The latest SFX Special is a countdown of the greatest SF&F icons of the 21 century, as voted for by you. And here we speak to the man who plays the character who won…
Mal comes in pole position in the Top 100 Icons, as revealed in full in the latest SFX Special (click on the cover image to learn more), on sale now. And there’s an interview with Nathan Fillion, who played Mal, of course, in there too, in which he discusses all the popularity of the character.
But there was an awful lot of leftover material from that exclusive chat, and it would seem a shame to waste it. So here is more of that conversation between Jayne Nelson and Nathan Fillion, purely for this website.
Would you say that Captain Mal Reynolds is an everyman?
“He sure is. You take such a fantastical character, you put him in the upper echelon of adventurers, the captain of a spaceship in the future, and you make him an everyman. He’s just the same as everybody else. He’s not noble, 100%, and amazing 100%. He’s… just a cheap fighter, he’s poor, he’s hungry, he’s desperate!”
But he’s also a big damn hero!
“He is heroic in a way, but in the same way as single parents are heroic. Single parents – parents in general – are heroes! You take a single parent, they’re doing it by themselves, they’ve got no help, it’s just them, with their family, holding it together, so there’s Malcolm Reynolds. ‘What, they got stolen? Somebody kidnapped them? Not my family!’ He goes and he gets them. That’s what a parent does, that’s what people do – they keep their family together. There’s nothing heroic about them. He’s just doing what he knows to be right.”
But he’s very entertaining as well. He’s one with the quips and the funny actions and the witty asides.
“Oh well, certainly, yeah. But often we’re often laughing at his expense.
“I think it’s also he makes that easy – he’s self-deprecating. Joss Whedon has a way of doing that and something I learned from Firefly , from Joss, is take a hero, take that big guy, the Captain, kick him square in the nuts and now everybody knows, ‘Oh yeah, Captains get kicked in the nuts, too.’”
So you think he’s popular because he gets kicked in the nuts?
“It’s a metaphor! I’m sure it’s literally happened once or twice, but it’s a metaphor, you know? Life kicks that guy around. Life really kicks him around.”
Or steals his clothes, like in the episode “Trash”.
“There’s a kick in the nuts. That’s life kicking you in the nuts!”
What would you say was his finest hour?
“Malcolm Reynolds’ finest hour? You know… anytime he could take a breath, and give a little smile. That’s what I loved about him, that’s the thing I learned from Malcolm Reynolds and Firefly : take your victories where you can get them. Malcolm Reynolds had a way of enjoying tiny victories. Yes, he was left naked in the desert, but the plan kinda worked out the way he wanted it to. The humiliation of being left in the desert? It’s small, compared to, ‘I came out on top. Sort of.’ When he was convinced that Inara was also seduced by Saffron and kissed her as well and got knocked out herself, that’s a little victory for him – ‘Ha, I’m not the only one! You got it too!’ These little victories are all he needs. He’s beat up but he’s, ‘Yep, I got a couple of licks in.’ He takes his victories where he can get them. When you rack ’em up, he loses far more than he wins, so if he gets a little victory, no matter how small, he counts that on the victory side. [Laughs] For a guy who’s lost a war, I mean, victory means a lot to that guy.”
Even a small victory like completing a job!
“He’s just trying to put food on the table; he’s just trying to put gas in the boat. He’s just trying to keep going. He’s got no personal, emotional connection to a job. I think if he did, that would get him down even further – he’s a criminal, he’s a smuggler, he’s a miscreant, a ne’er do well!”
It’s ironic that Mal is kind of based on Han Solo, because he’s beaten him in our poll...
“You know, I can certainly see the similarities between the two, and I can certainly say all my best stuff I’ve stolen from Harrison Ford. Like I’ve said before, Malcolm Reynolds resonates with me. He satisfies something deep inside, and I’m just glad to see that I’m not the only one.”
Are you familiar with Captain Jack Harkness? It was a close call between you and him...
“I am not familiar with Torchwood but I’m told it’s an amazing show. One of the most amazing shows I’m not watching, is what I’m told by my friends.”
These days you’re playing writer Richard Castle in Castle . Have you brought anything of Mal into him?
“They’re two very different people. Certainly Richard Castle has lived a life more of leisure and success. He’s a bit namby-pamby compared to Malcolm Reynolds, but I think basically he has some of the same qualities. Malcolm Reynolds doesn’t know when he’s been beat; he will not be beat. Much the same way, Castle thinks he’s really cool! He thinks he’s walking around and everybody just adores him, and sometimes that’s true and it just feeds that ego of his. But when life kind of shows him how cool he’s not, he doesn’t get it. When life knocks him down and shows him that he’s being a nerd or a goober, he doesn’t get it. He keeps going. He thinks he’s cool. That’s the kind of thing your mom told you when you were at school and the kids are teasing you – ‘No, no, you’re cool! You’re real cool! Be yourself! That’s cool!’ That’s kind of what Castle does – he remains himself and he’s cool, that’s what he thinks.”
And of course he dresses as Mal in his spare time, or at least he did in the show’s first Halloween episode! Was that your idea?
“Oh jeez, I wish that was my idea. Terri Miller, she was responsible for writing that Halloween episode. And it didn’t stop there – we were doing lots of nods and nudges and winks to former TV programmes that other people had been on as well. Seamus Deaver had been on General Hospital , where he played a doctor who had died, so he was dressed as a doctor with a heart wound. Jon Huertas had been in Generation Kill where he’d been a marine, so he was dressed as a marine. It was a little nod and a nudge. The audience knows that it’s a television programme and the television programme gives you a little nudge to say ‘Yeah, it’s TV, we know it’s TV.’ I think they find that pretty satisfying.”
Didn’t you sneak a bit of the Serenity on a shelf?
“I did – a piece of the engine from ‘Out Of Gas’ was on the bookshelf behind me when I popped out of the door wearing the Firefly get-up. I went on Twitter to say ‘Can you find the little Easter egg prop in there?’ And people found it!”
You have a massive Twitter following, don’t you? Do you have fun with that?
“I’m almost at a million. Yeah, it’s fun! I find I Twitter the most when I’m bored. So I do a lot of Twittering when I’m at work.”
We suppose there’s a lot of sitting around when you’re on a TV show…
“There is a lot of sitting around. You don’t really get the time to go out and get something done and then come back; you have to be at the ready all the time.”
Do you read all your replies?
“There’s nearly a million people following, so I scan them and when I’m asking a particular question I’ll scan them far more carefully, but I don’t read every single reply. I don’t do that! [Laughs]”
Back to Firefly . It’s such a detailed little universe, isn’t it?
“Yeah. [Starts to cough.] It did feel real. It’s just about people and their problems. They have a problem, what are you gonna do? [Coughs] Joss is like that, he’s about characters. He writes for characters... [More coughing, rather alarming]”
Do you need a glass of water?
“I’m on my way to get one! I was walking in the yard and I think something fell into my mouth. Winds are blowing. Oh goodness. [Long pause, glugging sounds.] Alright, I’m okay! What if I’d died ? That would’ve been one hell of an interview!”