The cast of Firefly reunited on stage at Fan Expo Dallas in Texas over the weekend, gathering in front of a standing-room-only crowd inside the spacious Dallas convention center. Fans had come to see the stars of a show that’s become one of the most beloved cult classics in science fiction or TV history, one that inspires devotion and loyalty like no other. But, of all the things those fans came to see, I don’t think anyone’s list would have included, “Watch Nathan Fillion get killed by a collapsing backdrop.”
Fillion, who played Malcolm Reynolds in Joss Whedon’s Firefly and the Serenity movie, was just about to take the stage when the large cloth and metal backdrop behind the stage began to topple, earning gasps from the audience. He was okay, but a few minutes later, the backdrop on the other side of the stage collapsed toward the audience. Thankfully no one was hurt, but I know I wasn’t the only one watching the backdrop with a nervous eye for the rest of the panel.
Before that comedy of errors, fans got a lovely and unexpected surprise in the form of a video message from Joss Whedon, who greeted both the cast and the crowd by declaring, “To everyone there, I hate you.” As you probably know, Joss is busy making Avengers 2, but he said, “I wish I had known it was going to be Full Serenity Jacket, I would have made some plans.” The message was very Joss, bouncing back and forth between the snarky and the sweet. After deadpanning that the best ensemble cast he ever worked with was on the two episodes of The Office he directed, Whedon turned sincere and said to the assembled Firefly actors, “I miss you, I love you…I don’t have a joke about that, it’s just true.”
Nearly the full Serenity cast joined the stage: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, and Ron Glass. Neither Morena Baccarin nor Alan Tudyk were on hand, although Tudyk did put in an appearance — more on that later.
After dodging the collapsing backdrop, Fillion settled in and posed a question to his castmates: “How has Firefly changed your life?” Glass, who played Shepherd Book, said that the show gave him the chance to experience a whole new world: the unique and surreal love of the science fiction fan community. Fillion echoed the sentiment, saying, “[Browncoats] are a very particular kind of people. I find you to be clever, talented, motivated…and have incredibly good taste.” Maher, who played Simon Tam, added, “And you’re really hot.” That drew a roar from the crowd, but it was almost immediately eclipsed by the cacophony after Baldwin, who played the man they call Jayne, leaned in and muttered, “I’ll be in my bunk.”
Fillion continued to play the unofficial moderator, steering the panel in a more serious direction by asking if anyone had ever told the actors that Firefly had “saved their life.” Gina Torres jumped in:
I’ve had incredible fans come up to me over the years, whether they were leaving abusive relationships, or cancer, and have said, ‘Firefly saved my life. Zoe has saved my life. Her strength, her grace under fire, I would put on the DVD when things were really rough, and I knew that if she could do it, I could do it.
After joking that she’s now a real engineer who lives in a defunct spaceship in her backyard, Jewel Staite (Kaylee) said, “Because of that show, because of that one audition I had, I’ve gotten to see the world. Isn’t that an amazing thing?”
It was around this time that the backdrop to the left of the stage pitched forward, prompting a scramble of volunteers to try and brace it back up. Fillion joked, “Sunday, at the Firefly panel, someone’s not walking away…” Maher added, “Remember that time we all went to the E.R. during that panel?”
The Q&A part of the panel kicked off in fine form as a young child asked why Firefly was such a big deal, adding that he didn’t “get it.” Fillion responded, “It is so many things to so many people. There’s a little something for everyone. But most of all, there’s me.” After the crowd’s laughter died down, he continued:
I think it’s because it’s a group of people that always have each other’s backs and they’re always fighting for each other, and that’s important in life. You don’t know it yet, because your parents always have your back, and you won’t realize it until you’re much older because you take it for granted right now because you’re just a pain in the ass.
Needless to say, that got a big reaction, with Fillion eventually adding, “I’m sorry, let me rephrase that. You are a burden. Prove me wrong, kid!”
The next question was interrupted by Fillion answering his phone, which proved to be Alan Tudyk on Facetime. Fillion milked the bit for several minutes, with Tudyk inviting Fillion out for a burger and Fillion spinning different excuses for why he couldn’t go, eventually resorting to the old chestnut where he pretended to be losing his phone connection. It was great to have Tudyk participate, even in brief digital form, but the joke went on just slightly too long, sliding past funny and into kind of awkward.
A fan asked what the cast thought of fan fiction and fan art, which prompted Jewel to address the sexy elephant in the room, the fact that sometimes it gets “a little kinky.” A discussion of Simon/Jayne slash fic soon turned to the prospect of a three-way with Jayne’s gun, “Vera.” Just remember to leave the safety on, people.
From there, Fillion tangented off into a tirade about fans sending letters to his home. “There is nothing you can send, do, or say when you send it to my house that doesn’t say, ‘I’m crazy, and I know where you live.’”
The next question was about the cast’s favorite memory about Joss. Baldwin recalled watching Joss as filming began on Serenity. He remembered seeing Joss looking “so happy,” and added, “That redemption he had … was such bliss.”
Ron Glass recalled the phone call from Joss: “Ron, we’re making a movie and you’re in it! But…” Glass’ Shepherd Book, of course, didn’t make it to the end credits of Serenity.
Gina Torres told the story of Joss taking the cast to dinner to tell them Firefly had been picked up by Fox…and how it almost wasn’t. Of course, it would go on to only last one season, but there were already signs of trouble at the beginning. Fox infamously didn’t like the show’s original pilot, leading Joss and writer Tim Minear to lock themselves in a room and write the script for “The Train Job” in a two-day marathon. Gina said, “That saved the show. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a creative person at that level who cares that much, who is that passionate. Who is willing to go that far to see his vision put out there.”
Staite recalled a convention in the U.K. where she, Maher, and Whedon were hanging out and drinking tequila together, only to have Joss declare, “I feel like going dancing!” They “disguised” Joss with a woman’s scarf, wrapped around his head like a turban, a ploy that seemed totally foolproof at the time because tequila. The trio did indeed dance the night away at a convention afterparty, surrounded by fans who soon saw through their Mission: Impossible bit of subterfuge. In a lovely bit of synchronicity, there was even a woman in the Dallas crowd who had been there that night, and who thanked them for the unforgettable experience of seeing Joss’ dance moves. He apparently requested Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” and we assume it looked like this:
Fillion explained how difficult getting someone to take a chance on you can be for an actor, and how he owes his career to Joss giving him a lead role. Prior to Firefly, Fillion had worked a lot in the soap opera world, but that experience was easily dismissed when it came to trying to land lead roles outside of daytime television. “I had a lot of experience behind me,” said Fillion, “but nobody cared. … Then one day Joss came to me and said, ‘I want you to play Malcolm Reynolds,’ which changed my career, which changed my life.”
The next question was about, well, questions. Specifically, what questions the cast was tired of answering and wished people would stop asking. For Maher, it’s questions involving Zac Efron, who played a young Simon Tam in the Firefly episode “Safe.” He recalls being asked how he felt about his career being “eclipsed” by Efron’s. Ouch. Baldwin implored fans to stop asking him to “sing that freakin’ song.” (You know the one.) Staite begged fans to stop bringing her strawberries, because she doesn’t actually like strawberries. Glass insisted he doesn’t know anything about Shepherd Book’s backstory. He then joked, “And the way things look, you’re not going to get to find out either.” Fillion addressed the question I’m sure they’re all tired of fielding: will there be more Firefly? “Let’s pretend that there was,” said Fillion. “Do you think you’re going to find out from me, in a restaurant?”
One of the final questions was a classic fan quandary: if they had to recast Firefly, who would the actors want to take over each of their roles? Maher immediately quipped, “Zac Efron.” Baldwin opted for The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker, which, I have to admit, would be pretty badass. Glass wanted Fillion for the role of Book, or possibly Dennis Haysbert from the Allstate commercials. Staite refused to play the game, insisting she didn’t want anybody playing Kaylee but her (we agree). Who else could fill the imposing boots of Zoe? Gina Torres suggests “Laurence Fishburne.” Fillion joked, “That’s going to be awkward for whoever gets Alan’s part,” then adding, “For whom I am casting Danny McBride.” The gender flipping continued when Summer Glau suggested Alan Tudyk should play River.
But who could play Captain Tightpants other than Nathan Fillion himself? Fillion picked Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman, or possibly Jason Statham. A Jason, one way or another.
The Firefly panel was a great experience that encapsulated the things we love about the show itself, and the people who made it. It was funny, sweet, earnest, sarcastic, and more than a little wistful. But while we may never get more Firefly on the big or little screens, the phenomenon of the show will continue to live on. Here’s looking forward to the next big Firefly reunion. Hopefully they’ll bring along Joss, Alan, and Morena.