Spoilers for The Boys Season 3 follow!
Before adapting The Boys from the Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson comic series for Amazon Prime Video, showrunner Eric Kripke served as creator and showrunner of another hit television series, The CW’s Supernatural. The show, following a pair of demon-hunting brothers, ran for 15 seasons and starred Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins. It’s no surprise then, that when Jensen Ackles was announced to have joined The Boys Season 3, fans were excited. Outside of Karl Urban, who plays Billy Butcher, the show had not made particular use of casting stars up to this point, so it felt like a move on Amazon Studios’ behalf specifically designed to encourage discussion. The Prime Video original series has already proved to elevate its leads, like Homelander actor Antony Starr and many more, to modern stardom.
Jensen Ackles stars as Soldier Boy in The Boys, a character introduced in the source material as a pastiche of Captain America. This inspiration carries over to the Prime Video adaptation as well, although its frame of reference has shifted to the modern, militarized version of the character brought to life by Chris Evans in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for short). In this version, Soldier Boy is a Soviet-era superhero who had been thought long dead, until the journey to uncover the weapon that killed him reveals no such thing exists.
Following this, the titular Boys attempt to recruit Soldier Boy to take down Homelander, although his own agenda peeks through as he insists on visiting his former team members. Soldier Boy’s fate is unknown after the climactic battle that marks the end of season 3, but the show’s writers have been open about their desire to have him return. On that note, Jensen Ackles is currently said to make an additional cameo appearance as Soldier Boy in the upcoming live-action spin-off series Gen V, which follows a new generation of young super-powered teens led by relative newcomers like Jaz Sinclair, Chance Perdomo, Lizze Broadway, Derek Luh, Asa Germann, Sean Patrick Thomas, Maddie Phillips, and Patrick Schwarzenegger while also featuring veteran actor Clancy Brown.
Beyond the turn as Dean Winchester that made his name, Jensen Ackles has enjoyed a broad career in film and TV, appearing in shows such as Dawson’s Creek and Smallville. He has regularly worked within the superhero genre, offering his voice to both Jason Todd in Batman: Under the Red Hood and Bruce Wayne himself in DC Animation’s newly rebooted Tomorrowverse, beginning with Batman: The Long Halloween. Beyond acting, he served as executive producer on the Supernatural spin-off The Winchesters, as well as directing an episode of The CW’s Walker reboot, starring Supernatural castmate Jared Padalecki.
As fans wait patiently for The Boys Season 4, we sat down with Jensen Ackles to discuss Soldier Boy’s role and impact in the third season and what kind of stories he’s looking to explore on the horizon. This is the third installment in our FYC interview series with The Boys cast, featuring Jack Quaid (Hughie Campbell), Jessie T. Usher (A-Train), Laz Alonso (Mother’s Milk), Karen Fukuhara (Kimiko Miyashiro), Tomer Capone (Frenchie), and fellow demented supe Chace Crawford (The Deep).
Exclusive FYC Interview with Jensen Ackles for The Boys on Prime Video
I understand you have an existing relationship with The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke, but what was it like coming into this family and do you think that sort of mirrored the role of the character?
Jensen Ackles: It actually, oddly enough, was very different from the character because I was coming in as a totally new actor to an already established cast, which is never an easy thing to do. It’s like being the new kid at school. But the character himself was the oldest superhero who felt like he belonged more than anybody else. So there was a juxtaposition of what I was feeling off-screen being the new kid and trying not to ruffle any feathers, just trying to find my footing among a huge cast of big personalities. It definitely didn’t mirror what I was trying to do on screen, which was basically like, “I’m the only one that has the right to be here. What the fuck are you guys doing here?” That was a fun play on the situation that I was experiencing.
So how did the role of Soldier Boy come to you? Were you approached for it directly or was it a more traditional process?
Jensen Ackles: It was a little bit of both. It happened in a conversation I was having with Kripke about something completely unrelated. He and I still keep in close contact. Eric is a dear friend and almost a mentor to me in a lot of ways. I was calling him about something unrelated and at the end of the conversation I said, “Hey, what’s going on over there on The Boys? When are you going to bring me over? Come on, throw a friend a bone here.” I said it kind of joking and he just laughed and replied, “Look man, if you want to come over, I’ll figure something out. Love to have you” Then he took a pause and said, “Actually, there’s a pretty big role coming up in the next season. Let me give it a thought and I’ll touch base with you tomorrow.”
So the next day, he sent over an audition scene for Soldier Boy and said, “Take a read and tell me what you think.” I read it and immediately called him and was like, “Who do I have to kill to get this role?” He said, “I’m going to warn you, this isn’t going to be easy.” Apparently, there was a shortlist of names they were talking about at the studio. I certainly wasn’t on that list, and it consisted of names that were far more recognizable than mine. But I said that I was willing to fight, and he said, “If you’re willing to fight for it, then I might be able to help you.” And so he did.
I had to put myself on tape, this was during peak COVID, so I didn’t really have help in doing so. I had to pre-record the other person’s lines, which happened to be Butcher. So I had to do my best Butcher impression and then I would play those lines back and finally, I would give the soldier boy performance. Luckily, I had Kripke coaching me and he was able to put the best tape forward that I could muster. He sent it up the ladder, got all the checkmarks, and that’s how it happened. But I fought for it, man. I fought for it pretty hard.
When you received the actual scripts of the show, what was your immediate reaction and how did you feel about what you were going to do with it?
Jensen Ackles: They kept everything pretty close to the belt. They didn’t let me know at least, because I was the new guy. They might let Karl [Urban] or some of the other guys know what the season is going to contain, but they didn’t let me know too much. And I’m not one that needs to know the beginning, middle, and end, necessarily. I mean, I was on a show for 15 seasons. I didn’t know where [Supernatural] was going in any particular season but I enjoyed that journey and the surprises that came along with it.
Now, obviously, with giant revelations, it might be nice to be aware of them so you can layer that into the performance as you’re building up to them. But for the most part, I was slightly ahead of the audience. Basically, I was reading the scripts and being surprised at the things that I was reading. I had a good sense of the character based on the conversations that Eric and I had. Also, that audition scene really gave me a big dose of what Soldier Boy was going to be like. So I felt like I had a good foundation of who the guy was, to begin with. Then it was just about applying that foundation to each script in each scenario.
Obviously, you’ve had brushes with the superhero genre before. Was it interesting for you to explore a new angle on that in The Boys Season 3?
Jensen Ackles: The Marvel and DC Universe, all that stuff is so big and it’s been such a prominent part of pop culture now for so many years. To have such a flip side of the superhero world be so popular right now, I just thought it was such a smart story, such an incredible satire on that world, and also an incredible narrative on not just superhero culture but pop culture all over the place.
They’re getting their source material not only from the comics, but from the news that we’re seeing today. I think being able to put a narrative like that through the characters and story makes it so elevated and such a smart, unique show. You could probably argue that there are other things trying to be like that right now too, but I don’t think there is anything that hits the mark quite like The Boys has.
Do you think there’s any more room for you in the superhero space, or is it somewhere you’ve played around enough?
Jensen Ackles: Yeah, I’ve exhausted my time in that sandbox.
Jensen Ackles: No, I’m kidding. I would stay there for as long as they’ll let me. There’s something in that genre space that I’ve always been attracted to. I’ve always found myself in it. There’s not a lot of work in my career that hasn’t been kind of in that “genre” space. It’s a place I feel comfortable. It’s a place I love to explore. The characters are so rich, and we’re not bound by reality by any means. We can bend those rules in our favor, and I like that. I appreciate those slice-of-life films and television shows that are a conversation about what we deal with in reality, but I enjoy the escapism that the entertainment industry provides. If I can be a part of that and help tell those stories, then that’s a space I would still like to be in.
As an actor, after 15 years of playing the hero, was it fun for you to take on a more morally compromised character? I don’t want to say villainous because that’s like drawing a line that doesn’t need to be there, but playing a character who is more of a negative presence?
Jensen Ackles: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, across the board, there are benefits to playing either side. Any actor worth their salt can attest that it is great playing the hero. I always tend to be drawn towards both the protagonist and antagonist as an audience member and as an actor, towards those unlikely or flawed characters. So I viewed Soldier Boy as just that. He wasn’t a bad guy in his mind. He was a hero in his mind and was doing everything that he thought a hero should be doing. I think if you come at it with that perspective, then you get these “bad guys” that people actually root for. And that’s what I was trying to pull off with Soldier Boy, that he was a massive fish out of water.
He was a person who was not in his time, and he certainly wasn’t going to evolve into somebody that was of the current time. I think we all know older people that are exactly like that, “I’m too old to learn new tricks.” I felt like that was a relatable concept for a lot of people. Even if they weren’t that way themselves, they at least knew people that are like that, and I certainly do. You don’t want to hate those people because they’re old and set in their ways, but at the same time, you can’t agree with them on a lot of things. They’re still wrong in a lot of things. I love that nuance about Soldier Boy, and I thought it was oddly endearing.
You said he’s like a fish out of water, and that’s the case in a lot of the show – he’s sort of an outsider to the central conflict that he’s drawn into. But what do you think is actually driving Soldier Boy as a character? Is there any peace for him at the end or has he been shaped into this weapon forever?
Jensen Ackles: Yeah, it’s kind of a mirror journey to Homelander. One of the many things that makes The Boys so unique and great is that you’ve taken these superheroes and you’ve given them these human flaws that are so relatable to people. Yeah, he’s probably drunk too much of the Kool-Aid. Soldier Boy is too far down the road to really fix what he’s done and who he’s become. I think now it’s he either finds a way to put a tourniquet on it, or he leans into it and says, “Fuck it, this is who I am.” And you could either like it or love it.
This take on Soldier Boy is quite different from the source material. There are commonalities, of course, but how much freedom did you have in developing the character and making it your own?
Jensen Ackles: Kripke and his producers and writers all had enough material on me to know what I could do. He laid it out in terms of what he thought this character should be about and what his tentpole characteristics should be. Then he just let me play, he let me fill in the gaps and find the nuance. If I started to steer in the wrong direction, Kripke would quickly course correct. But, for the most part, he trusted me. Our relationship is built on years and years of him knowing me and knowing what I can do and trusting me to do it.
So what’s next for you? Is there anything you have your sights on or any new genre spaces or roles that you’re looking at right now?
Jensen Ackles: There’s a lot. Obviously, we’re in a writer’s strike right now, so nothing’s happening and hopefully, we can all figure that out. I’ve signed a deal with Amazon, so they’ve got about half a dozen different projects right now that we’re looking at and talking about. Obviously, there’s still a space for me over at The Boys. Trying to figure out where that is and what that looks like in the future is not something I’m privy to.
Outside of that, I can tell you what’s out there now that piques my interest in finding something in that world, The Last of Us, those kinds of things. I’ve always been drawn to something post-apocalyptic. I think it’s always fun, something I can dig my teeth into. Obviously the superhero space, I’ve got my foot in the door with that, and I’m happy where that’s going. But yeah, I don’t know that a Marriage Story 2 is on my radar right now.
The romantic comedy boom, that doesn’t draw you in?
Jensen Ackles: I mean, it does to an extent, as long as I’m getting to decapitate zombies doing a romantic comedy!