Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have played the iconic Dean and Sam Winchester in Supernatural since 2005, but during 15 years of television, a few other actors have gotten also crack at the roles. More than a dozen people have portrayed the surly hunters over the years, whether it’s in flashbacks or because of an in-episode transformation. The most common appearances are of a younger Sam and Dean, who are usually cast for age.
Episodes that include a younger Sam and Dean often give new meaning to seemingly innocuous aspects of their backstory. Sometimes the episodes fill plot holes or show events the boys went through as children that have yet to be resolved. Episodes with younger versions of the boys sometimes pick up on these stories as they investigate a case as adults. The most recent appearance of a young Sam and Dean (and maybe the last) was in season 15, episode 16, “Drag Me Away (From You),” in which the boys hunt a monster in a motel that turns out not to be dead … yet.
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Other episodes showing different versions of the characters explore classic science-fiction tropes or scenarios outside of Supernatural’s traditional footprint. The horror show is known for stepping out of bounds, sometimes with meta episodes that poke fun at the creators themselves. Some episodes are incisive and witty, while others seem like stunts to keep the audience’s interest. Regardless, they mark the appearance of different actors for two beloved characters. Here’s every actor, other than Ackles and Padalecki, who have played Dean and Sam.
Actors Who Played Young Sam
The actor who made the most appearances as young Sam Winchester in Supernatural was Colin Ford. Having appeared in six episodes, Ford beats out every other young version of the Winchesters. Other actors who play Sam and Dean only appear in a few episodes each.
Ford’s first appearance as young Sam was in season 3, episode 8, “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” a flashback episode that tells a touching story about how Sam found out about the supernatural (plus the origin of Dean’s amulet). Ford’s earnest curiosity and stubborn refusal to stop asking questions makes it easy to imagine him as a younger version of the adult Sam. His sandy hair and graceful growth spurt also make him the closest match to Jared Padalecki in appearance. Ford’s ability to mimic Sam’s mannerisms and carry a scene is a big bonus.
Ford again appeared as Sam in season 4, episode 13, “After School Special,” in which the boys recall their time at Truman High School as they work a case there as adults. Ford’s large role in the B storyline was replicated in season 7, episode 3, “The Girl Next Door,” when he played a preteen Sam who developed a romance with a kitsune named Amy. Ford’s other appearances as Sam are in season 4, episode 21, “When the Levee Breaks,” as a hallucination of the adult Sam; in season 5, episode 16, “Dark Side of the Moon,” as part of Dean’s memories after he dies and goes to Heaven; and finally in season 11, episode 10, “The Devil in the Details,” in a flashback of older, teenage Sam on a date with a girl.
In the first flashback episode of the series, season 1, episode 18, “Something Wicked,” young Sam is played by Alex Ferris. Other actors who played Sam were often cast as a matter of necessity as Ford grew older. The gangly Dylan Kingwell plays Sam in season 11, episode 8, “Just My Imagination,” which recounts Sam’s relationship with his imaginary friend Scully. Finally, Christian Michael Cooper played Sam in episode 16 of the final season of Supernatural, “Drag Me Away (From You).”
Actors Who Played Young Dean
The actor who most often played young Dean in Supernatural was Dylan Everett, who made his first appearance late in the series in season 9, episode 7, “Bad Boys.” Everett’s performance as young Dean is spot-on, combining a surly attitude with a rarely-seen vulnerability. Everett’s terse delivery, hint of a midwestern accent and unyielding attitude toward hunting make his resemblance to Jensen Ackles even stronger. Everett also appeared as Dean in season 10, episode 12, “About A Boy,” when Dean is de-aged by an evil witch; and briefly in season 11, episode 8, alongside Kingwell’s Sam in “Just My Imagination.” His appearance as the de-aged Dean is probably the most surreal, as he appears alongside Padalecki’s adult Sam.
In earlier seasons of Supernatural, Dean was played by Ridge Canipe, who appeared in season 1, episode 18, “Something Wicked,” and season 3, episode 8, “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” Canipe had a physical resemblance to Dean, but not a very strong presence. Dean is also played by Nicolai Guistra in season 5, episode 22, “Swan Song,” where he is shown in the Impala with Sam, and season 7, episode 10 “Death’s Door,” where he has a brief conversation with Bobby Singer. Brock Kelly plays an 18-year-old Dean in season 4, episode 13, “After School Special,” alongside Ford’s Sam. And finally, Paxton Singleton played Dean in season 15, episode 16, “Drag Me Away (From You),” alongside Cooper’s Sam.
Actors Who Played Other Versions Of The Boys
Dean and Sam are not only portrayed by younger actors in Supernatural. A couple of the Winchester’s wackiest shenanigans in the series resulted in actors playing different versions of the boys. In season 5, episode 7, “The Curious Case of Dean Winchester,” Dean gambles away five decades of his life and ages 50 years overnight. The hilariously grumpy old Dean is played by Chad Everett, who had a prolific acting career in the ’70s and ’80s. Everett’s elderly Dean outdoes even Bobby when it comes to being prickly and cantankerous.
Only a few weeks later in season 5, episode 12, “Swap Meat,” Supernatural embraced a classic science-fiction trope with a body-swap episode. After a teenage nerd, Gary, swaps bodies with Sam, Padalecki steps into a comedic role as a hormonal boy in an adult body while Colton James plays the adult Sam trapped in a teenage body. The ensuing events are enough to confuse even the most knowledgeable viewer.
In addition to the young actors who had speaking roles in Supernatural episodes, there are also several boys who played very young versions of the Winchesters in silent flashbacks. In the pilot episode, Hunger Brochu appears as Dean age 4, and Anthony Bolognese plays Dean at the same age in season 12, episode 22, “Who We Are.” Various infants play a baby Sam in the pilot and season 12, episode 22. In the “Swan Song” flashback, Nathan Smith makes his one and only appearance as Sam, carving his initials into the Impala. Hunter Dillon also makes a single appearance as Sam in season 9, episode 7, “Bad Boys,” playing with a model airplane in the backseat of the Impala.
Playing Different Versions Of Themselves
After more than a decade of exploring monsters, magic, and myth, the Winchester brothers have undergone all kinds of transformations in Supernatural — although never a gender-swap, despite pressure from fans. In addition to the various actors who strove to match Dean and Sam’s personalities in flashback episodes, Padalecki and Ackles often played different versions of their usual characters in experimental episodes.
In one of the most out-there examples, season 6, episode 15, “The French Mistake,” Sam and Dean are transported into an alternate reality where their lives are a TV show. In the wildly meta hour, Ackles and Padalecki play Dean and Sam pretending to be Ackles and Padalecki. The Winchesters underwent another dramatic transformation in season 4, episode 17, “It’s A Terrible Life,” where they became employees of a giant corporation thanks to the magic of the angel Zachariah. For a little less than an hour, Ackles plays businessman Dean Smith, while Padalecki plays tech support guy Sam Wesson.
Possession by demons and angels also plays a large role in the show, and in line with that, the Winchesters are possessed by a variety of supernatural entities throughout the series. In season 2, episode 14, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” Sam is possessed by the demon Meg. He is later shown possessed by Lucifer in season 5, episode 4, “The End,” with slicked black hair and a now-infamous all-white suit. Sam’s possession by Lucifer in season 5, episode 22, “Swan Song” is slightly less absolute as he fights the devil.
In season 9, the bad luck continues when Sam is possessed by the angel Gadreel. Padalecki’s stoic performance is meant to mimic the inhumanity of angels and the penitent determination of Gadreel portrayed by Tahmoh Penikett. Finally, in season 14, Dean’s worst nightmare becomes reality when he is possessed by Michael. Ackles’ portrayal of the archangel-in-charge turns him into a slick, unstoppable businessman.
In some episodes, the boys become monsters. Ackles has played a shapeshifter impersonating Dean, a Leviathan impersonating Dean, a vampire, and a demon. Padalecki has played a Leviathan impersonating Sam and also appeared as soulless Sam for almost half of season 6.
Some more subtle differences in the Winchesters also appear, such as a cowardly Dean in season 4, episode 6, “Yellow Fever;” a future version of Dean in season 5, episode 4, “The End;” a dog-like Dean in season 6, episode 8, “All Dogs Go to Heaven;” and an amnesiac Dean in season 12, episode 11, “Regarding Dean.” Season 15 continued Supernatural’s tradition of trying new things, with the introduction of an alternate Sam and Dean who are everything the regular Winchesters are not. The man-bun wearing Sam and frat-boy-like Dean are some of the funniest versions of the Winchesters and show that Ackles and Padalecki aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves.
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