Seven years ago this week, I stepped into a room in the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills for what would become one of the most memorable experiences of my film-reviewing career.
I’d been invited to a press event for the release of Serenity, the long-awaited feature film written and directed by Joss Whedon that would give fans of the prematurely canceled television series Firefly a last, bittersweet visit to that fantastic galaxy far, far away.
I joined a small group of journalists for interviews with Joss Whedon and some of the movie’s cast. We talked about the challenges of turning a great television series into a feature film, the possibility of sequels, and more.
Excerpts from these interviews were previously published at Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine. And at various times, selected portions of the transcripts have appeared and disappeared from my blog. But here, in their entirety and all in one convenient place for the first time, are my complete transcripts.
The questions raised by other journalists have been paraphrased here. I’ve marked my own questions with asterisks.
Since Firefly fans are still trying to accept the fact that we will probably never return to that world… at least, not on television or the big screen… maybe they’d enjoy sharing what was for me the peak of my Firefly adventures.
[The first event was a conversation with Joss Whedon himself.]
How nervous are you about this movie opening?
Whedon: Wow. Starting with the hard stuff, huh? … I’m actually pretty calm. I am being medicated right now, steadily, to keep me that way. I got really nervous when I realized that ultimately I have absolutely no idea how this movie is going to do. I believe that if people see it they will like it. That is sort of my first job, and that was more or less accomplished. But I have no idea if they actually will see it. And if they don’t see it, then how can they like it?
So I panicked. And I freaked out … publicly. Proud of that! And I sort of realized, it’s out of my hands. I will do everything in my power to try and get people to see it, but there’s only so much that’s in my power. And if they don’t, what if they … how can I put this… hate it? Then that’s just what’s going to happen, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I believe in the film. I loved making it. I love what we came up with. I’m proud of all my actors. That’s going to have to sustain me. That’s me now. Talk to me on the morning of the 30th when I’m hiding in the bathtub with a hat on.
*I can’t think of any other series where the fans, when they talk about it, spend more time talking about the quality of the writing than anything else. For the writers who admire your work, would you share some of your favorite tips on writing dialogue, what to do, what not to do? What is it that makes the dialogue in Serenity snap?
Whedon: Part of it was getting to invent the language, which came from a lot of different influences. The movie has that sort of genre-mix feeling and era-mix. And once I had, it reads like a kind of poetry. It’s very easy to write, it rolls of the tongue in a way that nothing I’ve ever written before does.
But in terms of advice… or, my dark secrets? The most important thing to me is finding everybody’s voice very specifically. I build shows and movies on what I refer to as “the Golden Girls model,” which is, very simply, everybody’s gotta come from a different place, so that everybody’s reaction to something is different and equally valid and equally fun.
Never having anybody say anything that isn’t the next thing they’d say, that isn’t their point of view, that isn’t their perspective… that’s where the humor comes from. Jayne’s perspective on the situation will be different than everybody else’s, and when he speaks, that makes it funny. But at the same time, that’s what makes it valid.
If a line is just a setup for somebody else to be funny, it’s disingenuous to the character and to the actor portraying them.
That’s the biggest thing for me—everybody, and that includes the Second Thug From Left, has perspective that they bring with them to the piece. And they don’t all have to be eloquent about it in a sort of obnoxious, proto-Tarantino way of “everybody speaks volumes.” (I think he’s done that very well, but I’ve seen the bad version.) But just respecting everybody, and knowing that the whole point of any dialogue is that it’s two people with completely different points of view trying to find a space in the middle. That’s where the conflict comes from, that’s where the humor comes from, that’s where the humanity comes from. That’s the biggest thing for me.
And I think it’s also what makes people respond to all the characters—they’re all very present, all of the time.
There are so many central characters in Firefly that you introduced over the course of the series. Here, you have a two-hour movie, and yet you have the same large cast of characters. What were the challenges you faced because of the change in format?
Whedon: The challenge was to get everybody in there.
Obviously on a TV show, you need a bunch of “peeps” if you want to create internal conflict and it’s not just a sort of “Problem of the Week” kind of show.
And then, when I was given the opportunity to make a movie of this, yes, all of a sudden I had nine characters. And that’s a lot of people to put in a movie.
But ultimately, what it gave me was the chance to have a kind of a Platoon feeling… the band as this great big group of people [where] you can focus on who you want to.
Obviously, on a show you’re going to give everybody equal time to an extent, and you’re going to make sure that everybody’s [developed.] In a film, you’re going to say, “Okay, Mal is the hero, he’s the guy we have to be watching. We come in through River–she’s kind of his proxy. It’s … about how she affects him and how they help each other.’ (That doesn’t mean, however, that anyone is expendable.) You make sure that everybody’s perspective brings something different to the movie, and everybody’s physicality, their actions, and what they’re useful for….
A lot of movies center around one character, and maybe two others, that are defined, and then everybody else fades into the distance. For some films that’s very useful. But because I wanted this sort of chaotic “everything-is-happening-at-once” feeling of being on that ship, and being in this world, having a large cast is useful because they all bring so much texture to it. Hopefully it isn’t confusing, but it means it’s very lively and it’s very lived-in.
Do you have ideas for the sequel, if you get to make a sequel?
Whedon: It’s very sweet to mention the word ‘sequel.’ Obviously that’s the way my brain works. It continues to tell stories.
I’ve written sequels in my head for movies that other people made… all the time. I had a great idea for The Fly 2 before they made The Fly 2, and I never told anybody about it. But it was really cool!
It’s inevitable that I do that. And of course, I love this universe. I love these people. I would jump at the chance to do it again.
But I couldn’t think about that while I was making it because, ultimately, you have to make [this one.]
Everyone kept saying, ‘You’re making a trilogy?’ ‘No, it’s just a film.’ ‘So… a trilogy?’ ‘Just the one!’ It’s a trilogy if you make two that are so good there’s a third.
That was the only thing I could think about. I had to NOT think about where it came from—the series—or think about where it may go—a franchise—and just make this one thing an experience worth having. The rest will either fall in place or it won’t. If you focus on that, you’re a dead man.
Now that I’ve finished it and I’ve started to market it, I think about it all the time. But I don’t tell anybody that. Except just now.
Tell us about working with Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Whedon: Chiwetel is extraordinary, and I gave him a really tough job because the operative is self-proclaimed, and very specifically, undefined. Because he refuses to let himself be defined. He doesn’t consider himself a person. He considers himself less than that.
I wanted to create a villain who was more an antagonist than just a villain. Again, if you don’t believe the perspective of the person, then they become just a plot device. The idea of having somebody completely idealistic and dedicated to decency and nobility as my villain, and somebody who’s self-involved and cut-off and a criminal as my hero, that’s kind of basically what my film’s about. Only our messy, repulsive humanity can save us from the deadly notion of perfection.
Chiwetel came in, and the reason particularly that I hired him was them big ol’ eyes. He’s just so soulful. He brings such a sense of “decent disappointment” at how things have worked out in the world and the people around him. He doesn’t play anything arch at all. He understood completely what this guy was, that he was a decent man who was actually a serial killer and doesn’t really understand himself that well. He played it.
And there were times that we had to shoot it more than one way because we didn’t know how much we wanted him to telegraph the aggression that’s actually in this guy that allows him to be so good at killing people… and how much we wanted to let him subsume himself and be quiet and decent… and when is the moment when he’s going to sort of take over?
Like when he’s in with Dr. Matthias… there’s a long time where he’s being kind of obsequious, and [saying] “This is your space, it’s your world, I’m just living in it.’ And then there’s another moment where he takes over.
And that is somethin that we played with a lot, so he didn’t come off as having no energy, but he didn’t come off as… you know… a moustache-twirler. I could never have written that. And Chiwetel is so sympathetic… He could play that. He has. He can play anything. But he’s definitely the right person to play someone who is full of unbelief.
Talk about the challenges of opening it up from a series to a film, and how did you make it accessible to people who haven’t seen the Firefly series.
Whedon: Ultimately, that’s certainly the hardest job that I ever had. It’s a question of opening it up and a question of closing it down.
Opening it up in the sense of, ‘We need a gigantic epic story that is not the kind of thing these people usually get involved in in the TV series, which is more mundane. You need a reason for this to be a movie, a big… well, big for me anyway…. budget movie. And a Universal film, in particular. An action movie that has to work on a certain scale.
That’s the opening. The closing comes in making sure it is accessible to everybody, that you explain everybody as much as you need to, explain the world as much as you need to, that you begin and you end… that you have an arc for the characters, as well as a plot that has a question and an answer.
Oftentimes I’ve said, once or twice already, that the difference between movies and TV shows is TV shows are a question and movies are an answer.
In this we had to have a definitive statement about freedom and humanity, and what we need and what we should be allowed to have as people… which is all of our flaws. And then I answer that and make a definitive statement, and put a period… or hopefully an exclamation point on that… as opposed to just sort of pursuing the question for years with the TV show.
Firefly has been a TV show, comic books, and now a film. What’s your preference?
Whedon: They definitely all have different strengths. Firefly and Serenity are really two different animals, and that’s very deliberate on my part because if they weren’t, I’m making a glorified episode of a television show and I have no business wasting Universal’s money.
I spent the bulk of the writing, the bulk of the editing, just trying to make it work for people who don’t know the series.
But the movies give you a chance to do something extraordinary, epic, and realize … whatever insane vision you might have… and turn a ballerina into a martial arts star, which is always a good thing to do with your time if you can.
TV gives you an opportunity to explore things on a smaller level, which was very gratifying. It’s a different thing. I miss it. I miss Firefly because Serenity is not Firefly… which was deliberate.
But the great thing was that the TV show was deliberately small in scope, [like] the people within it. And the movie is deliberately an epic filled with small people.
And that’s the kind of story I like to tell… the story of when people who have no business being in an epic get caught up in one… how do they react? Do they fold, or do they fight?
The film answers many questions raised in the television show. Are these answers the same things we would have seen if the television show had continued? Or did you change the conclusions because of the limitations of the film?
Whedon: Very little was changed for the movie. Obviously things were dropped. Obviously and most importantly things were distilled into a fine two-hour liqueur instead of a more watered-down longer version.
Yes, that was where I was going with the idea of River and her secret and the Reavers and theirs, and how it all connected. I had planned to get there in a couple of years instead of in a couple of hours.
But apart from not being able to service all of these subplots for all of these different people, that is exactly where I was going. Which made that the easy part—structuring it. Pitching it was, ‘This is where this series was building to, and I think if you took this as a separate story, it is an epic story and it has a great deal of meaning for today.’
Do you take suggestions from the fans for character development or the stories?
Legally speaking, no. [laughs]
They seldom will actually pitch things. I use them as a barometer of what it is they respond to, who it is they’re responding to. ‘Oh, they’re not responding to this character. Let’s go find out what’s inside this character and makes them tick… And open them up so that they do.’ Stuff like that.
Also because the series is not ongoing, people aren’t going ‘Oh, you can do this and you can do that.’ If they haven’t seen the series, they’re not going to tell me what to do. If they have seen it, some of them may criticize some of the things that I did. But generally speaking , they’re just going, ‘That was fun!’
*In the conversation between Shepherd Book and Mal, you raise interesting issues about faith and God. That shouldn’t surprise us, since other sci-fi epics like The Matrix and Star Wars dealt rather obviously with spiritual questions and conflicts. But in the overarching story of Firefly, is there something besides the social and political themes, something spiritual you’re trying to bring across through this story?
Whedon: I think we all have different takes on it, we all have different things to say about spirituality. [Star Wars and The Matrix] used more deliberate religious iconography because they’re coming from that mythic place in a way that, I would say, Buffy did. But Firefly and Serenity don’t.
Again, to come back to the question and the answer – in Firefly there was a conflict between Mal and the Shepherd that was deliberate, which was that Mal is an atheist and he’s beyond that… kind of faithless. He doesn’t trust people. He doesn’t really think of anything as a greater good. Even though he has a moral code himself, he can’t really admit or understand it. Shepherd Book is very clear on his faith, and there was a conflict between the two of them that was supposed to be ongoing throughout the series.
Obviously, the movie being more about answers, I had one definitive statement to make, which was simply [that] the power of belief, the power of something greater than yourself doesn’t necessarily have to mean religion.
Shepherd Book himself says that. He doesn’t say, ‘Find God.’ He says, ‘Find your way.’
Shepherd Book obviously believes in God. He believes that God is a part of what’s going on. Mal doesn’t, but Shepherd doesn’t judge him for that. He says, ‘The point is not whether or not you believe what I believe. The point is that you don’t believe in anything. And it’s killing you. And it’s tearing your crew apart. And it’s making you do stupid things.’
The word ‘belief’ comes into the film a lot for that reason. It’s a simple act of subsuming yourself to the idea of something that is great. Believing that there is something worth structuring your life around that will direct your moral decisions, and sometimes [help] you make harder decisions… that is important. What that belief is… is not.
Is your leadership style Mal’s leadership style?
Whedon: Yes and no. To an extent my interest in Mal as a leader was built partially [by] my years of running shows and seeing that dynamic from a different point of view.
The seventh season of Buffy was similar to that respect. It had a lot to do with the pitfalls of being a leader.
What’s interesting to me about that concept is the ‘removed’ sort of monstrosity who doesn’t accept the responsibility of being a leader. Because ultimately, when you’re in the service of something greater, or even just when you’re in the position of having to make the decisions for everybody, you are removed from them. It’s interesting to me because it requires a toughness that is almost dehumanizing, and when he does take up the mantle, that’s when he starts to become really dangerous.
To an extent, the Operative embodies that too. Belief is dangerous, and a leader has to have that very strongly. Even if the only thing he’s trying to do is keep these people alive… their welfare, even if it’s paramount to him… he’s going to do things are either horrific or even incomprehensible to them. I find that fascinating.
For some reason my leadership style is a little more abrasive, and for some reason a little less handsome.
How’s your progress on the Wonder Woman film?
Whedon: I’m just writing it. I’m having the time of my life. And no, it’s not cast.
Who would win in a fight? River or Buffy?
Whedon: Wow, nobody’s ever asked me that, and I’m shocked!
Ultimately, I can’t say. I’m going to have to watch. Buffy’s got the super strength, but River’s got all kinds of crazy training. She’s not a super hero in the same way, but she’s very focused. It’s tough. It’s a smack-down. Be there.
[Here’s a transcript of a press conference with Nathan Fillion (Malcolm Reynolds), Gina Torres (Zoe), and Morena Baccarin (Inara). They were almost in character, with their sharp banter, their obvious affection for one another, and outfits that resembled their characters’ styles quite closely.]
What was it like going back? Was it like a déjà vu experience?
Gina: [In a sultry tone.] It was good for me. [laughs] It was déjà vu. I think we all had different experiences about going onto the ship… the ship set…
Morena: What?! It’s not a real ship? Wait a second! Wait a second!
Gina: No! I just found that out! … It was the same but it was different. It was bigger in some places and smaller in others, and it went up in other places. But there was definitely … “redemption” is a word that Adam Baldwin likes to use.
Morena: It felt like we hadn’t left, too. It was a little different. It was a little like coming into your living room when your mom rearranged all the furniture. Things aren’t where they were, but you’re still home. And it felt like we picked up right where we left off, sort of.
Gina: Absolutely. Just seeing each other was great. Although we never really stopped seeing each other.
Nathan: We never stopped seeing each other, but you know what actually was good? Seeing the characters again. [turns to Gina] Seeing you guys in your outfits again… [turns to Morena] Your outfits too! For me, that was good.
Gina: [to Nathan] Focus!
How much time passed between the cancellation of the show and the making of the movie?
All: Two years.
Nathan: Joss kept the spirit up, saying you guys would be back. But was there ever a time when you felt like you’d never come back to it?
Gina: The day that we were canceled. [laughs]
Nathan: Joss had that plan of finding it another home. He said, “I’ll find it another home.’ And I said… [laughing in a very unconvincing way] Hey, that’s really great! That’s a wonderful thing to say! It’s really dead, isn’t it?! … I wasn’t prepared to fall in love with Firefly the way I did. And I wasn’t prepared for Firefly to dump me the way it did…
Gina: Like a cold, crustry whore. We got dumped.
Nathan: I wasn’t prepared to have that hope and say, “Maybe, maybe…”
Gina: You didn’t want to get dumped again.
Nathan: Well, I didn’t want to set myself up for another depression and gain 20 pounds sitting around my house, knock on wood…
Gina: Not that that happened.
How much did you have to practice or work out to get back into character?
Morena: Well, I had a lot of sex.
[laughter all around]
Gina: God bless you.
Morena: I had to say it. It’s a whore thing.
Nathan: [Hard] to get back into character? No. Certainly, the TV series was a process because we had time to learn the character.
Gina: But we had seven months of just learning each other, and falling in love, and falling into these people and getting to know each other.
Nathan: Feeling each other out, so to speak.
Gina: And by the time we got back, these relationships were already established. And I know, for me, it was just about getting into those damn pants.
Morena: It wasn’t the gun?
Gina: No, no, that old friend, no.
Are you all signed on for sequels?
Morena: Yes. Two more.
Nathan: You are?
Gina: Next question!
What was it like working with Summer Glau?
Nathan: [joking] She was unprepared. She was unprofessional…
Gina: That’s not fair. She’s not here to defend herself.
Nathan: … but she was flexible.
Morena: She’s so sweet, it’s hard to say those things about her even jokingly.
Gina: We all just wanted to take care of Summer in our own way. [She then adopts a low, sexy tone…] And some ways are kind of illegal.
But we don’t talk about that.
Nathan: Not in this state!
Gina: She’s adorable and she’s sweet and she just wanted so much to do a great job. So, how do you not support that?
*The zeal that your fans show recalls what happened over the years with Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Matrix. With Star Wars, people tap into the spiritual conflict, good versus evil, the light and dark side of the Force. With The Matrix, there’s the whole idea of waking up to reality, and realizing you’ve been deceived about the way of the world. What is it about Firefly and Serenity that resonates so intensely in the minds and hearts of your fans? Why are they so enthusiastic and so drawn in?
Nathan: I think it’s the same reason that I’m drawn to it—the people. These characters. I am invested. I’ve spent time with them, I’ve learned about them. I’ve hung out with them. I’ve learned about them through their choices and the decisions that they make… and I’m invested in these people. I like them. They’re flawed. They’re not all perfect… except for Malcolm Reynolds… and I’m invested. I think people are inviested. That’s Joss’s gift.
Morena: You can relate to something with each of the characters. I’ve been watching them recently [turns to Zoe and Nathan]—and you guys are great, by the way.
Gina: You too.
Morena: You didn’t have to say that.
Gina: Yes I kinda did.
Morena: I think what was drawing me to it again and again was the stories… they’re stories that you want to be told. They’re not just relative to that universe. They symbolize something. I think that the style of Joss’s writing is so grand and stylized, and it’s sort of Shakespearean. These peoples plights are extremely accessible. And I think that’s what draws me in as a human being.
*Can you say more about what that plight is, or what it is that the series is telling people that they want to be told?
Morena: Each character has their own, it seems.
Gina: I think unlike The Matrix and the Star Wars series where you have a very heightened reality, and black and white is very clear, and the lines are definitively drawn. You fall into it because you want to aspire to the grandness of these heroes that are put in front of you. …
… We’re just regular people in extraordinary circumstances, and that in turn can be more inspiring, because you think that these people, as jacked up as they are in these circumstances, with all of these issues and unpreparedness, can meet these tasks and actually survive them and learn something from them and get past it and live another day, then I can too. …
… And as Morena said, we all go about it—each character goes about it—differently. And so there’s always an opportunity for you to see yourself in whoever you see yourself and how they come to these tasks and get past them.
Morena: And they’re each discovering things about themselves that they didn’t know were there, and that’s what’s interesting to watch. [turns to Nathan] Your heart. You’re discovering in some of the episodes with Summer … you’re discovering that Malcolm Reynolds has his vulnerable side … he has something he cares about. You may not think so.
Nathan: I do. These are nobodies. I don’t have very much in common with Jedi Knights. I have a good deal in common with nobodies.
Going to comic conventions and meeting the fans… can you picture yourself in 20 years coming back and doing a spoof of all of this?
Nathan: [doing his best William Shatner impression] “Get a life! Have you ever kissed a girl?!” …
… Did you see Trekkies, that documentary on Trekkies? There are people out there who are fanatical. And I prefer to use the entire term. They’re fanatics. I find Serenity fans to be thoughtful… pretty intelligent people. They’re really wonderful. My experiences have been really positive. And I can say this about the fans—we all have one thing in common. We’re all in love with the same damn show. If they think they’re fans, they’ve got nothin’ on me. I’m a fan.
How much do you find your own personalities in your characters?
Gina: I think it would be a much more interesting question if we answered about each other.
Nathan: You do me!
Gina: I think what Malcolm and Nathan have in common is that ultimately they do want to do the right thing, no matter what they put you through on the way to the right thing… and you kinda have to love them for it. They both do have a great moral streak that runs through them, and it’s endearing and it’s wonderful.
Morena: But there’s something about Nathan that doesn’t have that dark [streak.] There’s something about Malcolm Reynolds that’s a fallen man.
Morena: Maybe you do. Are you a fallen man?
Gina: If you’ve ever seen him play Halo, he’s a whole other person.
Nathan: Both of you, very classy, very sexy. [Morena,] you are a little more on the demure side, whereas, Gina, I know you are not to be crossed.
Gina: Oh! [Surprised, and maybe a little pleased]
Nathan: You’re a force to reckoned with, aren’t you? You know you are. You don’t lose your cool. You never lose your cool.
[Gina is laughing.]
Nathan: You are not to be crossed.
Morena: But she sure likes to play like she’s not going to do anything, and she’s shy about it, but yeah… it’s true.
Nathan: Remember when I wanted something taken care of, and I called you? Somebody called me and said, ‘Nate, can you get this taken care of and I said ‘Sure.’ I called you?’
Morena: But you know, Gina’s a lot more feminine and ‘girlier’ for lack of a better term.
Gina: That’s true. Thank you.
What was different now that you were doing a movie, with a bigger budget? What were you required to do differently for the film?
Morena: I had to do archery, which was very cool. I really took to it, actually. I remember that when we were shooting, that scene came where I’m supposed to shoot one of the Reavers with an arrow. [And they were like,] “Alright, let’s clear the set! Only people here that need to be here! Everybody put on goggles!” All of the camera guys have these hard hats on. Everybody’s freaking out. And they gave me an X to hit. And every time I hit that X.
Gina: That’s right. You got good at it almost immediately.
Gina: It was pretty straightforward from series to movie. Zoe still has that gun. She’s still right by this guy’s side.
Nathan: Malcolm was allowed to be a little darker than the series allowed him to be. In the series, we experienced a little pressure to make him… [puts on a shiny, happy voice] more likeable! And nicer! Let’s make him funnier! Let’s give the show more action!
Morena: Jazz hands! [laughing]
Nathan: And Mary Parent at Universal, she had the faith in Joss’s vision to say, ‘Do it how you want it to be done.’ So we were allowed to make Malcolm a little darker than he he was. And it made a lot of sense. And in the time that passed since the series, before the movie, events have happened that have made him a little more bitter. If there’s one thing Malcolm finds easy to express, it’s bitterness and anger. He’s comfortable there.
And what was it like coming to the script wondering if Mal and Inara would finally hook up?
Nathan: You mean behind the scenes?
Morena: [laughs, rolls her eyes]
Nathan: Remember “Moonlighting”? As soon as [David and Maddie] hooked up, poof! It was over.
Morena: Who knows where this relationship is going…
Nathan: If I had my druthers, if we ever hook up… I hope it’s on my death bed.
Morena: [looking shocked] You don’t want to kiss me do you?
Nathan: [wide-eyed,surprised, even exasperated] I do! But… not for the sake of the show!
Morena: Good answer!
How did you find out that the movie was going to happen?
Gina: Joss called.
Nathan: Yeah, Joss called. He kept us informed every step of the way. “They look like they might be interested… they’re talking about it in a nice way…” He kept us very up to date.
Gina: It was like… a splinter. A nice splinter. But an annoying splinter in your hand. It was there. You couldn’t always see it, but you could feel it. Regardless of what job came along for us as actors… for the two years that we waited for this to happen, it was always, “Oh my God, if I get this and Serenity pulls through, will I be able to do the movie or the series? Do I want the series to go? Do I want the pilot to die because this movie might happen?” It was this relief, actually. We could finally breathe.
Nathan: You’ve got nine actors with nine different lives and jobs… and all of us to want to come back! I think it speaks for how special the piece is.
Did the movie give you enough closure for storylines that had been left unfinished in the series?
Nathan: There’s a number of issues we introduced in the series that never got to play out. One of them would be the mystery of Inara: What is she running from? Why is she there? Another would be Shepherd Book. What’s his history? His past? Another that we did get to deal with… River’s connection to the Alliance, and why they wanted her back so bad.
What is Joss like as a director?
Nathan: He [gives us] a very comfortable working atmosphere. He makes it difficult to fail, even when I do. He makes it easy. He’s very self-deprecating.
We all poke fun at each other. There’s no pride involved. We’re all there for a good time. We all trust each other. Makes it easy to get out there and risk it. To try something new and to risk it whether it works or not. You’re in a safe environment to exercise this craft. It makes for a really smooth place to work. Joss creates that.
Has Joss told anyone what would happen in a Serenity sequel?
Nathan: He’s told me, but I’m not allowed to tell anybody. [Nods to Morena.] Not even you.
Morena: It’s because you die.
Nathan: I asked Joss, when he was writing the script… he said “I finished the script!” “That’s great. Read me the first line and the last line.” And he says, “The first line is ‘It was like this…’ and the last line is ‘Boy, it was weird how Mal died in the first act.’
[Laughter all around.]
You and Joss seem to have a similar fun but kinda geeky sense of humor.
Nathan: My mom always says to me, ‘Nathan, you’re really dorky. You’re very much a geek through and through. You’re advantage is you look mainstream.’ [laughter]. I’m gonna agree with that.
I had an addiction to comic books when I was a kid. Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, The Avengers, Fantastic Four. My folks just sent me a picture of them camping with my nieces and my nieces had this mandarin orange crate, the same one I used to keep my comic books in and they’re there reading my comic books. I recognize the covers.
Morena: Being around Nathan and Joss, you kind of step back and watch them go at it. It’s really funny.
Gina: And nobody is safe. You think there’s a compliment coming, then it goes around the corner and gets hit by a truck, and then maybe reaches you all mangled… and by then, it doesn’t sound so much like a compliment anymore. It just sounds like, ‘Just get on the set.’
Here’s a transcript of a press conference with Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Summer Glau (River), Sean Maher (Simon), and Jewel Staite (Kaylee).
Summer, did your experience as a dancer help you with all of the fight scenes and the stunts you had to do?
Summer: It did help me, because I was used to the training every day, going to the gym and working out all day. Doing lots of different types of training. But really it’s completely different muscle memory. I had to completely retrain my body. It took three months, all day, every day.
Adam: And it worked!
Besides the quality, what was the biggest difference between doing Firefly the show and Serenity the movie?
Jewel: I think it was the time factor. We spent so much more time on the movie than on the series. We [could] do a three-page scene all day long if we wanted to, and that was nice.
[On the television show,] if we had … twelve hours, that was it, and in those twelve hours we had eight or nine pages to shoot. On the movie, I felt like we had this personal time, we could stop, we could talk about the characters, we could talk about the vibe of the scene, what we were going for…
Adam: We had two weeks of rehearsal before we started filming, and I think we focused a lot on the main dialogue scenes early on. But we also focused on that “mule chase” scene, because we had two weeks of exterior work on location that we had to get in [during] those two weeks to stay on budget and on time. The weather cooperated and we were able to get all that stuff in. … Once we got to the studio and the controlled atmosphere on the sound stages, we were home free. It felt like we were right back workshopping our little TV show on these gigantic Universal sound stages. It was just great.
Sean: I agree, the time was a big thing. We obviously had a lot more time to tell a story than we did we when we were doing the series. But to me it felt so similar to the show. Everything just felt a little more spectacular, a little grander. There was a wonderful feeling of redemption, because we’ve come back with these people, this great reunion, and there was a wonderful energy…
Jewel: …and a sort of closure too. Because when we got canceled, it all happened very quickly. I’m from Canada, I’m from Vancouver, so I packed up my stuff and went home, and I felt like there was no closure whatsoever. So when it was decided and we were green-lit to do the movie, and we saw each other again, and we were able to play these characters one more time, it felt nice… very gratifying.
Adam: An important aspect of that is that we felt, and I think the fan base felt, that [with the TV show] we were kinda under the gun from the get-go. Our ratings were low. Everyone knew our ratings were low. And we needed to figure out some way to push them up, and never did. We got canceled. But the cancellation all happened really quick. It was like, ‘Okay, you’re done, go home.’ But Joss immediately asked for the show and the rights to Firefly to make it somewhere else. They tried to sell it to other TV networks and they didn’t bite.
But over time he was able to get Universal and Mary Parent’s attention, and they agreed to make the film. But Joss never gave up. Joss never gave up quote/end-quote “fighting for the future.”
It was very hard for all of us and devastating emotionally. [turns to the other actors] I don’t know about you guys, but I never felt like Joss gave up. I never felt that this was where we would end up until Joss gave up and said, “I can’t do it anymore.” And he never did.
So, while we miss our show, you’re right that we have closure, whatever happens to the movie.
What’s the one thing you wish your characters could do that they haven’t done yet?
Adam: Needlepoint. Little girlie things.
*You could make Jayne hats!
Jewel: I think Kaylee needs to have a baby.
Sean: I agree. …
…Shouldn’t Jayne come out of the closet…?
Adam: [scowling intently]
Sean: … and admit his love for Mal?
Adam: Joss will disagree with this, but my subtext was that Jayne had a crush on Inara and that was sort of his driving energy. And Joss was always like, “No! Wrong! Adam, he does not.” “Yes he does.” …
… What would I like to see happen? I’d like to see Kaylee have a baby.
Sean: We’re always talking about how we want new characters to come on the show, to come on the set. And if, God willing, the story continues, who joins the crew?
Adam: I think we should meet Jayne’s parents. That would be fun.
Jewel: You know what really bugs me is Mal and Inara. Their tension… I want them to kiss and get together and get it over-with. Those characters are so incredibly stubborn that no matter what they can’t admit how they feel about the other person. And that’s definitely the story arc that I would like to see come to some sort of conclusion.
Sean, you got to do more action scenes in this film. Did you like that?
Sean: Yes. And, we never got to answer [those last questions] but, yeah, it was very gratifying to see [Simon] get a little rougher around the edges, and… you know, he’s got an incredible gift for medicine… mesh the two.
Did you all get firearms training?
Jewel: Quite a bit. Yes. They made me shoot everything, from this big to THIS big. This one gun was so incredibly funny. You remember?
Sean: [laughing] I remember that!
Jewel: I was like the biggest geek in the world. I was leaning back, it was so heavy. I thought I would be cute that day, and I wore shorts and a tank top, and every time I would shoot the gun it would sort of ricochet and I would get little burns on my legs. It wasn’t super fun. It was crazy.
Adam: I thought it was fun.
Sean: It’s scary how fun it can be.
Adam: [grinning] I’ve been comfortable with weapons for years. …
… I think [in] our training, they weren’t exactly sure who was shooting what. They just had us get familiar with every [weapon] that could possibly go in the script. A lot of firing.
Summer, how many of the stunts did you do?
Summer: It’s all me. There were two dangerous stunts that they wouldn’t let me do. One, falling down the stairs, that was just two risky. One other flip, one that my stunt double ended up getting hurt doing, and I felt terrible. But everything else, those swords, all of the blade weapons I did myself, all of the guns I did myself… the daggers. Joss wanted it to look real. And I felt it. I punched everything.
Can you comment on Joss’s constant use of gallows humor and morbid jokes?
Adam: I keep going back to Jayne being a practical guy. What do you do in the face of mortal peril? You either panic and cry and crap your pants, or you make a joke and try to survive. If Jayne can’t run anymore than trying to fight… yeah. Joss wrote the lines for me. So, I don’t know. It’s a great device for that character… the false bravado and then, back-to-the-wall, you turn and fight, whatever choice you have…
Is Joss really precious with his dialogue? Does he let you make suggestions and revisions?
Summer: He’s pretty specific. It’s like poetry.
Adam: He’s open to any good suggestion. It’s just that his standards are very high. So to get there you have to have to come up with a very good idea or alteration. He was not completely inflexible. But he’s got it so completely formed on the page for you in his mind and in his vision. …
… And again, we had two weeks of rehearsal to suss out all the problems, so by the time we were actually shooting, it was just go go go… It was great. There were no real stumbling blocks.
Sean: Specifically with Firefly and Serenity—I don’t know how it was with Buffy or Angel—there was such a specific way that these characters speak, such a clear rhythm.
Was it hard to learn how to speak the Chinese lines?
Sean: It was a piece of cake. I got none, so it was a piece of cake.
Summer: It was hard for me to make it emotional. I had this one really emotional scene where I had to do Chinese, and I just felt ridiculous.
Adam: “It damaged my calm.”
Sean: I think that the hardest thing about Chinese is that they’re these phrases, it’s not just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It’s just these chunks of phrases that the other actors would have to stumble with …
Adam: But it’s just great that he would have to figure out these phrases like ‘the explosive diarrhea of an elephant’ and translate it into Chinese, and you get to go and say that. Well, terrific!
Did you have any input on your costumes?
Jewel: I think the costumes were very specific too. I lucked out. I got to wear this comfy jumpsuit for the entire movie. It was great! I think Ruth really knew what she was doing. She had a specific vision and she had it all planned out when I arrived.
Summer: [I got] to fight in a dress. I kept the boots.
Have you had any interesting or memorable encounters with fans?
Jewel: We’ve been going to these science fiction conventions. [wide-eyed] That’s been really interesting.
Adam: We’ve had a lot of interaction with the fans. They’ve been most supportive from the get-go. I think it gets back to this underdog story of us struggling to get back on the air. The people that are going along for the ride have been very helpful in keeping us there. I know that the DVD sales are very important to Universal’s decision. I don’t know if it was the ultimate decision-making device or reason, but it was very important, and we very much appreciate how much the fans have helped with our return to the screen.
Jewel: I’m not sure we’d be here if we didn’t have such an amazing dedicated following.
Adam: They make us shirts and they make us trinkets.
Summer: They dress up like us.
Jewel: They sing our songs. They quote our lines. I don’t even remember my lines.
Sean: This past summer there were a bunch of secret screenings with fans that we all attended. And watching the movie with fans is just an experience in itself. There’s really nothing like it. They’re incredibly loyal and …
Jewel: Excited. And smart too.
Adam: But you get this huge cross-section of demographics, young and old, men and women. Left and right. Everyone. They love the writing, they love the characters. They just love the show. It’s amazing.
What’s the strangest experience you’ve had with a fan?
Jewel: I had a fan come up to me who was so sweet, and I guess just quite nervous, and he farted.
Adam: Nice gift.
Jewel: It was audible.
Jewel: And I felt so bad. And I know he felt really bad. And we both pretended like it wasn’t happening. And we took a picture with each other and he walked away.
Adam: There have been a lot of useful gifts, though, like t-shirts. And you actually get stationary with logos, and they use a lot of…
[We’re interrupted by a journalist’s cel phone ringing… which is, of course, the Firefly theme song… making the stars laugh, delighted.]
Adam: … the ringer on the gentleman’s phone is a Firefly theme song. Hey, join the club!
I can’t remember exactly the line that Joss gave in Edinborough. It was about how his struggle to get this movie made was to utilize the fuel of love, as opposed to the fuel of anger or vindictiveness, because that fuel doesn’t keep you going.
[to the other actors] Do you remember him saying that? It was beautiful. Anger is not an efficient fuel. Love is. Basically I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what his intent was. But it’s true. So the love that we get for the show, for the characters, for Joss’s writing … a lot of that you see in the energy when you watch the show. I love the show. I love the movie. It’s great.
In the meantime, what do you guys have coming up?
Adam: I was just on a show called The Inside that’s just been canceled. So, I’m back pounding the pavement. And then I’ve been working on Serenity and then The Poseidon Adventure. I’m a little tired. We’ll find something. It’s kind of a busy time. Fingers crossed. My manager’s in the back. What’s next, Steven?
I play the younger, better-looking version of Ernest Borgnine. The character’s name is Rogo.
Summer: I just got back from Romania. I finished an independent there. It’s called Mammoth. It’s a sci-fi comedy. It was so much fun. It’s going to be released on the Sci-Fi Channel. It was fun for me because it was sci-fi, but it was completely different. I’m used to playing really serious, sad characters. This was fun for me to get to do action. It’s a really different character.
Sean: I have an independent film called Living Until the End, coming out on October 21st, and then [I’m in an episode of] The Ghost Whisperer. I’m a ghost. It was a lot of fun.
Jewel: I did Stargate: Atlantis. I don’t know if I’m going to go back. It’s possible that I could go back for a totally different role… I was in very heavy prosthetics for the first one. Other than that, there are things floating around, but I want to do something that’s like completely the opposite, like a light romantic comedy. Maybe a musical at some point. I’m open to being challenged.
Are you able to separate out Serenity and Firefly as two separate things?
Adam: It definitely stands on its own.
Sean: It stands on its own, but it also embodies everything that the show had.
Jewel: I’m hoping people will see the movie and say, ‘Wow, that was really interesting.’ And then, ‘Oh, it was a show? And then buy the boxed set.’
Adam: The boxed set is a really cool package. They put it together really well. But that was our fifteen episodes… what was that? … six or seven months of “workshopping the movie.” People can go and revisit “the workshop.” …
… Could I just say in closing… thank you for being there. Because this is a labor of love for us. We hope for the best for it. You actually being here shows that you care about the show too. Thank you for taking your time for this.
Thanks for posting this. FIREFLY was such a perfect storm of cast and writing.
I love Whedon’s observation that TV is more about questions and movies are more about answers. Not that films can’t take their time to ask questions and leave the audience to wrestle with them. A television series can take it’s time unfolding the wonders of its story, much like a novel. Films, genre films in particular, don’t have that kind of luxury. When someone like Whedon gets that, a show like Firefly can make the jump to the big screen with success. I recently saw Shyamalan’s THE LAST AIRBENDER, and Shyamalan didn’t appear to have the same grip on Whedon’s insights.
Awesome interview, thanks for posting it!