Nathan Fillion's roles paint the picture of a fearless actor, but appearing in a film of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" had him thinking twice.
He was finishing up the fourth season of the hit ABC show "Castle" and about to film the relatively small role of Dogberry for director Joss Whedon. Fillion had ridden the Whedon juggernaut since 2003, when he played a demonic priest in TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He went on to play Mal Reynolds in the sci-fi series "Firefly," a one-season wonder that inspired a movie and an avid fan base, and Captain Hammer, the not-so-good guy in the viral hit musical "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."
As this was to be Fillion's first attempt at Shakespeare, you'd assume Whedon, a Bard superfan when he's not rewriting American pop culture, had a lot of words of wisdom to impart.
''Not a ton," Fillion said by phone recently. "The talk we did have is, at one point I tried to chicken out of this project. I was working full-time on 'Castle' and the date was approaching, and I realized how difficult it was to memorize Shakespeare. Joss calmed me down and talked me off the ledge, so to speak."
Acting on the sage advice of a friend to know the meaning of everything he had to say, Fillion approached the text like a foreign language. With a dictionary in hand, he studied the text until he felt he understood every turn of phrase.
''I saw a little bit of a scene being filmed before I filmed my first scene, and everybody was on their A game, and I didn't want to be the one guy who was not," he said. "The material is such a huge deal when you're doing Shakespeare. The disadvantage being, if you are one word off, you're off. You're not doing Shakespeare if you are a word away."
As the star of a current television show, Fillion is "Much Ado's" marquee name to go with Whedon's. So he has been on the talk-show circuit in recent weeks promoting the movie and his voice work in the animated film "Monsters University." While on "The Late Show With David Letterman," he said he always thought of Shakespeare as "snooty."
''Here's what happened," he said by way of clarifying. "That story had a point, but we went to a clip and sort of wrapped it up right away, and I don't tell David Letterman what to do. I was trying to say that this one has brought me around on Shakespeare."
The unjustifiably haughty Dogberry is among the least-snooty roles in the Bard's canon. Fillion did not go to YouTube to see what others like him have done with the role of the bumbling officer and his oft-repeated line, "I am an ass" -- a reference to having been called one. "This thing was such a whirlwind, but I'll say that that line did define Dogberry for me. He's very concerned about how he's viewed by others. He's very concerned about his reputation. He's very vain. He's pompous."
The description calls to mind "Dr. Horrible's" Captain Hammer, a would-be hero with an overdeveloped ego. "I wasn't aiming at Captain Hammer when I was doing Dogberry, but looking back, I see the similarities. That's a flaw we can all recognize, that this guy has no idea what a jerk he is."
With Shakespeare under his belt, Fillion has a summer of promoting roles shot previously before returning to the "Castle" set for season five. The actor's biggest ratings success has come in the cop dramedy, but when Whedon calls, he's there.
''I love doing 'Castle.' We pump out 24 episodes in 10 months, and we work long hours. We do lots and lots of takes, and everyone there is a talent machine. It is a taxing endeavor, to say the least, but when you get into a groove, it doesn't matter if you're tired, it doesn't matter if you're sick. You can do it. When I work for Joss, and this project was no exception, I am always challenged in a way I have not been challenged before. And this was a real breath of fresh air, to have to work so hard to get it to be done."
More from Fillion on the future of "Dr. Horrible," the "Castle" cliffhanger and @NathanFillion ...
- On a long-promised sequel to "Dr. Horrible," which was filmed during the Hollywood writers' strike in 2008:
'''Dr. Horrible 2' is more than probable. We had designs on actually doing something this summer but Joss had a little project ... I think it was 'Avengers 2.' Probably some little things like that. But the thing that I enjoy, because it belongs to Joss, it's not going anywhere and neither are we -- we know where he lives."
- On the season-ending proposal by Fillion's character to Stana Katic's Beckett -- does he know her answer?
''I don't. I wish I had a better answer for you. I wrapped up the last day of shooting, and I ran out of town. I didn't even get to the wrap party; I had a job waiting for me for one weekend and then a family visit, which kind of puts me in a safe spot. I don't have to worry about spoiler alerts."
- Does he worry about the romance between Castle and Beckett after a few years of "will they or won't they?"
''I used to worry about stuff like that, about the 'Moonlighting' curse, but (executive producer) Andrew Marlowe has shown me he can do no wrong. Obviously, it's in great hands. It's the little show that could, from its continued success. I just want to focus on being grateful for that success."
- You are very engaged on social media; why do you think that's important?
''I don't know how important it is. It certainly has been handy. I'm not a big Facebook person. I think Facebook takes a lot of commitment. But Twitter certainly has the brevity; you can access millions of people in an instant and the response is immediate. You can connect and engage in a way that, when I was a kid and I was a fan of something I saw on TV, that was the extent of it. There were no other outlets for that fandom. Now we have the Internet, now we have conventions or participate virtually in chat rooms to share their passions ... Now, fans have access to celebrities, as do I. I became Twitter buddies with William Shatner. I've been able to meet the man who made a true impact on my life through Twitter. I was able to sit down with him and have a chat, and I can't imagine how that would have happened without social media."
Contact Sharon Eberson at firstname.lastname@example.org.