On Friday afternoon at Comic-Con I was lucky enough to participate in a press conference to promote the upcoming "Firefly" reunion special, "Browncoats Unite", to debut this fall on the Science Channel. Fresh from their triumphant panel in Ballroom 20 at the San Diego convention center, "Firefly" cast members Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, and Summer Glau joined creator/executive producer Joss Whedon and showrunner/executive producer Tim Minear to answer questions from the press and display some of the genial banter that continues to make this crew's occasional media appearances a true joy for fans.
Reporters from a wide array of media outlets, running the gamut from CNN to girlgamer.com, lined up in the press room at the Hilton Bayfront to ask questions of the panel. The ten or so large round table in the room were packed with eager correspondents, with the overflow crowd lining the side and back walls and wielding cameras of every size and description. Audio recording devices were the accessory of the day. Amidst the nearly-constant click and flash of still photography, the panel fielded questions regarding the past and future of "Firefly". Debbie Myers, general manager of the Science Channel, kept things moving and then wrapped up the event with a reminder of Science's ongoing commitment to all things "Firefly".
Q : The characters on "Firefly" went such an amazing distance in redefining traditional tropes in sci-fi television & movies. Could you each give a brief statement on how portraying those epic characters that ten years later are still so beloved by fans has carried over into the work that you have done in your career subsequently?
NATHAN: ... what was the question? What was it like playing our characters? Is that what you're basically asking?
Q: No, I want to know how portraying your characters, how has it affected your careers since?
NATHAN: OK, it taught me how to act. (laughter) I tell you, I come up with ideas all the time, and some of my best ideas I'd think oh, this is great: "Joss, what if I did this particular thing with this particular line?" And he'd say, "That's a great idea - or..." (laughter) and just simplify it in such a way that it made it real and human. I was doing loads of coolness (gestures up high); he'd say, but, in real life, (gestures to show "taking it down a notch") and he did it in a very nice way. You know, being an intelligent guy, it's a skill not to make people around you feel stupid, and (to Joss) you've got that, you do that very well.
Q: You guys may have seen a meme online that had four pictures of women from pop culture and four women from geek culture, and Zoe (Gina Torres) was one of those women under "geek culture". The implication was that geek culture provides far better role models. There was a feminist critique of this that said that this picture showed that the only kind of womanhood valued in geek culture was the warrior woman. I thought of "Firefly"; there are very different kinds of women in "Firefly". Joss, what exactly do you think "Firefly" says to women, and what does it say to men about women?
JOSS: Everything that I do is going to contain the very simple message, not to men but about them, that men who are comfortable with powerful women are more powerful men. It's just ingrained, and it doesn't matter what kind of power they (women) have. The great thing about "Firefly" for me particularly was that they (the female characters) were all so different, they were all carrying a very different power, a very different energy, a very different look. For Zoe in particular I would say that this debate is always gonna go on. Ripley in "Aliens", there was a huge debate about, well, it's not feminist because she's only being powerful because she's protecting a child, she's being maternal, so it's not a feminist message. And some people are like, no, it's the warrior-woman thing, and the maternal thing is the not-feminist part; we're gonna go round and round. At the end of the day, Gina Torres was playing a dedicated wife, a trusted friend, an intelligent person, and the sexiest and most badass of people so I feel like we have covered our bases.
Q: My question is one of perspective. Now that it's ten years later, have you gotten a chance to step back, look back on the show, and do you see things you didn't pick up on when you were in the moment, whether it be something subtle, a thematic element, or something like that?
ALAN: I've watched the episode that Nathan Fillion and I did commentary on, which is "War Stories", and I have to say, listening to what I knew back then, I knew a lot more about the show, I had much more perspective on the characters and what was going on while we were doing it. So my perspective has changed from someone who's immersed in it and living it on a daily basis to someone who has fond memories of it that are kind of like blurry photographs. And then rewatching it, reliving it, was... I love the show so much, almost in a better way because it's pure.
Q: Ten years after "Firefly", is there anything that you have not been asked that you wish you were asked or a topic that you've never gotten to talk about regarding the show that you wish you had more of a chance to talk about?
ADAM: That is such a cop-out question! (laughter) You call yourself a reporter?
NATHAN: The one thing I've never been asked that I would like to be asked is, "Are you available for another series?"
SEAN: Nathan, are you available for another series?
NATHAN: From someone who's important, though, Sean. (laughter)
SEAN: Nathan, are you available for another series?
NATHAN: I'm busy. (Fillion currently stars on ABC's popular "Castle")
Q: Video games have come a long way in the past decade, and if you guys were approached by a developer, what would you say to maybe making a "Firefly"-based RPG?
JOSS: There was a lot of talk about a multi-player thing and a couple different companies vying for it, and it just sort of disappeared into the ether and I'm not sure why. I always felt that this 'verse absolutely lends itself to gaming, a really immersive multi-player game where there are so many planets and so many agendas and so many things to do besides shoot at things that I think it's absolutely a perfect fit. I also think it (the show) should still be on the air. But I know that my opinions are not shared by powerful people. (laughter) Sean, maybe Sean has something to say about the game?
SEAN: Joss, are you available? (laughter)
JOSS: Yes, because we need a younger cast. (laughter)
NATHAN: Captain River. (Summer Glau, who played River, is the youngest member of the "Firefly" cast)
SEAN: Zac Ephron as Simon.
JOSS: No, there's nothing about "Avengers 2" yet, I'm still just, I'm having fun with this. We could do another one of these. But right now we'd have to shoot it with my phone... but they're really good, these phones.
Q: If you do another film sequel to Firefly, now that you've killed half the cast, would you bring them back as evil twins or clones, etc.?
JOSS: In all honesty, I don't believe in evil twins and clones in that particular universe; I think it would be wrong, it doesn't make sense to me, you have to move on, you have to deal with the present, and by that I mean... you have to have an intricate flashback scene. (laughter) I will tell you honestly that in my head, the opening scene of the sequel is a conversation between Wash and Book... and where it goes from there, I can't tell you.
Q: Will anyone here be able to make you guys cry, as you did in the last panel?
JOSS: Well, you all have large, heavy metal objects...
Q: Are you guys constantly amazed that so many things from the show, like "shiny" and "I'll be in my bunk" continue to have a life of their own? That so many pieces of the show have gone viral over the years?
ADAM: I'm surprised the hat (a knit hat worn by Baldwin's character, Jayne, in an episode that did not air in the series' initial fall 2002 run on Fox) went viral, because it was on such an unaired episode, for one...
JOSS: Here's the thing about the hat: It's tangible, it's DIY, it's not, 'I'm wearing an entire costume', you can have the hat, go to your day job, and then take it off; it's everything that should work for cult. If I was smart, I'd have thought ahead of these things, I would create these things based on that. You don't see that many people dressed up as my characters because they don't have outfits. You get some Mals, you see a lot of Kaylees - you don't see as many "ballroom" Kaylees as we used to. But (with the hat) it's the specificity, and the fact that it's got that homemade feel, because people make them themselves, so it lends itself... also, it's very flattering, it flatters the wearer.
ADAM: ... and it's cozy in the wintertime!
Q: Have you ever dressed up as your characters and gone to a con? How do you feel when you see people dressed up like your characters? Do you feel like, 'Yes! We've still got it - it's still going on!'
JOSS: No, I think they're like, 'Give me my clothes back!' Of course, the question really isn't, have you dressed up as your character at a con, the question is, "Have you dressed up as your character in an episode of your next series?" (laughter, applause) (Fillion's character on "Castle" wore a "Firefly" costume in the show's 2009 Halloween episode)
ADAM: Zach Levi, he's got that thing, Nerd HQ, and he put together a little thing, "Trailer Park Heroes", and he's got a lot of cosplay guys in costumes there, so that was a thing I did for a little while. (Baldwin, Fillion, and Tudyk all had roles in the three-part Comic-Con spoof video released by Nerd HQ in June.)
JOSS: Sometimes I still dress like an executive producer... with my red pen...
Q: I'm asking a question on behalf of two marines who were both caught in an IED, they both came here hoping to see you guys, they're both waiting outside 'cause they can't make it inside, but they love "Serenity" and "Firefly". When they were recuperating, they just kept watching, and I want to know, what is it that you feel about your show that the marines, they just can't stop watching? Something about it just touches their heart and they love it and they can't explain to me what it is.
JOSS: The show has been very popular with the military, and also with astronauts. And this is an extraordinary thing for me. Obviously there's a war element; these are people who fought in a war and who suffered greatly because of it, but are also... everything is them bonding in the trenches, that's the nature of the show. I think there's a kind of isolation that they feel, and a camaraderie; no matter how dark and Machiavellian Mal gets, we know he will lay down his life for any of his crew. I think that it's a very unironic look at the things that make soldiering a noble profession. And I have heard and read from people that in terms of the space element, that there isn't a lot of stuff out there that inspires people to want to build rockets, literally, or go into space, and that feeling of "going into the black" and becoming more of a person because of it has hit them as well. There could not be a greater tribute.
TIM: There's probably also something to the notion that our characters are together and the war is over, like, there's a life after the war that can be good, and that it's over. And I would also say, in terms of the astronaut thing, it might explain why we're cancelled, if our key audience are... astronauts.
JOSS: They both love it!
TIM: How many of those things are equipped with a Nielsen box??
Q: Are there any plans for future "Firefly" or "Serenity" comics? And for the actors, is there any story about your characters that you wish you would had gotten a chance to tell that maybe you might be interested in telling in comic form?
ALAN: Some of my story got told in comic form. The one where it was three people relating stories of Wash, that Patton Oswalt wrote (Dark Horse Comics "Serenity: Float Out", published 2010). So mine got told. What are you guys doing? (laughter)
ADAM: My guy... he didn't fare so well.
NATHAN: Did yours get told?
JOSS: We'll get to you, we'll get to you. You'll have an arc.
SUMMER: That's all I wanted. That's what I got.
NATHAN: I'm very happy. I'm very content. It all worked out really well for me. It really did. It's hard in this position we're in, sitting where we are right now, ten years later, it's hard for me to say 'I want more'. It's hard to say that 'it's unfinished, because I need more'. I got a lot out of that show. I got an amazing group of friends. I got to do the best work I think I've ever done, and I got a movie. And I got thousands of...ah, I'm gonna do it again, I'm gonna cry -
Q: With Nathan's history with animation, and with doing voices and things like that, are you interested in ever doing an anime version of "Firefly" and having the gang come back and voice the characters?
NATHAN: I think that'd be cool. Pretty easy, right? You don't even have to shower before you go in to do voicework... I don't know if you guys know that. You can wear a baseball cap and your underwear. And nobody knows.
JOSS: I've done a little voice recording with Nathan and it's not pleasant. You know, you can shower.
NATHAN: There's a water shortage in Los Angeles.
Q: There's a lot more ways for fans to express themselves and get themselves heard now with the prevalence of social media. Do you feel like - and this may not be a fair question - if the show was on today do you think it would have perhaps reached more of an audience because there's more ways for the fans to get out there and promote it?
NATHAN: That's a fair question. I'd say yeah.
SEAN: I think it would've helped.
TIM: I don't. I don't. Because you need a network that, for instance, airs the PILOT first! (Fox notoriously aired "Firefly" episodes out of order in its debut run; some feel that this undermined the series initial chance at success.) It doesn't matter how many times you tweet about it, I mean, on some level the network has to be behind it, so unless you have that, you can tweet in vain, you can tweet all you can tweet.
ALAN: But don't you feel like there are avenues for shows, like, there's more revenue streams for shows...
TIM: Oh, sure, like you're gonna make something just for the inter - (looks at Joss & Nathan) Ok, that's fair. (In 2008 Whedon released the musical mini-series, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" in a self-financed internet-only format; the production won an Emmy and reportedly turned a profit. Fillion starred in the series.)
Q: We know that one of Roddenberry's motivations in creating the "Star Trek" universe was that he wanted to show us our future, at least the future he hoped we could get to. But "Firefly" is a far less utopian view of our future. What do you think it says to us about that future?
JOSS: We're doomed? (laughter) I don't have any faith in mankind, but I love my friends desperately, and the faith that I have is in their ability to band together when things are appalling and protect each other. That is the definition and biological reason for family. And created family is what I believe in. And so, no, I don't think we're gonna solve the problems and have the Federation. Which, by the way, had its share of problems, honestly.
TIM: Yeah, some of those outfits...
Nathan: And teaching green ladies how to kiss.
JOSS: How'd that go?
NATHAN: A little something like this (Shatner/Kirk impression): "On my planet, when people care for one another, they kiss. I could... teach you how." (applause)
Q: To what do you ascribe the amazing longevity of a show that lasted 14 episodes, that is now ten years later seemingly more popular, that can take over an entire convention as it seems to have done?
JOSS: I think it's me, the me factor. (laughter) No, no, there's a little bit of the Camelot thing, you know, that it was there and then it was gone, that makes it precious to people in a way that a show that runs for eight years isn't in the same way. But also... I'm sorry, but have you seen it? Have you seen these guys? I mean, the directors we worked with, the prop masters... we couldn't miss. Sometimes these things come together and they're extraordinary. And the other element is why we write what we write: we are trying to communicate about this human condition of unity during aloneness, and those two things are very important to people and always will be. So it's not just that it's pretty and everybody says funny things right, it's that they're dealing with something that is universal and human and painful and lovely.
TIM: ... and the theme song.
JOSS: And the theme song. And the other element that has to be spoken of, that I feel a little weird about because it's not me, is that I don't think anybody in the history of the ten years since the show has been on, has really understood how much of it belongs to Tim Minear, and how much of it is his work. (applause)
Q: Do you see this show surviving and being a presence here at Comic-Con in fifty, in a hundred years? Appealing to future generations of fans?
TIM: Yes. I say yes. Because we were right. The thing that we made was right. We were right about it, it was good, the network was wrong. The fans are correct, and it's not just because it got cut down before its time, it's because we were right, and that universe was fully realized very quickly, and (to Joss) that's because of you.
DEBBIE MYERS/SCIENCE CHANNEL: Well, we're very excited, tune in November 11, this year; it's a full Firefly marathon, we do them all the time but this one's special because we're gonna be doing the hour special of this whole group getting together for the reunion.
NATHAN: If Fox had aired "Firefly" the way the Science Channel is airing "Firefly"... it's like they're putting on a movie... the commercials make me weep!
DEBBIE: Thank you! And if there is more ("Firefly"), let us know, and we'll put it on!