Canadian-born Nathan Filion is on the road to Hollywood stardom as he takes on the lead in the often darkly comic horror film Slither, slimily heading to a cinema near you. Born on March 27, 1971 and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Nathan is the youngest son in a family of English teachers. than attended the University of Alberta and planned to follow in his family’s footsteps and was one semester short of graduation when he won the role of the charming Joey Buchanan on the ABC soap One Life to Live, and moved to New York City.
In addition to One Life to Live, Nathan also made appearances in several other ABC productions, including the made-for-TV movie Ordeal in the Arctic (1993) and as a series regular, Johnny Donnely, in Two Guys and a Girl (1998). In 2002, he won the lead role of war-hardened Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds on the short-lived series, Firefly, a Joss Whedon creation. His work on Firefly also led to the role of preacher-gone-wrong and ‘big bad’, Caleb, in the last season of Whedon’ s Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Aside from his success in the States, Nathan has appeared in a number of Canadian productions, including the television movie, Strange and Rich (1994), theatrical performances in Edmonton’s Fringe Theatre Festivals, where he was originally discovered, and he participated in Theatre sports as a member of Rapidfire Theatre, an Edmonton theatre company. He also appeared in Die Nasty, a soap opera spoof-improv performed at a local Edmonton theatre.
Nathan’s recent work includes the filming of Serenity, the big-screen sequel to Firefly, which premiered Sept 30, 2005. His latest film is Slither, a horror film from James Gunn of Dawn of the Dead fame. Most recently, Nathan finished filming a romantic comedy in L.A. titled Waitress, and stars opposite Kerri Russell. Waitress is the story of a pregnant, unhappily married waitress in the deep south who meets and falls into an unlikely relationship with a newcomer to her town as a last attempt at happiness. The actor is also currently shooting White Noise 2. Fillion talked to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: Now when you decide to take on a horror film, what kinds of reservations do you have before you decide to say yes to something like this?
Nathan: Excellent question. Now I had none, going into it. But in retrospect, I will never read a script the same way again. Now when I read a script and it says, exterior/night/woods, that translates to weeks and months outside at night…
Question: In the cold.
Nathan: …in the woods. Yeah, exactly right. So I never put those two together honestly; I never put the two together – now I know.
Question: Are you a horror fan in general?
Question: Is there a fantasy element for an actor to say yes to a horror film?
Nathan: Definitely. I mean to be a fan of a genre; to be a fan of a particular kind of movie; I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to participate in the movies that I love to watch – you know what I mean? It’s like a fan’s dream to not only be a spectator but a participant.
Question: What are the particular challenges of acting in a horror film and trying to play a character on the one hand that… one that is in the midst of this completely ridiculous scenario.
Nathan: My opinion is that it’s a completely intellectual exercise. You simply think to yourself, how would someone honestly react to that. You wouldn’t be calm about it. You certainly wouldn’t be cool. easy and okay about it. It’s causing him a great deal of stress; he’s not prepared for that kind of thing. He’s never seen anything like that, he’s confused, he’s a little upset -and how does that come out Well, tension between the people that… I mean, when your life is falling apart, you know, you don’t lash out at your enemies, you lash out at the people closest to you. You know, you kind of get it into your head… People in this movie are panicked, they’re at each others’ throats because they don’t understand what’s going on around them. I think that’s very honest and very, very real.
Question: What do you think sets apart this film from other kind of zombie type movies? I mean what is it that makes it different? And how does a film like this stand out from the crowd, because it’s a very crowded place for this genre?
Nathan: Good question, Paul. And I listened to James answer it like three times this morning and now I’m forgetting what I said. How is it different? It’s not really… it’s not poking fun at the genre, it’s embracing the genre – it really is – in a realistic way. Like I said, it’s how people would really react. How would you think they would really react. You know what, I think this is almost a dietary. It’s extremely real. there’s these extreme circumstances that certainly would never happen, but should they happen this is I’m certain how people would react.
Question: Yeah, you’re an actor and when you’re on a set like this and you’re dealing with slithery alien creatures and over bloated characters, do you ever say to yourself ‘this is what I do for a living’?
Nathan: Constantly. Constantly. And like I said earlier about the difference between spectating and participating – while participating I’m watching the movie. While I’m doing the scene with Elizabeth Banks I’m watching a movie that Elizabeth Banks is in. I just happen to be in it with her. While we’re making it I’m watching it and I’m excited. I’m a fan. It’s really quite exciting. I can’t believe that people pay me to act. People pay me to pretend. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. We all have. I’m just the lucky bastard who gets to keep doing it.
Question: Why do you think horror has become such a respectable genre for actors? It used to be that B-grade actors used to do them…
Nathan: I’ll say because, people love to be scared. People want to go to a movie to feel something. They go to be affected in some way emotionally. You go to a comedy so that you will LAUGH. You go to a drama so that you will cry. You go to a horror movie so that you will feel afraid. If it makes you jump you’ve felt something and the job is done.
Why is it respected? Because it’s making money. Art meets finance in the film industry. Finance understands money. When you say I’m going to create something, I’m going to create on an artistic level something that will affect a mass amount of people – this will make them laugh, it will make them jump, it will scare them and then they’ll walk out feeling like they’ve gone through something. The financiers understand and it’ll make ‘X’ amount of dollars. That’s why it’s become respectable because it makes money.
Question: How grateful are you to Josh Whedon for your current level of success?
Nathan: Josh Whedon has been extremely kind to me. It’s tough to get a job in L.A. doing anything that you’ve never done before. No one wants to give you that first – ‘we think Nathan’s great, we don’t think he can handle the lead because he’s never done one’. If no one’s going to give you the opportunity you’re… there you are. You stagnate – not because you don’t have the talent but because people don’t have the vision or the faith. Josh Whedon had the faith and he had the vision. He said this is the guy, and he let me be the lead in a show. He let me be a lead in Firefly. And after that I would get auditions for leads.
Question: Were you surprised that Firefly kind of ended up the way it did as a television show?
Nathan: Absolutely. we were getting kicked around. If you recall, they didn’t air a pilot first, they aired a pilot last. we got pre-empted a lot for baseball – the World Series, which is understandable – a couple of times for Happy Gilmore, The Brady’s Go to Washington. Our show never ran for more than two weeks consecutively. We were kind of labelled by the network publicly as a problem show, which I don’t think we deserved. Ah…
Question: How cynical does that make you as an actor?
Nathan: It didn’t make me cynical. I simply said, you guys, don’t worry, it’s obvious we’re making a good show. There are people out there who see exactly what we’re doing and they understand exactly what we’re doing. We’re making a good show, we’re fighting the good fight. We will not be cancelled because we’re doing the right thing. Next day – cancelled. [Laughter]. And the parallel between my experience with Firefly and Malcolm Reynolds’ experience in Firefly only too beautiful not to mention. You know, fighting a losing battle.
Question: This is a case, though, of fans really coming to the show’s aid in a way. and it’s probably the first experience you’ve had being a part of a kind of fan base. How surreal was that?
Nathan: Extremely. It was extremely surreal. When I got into acting I loved the applause. I love the immediate, reaction you’d get. It was… the feeling it gave me. I can remember perfectly, and I still get it when I go up in front of a crowd of people and have nothing to say but I have to be there. Ah… the internet is the applause for film and television because there’s no one there to clap when you do a good job. There’s no audience until a year later…
Question: But it’s immediate?
Nathan: When you get on the internet and someone can be very candid because they’re basically just putting their ideas out there – they’re not telling me specifically. You know, fan letters are great but people are talking amongst themselves and it’s like you’re a fly on the wall. People say at this moment when this happened this affected me to this extent. I say to myself, that’s exactly what I want from that and this is my applause. It was unusual to have a group of people so very passionate about something that I was so very passionate about.
Question: So what… how surprised were you when the offer came for a feature film?
Nathan: I was so certain… again, the parallel with Malcolm Reynolds, it’s stupid – I was certain we wouldn’t be cancelled. When we were cancelled I was crushed. When the news came around about it looks like we might do a film, I’m talking to Universal, they’re very excited, they’ve bought the rights, I’m writing a script, we’re seeing if it’s going to get greenlit – there’s a process that happens. I’m thinking that would be great. That would be really, really great. If that happened that would be good. I did not believe it was going to happen. I did not put my heart into it. I didn’t start hoping about it because I had lost faith. It’s… I think we were three weeks into filming before I realised it wasn’t going to be taken away from me again.
Question: Do you think it’s likely that you’ll revisit that world again?
Nathan: Do I think it’s likely? Good question. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s likely. If I understood the inner workings and the why’s and wherefore’s of the entertainment industry I’d be a far more clever man than I am. Would I do it – yes. If it never happened I… I have to say I’m happy with how it all turned out. When we got cancelled all I wanted was Malcolm Reynolds back; that’s all I wanted. It’s like, yes, I’ll do that other movie that’d be great but, you know, I’d really like to just be Malcolm Reynolds, … I wanted another shot at it. The movie came around and I got another shot. I wanted the movie to be really, really good. I believe we made a really, really good movie. I got everything I wanted. How can you ask for more than everything you’ve ever wanted? I don’t want to get greedy.
Question: Could you talk a little bit about White Noise 2 and why the attraction to step into Michael Keaton’s shoes…
Nathan: To me the attraction to White Noise 2 wasn’t to do something that Michael Keaton had done, to me the attraction to White Noise 2 was to do something new for me, to work with Patrick Lussier, whom I really like and I really, really like him as a person. He’s been really, really kind to me starting nine years ago. So the attraction is to do something new; do something I’ve never done before; and to do a good job.
Question: How different a character is this from others you’ve played?
Nathan: I’ve never played a guy who has suffered loss, I’ve played that, but he’s also falling apart. Malcolm Reynolds suffered loss but his reaction was just to become a rock and just to continue. Abraham Dale, is far more fragile I think. I think he’s coming apart. He’s a different man. He’s not as strong.
Question: How different a film is the sequel to the original? Or is it very different from the original?
Nathan: It’s the same… They’ve taken the idea of the electronic voice phenomenon, the communication with the dead through static, they’ve taken it a step further. I have a near death experience which somehow enables me to be a detuned receiver. So if you and I were watching television I would see something in static in the television that’s going on that you would not see. And so that’s also part of why he’s falling apart is because everyone thinks he’s crazy and he starts to think he might be crazy?
Question: What else is going on then with you?
Nathan: Well, one project at a time, man. I’ve got two months in Vancouver. I’ve got nothing else planned except for this. Right before Christmas I did an independent film, with Kerrie Russell who’s wonderful, called Waitress.
Question: And you play the…
Nathan: Her gynaecologist. Yes. Another departure.
Question: Interesting. And how gynaecological do you get in the movie?
Nathan: Not very. Not very. I mean that’s just how they meet. That’s their connection. …
Question: Is it a drama?
Nathan: No, It’s a story of one woman’s story of perseverance. That’s what it is.