LOS ANGELES (Back Stage) - Nathan Fillion expertly walks the fine line between obnoxious and charming, on screen that is.
He has flawlessly embodied confident characters you love despite (or maybe because of) their brash confidence. Think “Firefly” leader Malcolm Reynolds, “Dr. Horrible” hero Captain Hammer, or his current incarnation as self-assured mystery writer Richard Castle on ABC’s hit “Castle.
In real life, Fillion is decidedly more easygoing. Perhaps it’s a Canadian thing; Fillion was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, the son of teachers who, as a child, he can remember adults approaching on the street to thank for changing their lives. Those parents, he says, helped instill in him a sense of gratitude and appreciation.
Of his prolific career, he says, “I think I’ve been really good at surrounding myself with really talented people. I’ve picked the right coattails to ride on.”
Despite having won countless numbers of dedicated fans from his time on such cult series as “Firefly” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” not to mention starring on hit shows like “Desperate Housewives,” he maintains, “I don’t expect anybody to know who I am.”
BACK STAGE: YOU WERE STILL IN COLLEGE IN CANADA WHEN YOU BOOKED THE ROLE OF JOEY BUCHANAN ON “ONE LIFE TO LIVE” ... HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO LAND THE JOB OUT OF CANADA?
Fillion: I had just barely passed one of my courses and was thinking I would go back for a summer session to pull up my GPA, and the phone rang and a lady casting out of New York for “One Life to Live” had found a tape that I had sent the year prior to Vancouver for a Canadian movie that I didn’t get. And that tape went from Vancouver to L.A. to New York without my knowledge. Just casting directors passing it on over the course of a year. They called me and said, “If you’re still interested, we’ll fax you a script, you FedEx us a tape. Three weeks later, I’m living in New York City.”
BACK STAGE: YOU PERFORMED THEATRESPORTS WITH THE RAPID FIRE THEATER COMPANY, IMPROVISING A SOAP OPERA EVERY WEEK. WAS THAT GOOD TRAINING FOR DOING AN ACTUAL SOAP OPERA?
Fillion: They’re two totally different animals. Nothing could have prepared me for the kind of work that was ahead of me on daytime. It’s a 44-minute program every day that they put out. One scene will be seven minutes or 10 minutes, and you just keep going and you don’t stop. I can’t even imagine going back now, even having had that boot camp. But my experience there was so positive. If I wanted to learn something, there were people that have been there 30 years who are willing to say, “No problem, let me help you.”
BACK STAGE: WAS IT THEN HARD TO LEAVE, PARTICULARLY AT THE HEIGHT OF YOUR POPULARITY ON THE SHOW?
Fillion: I had a great storyline between Erika Slezak and Robin Strasser, the two heavy hitters on our show. And it was incredibly difficult to fail between those two. But the guy who played my uncle, Bob Woods, sat me down two years into my three-year contract and basically told me how things were going to unfold and how I had a choice in front of me. He encouraged me to move to Los Angeles and try it out.
BACK STAGE: YOU SEEMED TO WORK A LOT RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE.
Fillion: When I moved out to L.A., I got four or five jobs in a row that were fantastic. I did “Saving Private Ryan” and “Blast From the Past” and I did these guest spots that I had a great time on. And then I went for nearly a year without working. Still auditioning; sometimes five times a week, and I couldn’t get anything. I was paying my rent on credit and waiting on a tax return so I could pay off my credit card bill. I was so anxious to work again. I didn’t want to do anything else; I didn’t want to wait tables, I wanted to continue acting. I wanted that feeling back of going to work every day and collaborating with people and doing good scenes. I was reaching for the phone to call “One Life to Live” to ask about coming back. And the phone rang and it was for a guest shot on a sitcom with Faith Ford. I did that and the following week I got a job on a sitcom next door to it, which was “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.” I did 10 episodes with them, and they invited me back as a regular. And I did two seasons.
BACK STAGE: YOU HEADLINED “FIREFLY” FOR JOSS WHEDON BUT HAD ACTUALLY AUDITIONED TO PLAY ANGEL ON HIS SHOW “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” ORIGINALLY. DID YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHEN YOU DIDN’T GET THE FIRST JOB IT COULD LEAD TO SOMETHING BETTER DOWN
THE ROAD AND THIS ONGOING COLLABORATION WITH WHEDON?
Fillion: Not at the time. You understand your job as an actor is to audition. Your job is to go out there and look for work ... When Joss found out that I auditioned for Angel -- he didn’t know -- he felt bad. He said, “I don’t remember you.” I told him not to worry, I never made the first cut ... And when “Firefly” was canceled, he said, “Come and do the last five episodes of ‘Buffy’ for me.” And then, of course, “Dr. Horrible.”
BACK STAGE: WAS THE JOB ON “CASTLE” AN OFFER?
Fillion: I had a holding deal and a stack of scripts to look at. I was going through them all and I remember reading it, I was 15 pages in, and I turned to my girlfriend and said, “I’m going to read this out loud to you. You tell me if you don’t think this would be a ball to play.” We laughed and laughed and read our way through the script. I was working on “Desperate Housewives” at the time but only for the year. And the “Castle” producers were kind enough to come to my trailer for a meeting. I told them, “Stop looking. I’m your guy. I can do this, I know just what to do.” Which I’ve never done!