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Nathan Fillion on ‘Firefly,’ mastering selfies, and living the Con life

Nathan Fillion Interview
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Nathan Fillion always keeps busy.

The actor just concluded his lead role as Rick Castle in the hit ABC series, Castle, which ran for eight seasons, and is now playing weatherman Rainer Shine in another ABC hit, Modern Family. But the star of Firefly and its big screen sequel, Serenity, is also overseeing a multimedia empire in his spare time.

Con Man, a digital series that offers a humorous inside look at the convention circuit, began as an IndieGoGo campaign that immediately connected with fans. Fillion, Firefly co-star and friend Alan Tudyk, and author PJ Haarsma raised over $3 million through the campaign, which unlocked the first season of the digital series, a comic book, and a free mobile video game. Con Man Season 2 will debut on Comic Con HQ this fall, and the first season is also available on that subscription platform from Lionsgate and Comic Con International. In the show, Fillion plays Jack Moore, the captain in a sci-fi series called Spectrum that was canceled before its time.

Con Man: The Game allows fans to build their own comic book convention on Apple or Android devices. Like the show, it features a cast of celebrities from sci-fi films, TV shows and video games like Felicia Day, Nolan North, and Avengers director Joss Whedon. It’s constantly expanding with new content, including “nerdy collectibles” like Jack Moore’s bottle of sweat.

I’d like Con Man to go worldwide.

In this exclusive Digital Trends interview, Fillion discusses his new multimedia empire and explains his own fan boy roots

Digital Trends: What type of comic book convention do you like to create when you’re playing the Con Man video game?

Nathan Fillion: I like things to be nice and orderly. I’m not OCD. I just like patterns when I look at it. I found that doesn’t work out very well for my game. I’m now at the point where I have to destroy a lot of stuff in order to bring in other stuff. I’m running out of room with these tiny little guys. It’s the little guy getting crushed by big corporations, is what it is. I have these giant set pieces that I have to put into my Con and I have to knock out a lot of little dudes to do it and I feel really bad about that.

It’s like video game imitating life and art?

It so is. And I can only empathize with big business. In my position I just, I look at, “Come on guys, it just looks better.” Look at all the people running around. They’re so excited.

Can you give us an idea of what conventions like Comic Con or Wizard World are really like from behind the curtain?

I typically arrive in the back somewhere, so I don’t get the grand entrance. I don’t get to see the people in the costumes and cosplay. There’s a real excitement that comes along with a convention. Everybody just couldn’t wait to be there. Now, they’re there. It’s a very positive energy. But I’m in the back room. I get shoveled through some back hallways usually filled with folding chairs and stacks of things and garbage, and that’s where I’m walking. They put me in a little room and say, “hang out here until we’re ready,” whether it be an autograph line or a photo lineup.

But when I actually get out there and actually start getting to meet the fans, that’s when it starts getting exciting for me. That’s when the energy level comes up because you can feel it. They’re right there in front of you. Everybody is there for the same reason, to have a good time. It’s amazing. And you get one-on-one time with people who I would say have excellent taste because they like my work. I really enjoy the projects I do, so I know that unless you’re just some guy in line to get an autograph for your buddy who couldn’t make it because he’s sick, everybody in line shares this much in common. We really think that the stuff I’ve been doing is cool storytelling with cool characters. So I know have something in common with everybody that comes up to me. It’s a good feeling.

Where do you see Con Man going next?

What I really enjoy about this new business model, the digital content, the on-demand style of entertainment versus just a network is that there are no more boundaries. I’d like Con Man to go worldwide. I would like to invest in dubbing for fans of other countries. I would like us to make that thing spread the world over. I would like to see everything we’ve come up with, the comics, the game, all the meta wonderful stuff that comes along with Con Man, the way everything ties together, I would like that to be relevant wherever the show goes. And wherever people enjoy conventions, I would like them to enjoy Con Man.

How big a fan boy were you growing up?

There were things that I really enjoyed. I lived half an hour from school. I got out at 3:30 and my favorite show, Gilligan’s Island, started at 4:00. Because in the winter time that little tropical island was the only reprieve I had from the snow. But you had to haul ass to make that trip in a half an hour. You had to move. You couldn’t walk or you’d miss half the show. So it was a half hour run to get home to see Gilligan’s Island at 4:00. That was a big deal to me. We didn’t have access back then the way people have access now. People can get online and see when someone’s going to be in their city. The convention circuit is huge now. But it wasn’t a big deal back then. People weren’t connected the way they are now. And on top of all that you can just get online and say, “Hey, what’s Bob Denver thinking about today?” If Bob Denver had a Twitter, I’d know what he was doing.

My mother always said to me, “Nathan, your advantage is that you’re very much a geek, but you look mainstream.”

You’re also old enough to remember when the terms “nerd” and “geek” were insults. How have you seen the evolution and acceptance of geek culture impact your own career?

My mother always said to me, “Nathan, your advantage is that you’re very much a geek, but you look mainstream.” So, yeah. She always thought you had to get to know me to find out whether I was a geek, but you didn’t have to scratch very hard to get under the veneer.

What are your thoughts on the new Firefly Online game and the role it will play for fans that are still very hungry for Firefly?

It’s interesting having something that doesn’t have any fresh content for a long time, how people still find a way to enjoy it with the collectibles … (comic book artist) Adam Hughes did some beautiful covers for our comic books. Anything that comes along: role playing games, the card games, you name it. There’s always something coming out that’s kind of fresh. It’s a certain faction of the fandom that want to play the dice games. There’s a Firefly game for that, there’s the online game. It’s wonderful too because then you get somebody who’s into role playing games and they find Firefly and they say, “What’s this all about?” The guy next to him says, “You haven’t seen Firefly?” And then there we go. We got a new Firefly fan. Now they want the DVD and the book and the game, as well.

When it comes to your own career, you’ve done a lot of voice acting work including upcoming films Henchmen and Yamasong: March of the Hollows. What do you like about bringing characters to life through animation and CGI?

I just close my eyes and imagine the character’s expression, I guess the way you would if you’re in makeup and costume and hair and look in the mirror and go, “That’s the character I’m playing.” So you get a nice little visual of who you are. I close my eyes and I think about the animated character they’ve come up with and it helps me in my inflection. It helps me in my choices. It’s not super hard. It is a bit of a different animal. It’s just got its own interesting challenges. You can’t rely on any sight gags as choices.

What’s it like being part of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise?

I am the luckiest guy you’ll ever meet because I get to be a fan of these incredible franchises and then I also get to be in there. Forever, I will be the blue guy in Guardians of the Galaxy. That is a really interesting spot to be for a fan. Hey, man, I’m a huge fan and now forever I’m a piece of it. I love it.

How has the introduction of the selfie impacted your real-world interaction with fans?

I was really into the selfie before digital cameras. I actually got really good at it. I kind of long-armed a lot of cameras, and that was before we had a name for it. Then the digital cameras came along and you could pop a selfie or two and then check the screen to make sure it was okay. Some cameras have a little a centering light that comes down and if you could put it just under your chin that’s about perfect. I was pretty good at those things.

My one thing is if I’m walking down the street and someone says, “Oh my gosh, I think you’re amazing. Can I get a picture?” Absolutely. If they hand that camera or phone off to somebody else that person stands about 20 feet away and now you’re taking pictures of two little bodies out on a street somewhere, and they don’t know how to work the camera and they’re standing there and with it for so long. You know they could have taken a picture by now but you don’t know what they’re doing. And then you go, “Hey is everything okay?” And as you’re talking they take a picture and now your mouth is all open. Now I’m late because it took so long, and then the other guy asks if he can get one too. So now they have to switch out cameras and start the whole process again. So I just say, “I’m actually really good at this. Hand me your phone.” I take the phone, I turn it around and I go “pop, pop, pop.” I take about six pictures from different angles and one of them has got to be good. That’s the way to do it. I’ve got it down to a science.

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