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November 08, 2012

‘Firefly’: Jewel Staite calls Whedon show ‘the one that got away’

Posted in: TV

Jewel Staite played the ship's mechanic Kaylee Frye in Joss Whedon's short-lived sci-fi western TV series "Firefly." She reprised the role for the feature film "Serenity." (20th Century Fox)

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), left, and Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite) face off as Zoe (Gina Torres) and "Wash" (Alan Tudyk) look on in "Serenity." (Universal Studios)

Jewel Staite, center, plays Raquel Westbrook in "The L.A. Complex." (Darren Michaels / Epitome Pictures)

Jonathan Patrick Moore, left, and Jewel Staite in "The L.A. Complex." (Darren Michaels / Epitome Pictures)

Cast members and writers of "Firefly" discuss the show on its 10th anniversary. (Science Channel)

If Nathan Fillion’s rough-and-tumble Capt. Malcolm Reynolds was the leader of Serenity in Joss Whedon’s short-lived television series “Firefly,” Jewel Staite’s mechanic Kaylee Frye was the ship’s (and the show’s) heart. Staite, Fillion and the rest of the Serenity crew are back on the air together for “Firefly: Browncoats Unite,” a Science Channel special commemorating the show’s 10th anniversary. The one-hour special features a roundtable discussion with cast members Fillion, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher, and writers Tim Minear and Jose Molina, as well as separate interviews with Staite, Gina Torres and Morena Baccarin. The special also includes footage from this summer’s “Firefly” reunion at Comic-Con International’s Hall H, during which the cast members reflected on the show’s premature cancellation a decade ago and subsequent second life on the big screen. The special airs Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT following an all-day “Firefly” marathon on Science Channel. Hero Complex’s Noelene Clark caught up with Staite to talk about “Firefly,” “Serenity,” Whedon and what’s next.

HC: Can you tell us a bit about your audition process? What were your first impressions of the rest of the cast?

JS: I was living in Vancouver when “Firefly” was first being cast. My agent gave me a breakdown of all the characters in the show and said there was a request from casting in L.A. for me to put myself on tape for the role of Kaylee. I thought I was more of a River than anything, but I did it anyway, never thinking it would even be seen by Joss. A couple of weeks later I got a call asking me to hop on a plane for a network screen test the next day. Everything happened really fast. As soon as I was done with my screen test, they called to let me know the part was mine. I met the cast for the first time during a read-through of the pilot. Something we’ve always all agreed on is how fast we clicked. It’s rare you get nine actors together and have everyone bond as strongly and as quickly as we all did. They’re honestly like a second family to me.

HC: You talk a little about that in the Science documentary, specifically about the relationship Kaylee shares with Jayne. Why does the whole crew work so well together?

JS: They’re incredibly different people from very different backgrounds and walks of life. They’ve been shoved into this living situation and forced to deal with each other as best they can, and in the process, they end up bonding over a lot of intense and life-threatening situations. With most of them, there’s a trust there that when it comes down to it, they’ll look out for each other. They’re a reluctant family, and the best part is seeing them grow to love each other whether they want to or not.

HC: Kaylee is smart and tough and, at the same time, feminine and sensual. How did you develop that character?

JS: I wish I could take more credit for developing it, but the truth is Joss had a very direct and well-rounded vision of all of the characters in the show. He had a specific person in mind for each of them, and I think I just got lucky enough to fit the criteria. My favorite part about her was the juxtaposition between femininity and being one of the guys, the kind of girl who has a fascination with machines but at the same time would kill to put on a dress and go out to a fancy restaurant. She’s also incredibly trusting and so honest, and that kind of honesty is really fun to play.

HC: You’ve done quite a lot of work in the sci-fi genre. Would you say you’re a sci-fi fan?

JS: I’ve never been a particular fan of any genre. I’ve just always loved really good projects. The things that draw me into a new project have very little to do with genre and have more to do with the characters I’ll be playing, the people I’ll get to work with, and things like that. The sci-fi genre just happens to have a lot of really great characters for women.

HC: How does your experience with “Firefly” compare to your experience with “Stargate: Atlantis”?

Jewel Staite portrayed Dr. Jennifer Keller in “Stargate: Atlantis.” (MGM)

JS: I had an amazing time on “Stargate: Atlantis,” and a really great run on that show, which was shot in my hometown. It was kind of a dream job. But “Firefly” will always have a special little spot in my heart as kind of “the one that got away.” I have nothing but great memories from that show, but it’s all very bittersweet because it ended so early.

HC: Why do you think “Firefly” garners such devoted fans? What is it about this world?

JS: I think the thing that hooked people initially was strangely enough the abrupt finality of it all. It was this really well fleshed-out world with all of these crazy back stories that were just getting revealed, and then all of a sudden that was it. The thing I hear the most is how devastated people are when they get to the last episode in the season and realize that there isn’t anything left to watch.

HC: What’s the most common question or comment you receive from fans?

JS: Everybody wants to know if there’s going to be a sequel to the movie. I get asked that question probably once every 48 hours, literally. I had a customs officer ask me that when I was crossing the border. It doesn’t help that Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion are always dropping these hints in the press that it may happen.

HC: It’s kind of unbelievable that there’s a TV special and a reunion event and people camping out overnight at conventions for a show that got canceled 10 years ago. What’s it like, to keep coming back to a universe you had to leave so long ago?

JS: Surreal. Always will be. Every time we do these big panels at these conventions, I’m always amazed at how many people turn up to hear us tell the same stories and the same jokes again. I know we love going, just because we get to see each other again and feel the magic of all of that all over again. I’ll never get tired of talking about “Firefly.” It did so many things for me, both personally and professionally. It was one of the best times in my life, and I think the fans can sense that from us as a cast, and they reciprocate that feeling and vice versa. It’s a nice little circle to be in.

HC: What are you working on, and what do you have coming up?

JS: I just wrapped Season 2 of “The L.A. Complex,” and we’re waiting to hear about a Season 3. I have a couple of other projects in development that I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a chance to do while I’m on hiatus, but for the most part, I’m going to find a beach and stay there  for a while. And no, we’re not filming “Serenity 2″ on a beach.

– Noelene Clark
Twitter.com/@NoeleneClark

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