Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond ‘Castle’

Nov. 08, 2011 | 9:13 a.m.
onelifetolive Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Nathan Fillion as Joey Buchanan and Gina Tognoni as Kelly Cramer in "One Life to Live." (ABC)

saving private ryan Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion played Private James Frederick Ryan, "The Minnesota Ryan" who is confused with the titular character in the Steven Spielberg's 1998 Oscar-winning war film "Saving Private Ryan." (DreamWorks)

two guys and a girl picture Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion was a regular character on "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place," playing Johnny Donnelly, a jukebox repairman and love interest for the girl in the trio. (ABC)

buffy Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Fillion played Caleb, a creepy preacher and right-hand man to the First Evil. (Michael Yarish / UPN / 20th Century Fox)

firefly2 Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion came into his own as the iconic, no-nonsense Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon's short-lived space-Western television series "Firefly." (Michael Lavine / Fox)

serenity Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Alan Tudyk, left, Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres reprised their "Firefly" roles in "Serenity," a big-screen sequel to the canceled show. (Sidney Baldwin / Universal Studios)

slither Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion, center, played Sheriff Bill Pardy in the genre-bending horror comedy film "Slither." (Chris Helcermanas-Benge / Universal Pictures)

waitress Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Nathan Fillion was able to show a softer side as Keri Russell's doctor and lover in "Waitress." (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

drive Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion returned to the small screen in "Drive," another quickly-canceled Fox show from a "Buffy" alumnus, this time Tim Minear. (Carin Baer / Fox)

desperatehousewives Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion spent some time on Wisteria Lane, playing Adam Mayfair, Katherine's (Dana Delany) gynecologist husband. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times and ABC)

drhorrible Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion acted opposite Neil Patrick Harris in "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," playing Capt. Hammer, Dr. Horrible's arrogant, nearly-invulnerable archenemy. (New Video Group)

halo3odst Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion provided the voice and likeness for Gunnery Sgt. Edward Buck in the video game expansion Halo 3: Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. He reprised the role in Halo: Reach. (Bungie / Microsoft)

emeraldknights Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion lent his voice to the DC hero Hal Jordan in "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights" (Warner Home Video)

castle Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Fillion plays a mystery writer who shadows a detective to cure his writer's block as the title character in "Castle." (Matt Kennedy / ABC)

portrait2 Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Nathan Fillion in the loft on the set of "Castle" on March 17, 2011. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

If you settle for 20th century definitions, Nathan Fillion is a prime-time television star – after all, his Monday night series “Castle” is cruising through its fourth sly season on ABC with more than 13 million viewers a week. But in this pop-culture era of digital tribes it’s really not fair to limit his celebrity with that sort of remote-control thinking.

These are the days of compartmentalized fame and there are few better examples than Fillion, who is able to able to anchor a popular network series even as he puts together a dynamic resume of cult-audience projects, be they beautiful misfires (Joss Whedon’s “Firefly”), bold misfits (James Gunn’s “Super”), experimental farce (Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog”) or cosmic cartoons (he returns to the role of Green Lantern in the upcoming animated movie “Justice League: Doom”).

“When I go to a sci-fi convention, oh God, it’s the closest thing to being a rock star I will ever know in this life,” Fillion said over a coffee with an expression of rapturous deadpan. “I want to be a rock star, don’t you? It’s a good thing to be, a rock star.”

When you have won over cults as diverse as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Desperate Housewives” fans, for instance, you walk away with a special sort of celebrity. More than a million people follow Fillion on Twitter, and this past Valentine’s Day, readers of Entertainment Weekly voted his character, the charming boor Richard Castle, as the TV male they would most like to date.

It all adds up to a curious career odyssey for Fillion, who was raised by two English teachers in Canada and was himself on a path to become a high school teacher when his Edmonton theater work led in 1994 to a role on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” After a Daytime Emmy nomination, the soap job led to Los Angeles sitcom work on “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” (which starred Ryan Reynolds, that other Canadian who wears a Green Lantern ring) and a brief but memorable role in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (playing a namesake for Matt Damon’s title character).

firefly2 Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Nathan Fillion, center, played Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon's television series "Firefly." (Michael Lavine / Fox)

Fillion also landed the role of Caleb on the final season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a key early moment in his collaboration with Whedon. Fillion was Whedon’s leading man in the star-crossed sci-fi western series “Firefly” in 2002-03 and its feature-film sequel, “Serenity,” in 2005, and every few months there’s an industry rumor or a fan campaign calling for the franchise to saddle up again.

To the constituencies of Comic-Con International, Fillion feels like a homegrown superstar and he is acutely aware of his need to foster that part of his career. Last month, a “Castle” graphic novel (written by fan favorite Brian Michael Bendis) hit stores and also popped up as a carefully placed prop in a recent episode of the series. Fillion knows that “Castle” viewers who tune in to watch him and co-star Stana Katic solve murders represent a very different demographic than Comic-Con, but he says the line between mainstream sensibilities and genre tastes is narrowing.

“It’s so great in Hollywood now,” he said. “You have people past 40 sitting and talking about serious stuff, writing and making movies and TV, but there’s laser pistols and superheroes and alien monsters involved.  It’s viable and mainstream. There’s a treasure trove of story, and film and television are dying for story, and comic books are like storyboards, and with special effect what can’t you do now?”

The 40-year-old Fillion longs to be in a big-budget sci-fi or superhero feature film but by no means is he overlooking the value of “Castle,” which started off as a big-city send-up of “Murder, She Wrote” and has morphed into a “Moonlighting” informed by “Law & Order” and “Bones.” The show is enjoying its best numbers ever right now.

nathanfillion castle Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond Castle

Nathan Fillion, left, plays the show's title character, mystery novelist Richard Castle, in the ABC series "Castle." (Patrick Harbron / ABC)

Like Hugh Laurie on “House,” Fillion clearly adores the cranky possibilities of playing a self-possessed scoundrel.

“I read him and immediately thought, ‘What a great time this would be to play him because he’s a kind of a jackass,’ ” Fillion said. “He’s doing his own thing, he’s selfish, he’s vain, he’s got all these character flaws. All of that I knew right away. What I didn’t know was how the mother and daughter relationship would humanize him. He’s not in control there, he doesn’t know how to be a dad and he gets humiliated a lot — that reduces him to something very basic that people can sympathize with.”

Fillion is never shy about mocking himself and that, according to Whedon, is the secret of his success.

“Nathan is a dork,” Whedon said. “He’s handsome, hilarious, a classic raconteur and a caring, considerate guy. But it’s his dorkiness, and his delight in it, that make it all more than charm. No one is more ready to poke fun at Nathan than Nathan. Except me.”

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Nathan Fillion in the loft on the set of "Castle." (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

What’s next? Fillion is back with Whedon for the role of Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing,” a modern adaptation of the Shakespeare shot in black-and-white over 12 days in Santa Monica that earned cast members “hilariously miniature paychecks,” according to the press release. The film will be ready for the festival circuit on the other side of spring. It’s just another cult moment in a career oddly defined by fandom and fizzles.

“There were so many projects that I just loved — and that a lot of people loved — but they didn’t fly,” Fillion said. “You’re doing so many projects and then one makes it. And then you sit back and look at it and try to figure out why. Was it the timing or the mood? Is this what people were ready for at that moment? So many projects I’ve done fell short that I didn’t even imagine what it would be like to have a show reach Season Four. I’ve had the greatest time with the failures but this is OK, too.”

— Geoff Boucher

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33 Responses to Nathan Fillion, a pop culture king beyond ‘Castle’

  1. tsktsk says:

    Cute article, only…

  2. Luke says:

    The show, BtVS, was before Firefly, of course. But, if you mean Nathan's first project with Joss Whedon was Firefly, you're absolutely right. Joss cast him in Buffy after FF was cancelled. Great interview.

  3. NFHoldingTwine says:

    I wouldn't even know who he is if not for The Bloggess.

  4. MIchael Giltz says:

    Ah, fans, they only comment when they can make a correction! Saves money on a fact-checking department. Great article on a terrific actor.

  5. Browncoatsrule says:

    NF is undeniably the coolest guy on tv! But what I would love to see is him dressed in green, telling Sinestro, "that's not gonna work for me"! Great article, and BTW, HE makes being a DORK COOLl!

  6. Gilda says:

    This guy is my favorite actor on tv right now. I'm really enjoying Castle and the fact that the creator of the show has said that they're not going to drag out the will they/won't they romance end of things.

    Having Castle and Beckett end up together isn't a bad thing at all. Their characters compliment each other very well, and the chemistry is loads of fun.

  7. dakota says:

    He is simply delicious!

  8. Lew Fournier says:

    Stana Katic, by the way, is also a Canadian.

  9. A Fan says:

    Nathan Drake!

  10. Larry says:

    Fillion also starred in the late Adrienne Shelly's wonderful movie Waitress.

  11. S_Wiebe says:

    I have to say that Firefly should in no way be described as a misfire – the only misfire was Fox's handling of the show.

    And speaking of y cult movies, let's not forget Slither, James gunn's affectionate poke at alien invasion movies [among a host of other things…].

  12. just another fan says:

    What makes NF a hero is the respect he gives to those around him from fans to colleagues. My favorite story is about what he did for the Firefly fans that got cheated out of their festival. He and Alan Tudyc are to be commended.

  13. Sophie says:

    OMG was Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place one hilarious show. Except it may have been called Two Guys and a Girl by the time Nathan Fillion came along. Ryan Reynolds has never been funnier than that show which was zany. Everybody else, including Nathan, were also funny.

  14. Pam says:

    Nathan has a large loyal fan fase because he has always been charming with his fans, from the old canceled Firefly ones to the Castle ones now. He is a class act.
    And then add that he is a great actor in a great show. He is very funny and very charismatic. I say he is the hottest property on Monday nights. ABC is lucky to have him.
    He has been voted by his fans into the People's Choice awards nominees list as a Favorite TV actor in a drama and Castle is in the TV Crime series category.
    You go Nathan !!!!

  15. gibbelin says:

    Never ever thought I could have a celebrity crush, but this dude here is IT! He's just awesome all the way through, from top to bottom. I keep expecting to hear something not that awesome about him, but I never do. He ALWAYS delivers – on screen, in the interviews, in YT ComicCon videos, on Twitter, or in some word-of-the-mouth story about his random acts of awesome. Seriously, he is the only celeb I know of, about whom people care as if he is a brother or a real life friend or smth. I mean people who are never fannish about anything, like my 67 y.o. dad who says that Nathan is inspiring to him, or my professor, who is so snarky and dry witted you'd think he might just self-ignite one of these days, but has a giant soft spot for Nathan Fillion of all people and mocks himself because of it with relish and abandon. So yeah, I kind of love him too if you're still reading and have doubts.

  16. PMC says:

    Class Act! Good interview.

  17. Amanda H. says:

    He is a great guy and the show is fantastic.
    He is one of the actors that has been able to go from role to role with fans following him into new projects.
    He and Castle r very popular. Woman love this guy, LOL
    I was so happy to see him and Castle in the People's Choice Nominees List. Only the best ones get here.

  18. Kayla says:

    I'm with ya, gibbelin. I'm a huge fan of Castle, Firefly, and Nathan Fillion in general. That man is like walking sex. He's the whole package. Kindness, legit awesomeness, sexyness, and just all around good-guyness. Vote for him for the People's Choice Awards!!

  19. Malena says:

    Good article. I'm very happy that Nathan is enjoying so much success with 'Castle". It's a great, fun show that -like Nathan himself- doesn't take itself too seriously. That's part of what makes both Nathan and "Castle" so appealing.

  20. corwin says:

    I have a giant size man-crush on this dude. Not even sorry

  21. gordon says:

    Can't wait for Much Ado coming out! I love Nate in Castle (never thought I'm gonna watch a procedural, but I tried for him and it worked), but I really miss seeing him in other roles, being awesome and different. So I'm super stoked about him playing Dogberry – one of my fav comedic characters in all of Shakespear. More movies with Nathan Fillion!

  22. FanGirl says:

    Love these recent photos of Nathan on the Castle's Loft Set

  23. ffe says:

    Don't forget, he had a cameo on Guild

  24. Anika says:

    I just adore him so, so much. It all started with Captain Tightpants, naturally, but he's such a great guy and so appreciative of his fans that it earns him so many more points. He's someone who really deserves all of his success.

    – Anika

  25. godoW says:

    Happy for those who love Castle. I quite liked 1 and a half seasons, struggled through the previous one and dropped it now. Castle is an awesome character and whole cast has great chemistry, but show itself – writing, directing etc – is sub par and only gets more predictable and clished as the time goes. Now they even dropped the humor and fancy themselves some kind of NCIS or something.. Dunno, my opinion.
    Anyway, if I want to see Nathan Fillion being Nathan Fillion I would rather watch his interviews on YouTube, not Castle. Can't wait for this dreg to end, hope he will score some other, cooler projects after that. Awesome article BTW, sorry if I offended Castle lovers

  26. crouch says:

    Nice little aside from Joss there, hehe. They are a hoot of cosmic proportions together, even better then Tudyk-Fillion and that's saying something

  27. SHIRLEY says:


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