Oh, Firefly. Has it really been ten years?
After the success of Buffy and Angel, which both had lengthy runs and continue to live on in other mediums, Joss Whedon turned his sights to the old west. Of space, that is. Firefly took the model of classic TV Westerns and put it on a spaceship, the other end of the attitude spectrum from sci-fi staples like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. For fans of the genre, it was gift from the genre Gods. For executives at Fox it was a DOA hour-long that eventually found its head on the chopping block.
But the love for Firefly disappeared, “Browncoat” fandom (as it dubbed) growing exponentially after the series hit DVD. The voice of Firefly fans was heard loud and clear by Fox, and in 2005, the studio gave Whedon the chance to make his big screen debut with the cinematic adaptation Serenity. While it wasn’t a huge box office success, the movie was a win for fans, and another log in the fire for fans of the show.
As a testament to that dedication, San Diego Comic-Con assembled the original crew of the spaceship Serenity, including Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher, and Summer Glau, along with Whedon himself, to take a look back at Firefly in honor of its 10th anniversary. With the ensemble as lively as ever, insight and one-liners were shot faster than Mal’s Taurus 85 pistol.
Creator Whedon opened things up by commenting on the crafting of his masterful series. He said, “I wanted to create something that felt real. Like history. I wanted to tell an American immigrant story. A western story. But I need spaceships or I get cranky.” Whedon then quoted his wife, who apparently had an influence in the hiring of one if the show’s producers: “Joss, you need Tim Minear on Firefly or you will never leave that set and the other shows will die. The only thing that will make Firefly work is Tim Minear. She was right. Best move I ever made.”
Whedon struggles with structure, but loves emotion, admitting, “I went in and made things sad.” The showrunner went on to profess a great deal of appreciation for his stars, recalling the “long and ghastly” audition process: “As I’ve said before, these are the finest meat puppets I’ve ever controlled. It’s hard for me because I do remember the time before these people played these parts. I remember the audition process … Then comes written history where these were the people before I wrote it. They became someone else. They were those people before they met me. Even if they hadn’t been playing them, that particular type of person. It’s so… Summer is so crazy. The amount of vulnerability and strength she can convey is beyond magnetic. I look at her and think I will come with her if I want to live.”
Whedon continued: “You have to make comprises [laughs]. Jewel makes me cry. Gina is the most badass woman I’ve ever seen. The people who are not here, my heart is breaking. I miss them so much.” Whedon then touched specifically on star Fillion: “There was never moment before the day we meant that [Nathan was] not the Captain. Nathan is the Captain. He’s around making sure people are having a great time, doing the best job. The captain of a ship and the lead in a show have a role that most actors aren’t up to. They can’t convey the enormous gravitas that this clown can. To have a man, when he looks at you and isn’t happy…we had an actor who was disrespectful to some of the female actors. They saw another side of Nathan. He gets very… Canadian.”
Fillion also expressed great admiration for his showrunner: “No one would give me a chance to be anything other than the fifth guy. Joss Whedon gave me the best character I’ve ever played.” Maher added, “What I loved about the show [is that] my first introduction to the world of Firefly came out of Joss’ mouth. All I had was that Simon speech in the pilot to go on. First thing I said to Joss was, ‘Please tell me about this world.’ Which was extraordinary. I didn’t see it as sci-fi. I like post-apocalyptic Western.”
Apparently, the team developed quite a familiarity with one another. Alan stated, “When we first started the series, Nathan came up to everyone and said, ‘we have to learn everyone’s name.'” Fillion knew them all. Quickly. “It brought us together as a family.”
Baldwin discussed his character’s iconic hat, and how it worked its way into his characterization: “One of the women in the office was a good…knitter? Knitter. She made two of these, I thought it was great, beautiful. This was the last episode we shot and I asked Tim, ‘Can I wear this throughout the episode?’ He said, ‘I don’t know…’ And I said, ‘I’m doing it. Joss isn’t here. I’m doing it.’ It was nice because I could take it off to honor Tracey’s parents at the end of the episode. I always like to have doings. Jane was a man of few words, but he always had things. I worked closely with the prop guys. This [hat] was like a birthday cake in the wasteland.”
But beyond the cast and crew, Firefly afforded these people relationships with their fans. Said Baldwin, “[We] were introduced to the online community, feedback they gave us over time, was inspirational. Upon cancelation of the show, I went to Joss’ office and…I saw determination in his eyes. But when the fan community that was interacting with us…they never gave up. Joss knew that and he never gave up either. One of the best times in my life was to see the show resurrected as a major motion picture.”
Whedon added, “I look back and think of the movie Serenity as one of the finest nervous breakdowns a man can have. I was inconsolable. It changed me. There was no reality where I didn’t get these people back together. And I really haven’t given a shit about anything since. It was like being a man. Or so I read.”
Of course, some of the cast’s memories regarding fans were delivered with less… sentiment. Fillion said to Whedon, “A woman walked up to you and just broke down into tears,” provoking the writer to reply, “I kicked her.”
One particularly sharp fan asked Whedon and the cast how the project’s conclusion, Serenity, might have differed had they known they were only going to have one season. Whedon mentioned a more fervent exploration of the Blue Sun conspiracy, and more thorough explanation of Book’s and Inara’s stories. He also admits that he wouldn’t have killed off any characters, provoking Tudyk to celebrate with a triumphant arm raise.”
But more of a victory than that admission was the feeling the cast and fans got when Whedon stated, “The way in which you have inhabited this universe, you’re living Firefly. When I see you guys, I don’t think the show is off the air.” While Firefly might have ended too soon, the love inspired for, and among, the cast and crew, lives on. Here’s hoping for just as many thrills at the eleventh anniversary!
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]