. It worked well with Jim Beam. It didn’t work well at all with this movie horse. I got into the saddle and yanked backwards out of habit. This horse’s mouth was way softer than Beam’s, and all she knew was that the fellow in the saddle (me) wanted to go backwards really bad. She began to run backwards! Of course, she didn’t get very far that way and we quickly went tail over tin cup. She flipped completely over and I rolled out of the way barely in time to keep from having her in what would once have been my lap. She wasn’t hurt and I was only a little sore. There was a moment of quiet as we got to our feet and the dust settled. Then the boss wrangler eyed me hard and said, “So YOU’RE the one who can ride.” There were some embarrassing chuckles from the wranglers, but I walked over to the horse, gathered up the reins and climbed back aboard – this time being very careful not to rein back. She and I got along absolutely fine after that, and I think the wranglers were okay with me once they realized I was willing to get back on. That horse and I had some good times, mostly off-camera. I got in a lot of riding between scenes, far more than I ever did on-camera.
5. Do you ever ride outside of filming?
I’ve tried to introduce a love of horses to my daughter and we go on trail rides fairly often. I don’t own any animals currently, and she’s still a novice, so most of our riding is guided rides through Griffith Park in L.A. It doesn’t have any of the real fun of riding for me, but she’s getting more and more familiar with the animals and we enjoy the ride together. But I yearn for the days when I was alone in the mountains for hours at a time, exploring and getting a good work out with Jim Beam. He got sold years ago and my friend moved away, and I travel so much with work I’ve never considered getting a horse of my own. Someday I hope to.
6. Most of our readers will know you from Supernatural; if the Impala (“Baby”) was a horse, what breed of horse do you think it would be?
Well, an impala’s a deer, and mustang is already taken, so let me think. Baby reminds me of the black Arabian in the movie The Black Stallion – a black beauty out of Detroit. I’ll go with that.
7. Is there a horse in your life that you most connected with the most?
The horse I exercised for those years, Jim Beam, is the one I most connected with. He was a good runner, had a smooth gait and a tough but manageable disposition. He turned quick and agile at speed, and he never bit me. Not much more you can ask of a horse!
8. Previously you have mentioned that you enjoy roles that include horseback riding; what is it about horses and being around them that you most enjoy?
Well, of course, for a Wyoming native who grew up in Texas, the first thing is always the cowboy thing. It’s just cool. I like the feel of horse and rider working together, the sensitivity of a horse that moves left or right with a slight pressure with my leg. I like the combination of being both a passenger and in control, knowing I can get an animal ten times my weight to obey me, all the while knowing that it can do anything it wants to me if it takes a notion to. I like the sense of balance, both that of being balanced in the saddle and of being balanced in nature. The horse wants to go where it wants to go, but it will go where I tell it. My favourite kind of ride is one where it’s hard to tell where the horse stops and the rider starts. Riding at a gallop with a horse that loves to run feels like we’re a single creature, working all our parts in synchronization. It’s the best feeling in the world.
9. Are there any upcoming roles for you that include horses?
I hope so. I don’t know. I know my friend, writer-director Larry Blamire (Lost Skeleton of Cadavra) has written a serious western he wants me to star in. I hope that can happen. And my Crimson Peak director Guillermo del Toro says he’s got a western in mind, and I hope he thinks of me when he’s ready. None of these are certain at present, but I’m always hoping there’s a Western in the near future.
10. Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’ve been luckier than most actors my age, because the golden age of westerns was pretty much over before I started working, yet I’ve gotten to do an awfully large number of them, considering how few get made these days. And I got to be in the greatest western TV show in history, Deadwood – even though I never once got to ride on that show’s three year run. Westerns seem to be making a bit of a comeback, if I read the production charts right, so I hope I get a few more chances. Because where there are westerns, there are horses. I love them both.