Sundance Interview: Nathan Fillion on Waitress and Firefly!
January 30, 2007
Alex Billington from FirstShowing.net and Nathan Fillion at Sundance.
In between seeing 31 movies at the Sundance Film Festival, one of which was Waitress co-starring Nathan Fillion, I took a few minutes to sit down with Nathan and fire away some questions about Waitress, 'Firefly', and his Sundance experience. Read on for the full transcript of the downloadable audio version.
You can find my Sundance review of Waitress right here.
Length: 20:06 | File Size: 13.8MB | Format: MP3
FirstShowing: Is this your first time at Sundance?
Nathan Fillion: My first Sundance, here's what I've learned - if you don't make your dinner reservations 3 months in advance, you're not eating. Not much room for spontaneity in a town this crowded.
FS: It's packed on Main Street, I'll tell you that. Are you enjoying it here?
NF: I'm having a great time, and that's another thing about Sundance. It is packed, but everybody here is excited. Everybody here is either connected or invested in a movie one way or another, or an event, or something having to do with the festival. There's a heightened sense of excitement here. You can tell when someone's walking in the street, if you see a celebrity it's like, 'I can tell his movie's done really well because he's happy as a clam.' And you usually see a lot of people that you're fans of. I'm a Canadian, I'm a kid from Edmonton [Canada], I was going to be a high school teacher, here I am walking around Sundance and meeting all sorts of folks of whom I'm a huge fan. I'm having a great time.
FS: What was your reaction when you first heard that Waitress was going to premiere here?
NF: I was ecstatic of course, I was very, very excited - however we found out that we were accepted right after we found out that [director/writer] Adrienne Shelly had passed. So, everything that's been very, very positive and very, very exciting and everything that's given us cause to celebrate, at the same time is a bit of a pang about if only Adrienne could be here to share it with us and be excited with us.
FS: So do you think its paying homage to her to be able to show it here and hear crowd reactions?
NF: You know what, this is a beautiful movie, it's a really sweet movie. I read it and I thought 'this is great, I'd really love to be part of this movie.' Then I heard about the cast that was going to be involved and I'm fans and I'm thinking, 'I need to be in this movie, and if I get that chance, I'll be happy.' And there I am, you know you do the best job you can. But from the [script] to the cast, you can't put that together and say 'I know what this movie's going to be like, I can tell what it's going to be like.' So seeing the movie for first time yesterday, I was amazed, because I wasn't around for any of the process. I forced them to show me a couple scenes when I had to go do my looping. I'm amazed, proud, very, very excited about how well it's done. And of course I think it becomes a little more important that it does well and that more people see it simply because now it's become a legacy.
FS: I truly loved it, I have to say. I was astounded by it, I didn't know what to expect going in and honestly I loved it.
NF: Thank you for that. Cheryl Hines I thought was so frickin' great. Keri Russell - you have this woman that has no love in her heart anymore, there's no love in her life, in her environment. Nothing intimate - not that she's unlikable, not that she's, 'feel sorry for me, I'm sad.' She was just so… she had a dry heart. Jeremy Sisto - one of these things where, I understand he's the bad guy, I understand I'm supposed to hate him, and I do. But then as the movie goes on, because of what Jeremy's doing, I don't hate him. I feel sorry for this guy, I pity this man, I have sympathy for this idiot. He's got no clue. It hit me on a lot of levels. And even seeing Adrienne in there - I thought it would be a lot harder watching the movie than it was, because I was taken, I was transported, I had to see these characters. I think also by virtue that I hadn't seen the movie yet. I wanted to see how it ended. Until right at the very end the little walking into the sunset, that struck a chord with me. It had extra meaning, so to speak.
FS: Speaking on the ending, do you know why your character didn't come back and try again and again to get with Keri's character?
NF: As soon as Keri's character has her child, she has an epiphany, she takes control. In that instant, everything changes. She looks at her husband and says 'you're out' and there's no mistaking it, he's out. In a kinder way, she said the same thing to me, 'you're out.' This is not something where you're going to try and change her mind, she's making a fresh start.
FS: Did Adrienne have a doctor like you that she modeled your character after, given that she wrote this off of her own experiences.
NF: I don't know - you know, I have no idea. I hope she didn't!
FS: Well I was just thinking about that when they were talking about that this is all modeled after her own life. And I'm thinking, did she have a doctor like that or?
NF: I think more so what they were talking about, and I was talking with Cheryl Hines about this, she was saying how it's unapologetic as far as a pregnant woman. You get this idea 'oh, I'm pregnant, it's so wonderful, I'm so happy, I can't believe it, it's going to be great, it's wonderful!' rather than 'I'm really scared, I'm really tired, this thing, it doesn't feel good.' There's a lot of fears, and a lot uncomfortability, if that's a word, that goes along with being pregnant. And she just basically said so, she's speaking those fears, she's saying everything out loud, and without apology.
FS: There were a lot of scenes where you and Keri [Russell] went 'all out, making out.' Were you at all nervous going into these?
NF: This is Keri Russell we're talking about, so, are you asking me, did I watch 'Felicity', did I have a crush on her for the better part of 10 years? Yes, but, what's important is - I made out with Keri Russell. She's a wonderful lady, number one, and an amazing actress, very, very talented. All you can hope for is when you have a scene such as this is that everybody's going to be cool, and you can trust these people. You're just there to tell a story and try to tell it as best you can.
And Keri Russell, God bless her, she made every effort to make me - cause that stuff makes me kinda tense too, just try not to sweat - but she made every effort to make me comfortable, and everything we did was just 'let's just go for it.' Wouldn't it be better if we just jumped on the desk, I think we have to use the stirrups, I mean, why wouldn't you if you were in the doctor's office, why wouldn't you use the stirrups. It can be very awkward, these things, you think, yea you get to go make out… this is a stranger to me, this is not my idea of the greatest time in the world as far as - 'I'm not nervous at all!' But then you get to work with wonderful people that are interested in telling the story, and that's part of it. I'm blessed to have been able to work with Keri Russell and on top of that for her being as wonderful as she is.
Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion in a scene from Waitress.
FS: This is another funny question, did you actually learn to make pies or get to make any pies when you were filming?
NF: I was making a little bit of a pie and I kept getting in trouble ’cause I kept sticking my finger in the melted chocolate. You've got lots of food around you and it's just sitting there. These guys are sitting in the back and they're just making it in nice little piles and it looks good - it's not looking good by accident. And they set it down there and it all has to be the same for every scene and when you walk in and throw a couple of those blackberries in your mouth, they're going 'erp, got to go put two back.' And they're checking their Polaroid, making sure they're set in the right way. So I get into a lot of trouble for that, the chocolate though you couldn't really tell that I was fingering it.
FS: What's been your motivation for taking on more romantic roles as opposed to action-intense roles?
NF: People ask me that - your choice of roles. I don't have 4 or 5 projects in front of me and an offer on every one saying 'what one would you like to do?' Things come along one at a time. You either say, as far as, this really doesn't interest me, or, I'll do anything to be a part of this, just tell me what I got to do - let me help tell this story, let me have a piece of the pie, so to speak.
What draws me to roles, I think, are moments - moments that define character, where so much more of the story is told in just a moment - a look, a line, a short scene, but something that speaks a volume, something that speaks to me. Whether that be action roles - great, I get to do that, that's wonderful. I get to have a good time, I get to shoot guns, I get to run around with space monsters, let's go, I'll do that! Come and tell this wonderful story about this awkward but sweet love affair, OK! There's a challenge in that, there's a challenge in beating up space slugs, and there's a challenge in having this passionate yet awkward love affair. I choose roles based on moments and based on challenges. And based on the story, not based on 'now I think I'll do romance.'
FS: You always have very well defined characters, you just mentioned that - do you do research, back research beyond the script, to really get a more well-rounded character.
NF: I've heard other people saying this, too. There's one fella I heard saying 'you can never pretend to be someone else, you're always just being a piece of you. You can only act pieces of you.' I think there's truth to that. What would I be like if I were cold and bitter and heartless? What would that do to me? I've had very positive, wonderful experiences; my parents are still married, I was never at a loss for food, or shoes, or anything like that. I was always well taken care of, and well loved, I've had a very positive life. It becomes an intellectual exercise: what would I be like if that were different, how would that effect me, what would you be thinking about inside, how would you feel about yourself, what kind of self image would you have? I've been going on so long now I forgot your question…
FS: It was just back research beyond the script…
NF: What I do is I often go to, who does this character make me think of. There was an audition I did for this cowboy, this country guy, who, nothing phased him. He was always this kind of dry, he never raised his voice, never talked just above a whisper. He said how he felt, but always in kind of a poetic manner, but a tough, tough guy who seemed to be able to handle whatever life threw at him. And he was thrown into some really extreme situations.
And I thought to myself, one of my best friends grew up on a ranch in Texas with his grandfather, and told a story about how they were having to castrate bulls. You put ’em into a pen, you close this gate behind ’em, you do the castration, and then you send them off on the other side. Open up the gate, throw another one in there, he's closing up the gate, the bull kicks, the gate between the post, he has his thumb in there, and it severs his thumb, so when he takes off his glove his thumb is hanging from just a little bit of flesh. And he goes, 'well, we got 6 more to do' so he just tries to jam it all back into the glove so he can continue doing his work. This is a man who's not phased by the adversity that might be brought on by losing your thumb - the ability to grip an object, didn't occur to him as much as just finishing the job at hand, we got 6 more to go. You think about characters that you know of that you can kind of draw on. If there's something technical for sure, you'd have to do some research.
FS: I was going to ask, do you think fans of 'Firefly' or even fans of Slither and your very differing roles would ever have a chance of being interested in Waitress?
NF: They better be - or they're no fans of mine!
FS: Certainly true! That's one of the things I loved about Waitress - seeing you in such great roles, you can take any position, whether it's romantic, whether it's horror, whether it's action.
NF: Thank you for that. I'll say I've learned this: comedy is hard, drama is easier. And so much relies on who you're working with. I've been so fortunate in that I've been able to work with people where… getting into character is really not a problem when there are people around you looking at you and talking to you like you are that character. It's pretty easy in that way. Because I can rely on the talent around me, which I do it heavily Alex, I'm not going to lie to you. And I've been fortunate enough to be able to work with such amazing actresses and actors, I've been very fortunate.
FS: How is it going from TV to film and vice versa, because I know you have a couple roles in TV and film. Which do you prefer more?
NF: I'll tell you the difference. Films seem to take their sweet time. In a day you might get 3 pages [of the script] shot. In a television program - on Thursday we did 13 pages. It was a good day, but you have to move. You're making a 44 minute film, but you've only got 8 days to do it. Rather than you're making a 120 minute film and you've got 3 months. And that's just for shooting. It's a colossal difference in the amount of time that you invest. Television has the advantage though, whereas a movie will start and then the movie is over. Television has the advantage, and if you're fortunate enough to have a series that runs for any length of time, which I almost have [laughs] had that fortune. Your characters develop so much, you get to know your character so well, and not only yours but others in the same program. And usually on movies the food is better.
FS: Which do you prefer working on?
FS: Whatever's got the better script, whatever's got the better cast?
NF: Regardless of how fast we go, what I do is always the same. What I look for as far as an enjoyment factor is the people you're with all the time, the crew. These are really hardworking guys and girls that they get there before I do, they leave there after I do, and they work a whole lot harder, and they don't get any credit. Well, their names run at the bottom of the screen at the end of a television program now you're watching a commercial on half the screen and they're going to squish the credits over to the other half and whip them past. That's not enough credit for all the work that they do. These are wonderful people that you're going to spend every day with. So that's number one, the people you work with, and the actors and actresses of course. I have jobs that I've preferred more than others simply because I've gotten to meet and make friends with great people. I've pulled at least one very close friend from every project I've done with the exception of 'Firefly', where I pulled all of them - they're all my friends.
FS: I hate to jump to 'Firefly'.
NF: Don't hate to! Don't be a hater!
FS: I'm a huge fan. Do you know if there are any updates on it, anything happening?
FS: Are you working on voicing anyone from the video game that they're working on?
NF: I've heard that there's going to be that multiplayer online thing, but no one's knocking on my door to come do the voice of Malcolm Reynolds. I'm thinking, 'who would they cast then?'
FS: Yea, who are they going to fill you with?! They can't! I know they've been talking about it and they were saying they weren't going to include any main characters because everyone would want to play you or someone from it and it would just be a battle of who gets to play who, so they were trying to not use main characters, I'm not sure what it is, but I just wanted to see.
NF: Here's what I think they should do, I think they should do just that. Here's the 'Firefly' universe, you can pick who you want to be, be whoever you like, but you can't people these people who already exist. There's this universe, you can't be Badger, you can't be Constance, you can't be the Firefly crew. But then, occasionally we get to come into whatever computer center they use, or I guess they could do it at your home with internet, and just you get to come on - we get to jump on as Serenity, we get to visit some place as the Firefly crew, see what happens, hope no one kills us.
FS: Just a quick last question, you are working on White Noise 2?
NF: We wrapped it up, it's all done.
FS: Is there anything else that you're working on?
FS: And that's all that you got in the works right now?
NF: Sorry, that's all!
FS: Well, I love seeing you on screen!
NF: A Sundance movie, major motion picture, and a television show, that's all I got.
FS: Well that's cool.
NF: Cheers Alex!
Thanks to Nathan Fillion and the publicists at Sundance for this wonderful opportunity! And make sure to go see Waitress when it opens in wide release sometime this year.