Bonus Nathan Fillion interview Q&A

You've already read what Nathan Fillion had to say in answer to our readers' questions . Judging by the feedback, you had fun reading that feature. So we thought it would be nice to share a little more - here's how the actor responded to questions from your own humble correspondent. Warning! Not all of it is science fiction! As long as you're okay with that, have fun...

SFX: Bad news about Drive being cancelled, Nathan. What do you think was behind that?
Fillion:
"Some sort of evil cabal? No, I'm teasing you. Back when Firefly was cancelled I said if I knew the whys and the wherefores of the television executives I'd be a smarter man than I am. Why would you let a show run for three weeks and then pull it? When it's obviously a good show, the network's happy with it, the studios are happy with it, and the critics love it? I try to imagine that if I were in a position of power and I'd spent a whole bunch of money on a pilot, then recast and rewrote and re-filmed that, and then started making a series, and then put money towards promoting it... I'd give it more than three shots. We had the two-hour premiere and then two weeks worth of episodes. There must be some calculations that are not available to me."

SFX: How did you react when you found out Drive had been cancelled?
Fillion:
"I went online! What I really wanted to do was gripe about it, but instead I went online and listened to the fans gripe about it, which seemed to calm my nerves. They can do all the "we're so aghast!" for me, they are appropriately upset, and that leaves me free to commiserate with them. Rather than on my own! It's terrible news - I was having a good time. I'd met some great people. I got to work with Tim Minear again, and I made a few great new friends."

SFX: What do you enjoy about working with Tim Minear?
Fillion:
"I've always said that there is a lot less 'choosing' of roles going on than people imagine. I don't sit there with five scripts in front of me, look through them, and say, 'It's time to do some sci-fi again, I think! Yep, I'm going to do this one over here!' But rather a script will come along and I'll be interested in the part or what have you. What interests me most is moments within it. I think Tim Minear is excellent with moments. Joss Whedon as well. I think those two share the same brain. There are moments which define a character. I think Tim Minear is excellent at providing actors with those defining moments. I also think that he's the master of the 'reveal'. And I just love his quirky sense of humour. I love his dry, wry wit. Absolutely that's something he shares with Joss Whedon as well. Yeah, they share the same brain!"

SFX: You talk about Tim and Joss like they're friends. Do you hang out with all the people you've worked with?
Fillion:
"I keep at least one friend from every job I've had. With Firefly I was so blown away by the family Joss assembled, and I don't mean just the cast - the crew as well. People were handpicked, he took all the best people from all the shows he'd done and assembled them for Firefly. I just got to reap all the benefits, so here I am with the entire cast kept as friends. Focus puller, cameraman, prop guy, writers, make-up ladies, all these people! There's about 30 people who I've kept as friends that I keep in touch with an invite to barbecues. I make sure that I put in the work in those friendships. And from all the shows I'd been in, I keep one friend."

SFX: Same with the movie industry?
Fillion:
"I remember talking to James Gunn and saying how I'd had such a great time on the jobs I'd done and how that couldn't possibly last, it couldn't always be like that with the great people that were assembled and the great time I'd had, and the friendship that endured. And he asked me, 'Why? Why can't it always be like that?' And I said that I'd had a couple of sour experiences, met a couple of sour grapes. And so I assumed that maybe that was the norm. But now I'm pretty sure I'm mistaken. Now I think the norm is that you can work with great people a lot of the time! There will not always be a sour grape."

SFX: Talking of movies, Waitress was the most recent. What can you tell us about that?
Fillion:
"Super story. So simple. It's a small town girl, Jenna, trying to bake her way out of a bad situation! Keri Russell plays this wonderful closed-off character, in an abusive relationship, with a dangerous man. Jealous and petty and tiny. Jeremy [Sisto] does a fantastic playing this guy - by the end of it you have to pity him. He's obviously the bad guy but you have to just pity him. He's just a sad, sad human being. And she wants to get out of this situation, she's been saving, she wants to escape. And she enters this pie contest, it's the one thing she can do - she's closed off from the world and the only way she can really express herself is through these pies. When she's going through something in her life she'll go into a meditation and start baking a pie, and she'll be like, 'This one is called Bad Baby Pie.' It's her way of dealing with the world around her. And that's the way she expresses herself. And the people who eat these pies are amazed - it's beautiful what she does with pastry! I play her obstetrician-gynaecologist, and we have a torrid affair. It's light hearted and it's also a little bit dark. It's romantic. It's a story about people trying to do the right thing. People just trying to be happy."

SFX: So was it fun to play a romantic character in a movie?
Fillion:
"Absolutely! You know, I thought it was a very pretty story, I thought it was a very nice, a very simple little story. And it absolutely had 'the moments' I was talking about. My character Dr Pomatter is very shy. He's married. And whereas Keri Russell has this abusive husband, is obviously in a bad situation (so we forgive her for being unfaithful to her husband), Dr Pomatter is in a relationship which seems to be perfect. We don't know much about his relationship, but we all know those couples where you suddenly go, 'Oh my God! They're breaking up? What happened? They seemed so great together, what's going on?' So I gave him that sense of a nebulous relationship where obviously he's unhappy, if he's looking for something outside of his marriage. But he sees in Jenna that which she cannot express except by pie making. You know what I mean? He sees that quality in her."

SFX: And after that have you any other movie or TV projects in the pipeline?
Fillion:
"Well since my TV show got cancelled, I guess I'm going to go back to LA and start pounding the pavement again!"

SFX: But you're famous now, you've been in some great stuff. People must be knocking on your door!
Fillion:
"You know, I do get offers now and again. Most of the time the offers I get are for stuff I wouldn't want to do! I think if anything I've got enough work under my belt. When Joss Whedon hired me to work on Firefly, I had not played a lead before. People would see me and say, 'He's really good, but we don't see him carrying a show. We don't know if he can carry a show.' If that's going to be the prevailing attitude then nobody's ever going to give you a show - how are they ever going to know? Joss Whedon is different. I owe him for his vision. He said, 'He can lead a show!' and put me in that position, made me a lead, so people don't have to guess or imagine about me. Now they know. I have enough work under my belt now that I can say, 'Look at what I've already done, you know I can handle this role, this job, whatever it is you're trying to throw at me.'"

SFX: So what do you think it was that Joss saw in you?
Fillion:
"I had a deal with 20th Century Fox at the time that meant they forced him to have a meeting with me, and he was thinking, 'Who's this guy? Nathan Fillion?' But we had a really fantastic talk. Now a meeting is not an audition - you don't have any lines prepared and at that time there's no script, you just have a treatment about what's going to happen. I had a lot of questions, and we also talked about our expectations and vision. And at the end of that he said, 'I'd like you to come back and audition for this part.' And so that's how I came to be in the Whedonverse."

SFX: What about Joss Whedon as a director? Is he a different kind of director to Spielberg, who you worked with on Saving Private Ryan?
Fillion:
"I find this with writer-directors: their vision is complete. When they write it, they know what it looks like, they know what it sounds like. They know the rhythms and they have it in their heart. They're not translating what a writer has put down. It's not diluted in any way. I worked out this rhythm with Joss that worked really, really well. We'd rehearse a scene or film a scene, and then he'd come in and say, 'This is going to be more like this...' And to make sure I understood, I would just rewind or rerun that part of the scene with the note he had. If there was obviously a misunderstanding I would just say, 'Give me a line reading - how do you want this to sound?' And then I would do it with him together so that by the time we actually filmed it we're not wasting any time. It was a wonderful little system, I really enjoyed that. You don't always have that with a lot of directors."

SFX: So does each director have their own way of working with an actor?
Fillion:
"Absolutely. My very first movie was with Spielberg. I had never been to London. I was staying in a hotel just off Piccadilly Circus. Time difference... nerves... excitement... movie! I was incredibly tense. And all I had to do is cry. I'd just spent three years doing just that on a soap opera! [Pretends to cry.] But I was so tired and I was so tense. I couldn't cry!"

SFX: So what did Spielberg say?
Fillion:
"We did the scene and then it was, 'Cut! That was awesome, that was brilliant, let's come in a little closer this time... Nathan how do you feel? That was great.' I had to say, 'What are you talking about? I couldn't cry! I was tense!' I was beside myself thinking, 'What am I going to do?!' I was so nervous. And he simply said to me, 'First of all, there are five of us in that video booth, and we all bought it. So whatever you think is going on, you are acting it. What I hear you telling me is that whatever you feel here, it's not coming forth. Let's go talk about this. Hey everybody, we'll be right back.' He leads me out to one side, we're behind this blown out building in this little French town, walking behind this army truck, and he says, 'Tell me about your story.' So I tell him about the character's back story, this is what's going on, the family, the brothers hit by a car. And I immediately start thinking about how terribly sad this is. And he says, 'And when you see this picture of them laying in a ditch where you imagine they were hit by a car, turn this camera around. Imagine who's looking at them. Is it your mother? If it's not your mother, who is it, who told your mother? That should be your job. And they're sending you home, but to who? You're mother's already dead... I mean what is there left?' And he made the story I'd given him so real I cried on the spot. It was so sad. And he said to me, 'You look ready, how do you feel?' I was ready. We came back in, and he whispers, 'All right, let's do this, start the rain, rolling, and...' Off we go! You couldn't stop me crying. If I remember correctly I cried 17 times that day! Not bad at all - a very positive experience."

SFX: Are there any other directors who you'd like to work with, given the chance?
Fillion:
"[Alfonso Cuarón] who directed Children of Men. I've just finished watching it for the first time on DVD. Oh. My. God. There are some shots in there that I have no idea how they did them, I can only imagine how much work went into them. There must have been days of rehearsal. There must have been days of shooting to just get one take. It's ridiculous but so beautiful."

SFX: Something we really liked about Children of Men was that the hero was kind of an everyman guy. He was resourceful when he found himself in extreme situations, but he kind of bumbles through wearing flipflops. Did you enjoy that aspect too?
Fillion:
"Absolutely. And I think that kind of character has an amazing appeal. I remember Clive Owen's character is in a terrible situation, he's chasing after a pregnant woman and people are shooting everywhere. And there's a gun laying on the ground, with a fella right there... and he doesn't grab it. Why didn't he take it? Because that's not who he is. That makes him a real man. A real live person and not a movie person. As an audience I really like the idea that this is not a Jedi Knight who's super-awesome. This is Joe Blow, who turned left instead of right and is now thinking, 'What the hell is going on?!' I can relate to that. We've all been in a situation where we've thought, 'You know what: get me outta here!' And you're forced to do something, you're confronted with the lack of a way out. What do you do in that situation? That's the measure of a man."

[Throughout the chat so far, Nathan has had to think hard to remember actor and director names, and he laughs about that before we continue with the interview:]
"There is one terrible thing about me. Do you play that game with friends? Where everybody writes down the name of ten celebrities, people of note for one reason or another, fictional or real. You roll em up and put em in a bowl, and then you pull one out and say, 'Right, this is the guy who...' I'm terrible at that game because I don't know anybody's name! I watch a movie and I say, 'That's fantastic!' And somebody will say, 'Yeah, I really love that director because he did...' and I'm like... 'Nope. Can't remember.' I've got nothing. Unless I actually meet them face to face and I'm actually sitting with them using their name six times, I've got nothing!"
[We laugh about our memory problems and get back to talking about specifics...]

SFX: Does playing the hero oblige you to be a role-model off screen as well? You probably have a lot of fans who look up to you.
Fillion:
"I think I have an obligation, but not as an actor. My obligation as an actor is just to tell stories and to entertain, and to breathe life into a character. But I think my obligation as a human being is to be a good man. I talked about this at length with the artist Martin Firrell and I was saying how I've had this wonderful opportunity to portray these characters in this fantasy world where I have a gun on my hip or I've got a speeding car. I got a space ship. I got aliens to fight. And you have to be the hero - and it's all set up for you to do these grand things, which are amazing and you have a fantastic time. And that's fun to be able to play a hero. But I think the challenge is to be a hero in real life, be a hero to your children or to a neighbour or to a stranger. To perform acts of kindness. I think these are our everyday challenges that we're faced with."

SFX: And do the viewers react well to that sentiment? You interact with fans loads, on the web for instance.
Fillion:
"I put a page up originally because there was a fake page! That freaks me out. And I thought, these poor people, 3000 or whatever people. And this dumbass... it just creeps me out in a big, big way. I try to imagine who that guy is and what kind of kicks he's getting out of it. I thought: you're a dick. So I put up a page and I use it as a little bit of a creative outlet, it can be fun, and it's useful to have your ear to the street as to what people think and what they're feeling. I don't advertise much that I have that page, and I have some stuff on the front page which is like, 'Guys, this isn't for autograph requests, it's not for interview requests, it's not for business contacts of any kind. Don't come here asking me for stuff. It's all I can do to come here once in a while and if there are funny messages I'll try to reply to them. It's satisfying in a way. But I get a lot of messages and I'm a slow typer, with two fingers."

SFX: What kind of other stuff are you into. What are you favourite DVDs?
Fillion:
"I watch DVDs all the time but I don't really have favourites. I have some movies like Invincible, with the lovely Elizabeth Banks, very excited about that. That's the football movie. Plus I have Superman Returns - I'm extremely pleased with that movie. I really love how true they stayed to the original, I just think they did a wonderful job. I also have The Incredibles, which I think is a brilliant movie. I have Team America. And what I don't have yet is Batman Begins. I love all these brand new superhero movies, I'm loving these remakes. People saying, 'We've got a fantastic story here, maybe handled in a way that was great in the original - but what if it was real, what if it wasn't a larger than life thing, what if it was actually happening?'"

SFX: Do you like that slightly more gritty side of things then, for instance the Batman movie with all the tough training he has to go through?
Fillion:
"Absolutely, I think that's fantastic. I'd far more believe that. I thought Michael Keaton did a wonderful job as Batman and at the time that was what we had as a superhero - fantastic movies, great but they kind of leaned on the side of, 'It's a comic book, everybody!' The Incredible Hulk, I thought this is an opportunity, the possibilities we have with effects now are fantastic and yet they kind of separate the frames so that they even have it look like a comic book, they have a guy with an explosion behind him and he freeze-frames, like in a comic book. I 'know' The Incredible Hulk is a comic book. I wanna know what would happen if the incredible Hulk was 'real', if in our daily life, if a guy behind you is kicking the seat in the cinema, in the theatre and you go, 'You know what I've had just ENOUGH [roars].' That's what would satisfy me, that's what I thought would be amazing!"

SFX: So you loved Superman Returns - were you a big fan of the 70s movies?
Fillion:
"Yes, because that was the only access we had to a man that could fly, and that's all I've ever wanted to do, to be able to fly. They got increasingly corny after the second one. Even the second one."

SFX: Looking at the new Superman Returns movie, wasn't the plane rescue brilliant?
Fillion:
"Seeing that burning plane with the wings snapping off and flipping through the air, and you just see him tuck his head in like he's diving, like he's splashing into water - that's pretty much exactly how he tears through that thing, and when he whips past, hearing his cape, that flutter, that material whacking against the back of his legs you can hear it, just a ripple... I thought 'well done, well done!' And even the subtle stuff, after catching the plane, kind of lowering it, just that soft 'boom!' - it lands nice and flat and just as it has a nice, long far-back shot you've got to imagine you're in that baseball field, you're in the audience and you're seeing a man who is 'this small' floating and you're just coming out of the door here and it just sort of floats to the side - that's amazing. And I thought that Brandon Routh, they found the perfect guy. He looked and sounded like the original guy. Somebody told me Nic Cage was Superman and, I thought 'really?'"

SFX: They did the music right with Superman Returns as well, didn't they?
Fillion:
"It was the original music, the original monologue, they used... And Kevin Spacey, a wonderful job, playing an evil guy who's also kind of laughable because he's so small, he's such an idiot. And by the way, putting a continent right there, that would cause an ice age, there's the whole current in the Atlantic thing..."

SFX: Lex Luthor just seems to be obsessed with real estate the whole time.
Fillion:
"Exactly, which you know - it's money; money, land and I think that makes perfect sense, I'm okay with that."

SFX: What else do you like?
Fillion:
"My Super Ex-Girlfriend, did you ever see this movie? Brilliant scene where Uma Thurman is the superhero and her boyfriend knows this. She's jealous of his work friend. They're all supposed to have a date and they're in this situation where she doesn't want to go rescue the city from this missile that's heading straight for the city and they're watching it on the news and they're saying, 'You know if somebody would go do something it sure would be super!' And she storms off and they're watching on the tube as this missile's coming over the city [makes sound of flying] and it goes [bink], she's kicking it out of the way and all you would really see is the tiny superhero 'this' big. And that's the reality, I thought that's brilliant."

SFX: So, superhero movies. What else have you got?
Fillion:
"I also have a DVD to learn American sign language which I try to watch now and again, to try to pick up some American sign language, I think a second language is always good."

SFX: But you're not a collector of DVDs really?
Fillion:
"Some people go nuts and collect them. No, I seem to meander with one for a little while and then move on. There's movies that are on TV that I'll watch (like Aliens) and then I'll move on but I don't have that on DVD. I do have a DVD box set of Arrested Development. What else do I have? The Office!"

SFX: Okay, UK or American?
Fillion:
"I just bought the American version on iTunes. I think that's a brilliant show. I'm not going to say that one is better than the other but certainly I've been able to enjoy the American Office a little longer and invest in the characters a little more! I think both of those shows are sheer brilliance, I have a very good time watching both of those shows. I think The Office has that quality of smallness. I think we're seeing an evolution of television entertainment where comedy's not so broad anymore, it's actually refined, it's actually smaller and for me, far more realistic."

SFX: You don't have to have the laughter track...
Fillion:
"I'll decide what's funny. You do the thing, I'll decide what's funny. I think that kind of comedy really puts it in the hands of the viewer, entrusts the viewer to understand."

And so our extended Q&A session with Nathan Fillion comes to an end...

Our thanks to him once again for giving up his time to talk to us. Some of this material also appeared in SFX's sister magazines Total Film and DVD Review. Don't forget Fillion's Fannish Inquisition feature is still available online here .