“Supernatural’s” Misha Collins may be moonlighting as the devil on the CW hit, but that hasn’t curtailed his good deeds off-screen; the actor has partnered with co-star Jensen Ackles to launch a charitable t-shirt campaign called “You Are Not Alone,” which will fund the newly created SPNFamily Crisis Support Network — a fan-led community support system where trained fans can help other fans deal with depression, self-injury, and addiction. Sales from the t-shirt campaign will help raise the funds needed to develop the community platform, train eligible fan volunteers to be crisis responders, and help get fans in crisis the help they need in their own communities.
Below, Collins talks to Variety about how the Crisis Support Network came about, and what’s ahead on “Supernatural,” in which Lucifer has escaped Hell and taken over the vessel of Collins’ Castiel, unbeknownst to Dean (Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki).
You’ve played Castiel in many different iterations over the years – what are the specific challenges of playing him as Lucifer? And are we calling him Castifer or Luciel?
Castifer obviously rolls trippingly off the tongue, but Luciel is weirder, so I go for Luciel. Or Lustiel… Lustiel is better. The biggest challenge is that Mark Pellegrino has played this character so well that to follow in his footsteps is kind of embarrassing. [Laughs.] But other than that, it’s been a lot of fun — I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It’s funny, working on a show for so long — I’m nearing the end of my eighth year on the show — and you play a character for long enough, Castiel I’ve been playing for long enough, that a lot of it starts to feel very automatic. I know all of his mannerisms without thinking about it, so it’s fun to try and take on a completely different character and have to work a little bit harder at it for a little while. And I’m glad that they’ve given me some good meat to work with for later, so it’s been a lot of fun
When will we get an idea of how Castiel is doing while Lucifer’s in the driver’s seat?
You’re gonna see a little bit of what’s going on with Castiel in Episode 18, and you’re just gonna see Lucifer pulling the puppet strings in this week’s episode. By the way, this week’s episode is going to be very, very bizarre in a way that only a “Supernatural” episode can be … We’re gonna see Dean in period sailor costume, and on a submarine, so not a lot of TV shows can say that.
In terms of this week’s episode, why is the Hand of God so important that getting it overrides the opportunity to kill Dean in a non-suspicious way? Or is this a case of, no matter what happens, Lucifer wins?
Lucifer does not particularly care to preserve Sam or Dean or Castiel or anyone else, but he is using these guys to help him tackle Amara, and he knows that Dean has a particular connection with Amara, and that that might prove to be a useful arrow in his quiver in his fight against Amara. And the Hand of God, as far as Lucifer is concerned, is an essential weapon.
While Dean’s gone, what are Sam and Lustiel up to?
The fun thing about this episode is, while Dean is gone, we’re getting to see Lustiel pretending to be Castiel, and manipulating Sam, and then there’s a nice reveal. But I’m not going to say more than that.
How did the “You Are Not Alone” campaign come about?
In the “Supernatural” fandom, we’ve noticed when we go to conventions that it seems that there are a lot of people, or at least a vocal minority, who have struggled with issues ranging from addiction to self-harm to depression and suicide attempts. And obviously when Jared has run his “Always Keep Fighting” campaigns, you’ve seen an enormous outpouring of both support and personal stories that have come forward around that.
— Misha Collins — VOTE YOUR ASS OFF! (@mishacollins) February 16, 2016
So we were flying back from a convention together in early fall and talking about “what can we practically do in this fandom that would make a material difference,” and hatched the seed of the idea for this program. Then I went back to the staff at Random Acts [the charity Collins founded in 2011] and they helped put together this concept and these partnerships with To Write Love on Her Arms and IMAlive. So in partnership, those three nonprofits are building this virtual hotline – it’s not going to be something you call in, people are going to be messaging in. It’ll be live and interactive but I think that’s the best forum for this particular community. And when somebody is in crisis, they can reach out to this network and they will be immediately funneled to the appropriate professionals who can help them in their area.
I am actually very optimistic that this could have a real impact on a lot of people. We hear literally dozens of stories at every convention that are just heartbreaking. I was signing autographs on Sunday and I had to just get up from the table because there’s a 13-year-old girl who tried to kill herself and it’s so hard to believe that so many people have such a hard time, but of course, they do, and for a lot of people in our particular fandom, this is lightning in a bottle. It’s such a strange situation but this community has started to function as something of an extended family for a lot of people, and for the network to live there I think is going to make it just much more accessible for people.
And who knows, if it’s something that really proves to be effective and we can scale it up, this could become a multi-fandom network or a network that’s open to the general public, but we’re seeding it here in the “Supernatural” fandom and growing it out from there. And we’ve already had 1500 people volunteer to help man the hotline; they all have to be vetted, and those who are vetted and qualify to enter into the training program will then have to be trained – we already have a dozen people who are in the training program and a couple of people who have finished it, so the wheels are starting to turn, but once we get the funding from this campaign, we’re gonna be able to scale it up and literally hundreds of people are going to be trained and hopefully we’ll have a 24-hour hotline.
How much money do you need to raise?
Random Acts already put in a chunk of money, somewhere between 10 and $25,000 to get it started, so it’s moving forward no matter what, but it’s completely scalable, so we want to make it a fully-functioning 24-hour hotline that then also has enough funding to help channel people to local professionals in their area when needs be. So to train all the people that we need to train, I think we’re gonna need at least $100,000, but if we then want to help people find professional services in their communities, frankly the sky’s the limit in terms of how much we could spend on that, so we have a certain minimum without which it won’t function, but we will reach that minimum, so then it’s just a question of how robust we can make the whole thing.
What else is coming up from Random Acts?
We have by far our biggest AMOK coming up – Annual Melee Of Kindness – and it sounds like it’s going to quite big with many thousands of people participating. And we are currently building a school in Nicaragua which is going really, really well. And we are eyeing a new international destination project on a different continent which may materialize not this year but next. Things are hopping right along – there’s a lot going on at Random Acts and the staff has been absolutely killing it lately.
“Supernatural” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.