From the Firefly fans to the mainstream Castle crowd, everybody loves Nathan Fillion. This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly looks at the fascination behind the ultimate ‘Geek God.’
Fillion is more polite than most—with fans, costars, journalists—because he occupies a special place in Hollywood. It started back in 2002, when, thanks to a few key roles from the mind of Joss Whedon—Capt. Mal Reynolds in Firefly and its big-screen adaptation, Serenity; an evil preacher in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and a vain superhero in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog—Fillion began receiving A-list treatment from sci-fi fans, even if he wasn’t quite an A-lister himself. And he was more than happy to play to that audience. “I think of Galaxy Quest and the plight of those pigeonholed actors who don’t do anything except for conventions,” he says. “To be pigeonholed as a Malcolm Reynolds? Uh, dream. Winning.”
In 2009, along came Castle. It wasn’t clear when the show debuted as a midseason replacement that it would be Fillion’s ticket to anything more than a front-row seat to its lead-in, Dancing With the Stars. The actor had already had a few shots at the big time with a string of short-lived TV shows. But in the boyishly charming crime novelist Richard Castle, the charmingly boyish Fillion found a role that has won a whole new legion of fans. Now in its third season, Castle (which airs Mondays at 10 p.m.) averages 10.6 million viewers.
Viewers may very well be responding to Castle, who began tailing NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) for book research, because there’s so much of Fillion in the fun-loving mystery writer. The quirks around Castle’s edges— from the obsession with gadgets to the clever miming—are vintage Fillion. The show’s creator, Andrew W. Marlowe, a longtime Fillion fan from his days on Buffy and Firefly, thought as much when he cast him: “He’s a guy who I thought had the many facets to show the many different kinds of faces of what it meant to be a man. To play the beleaguered son, the loving father, a potential love interest who’s charming but someone who is also really annoying yet can get away with it—Nathan had that in spades.” Costar Katic would agree. “I would date Richard Castle, but not for very long,” Fillion gamely responds. “He’s got some money and nice tastes. He’s not an a--hole, but he is a bit of a prick.”
Fllion can usually tell his two rabid fan bases apart within seconds of their approach. “Castle fans—I’ll say 75 percent of the time—are women, and they light up. They go [eyes and mouth open]. They get really excited,” he says. “Firefly fans will see me, do a double take, stop, nod, and say, ‘Captain’ with an air of ‘I know what you’ve been through. I’ve been there too.’ A guy did it to me in a furniture store the other day. I was walking by, and he saw me, stopped, stood up straight, and said, ‘Captain,’ and I nodded and said, ‘As you were.’ ”
While Fillion is keeping his side projects to a minimum these days—Castle is still shooting its current 24-episode order and has already been picked up for a fourth season— longtime fans don’t have to worry about him losing his geek cred. “It’s easy to keep the geek fan base stoked by simply remaining true to the inner geek,” he says. “I just continue to be excited by the things I am excited by. I love sci-fi. I love computer games. I love technology. I like flashlights that are really small but really bright. If it has buttons, batteries, performs some kind of unusual function—yeah, I got it. I want it.”