NEW YORK — Nathan Fillion is enjoying the best of two worlds. He’s the engaging and sexy star of Castle, the hit ABC series about a crime novelist who helps the NYPD solve its toughest cases. And he’s a cult legend, thanks to his starring role in the 2002 TV series Firefly, which died a quick death but, thanks to fan pressure, was resurrected as the 2005 film Serenity.
The 42-year-old Alberta native, who has a gift for light comedy, has also been a reliable presence in such well-received indie movies as Slither and Waitress. And in Much Ado About Nothing, director Joss Whedon’s engaging contemporary version of the Shakespeare play, Fillion is a hoot in the cameo role of Dogberry, a pompous night constable. (Fillion also voices a character in Monsters University, opening Friday.)
Lewis Beale caught up with the actor by phone from Los Angeles.
How long has it been since you performed in a Shakespeare play?
I did Shakespeare in high school, and then I did it when we would go to Joss’s house for a Shakespeare brunch. He would cast a play, and we would sit in his backyard with a brunch and read Shakespeare, and he said “One day, we’re gonna film one of these.”
You’re a pretty big guy physically, but you seem to have a really light comic touch in most of the things you do. How did you achieve that?
That’s something I’ve learned over the years. It’s difficult to make someone laugh, and there’s no way to do it without being viewed as you’re trying too hard. I’ve found it’s easier to make someone laugh at you. Don’t try to be funny, say things as if they’re true, even if it makes you look stupid. You don’t know you look stupid.
So what was it like, performing in that archaic, flowery language?
I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan. I have found it to be a little hoity-toity, a little moody. The secret to Shakespeare is understanding it. Sometimes when I watch Shakespeare, I see someone who’s just speaking it really fast. But Much Ado About Nothing has a lot of meaning, all you have to do is pay attention, and you will understand. It’s not a different acting technique. I was looking at my lines getting stressed, and then I just took a step back and said I wanted to know exactly what I was saying, and that was the key.
You’re one of the many Canadian actors who have moved south to make a living in their trade. Why is that?
This is the entertainment capital. If you want to be in this field, this is where the work is. There is work in other countries, but not as much as here. Is it more difficult? Yeah. Y’all don’t want us here. Visas, green cards, that’s something that’s real. And a lot of us have a regional dialect.
What about you is most Canadian?
When I am in a crowd, be that in a lineup in a bank, in a restaurant, anyplace where your actions are gonna have an effect on the people around you. There is a Canadian consideration; we try to be more considerate. We are aware of the effect we have on other people.
Since you’ve worked for Wheedon in Buffy, Firefly and now Much Ado, you must know what makes him special. What is it?
He is a man who is incredibly talented, and it’s obvious he loves to tell stories. You want a successful project, hand it to Joss and walk away.