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Grand Mal

Captaining A Spaceship And Battling Body-Snatching Slugs Propelled Nathan Fillion Into Cultdom

Fillion with co-star Keri Russell in Adrienne Shelly's Waitress.

By Cole Haddon | Posted 5/23/2007

Nathan Fillion, who used to be one of the two guys in ABC sitcom Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place and eventually got promoted to captain of the Serenity starship on Joss Whedon's Firefly, tends to smile often, especially when he's talking about his job. Today, he's talking about his role as a gynecologist in mommy-centric romantic comedy Waitress--the final movie from director Adrienne Shelly--in which he co-stars alongside Keri Russell. Today, he's smiling--but it doesn't last.

"Test, test, test, test," he repeats, leaning over the mini-tape recorder in front of him, trying to figure out if it's working since he can't see the red power light through the afternoon sun pouring into his hotel room at the Le Méridien in Beverly Hills. "You sure it's OK?" he adds, tapping the recorder, still not convinced even though there's nothing to worry about.

"There was a certain amount of appeal, 'cause I wanted to shift out of what I was doing," he says of Waitress' more conventional drama, his voice deep with just a hint of something gosh-golly, all-American, and certainly not Canadian, which he is. "And yet I certainly enjoy what I've been doing. I get to play these heroic characters in larger-than-life situations--space captains, police chiefs dealing with alien invasions, you know."

Most recently, he's been seen on the small screen as one of the stars in Fox's Drive, but last year made a good deal of noise as Slither's Billy Pardy, a beleaguered small-town sheriff who had to deal with an alien invasion of zombiefying slugs. There was 2005's Serenity movie, too, along with a stint on Buffy the Vampire Slayer that followed the critically acclaimed but short-lived Firefly. He has, with his comic timing, quirky quips, and Han Solo-esque charm, become something of a cult figure on par with, say, Bruce Campbell. Firefly's devoted fans--called Browncoats--are almost as devoted and crazed as Trekkies.

"Not really, no," Fillion laughs when asked if he's ever made it through an interview where somebody didn't bring up his role as Capt. Jack Malcolm Reynolds. "And you know what? I'm all for it. I've got no problem with those who are passionate about it. I'm passionate about it. On some level, they too have been touched, and that's a good feeling to me."

Fillion won't dismiss his role as a cult movie star, either. He doesn't know how to explain it, but hopes it has something to do with how much he loves his work and how he feels that love comes out in his roles. Roles, he insists with a grin, that were happenstance and not strategy. "As far as the direction of my career, it's like being on a roller coaster," he says. "You don't know where it's going, but it's obviously going somewhere else. Some bits go up, some bits go down. You're on it, on this ride, and it's exciting--but you have very little control as to where it's going. I've been very fortunate that my roller-coaster ride has had a lot of ups."

One of those ups is Waitress, a quirky, pie-filled story about a married woman (Russell) who finds out her asshole husband got her pregnant one of the few times he got her drunk enough to sleep with him. Fillion, as her married gynecologist, offers his support. "I'm really happy with how it turned out," he says of the movie. "I enjoyed the work, I enjoyed the time filming it, and I'm so happy--what with the tragedy now--to have been involved."

That tragedy is, quite sadly, what Waitress will probably be most remembered for. Actress and director Adrienne Shelly was violently murdered in her Manhattan apartment Nov. 1, 2006. As Fillion discusses it, his voice begins to crack.

"Sometimes, it hits me harder than others, I'll be honest," he says of her death, and of promoting a movie she loved so much. It's "as surreal as it is that I'm in a movie. I really can't believe I'm in a movie. That's not an everyday thing for me, and that feels special to me--that's surreal. The tragic loss--absolutely surreal. The fact that I am here, enjoying people say how much they like the movie, that's really great, but the woman who really deserves the credit isn't here and will never know what she accomplished. That's surreal.

"I try not to focus on the sad, and instead focus on the blessing it was," he continues. "It really should have been just one more in a long line of projects from this beautiful lady, and now it's a legacy." After another moment, he adds, "There is no accounting for crazy in this world."

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