SFX: You've worked with Joss Whedon again and have a recurring role in Dollhouse, right?
Sheppard: "Yes. Playing Tanaka in Dollhouse is a lot of fun for me. It's pretty obvious from the character's name that I probably wasn't the first choice for the role! But I think Joss wanted to include me, and they asked me if I wanted to fill this particular spot. And I think they rolled the spot around the fact that they've now got me. As I arrived right outside the stage, and Joss is there, and my first words were, 'Can I keep the name?!' He's like, 'I knew you were gonna say that!' So I think it's gonna be one of those things that we're gonna have an interesting time portraying Tanaka. He'll have to come up with a reason for the name!"
SFX: You played Badger in Firefly - was that Joss's choice of name too?
Sheppard: "Joss was gonna play it! He wrote that part for himself. I only found out during shooting it. Adam [Baldwin] was like, 'Dude, he wrote Badger for himself!' So Joss was riding me hard, he says, 'We were great until you found that out...' Then he lost it and he couldn't get through the scene."
SFX: Sounds like there's a real sense of community working on all these sci-fi shows in LA.
Sheppard: "It's a very big community in LA. I got to work with people like Eddie [James Olmos] and Mary [McDonnell], and Jamie [Bamber], Tahmoh [Penikett] - these are some extraordinary people. Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin I've worked with four or five times. Alan Tudyk. I mean these people are so nice! You've met them; you know I'm not bullshitting. They're lovely people! There's a reason why they carry on working, you know.
"I've got to know every director that I've worked with more than once. But it's not a slam-dunk. You know who you know. If you want to go to work, then you want to go to work with somebody who you know can do the job. That's why people get hired. That's why Javier [Grillo-Marxuach] will use the same directors and actors in a lot of his stuff. He knows he's gonna get what he wants.
"I've been very lucky as an actor. I've got some fantastic friends who write fantastic stuff. How great is your job when somebody goes, 'Mark, I've got something I'd like you to do which will bring you accolades, joy, and money.' [Laughs] I'm like, 'Nah, I don't feel like it. I want to go home and play on my PlayStation.' It's kind of marvellous! I feel I've been very lucky, you know, with Joss and Javier. I've known Javier for a long time; I've done many shows with him, and he's truly a great friend."
SFX: Speaking of which, you were in The Middleman recently, but The Middleman's all over now . Do you miss it?
Sheppard: "Middleman's gone. Javier sent me a finished script for the episode we never did - which he beautifully paid me for, which I thought was the most amazing thing! He's an old, old friend, and he's a wonderful man. Manservant Neville was supposed to turn into David Warner in Time Bandits and everybody on the planet has this iPod-type thing which is the instrument of destruction for the universe. And we never got to shoot it! I was miserable! So my character built this whole thing up, and I don't ever get to shoot me losing it all. So he's finished the script, he sent to me, I think it's hysterical.
"He always writes the word 'Panama' into everything! And I was like, 'Where is it this time?' and he wrote it. The title of the last episode was 'The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome,' which is, 'a man, a plan, a canal, Panama.' Right? So that's how he got 'Panama' into it!
"He's hoping to stage a reading at Comic Con if we can get everyone together, do a charity reading or something. His readings are brilliant, and I urge any Middleman fan, if you can, to assault Javier's website and see if he'll give up any footage of any of the readings that we did, because they are so funny. The show was brilliant, but some of the table reads are the best humour I have ever seen. Fans of the genre would love to hear it. Javier actually reads all the incidental character's lines and the scene descriptions at an incredible speed. I mean he's one of the most intelligent men you're ever gonna meet. It's like having a comic book read to you by a genius, which is great, and then having all the characters come to your house and read their parts. [Laughs] But yeah, it's special. I know he's gonna do it as a graphic novel so he can finish up."
SFX: What are you working on at the moment?
Sheppard: "I've got this amazing series with Dean Devlin called Leverage, in which Timothy Hutton is the lead. Christian Kane, who's another great genre guy, has got this wonderful role in this; he's basically playing a very, very cool thug. Bright thug, which is fun. Just a great heist-type Ocean's Twelve-ish, slick, fast, funny, weird piece in which Timothy Hutton basically is Robin Hood. And they decided they needed a 'Sheriff of Nottingham'. So they wrote me as the Sheriff of Nottingham, which is the greatest honour ever. They've certainly written the character of the nemesis for me - but a nemesis that can win was the dictate, a nemesis that just is gonna kick their asses. I'm interested to see what viewers have to say about that. I'm really proud of that show."
SFX: So have you ever written like a spec script yourself? Ever pitched a series?
Sheppard: "I've written and made films. I've sold scripts. I love directing, it's a wonderful thing for me, because I don't have to shave or get particularly dressed up! And I liked it cos again it's the storytelling. It doesn't matter to me where it goes, but what I really want to do is tell tales. I love directing, but then I love all aspects of TV and movies."
SFX: Thanks Mark!
You can read even more of this interview next week on the SFX website, including Sheppard's thoughts on Doctor Who and Bionic Woman. In the meantime, don't miss what he says about working with the Battlestar team in our latest SFX special edition , on sale now.