For most of you the name Nathan Fillion may not mean a lot right now but I have a feeling that’s going to change very soon. I first saw the man in a priest’s outfit at the end of the final season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and based on his performance there I knew he’d be someone to keep tabs on.
Staying within the Whedon-verse as it were, Fillion went on to star in Joss’ short lived series “Firefly ” as Captain Malcolm Reynolds. The series and subsequent film “Serenity” made Fillion and his co-horts fan favorites and soon after, James Gunn cast Fillion in his directorial debut Slither. Playing the role of Sheriff Bill Pardy, Nathan joins Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, and Elizabeth Banks as the residents of a small town invaded by worms that are more than just itsy bitsy and gooey-ooey.
I recently got the chance to chat with Nathan about his time under the Gunn, memories of working with Joss, and why it’s always a good idea to wear a skirt in Hollywood. Enjoy!
Johnny Butane: So tell me what you’re working on right now.
Nathan Fillion: Right now I’m in Vancouver shooting the sequel to White Noise. It’s a little something we’re calling White Noise… 2
JB: The Light
NF: Yes, The Light.
JB: We just did a story on The Light today; Simon from Dark Horizons interviewed you and I pulled some quotes from it.
NF: And was I clever?
JB: Yeah, you were very clever! Witty, responsive, it was a good interview.
NF: I like your style Johnny, keep talkin’.
JB: I’ll do my best! Now let’s talk some Slither shall we? Tell me how you got involved…
NF: Ok, here’s the story. The good folks at Universal invited me to the premiere of In Good Company after I’d finished working on Serenity and I wore a kilt on a dare because a friend said I’d never wear a kilt [to a premiere] so I said “to Hell with you!” and I wore it. It was very nice too. A very snappy, dressy kilt. Anyway, somebody saw a picture of me in this kilt in a magazine and showed it to a friend of hers who was working with James Gunn.
They were working on Slither and she recognized me from “Firefly” and thought I’d be good for this part in James’ movie so she passed along my name to him and he said, “Hey! He’s that Firefly guy! Yeah he’d be great!”
So I got the script, I read it and I thought it was hilarious! There are some moments in Slither that are just priceless and I knew I had to do it. So I went into Slither thinking I’m going to be the funniest thing in this movie and then I see the movie, and I realize I’m the straight man!
JB (simultaneous): You’re the straight guy!
NF: Yeah, I’m the straight man and then there’s Gregg Henry. Oh my God, Gregg Henry just ran away with the movie. Whenever Gregg Henry’s on screen, you will be screaming with laughter.
JB: And how was the shoot? What was it like working with James, this being his first film as director?
NF: You wouldn’t have been able to know [it was his first directorial effort] and here’s where my job stops and the director’s job starts.
I don’t have the same vision [as the director]. I don’t follow the same line to see how a film’s going to look and he’s got it. It’s there in his head, locked in; I don’t know how they do it. I’m working with Patrick Lussier right now and he has the same talent. Joss Whedon too. They all do!
I still don’t understand how they do it, but James had a real handle on exactly what it was that he needed to tell the story and he was walking a fine line between making a funny movie, making a comedy, and he wound up making a horror movie that’s very funny… but it’s not a comedy and that’s pretty clever.
JB: It’s a hard line to walk. Very few people can get it right.
NF: The flip side, and this is something I didn’t consider; whenever you’re reading a script and it says “EXT: night – woods” that really means you’re going to spend two months outside. At night. In the woods.
Now Vancouver in February/March is not the warmest city in Canada…
JB: I can’t imagine it would be, no…
NF: Yeah, and when you get outside of town it drops a few degrees more… and you know how the Eskimos have 200 words for snow; these Vancouverites have 200 words for rain< and we saw it all.
JB: And now you’re back in Vancouver… any “EXT: night – woods” shooting?
NF: We shot all night last night and there was a little bit of rain going on, not much but enough to make it spooky. Actually the weather’s been very cooperative for a horror movie you know. You can’t have a bright and sunny day [on a horror movie] it’s not going to play well.
JB: So having read the script for Slither and finished filming, having seen the final product now, how did it compare to what you expected in terms of the gore? I’ve seen clips and overall the talk is while it’s not necessarily gory it is incredibly gross…
NF: Well like I said, I don’t really utilize the same type of vision as a director [when I’m reading a script or during filming]. So I read it as it’s described and nothing I can picture in my head can compare to the team of however many guys there are sitting at their super high powered computers saying to themselves “you know what would be really gross?”
They’re just so anxious to make it disgusting and their attention to detail is just unheard of. But yeah it’s gross alright… I guarantee it’s gross.
JB: I’ve heard you’re actually a horror fan so I’m sure you dug it…
NF: Yes, yes I am. Jaws changed my life.
JB: Our connection is in and out; it sounded like you said “Joss” for a minute there…
NF: Joss Whedon has definitely changed my life, too! I went to LA, I was doing auditions, and I kept hearing “yeah you’re really good but we don’t know if you can carry a show” or “You’re great but we don’t know if you can lead…” But how can anyone know unless they give you the chance right? No one’s willing to let you. No one’s willing to give you that first crack, but then Joss Whedon came along and he gave me that first crack.
No one would hire me to play a villain, no one. I’d hear “You’re great, but you’re just so boy next door, so nice looking. We don’t think you could play a villain” and Joss hired me to play a villain in the last five episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, people consider me for a villain.
JB: And you were fantastic.
NF: Thank you very much. Here’s a funny story about my experience on “Buffy”. I worked on the show and when it was finished, I invited some friends who were huge “Buffy” fans to my house to watch my premiere episode and when the scene where I poked out Xander’s eye came up they got really upset and the evening took a sudden turn… they were very concerned, asking me if he was still alive, did he get a magic eye, they were not happy, to say the least.
JB: Were you a fan of “Buffy” before you worked on the show?
NF: Yes I was and you know, I also auditioned for the role of “Angel”. I told Joss about that later on and he didn’t remember so I had to explain to him that it was because I’d been weeded out long before I could have been brought before the show’s creator.
Looking back even I would have hired David Boreanaz. He really hit the nail on the head, he was perfect and you know, had I gotten that role I would never have had the opportunity to play Malcolm Reynolds and I don’t think I could live with that.
So Joss gave me a lead and now I get auditions for lead roles and I’m very, very grateful for that. It’s extremely difficult to break into movies, to be a lead in the movies and I auditioned all the time. You know I auditioned for James Gunn, well not James Gunn himself, but I auditioned for Dawn of the Dead too…
NF: Yeah. The fella who was bitten and is left behind on the dock. I auditioned for that role and they told me I read great but they didn’t think I could carry a movie, but there goes Joss again giving me another first by letting me be a lead in his movie. Now I’m working on my third [feature in a lead role].
JB: And that’s fantastic.
NF: And on top of all that he’s a really, really great guy.
JB: He’s brilliant.
NF: Yes. He’s smart, smart without making you feel otherwise and he’s very, very kind.
JB: I’m sure you’re looking forward to working with him again at some point…
NF: Absolutely. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s such a heavy drinker I think I’d be working with him right now…
JB: Ok, so what else would you consider an influential horror film?
NF: The Changeling, ever see that one?
JB: It’s excellent …
NF: Yes! And George C. Scott has this amazing, very frightening séance in that movie. The Changeling leaves a lot to your imagination. They don’t show a lot and they really play on your fears in that movie.
There’s the séance that scared the crap out of me and then to top it all off George C. Scott, all alone in this giant haunted house, which right there that’s a problem… He’s listening to a tape because he recorded the séance and he hears this ghost of the small boy that haunts the house and he rewinds and he’s going “What?! What was that?!” And he rewinds and it comes out again, but louder and every time he rewinds it, it comes out louder and my God it scared the crap out of me!
JB: And now you’re working on something that’s somewhat similar to that regarding EVP in The Light…
NF: Yes, somewhat similar. My character can see ghosts and he’s being haunted and right now, we have a number of different people on the set: a beautiful married couple, a kid playing piano, a big tattooed Harley Davidson motorcycle guy and they’re all ghosts.
What separates these ghosts from the living world is they’re all in black and white, all except this one little girl running around with a little red raincoat on and to me she’s the scariest ghost of them all. She’s three foot nothin’ and cute as can be with little blonde pigtails and she’s just peeking out from around corners, just being cute you know, not trying to be spooky. I’d say to her “Erika-Shaye I know you’re not trying to, but you’re scaring the crap out of me” because she’s got the face of a ghost and she’s spooky as Hell.
And then, just the other day, we shot a scene with a children’s choir and I realized that one of the top 10 things that scare me the most are children singing in unison.
JB: I know exactly what you mean.
NF: Children singing in unison scare me. Unison and harmony, I think harmony is definitely required.
JB: Yes, it’s a terrifying sound.
NF: “Carol of the Bells” is perhaps one of the most frightening songs ever.
JB: So how did you get involved in The Light?
NF: The people who brought me on board for The Light were the same people who brought me on board for Slither and I think that’s important. Building relationships, being pleasant in the working environment because then, your reputation will precede you. These same people knew they needed a lead for their next movie and remembered “Nathan’s a nice guy to be around, why don’t we get him to do it?”
I also believe that the director, Patrick Lussier, had come to these people and suggested me for the lead as well. They agreed and set it up and Patrick came away thinking, “that was easy” because he hadn’t realized we’d been involved with Slither previously.
Patrick and I had actually already met about 9 nine years ago when I auditioned for Dracula 2000 for the role Omar Epps wound up getting. While I didn’t get the part, Patrick was very adamant about letting me know how well my audition went. He told me it was great and that he had another role, not a lead by any means, but something he’d love me to take so I flew out to Toronto and banged out a couple scenes for the film.
JB: And what role was that in Dracula 2000?
NF: The priest. In Dracula 2000 she (Mary Van Helsing) goes to her priest whom she had a history with, and she’s telling him she’s going mad. She’s seeing this man and having these visions. She tells the priest she feels like she’s losing her soul and the priest is me.
JB: And had you and Patrick Lussier kept in touch at all?
NF: No, not even but he left an impression on me by being so supportive then, and apparently he remembered me as well.
JB: How is this sequel different from White Noise?
NF: Well I’ve seen the original and it scared the pants off me! Even though I knew the actress who played Michael Keaton’s wife, Chandra West. I’ve worked with her before and she’s a wonderful, beautiful, extremely talented actress. I knew Vancouver too. So I had this sense of “I know this is a movie, I recognize Vancouver, I even know that girl there…” but I still had to turn it off a couple times and watch Jay Leno. You ever do that?
JB: No actually, but I’ve been doing this for a long time…
NF: When I watch scary movies I tend to get riled up. I’ll think I just saw something move and realize it was just me in the mirror over there nothing to be afraid of. I’m that guy; the guy who gets really involved and wound up.
So in the first movie, Michael Keaton is listening to de-tuned televisions and radios and he’s trying to get that static. He’s trying to get messages from the dead through static and in this movie The Light, I have a near death experience which causes me to become the de-tuned receiver. So for example, you’re watching your favorite show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on television…
JB: “Firefly” actually…
NF: Oh, yes, yes, “Firefly”! So you’re watching “Firefly”, and I can see ghosts on the TV screen and I can hear things.
JB: And what do you determine you need to do? Help them? Are they a threat?
NF: Well how much do I want to spill for you? Let me see, I don’t want to spill too much… You know what I need to do is debrief myself, determine ahead of time when someone asks what the movie’s about just how much should I tell them…I’ll spill just a little more so I don’t leave you hanging.
Let’s say I’m in a crowd of people, in that crowd, I’m able to tell who’s going to die.
JB: Very interesting, I dig that…a marketable skill.
NF: The backlash of this ability is I see ghosts and that always sucks. You know, things that scare me… children singing in harmony and ghosts.
JB: Do you know what the plans are for The Light in terms of its release? Will it be in theatres?
NF: I have no idea about that but I know Slither is coming out on March 31st and I hope you’re ready.
JB: I know, I can’t wait to see it.
NF: I think you’ll enjoy it, I really do. I went to the premiere in LA last weekend and there’s always a heightened sense of excitement at a premiere and it’s great. My mom was sitting next to me and she’s not one for horror movies but she wouldn’t miss it for the world.
She was hiding her face in her hands and I was doing my best to tell her when a scary part was coming up so she could look away you know. I’d tell her “there’s a big scary thing that’s gonna appear right in the window here” but she was still having a real hard time with it.
So there were screams and there are lots of laughs. People were laughing so hard they would miss the next joke and that’s a good sign.
JB: Definitely. Is there anything coming up after The Light?
NF: I get asked the same thing whenever I go home to Edmonton to visit. I book my flight, I fly home, I go see my friends ask them “hey how you doing?!” and they go “Hey! When are you gonna come back to visit again?”
I’ve got to finish this movie before I make any more plans; I only do one movie at a time!
That wrapped up our conversation with Nathan, and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to chat with me and Creetch, as we’re both massive fans of his. Slither opens everywhere on Friday, March 31st!
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