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

Nov. 08, 2012 | 2:33 p.m.
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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)

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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)

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

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

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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”?

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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


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

  1. Ken E. Switzer says:

    So weird that I've only just discovered Serenity, and now Firefly, but then I always did do things a bit backwards. Better late than never! Phenomenal, the whole ensemble cast but I love the Kaylee character, I can so relate. A sunny and optimistic disposition in the face of the kind of worst-case-scenario-searching mentality that becomes second nature when caring for mechanical objects with their own personality that will make your day lousy or kill you if they fail… the best kind of hi-tech mechanic! And a very cute Vancouver girl to boot! Sorry I'll miss that anniversary programme,

  2. Lenny From Brooklyn says:

    I recently discovered Firefly by accident on Netflix. I hardly watch TV because shows like this are so rare. This show is really good. I love the action and the gunplay. I like the characters and especially like the well written stories (a bit dark, which is great!). I hope it can somehow rise from the ashes.

    In support of the show I just ordered the FIrefly and Serenity Blue Ray set off Amazon. Good art needs to be supported. This is a 10 star show that should have never went away!

    BTW. Jewel Statie is HOT.

  3. Ana says:

    The reunion at Comic Con was in Ballroom 20! I know, I stood in line all night!

  4. Crow says:

    Firefly is great stuff. I remember staying for two weeks at a place called Old Hall in the 80's, a rambling building on the UK East Coast, and Serenity reminds me of that, a place that is as much a character as the people there, everything holding together in an unlikely but secure and independent way. It's not right that something that good gets made to stop. Probably doesn't, either. Not many shows could work if someone with big money and airtime to offer came along and said do it again, but Firefly might, it seems the people in it would be ready if that happened, any time someone with the wit to make it happen decided to give it a go. With history as good as it has behind it, what's to lose? I'd watch. I never watch TV, but I'd buy DVD's to see this, no matter how many there may be. More to the point, there's something about the show that had me watching it for a third time recently, and the details never tire or lack for realism, which is amazing given that it might have seemed impossible to do that before the fact. It's never to late to fly again if you can fly at all.

  5. jim says:

    I guess the network didn't understand the $$$$$$$$$ to be had by space westerns … I know of one short lived show that keeps on trekking!

  6. Alex says:

    I love firefly, and it's weird because Kaylee was by far my favorite character. She had so much depth to her, and Jewel did a great job conveying that. Who by the way I've had a schoolboy crush on since Firefly, I just saw her in Supernatural and I yelled out, "KAYLEE!" LOL! :-)

    I miss that show, wish you the best of luck Jewel with your career. <3

  7. amac says:

    firefly the train job game

  8. betyangelo says:

    I'm a late Firefly fan too, and I hate teevee shows! But I watch Firefly over and over, finishing up with the movie and then begin again, it's the only thing I like to watch. It takes weeks to go through, I don't have a lot of time for entertainment. But all of it is devoted to what I feel is a matchless gift of art entertainment from Joss Whedon. Thank you all for what you created.

  9. ArchPilgrim says:

    Always one step behind here, too, as I also found it on Netflix about a year ago. Wasn't sure if I liked it right at first, but after the characters developed, the action and interaction sucked me in. Got the DVDs and just placed an advance order for the new Dark Horse comic coming out as well. This is actually my 2nd favorite discontinued series that I discovered after the fact, as the winner is still Jericho.

    God help those 'smarter than us' execs who cancelled either one of these series if I meet them in a dark alley….. ;D

  10. Ron says:

    Best T.V. series every made. Still waiting for season 2!

  11. CWolfe says:

    I was just introduced to Firefly and the movie Serenity. The series was viewed on a Sci-Fi Channel in Indianapolis. I just loved it. In fact I'm a fan of Castle, where Nathan Fillion stars and decided to search any roles he starred in prior to Castle. Once I discovered our western sci-fi, I haven't discontinued watching it for weeks at a time. My son just called me this evening that he read a bloc
    where Netflix may pick up Serenity. If you do, Netflix, I will immediately sign up for a Netflix account. My one son let me watch Firefly through his X-Box 2 and my other source was through his Nextflix via his Wi U. So please make a decision, because I purchased Firefly from Target and just ordered
    Serenity from Amazon.

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