In SFX issue 160 we subjected SF fave Nathan Fillion to The Fannish Inquisition, a barrage of questions submitted by readers. He didn't have time to answer them all, and we couldn't fit all the ones he did answer in the magazine, but he was charming and pleased to reply to as many as possible. So here on the website is an extended version of the interview we printed in the magazine, including many more replies. Enjoy!
The characters of Caleb and Captain Reynolds both have an archaic “Southern gentleman” charm about the way they talk. Is that something you brought to the table, or is that an invention of Joss Whedon?
"Mal Reynolds has his own kind of style – there is a ‘southern-ness’ about him, but not in his accent. With Caleb I was basically doing an impression of a character that a friend of mine invented. Christopher Douglas is from the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and he used to do it like this [adopts exaggerated southern US accent], ‘Ah don’t liiiike it when the ladies in the hair department make mah hair curl up at the eeeeends.’ I always thought that was a cool little character, and then I had an opportunity to make him shine in this evil person, who’s just so sweet and so kind... but you don’t want to cross him."
You seem to hang around in the SF and fantasy genre. Is that your favourite genre?
"People who think I’m just in the sci-fi genre are just simply not familiar with my other work. I’ve spent far more time doing everything except for sci-fi! So I’m glad that they watch it and I’m glad they’re a fan, but I then remind them of the three years I spent on a soap opera, the time I’ve spent doing drama, comedy, a sitcom. That’s five and a half years right there! You only got one slice of the pie – it’s an awesome pie! Go have more pie!"
Did you keep any souvenirs from your time in Firefly?
“Tons – I go to conventions and bring along knick-knacks that I kept from Firefly. I don’t have Malcolm Reynolds’s brown coat. Some people wanted to raise the money and buy one from an auction for me. That’s really sweet, but I already wore it. I suppose it would be neat if I had a glass case to keep it in, in a big trophy room – like Batman, with a light above it! [Hums a few bars of the 1989 film theme.] I could don it when fighting crime. That would be cool. But instead I have things like a wood-resin replica of Malcolm Reynolds’s gun. I have his holster. Bits and pieces. I’ve got the catyliser. The new one, not the crappy broken one. You never know when you’re going to need a catyliser.”
You recently appeared in a guest spot in Lost. Are there any other shows on TV you’d like to appear in?
“Extras! Oh yeah, I’m a Ricky Gervais fan. That stuff is sheer brilliance. I’ve learned a lot from just watching his television. His choices are so small, but they mean so much. I ask people if they’ve seen Extras and they say, ‘I don’t like the way it makes me feel!’ They cringe. But that’s the idea. It’s so much more sophisticated that watching a sitcom. In Extras I’d appear as myself... I could play the dick I really am!”
If acting hadn’t been an option, what job do you think you’d have ended up doing?
"I was four months away from graduating as a high school teacher. Teaching is a noble profession. You want a hero? Teachers are heroes, right there. They are underpaid and overworked. I loved teaching kids, I loved getting up in front of the classroom – you know I still get that opportunity, when I go home to Canada I have friends who are teachers, and I go talk to their classes. But there’s this whole other side to it, you don’t just get to help kids explore and learn new things. You have responsibilities to the government, and to the curriculum, and there are schedules and… I don’t have a brain for that kind of thing."
Does it freak you out to think that there are hordes of women fantasising over you right now?
"Yes. Yes, that does freak me out a little bit. [Does that manifest itself via fan fiction? - SFX] I don’t read fan faction. I tried but some of it is so bad or horrid, that I decided not to – I’ve got a finite amount of time on my hands, and I don’t need to see what might happen if Simon hooked up with Jayne or something."
What do you look for in a girl?
"I know better what I don’t look for. Every time I have a dating experience and it doesn’t work out for one reason or another you can add to the list of things that doesn’t work out. In a girl I look for someone who doesn’t need me, but every once in a while pretends like she does, for my sake!"
Does the comic-book superhero genre interest you? Which one would you like to portray?
“I collected comics. About a year ago I was home and read through a stack of my old comic books... and they were awful! But I remember loving them when I was younger. I thought I would have made a great Eddie Brock – I would have made a great Venom. But that’s already gone. I could be Green Lantern. I could be Captain America. I think it’s time for a Canadian Captain America! I would love to play Jonah Hex; not strictly a ‘superhero’ but a DC comics character, and I think that would be a great role. So, yeah, I like comic-book heroes. My mum always says to me, ‘Nathan, you’re very much a geek – your advantage is that you look mainstream.’ [Laughs]. And she’s right.”
Do you practise your nostril-flaring?
“I can consciously control them, but it’s like, ‘Do you practise flailing your arms when you fall down?’ No – it just happens. I don’t need to practice. My question back is: if you’re watching a movie, and you’re looking at my nostrils... what are you doing?”
If you could star in any classic movie, what would it be and who would you play?
“Easy – Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark. I remember I was a kid, just south of Boston with my cousins, my uncle and aunt dropped us off at the movies, I had no idea what we would be seeing. But that was what I saw, and I couldn’t believe it. Do you remember the opening scene, in the jungle? [Does impression]. ‘Poison. Still fresh... three days. Very deadly.’ I was having a great time. [Mal Reynolds also owes a lot to Han Solo... – SFX] I’ve never met Harrison Ford, but I would love to. I would say, ‘Thank you very much for everything... that I’ve copied exactly from you!’ [Who’d win in a fight between Han Solo and Mal Reynolds? – SFX] Why would they fight?! Those two guys would look at each other and size each other up and say, 'I know who you are…'"
What do you do to relax?
"I spend a lot of time at home. I have a couple of friends whose schedule is very much like mine, we have large chunks of time where we often go hiking in the Hollywood hills, we go to movies together. We play a lot of Halo. So we don’t actually have to go out and meet people! That’s it – lock up the house, and you settle down and play – that’s today’s way to relax! [They were talking about making a movie of Halo at one time, would you have wanted to be in it? – SFX] Yeah sure, although I wouldn’t want to be Master Chief. You’d have to wear that suit, with the mask, you might as well not be there. They’d just need a stunt guy!"
What happened when you met Joss Whedon for the first time?
“You know, I had a meeting with Joss Whedon and knew who he was but not what he looked like. I had previously auditioned for Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I first moved to Los Angeles, without meeting Joss. I auditioned for the part of Angel! I saw a casting director, but I didn’t get cast. David Boreanaz got the part, and rightly so – I thought he was fantastic. Had I gotten the part of Angel then Malcolm Reynolds would never have existed! Later on I had a meeting with Joss Whedon for the first time for Firefly. I came into an office and there was a guy sitting in the corner: a mess of red hair, straggly beard, purple sweater with a hole in it. And I thought, ‘This is very nice, these people are kind of relaxed. I wonder when Joss Whedon is going to get here…’ And then I realised, ‘I think this might be Joss! I think this is the guy!’ I had no idea what he looked like before then. And we talked for I think about 45 minutes. I had a lot of questions and Joss had every base covered. Anything I asked him he had just so much information, just had it all planned and worked out. Everything had an undercurrent and everything had emotion – this was a clever bastard. A good meeting will go for about 15 minutes, but I spent about 45 minutes with that guy. Not just talking about the show, but also about experiences and about our work ethic and about our purpose.”
Your choice: Serenity 2 or Slither 2?
“Serenity 2. An easy choice to make. I’ve spent far more time being Malcolm Reynolds. I had a great time doing Slither, I absolutely love Elizabeth Banks and James Gunn. Had a great time. But Malcolm Reynolds – that’s pretty much the long and the short of it. That’s every dream, every fantasy...”
Did you have any problems with the Chinese parts of the Firefly and Serenity scripts?
“Yes, I sucked. I think I unintentionally insulted anyone Chinese by trying to speak it. Here's the problem with it: I’d get an instruction tape, and it would calmly say something in Mandarin. But the actual dialogue was meant to be shouted in anger! It’s obviously not got the right inflections. I wanted to say to the person on the tape, ‘Give it some heart! It’s like you’re reading the phone book there!’”
My wife and I thought you were an excellent evil bad guy as Caleb in Buffy. Would you like to be the bad guy in the next James Bond movie?
“Good one! Yes, if it were Daniel Craig as Bond. Now, what could be my affectation? Weeping blood was fantastic, in the last one. I could go with being half burned. By acid. Half scarred, malformed by acid. I would always cover myself with something, or carry a fan the whole time. Can I get back to you when I’ve thought of a plan for world domination? Money is the root of all evil, so it would have to be to do with money in some way. Gold is too specific, though, and Goldfinger did that. It’ll have to be something to do with satellites and computers.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
“In ten years’ time I will have written and directed my own movie. That’s an aspiration I’ve had for a long time. I wrote a pilot once. After seeing a documentary on TV about how a key works in a tumbler, I learned how to pick locks. And Alan Tudyk was watching me try to pick a lock in my living room, suddenly he looked around and whispered, ‘You gotta hurry with that. Somebody might be coming.’ I started laughing, but he kept it up: ‘I’m just saying, come on! You said you were good at this! We can’t stand out here forever...’ And we were sitting there playing with this and he had me laughing so much I was crying. I thought: I’ve got to write a story about this. Who would have this relationship? They’d have to be brothers at least, somehow involved in breaking in. I wrote a pilot and couple of episodes of a show about brothers who become repo men. And that could be my movie. I call it The Repo Brothers.”
Locutus-uk (and several other people via email)
Who’d win in a fight between a caveman and an astronaut?
“No weapons? Is the spaceman wearing his suit? Doesn’t matter – the caveman’s going to win. He’s going to be much stronger, his bone density’s going to be greater. Here’s a man who’s burning thousands of calories a day, he’s always moving, always in motion. Compared to a spaceman – all his jobs are done by pushing buttons! I think the killer instinct, the survival instinct, means the caveman’s going to win.”
Who’d win in a fight between Captain Reynolds and Caleb?
"I think Malcolm Reynolds, because he’s got a gun. Pow. Dodge that."
If the BBC invited you to be the 11th Doctor, would you be interested in it? And how would you portray him?
“The last few incarnations of Doctor Who I’ve only been partially familiar with. My Doctor was that old guy with the hook nose and the curly hair. [Jon Pertwee? Tom Baker? – SFX] Well, if I were the Doctor he’d be better looking! [Laughs] And he’d be more like a Time Bandit. I’d be trying to get inside old buildings – five minutes later, I’d be selling my swag in the future.”
Joss Whedon calls you and tells you there’s a new series of Firefly, but Mal Reynolds has to die in the first five minutes! Would you still do it?
"Sure. If it were Joss Whedon, he’d have an amazing reason and it would be fantastic. Mal Reynolds would die in the first five minutes: then it would say, 'Six years earlier…'"
Who’s your biggest inspiration?
"In my whole life? My family inspires me. Whatever goes down – happy, sad, fantastic, terrible – the first people I turn to are always my family. We’re a tight-knit bunch. They’re very supportive of me, and I of them. I like the way I grew up, I had a fantastic childhood, I love their outlook on life. I love the way my family approaches life."
Why, oh why, were you in White Noise 2?
"Because apparently they couldn’t find anybody else good enough! I thought White Noise 2 did a fantastic job. I did enjoy making it. This is one of those jobs lately, in a long line of jobs, where I don’t have to go out and actively pursue it. Somebody from my past said, 'Hey, we worked together before; I’ve got a new idea for this thing, do you want to work together again?' Sure, let’s go. Patrick Lussier had directed Dracula 2000, and I auditioned for the human bad guy for that movie. Well, Omar Epps got the part, and Patrick told me that he tried to direct Omar to play the scene the way I had done it during my first audition! What a nice guy. And he called me up again and invited me to be in White Noise 2."
When the cast got together and read the Serenity script for the first time, what was your reaction to discovering that Book and Wash were to die?
"Finally! [Laughs]. We insisted on that - we had a vote! I think it’s fair to say that the least popular people were killed. Except for Book, played by Ron, who we all like very much… [Laughs]."
Would you like to take part in some comedies in the future? We love it when you’re funny.
"I’m always funny! I think there’s comedy in life, in everything. Just go and see Waitress! I’m very funny in that. [Isn’t there a tragedy associated with Waitress? – SFX] The young woman who wrote, directed and starred in the film was murdered. Right before we were accepted into Sundance. So she never knew that we were accepted, she never knew how critically acclaimed Waitress was going to become, how poignant it was going to become, how it was going to hit just the right spot for a lot of people. As happy as I am to have such a positive, uplifting experience from this film and from Sundance, it was bittersweet because of the senseless tragedy of losing a wonderful person, a wife and mother – senseless."
Are you pleased with the reaction that Waitress has been receiving?
"Absolutely. I even feel a little bit bad. Serenity I was very proud of, but it took at least three months to do that. Slither, two months, out in the cold, a lot of really hard work, and some sacrifice, putting my all into it. But Waitress... I was done in under a week. I think the whole thing took just three weeks to film, and the film rides on Keri Russell’s shoulders, there’s not 30 seconds in that movie which she’s not in. So I feel a little bad taking credit for that film! Because of how little time I put in and how phenomenally easy it was, and how much is down to the talented people in it like Keri Russell. That’s something I learned a long time ago - surround yourself with talented people and it’s done!"
Are you ever afraid you’ll drift into that syndrome where 30 years from now you’re still doing Firefly cons?
“I have no fear of that. In fact I’m counting on it! In ten years I’ll be writing and directing my own movie, then in 30 years I’ll be going to sci-fi conventions, and getting fans all riled up about Firefly. [You can join us on the SFX stand! – SFX] Great! Okay, you’re on: I’ve got that recorded now!”
If you could choose a moment or scene from Firefly that defines the character of Malcolm Reynolds, what would it be and why?
"I can give you four or five! The first one – shooting the Alliance mole in the face. Secondly – kicking that guy into the engine. Shooting the horse that Patience was hiding behind. Hitting Jayne in the face with a wrench. These are moments that define Malcolm Reynolds. Uncompromising. You open up the script and you read what you’re going to get to do next week – you’re like, 'Oh wow, I gotta tell somebody about this! Guess what I get to do.' You can never know a person unless you spend time with them. If you don’t spend a lot of time with somebody, all you know is their ‘presentation’. I think that in witnessing someone’s decisions and in seeing their choices, then you understand who a character really is."
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten in your whole life?
"My mum’s Christmas dinner. I look forward to it in a big way – maybe even more so the leftovers! I remember I went home for Christmas a number of years ago, and my mum’s like, 'This year I changed it up. Instead of mashed potatoes we’re having riced potatoes. And instead of this we’re having that… and so on…' And it was all delicious and I hate to be ungrateful. But I’d been looking forward to a traditional Christmas dinner for months and months! And I’d been smelling the stuffing and the gravy and the little leftover casserole. I made a point of pleading the case that Christmas dinner is so important. She’s a great cook. She has a fantastic lasagne that she makes too. She could make five things amazingly well, and the joke was that if we wanted her to make one of those things, we had to invite a guest over to the house. So it appeared to them that we ate brilliant dinner all the time."
Are there any shows that you’ve followed as a fan?
"Arrested Development. Right there, that show. Sheer brilliance. And just brilliantly played. Will Arnett, who plays GOB – I can’t get enough of that guy. [Does impression] ‘I’m not on all the time, Michael. I don’t always want to be the performer.’ Oh my God, that kills me."
You mentioned once that you attended a sci-fi convention as a fan: how was that?
“I went to one convention and walked around the floor. It was a fun day, I walked around a little, toyed with the idea of buying a lightsaber. But that was the last time I was able to walk freely amongst the throng. It’s hard to enjoy a con now, although I love the part where I get to sign autographs. It’s nice to meet people one on one, although I feel bad because they maybe want to sit with me and tell stories for a while, but there’s a queue, there’s no time. And I’m not leaving till everybody got what they came for! I try to keep it both friendly and fast, but they get rushed through and I feel bad. I like getting up on those panels and hearing people’s questions, and getting a sense of what people think… and I get to make crappy jokes! But the bits I don’t like are going from that panel back to my hotel room. ‘Can you just sign this? Can you take a picture? Can you…?’ It’s all this reaching and grabbing. That’s a little bit weird, man, you’re killing me.”
Did you laugh a lot on the set of Slither? That movie is so funny.
"Constantly. I was attacked by a mechanical deer, there was a team of about six people working that thing. So you’re trying to be violent, but at the same time it’s an expensive, delicate machine! If you get the chance, you should try it sometime. That was a very physical movie too – just dealing with the cold itself, for instance. God, it was so cold. Those little pocket warmer things you can get, to keep your hands warm? We had them all over! Elizabeth Banks had it the worst. I had it easy – I had this polyester thing, a cop jacket, underneath there was layer upon layer of clothing. But she had wear pretty-girl clothes."
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you on a night out?
“I had a mad crush on this woman, but she was just getting married! Then years later we were working quite close to each other on the same studio lot and she told me, ‘I’m divorced.’ I ran into her later at a party. I was thinking, ‘She’s here and she’s single now, and I’m single. Cool!’ So she’s at this party with a friend, I’m being attentive, they’re laughing at all my jokes. I think, ‘It couldn’t be any better’. I go to take a sip of my drink, but as I raise the glass to my lips I realise the straw is still in the glass, it goes straight up my nose. And it has a sharp end. Jammed up in there. My eyes are watering. I pull the drink away... and the straw stays in my nose. There’s no coming back from that, is there? You can’t recover from that.”
Thanks Nathan! And thanks to our readers for submitting questions - sorry if yours didn't get answered. Remember, we'll be conducting more Fannish Inquisitions with our fave SF celebs in the pages of SFX magazine. In SFX 161 you'll be able to read just such an interview with Freema "Martha Jones" Agyeman.