The affable actor shares his memories of the roles, directors, and costars that have helped define him
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One Life To Live (TV, 1994-97)

Played lovesick Joey Buchanan. ”It was kind of like work, kind of like summer camp. I was in New York City. I had never been there, never seen it, and I was now living in it. What I liked about Joey was that while he made some bad decisions, he made them for the right reasons. He was the only good guy on the show. But I learned later that there’s a lot of value to being flawed.”

Saving Private Ryan (Film, 1998)

Played the wrong Private Ryan — the one Tom Hanks finds before Matt Damon. ”All I had to do was cry. That’s all I did on that soap opera. I could cry at the drop of a hat. But I was so tense, so nervous. Steven Spielberg was very encouraging. He said, ‘You’re acting it, but whatever you’re feeling, it’s not coming out.’ And then he told everyone to take five, and he took me for a walk and sat me down behind this Army truck and we started talking. He gave me all these things to think about, and I just started crying on the spot. He said, ‘You look ready.’ And I did it, because he took the time to help me. I ran into Steven Spielberg years later. He said, ‘Hey! Do you remember me?’ [Laughs] Yessir, I do.”

Two Guys and a Girl (TV, 1998-2001)

Played handyman-turned-fireman Johnny Donnelly, joining the series starring Ryan Reynolds and Traylor Howard in season 2. ”He wasn’t that good a handyman, and it turns out he was really cheap. In other words, he was flawed, and what that show taught me was the kind of comedy gold that could be mined from a flaw. Two Guys and a Girl gave me what I had been missing from One Life to Live — the live audience. I love that energy, that visceral reaction of the audience there with you.”

Firefly (TV, 2002-03)

Played the leading man, space cowboy Capt. Mal Reynolds, in Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi Western. ”My first lead role. No one would hire me for a lead role before Joss did. I felt a lot of pressure… No, pressure is the wrong word. I felt a lot of responsibility. A lot of ‘Don’t blow this.’ That was my mantra. I learned so much and have taken so much from that experience. There was a period of time in the ’80s when heroes were unbeatable and they couldn’t be stopped. That’s fun, but I don’t think people could relate. I think there’s a lot more to be mined in someone who doesn’t win a lot — who loses a lot. That was Mal. And that’s all of us. We don’t have spaceships, but we lose every day. And I think there’s something very relaxing about seeing someone on TV who loses as much as, if not more than, you do.”


Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV, 2003)

Played psycho priest Caleb during the show’s final season. ”My first supervillain. Incredibly strong. Believed he was right. That was another thing Joss taught me: Villains never think they’re the bad guy. That’s what makes a villain so dangerous. It was historic, that television program. To have a little piece of that was great. I’m part of the Buffyverse — I say that with pride.”

Serenity (Film, 2005)

Reprised his Firefly role in Whedon’s failed bid to relaunch the show as a movie franchise. ”All the cast were and are my friends, so we had stayed in touch. But I didn’t realize how much I had missed their characters. When they first stepped out of their trailers in their costumes, it was a powerful moment for me. People ask me, Do I wish there was another Serenity? Yeah. But I was really brokenhearted about my television program being canceled — and I got a movie out of it. I find it difficult to ask for more.”

Slither (Film, 2006)

Played police chief Bill Pardy in director James Gunn’s cheeky-gory zombie flick. ”After Firefly/Serenity, which was such a positive working experience, I couldn’t bear the idea that it could be any different. When is the rug going to get pulled out from underneath you? When is it going to get terrible? I told all this to James Gunn one day on the set, and he said: ‘Why be afraid of that? Why not just want for the best, always?’ James Gunn is nothing but passionate, and clever, and funny, and so original. James for me is like Joss: If he calls me and asks me to do something, I say yes.” (Fillion has since appeared in two other Gunn projects: Spike TV’s 2008-09 viral Web series PG Porn and the forthcoming superhero comedy Super.)

Lost (TV, 2006)

Played cop Kevin Callis, briefly married to fugitive Kate, in one memorable season 3 episode. ”It’s always awkward to walk onto the set of a show where you don’t know anybody, and more so when you immediately have to start making out with one of the leading actresses. I was a huge fan of the show — and I got to walk away and say that I was part of it. Absolutely I wish I could have come back! At the same time, it’s like Serenity: When you get the chance to be in an episode of something like Lost, I do find it hard to say, ‘Now I want two.”’


Waitress (Film, 2007)

Played Dr. Jim Pomatter, who falls for pie-making waitress Keri Russell in the late director Adrienne Shelly’s acclaimed indie. ”There were times when Keri and I were shaking our heads and going, ‘Really? That’s how you want us to do it?’ We put all our trust in Adrienne, and man, I had no idea how well that was going to turn out. No idea it would be that good. The lesson I learned there: Put my trust in people with vision.”

Desperate Housewives (TV, 2007-08)

Played Dana Delany’s husband, Dr. Adam Mayfair. ”It was very relaxed, because the women do all the work. I got to sit around and watch all these beautiful women do all this incredible stuff and chime in every now and then. On the lot where they film Wisteria Lane, you can actually lay down on what is a real lawn. There’s some very nice shade under a nice tree where you can sit and read a book. It was very nice up there.”

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Web, 2008)

Played lecherous, self-obsessed superhero Captain Hammer in Whedon’s Web sensation. ”Joss called and said, ‘You’ll be playing a superhero who’s actually kind of the villain.’ I said, ‘Yes!’ Then he said, ‘And it’s a musical.’ [Face lights up.] ‘Yes!’ That’s another lesson I’ve learned in my career: picking the right coattails to ride on. Joss Whedon? You can’t fail. Not only can you not fail, you walk away a better actor, and in some ways, a better person.”

Castle (TV, 2009-Present)

Plays murder-mystery-solving mystery novelist Richard Castle. ”I get to play a phenomenal character. Not that he’s an amazing man. He’s actually quite shallow. I wouldn’t hang out with him for any length of time. He’s such a goober. But he’s fun. And he has heart. Real things matter to him, like his family. When we got picked up for season 4? Wow. I’ve had a season 2 once — on a show that was always in danger of being canceled [Two Guys and a Girl]. It was kind of like torture. But here on Castle, we’ve had the viewers, we’ve had the audience. I can’t go out without someone coming up to me and saying something really nice. That’s a great experience.”

Desperate Housewives (TV Show)
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