Nathan Fillion Interview, Waitress

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with Emmy nominee Nathan Fillion ("Firefly,” "Serenity”) at the Los Angeles press day to promote his new film, "Waitress.” An audience hit at the Sundance Film Festival, "Waitress” serves up a sweet, sassy and delicious slice of life tale -- as it reveals the power of friendship, motherhood and the willingness to take a chance. It’s the story of a small town woman who transforms her hopeless life into a hilarious and unexpected love story.

This vibrantly different romantic comedy is the final film from writer-director Adrienne Shelly. Starring in the title role, Keri Russell ("Mission Impossible 3,” "The Upside of Anger”) leads a dynamic cast as a diner waitress stuck in a lousy marriage whose only solace is baking out-of-this-world pies. When the awkwardly charming new ob-gyn, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), comes to town, she’s inspired to mix-master her life into something far more satisfying. "Waitress” will surely do for pie making what "Sideways” did for Pinot Noir.

As a favorite waitress at Joe’s Diner, Jenna (Russell) is also a "pie genius,” naming her tantalizing confections after the tumultuous events and emotions of her daily life. She’s hoping that one of her pastries, like her "Kick In The Pants” Pie, might even change her life – if she can just win that $25,000 pie contest. But when Jenna discovers that she’s pregnant, she immediately bakes an "I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” Pie – a quiche of egg and cheese with a smoked ham center. After all, her husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto, "Thirteen,” "Six Feet Under”) is a jealous jerk that is essentially a child himself and the last thing they need to do is start a family together. But the pregnancy eventually changes the course of events in her life, giving her an unexpected and newfound confidence via letters to her unborn baby. "Waitress” also stars Emmy nominee Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm,” "RV”) and Adrienne Shelly ("The Unbelievable Truth,” "Trust”) as Jenna’s quick-tongued fellow waitresses along with classic television star Andy Griffith ("The Andy Griffith Show,” "Matlock”) as the curmudgeonly Old Joe of Joe’s Diner.

Fillion portrays the other leg of Jenna’s yin-yang love triangle in the film’s most romantic role as the new and only ob-gyn in town, Dr. Pomatter. To play the good doctor who finds himself with an adulterous attraction to a pregnant patient, Adrienne Shelly said that she wanted to find "the quintessential sort of handsome guy who has no idea that he’s handsome.” For Shelly, Nathan Fillion, an up-and-coming star who gained a cult following in Joss Whedon’s fantasy television series "Firefly” and feature film "Serenity,” was perfect in that regard. "He’s really a big dork,” she laughed on the set, "but he looks like Harrison Ford or something. He was perfect for the role.”

Fillion notes that his role was a bit of a departure: "I’ve played space captains and chiefs of police, but this is the first time I’ve played a gynecologist!” Like his cast mates, it was the humor and poignancy of the story that drew him to the part. "My favorite thing about the screenplay is that this isn’t a story about presidents or spies – it’s about real people in a real café,” he comments. "It’s a slice of life, a slice of life pie.”

Nathan Fillion gained a cult following when he portrayed Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Joss Whedon’s critically acclaimed television series "Firefly.” Next, he was seen in the Universal film "Slither,” a horror-comedy directed by James Gunn and co-starring Elizabeth Banks. Most recently, he starred in the Fox series, "Drive.” The show, from executive producer Tim Minear, chronicled an underground road race across America. Fillion plays a landscaper who unwillingly joins the race in an effort to secure his abducted wife’s return. He will next be seen on the big screen starring in "White Noise 2.”

Fillion’s other film credits include "Serenity” which reunited him with director Joss Whedon, "Saving Private Ryan” in which he portrayed the soldier misidentified as Private Ryan, the independent film "Water’s Edge,” "Blast from the Past,” "Dracula 2000,” and "Doubting Reilly.” On television, Fillion earned an Emmy nomination for his role in the daytime drama "One Life to Live.” His other television credits include the ABC movie-of-the-week "Ordeal in the Arctic,” as well as roles in the series "Two Guys and a Girl,” "Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” "Pasadena” and "Miss Match.”

A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Fillion wanted to be a high school teacher and studied at the University of Alberta. He later starred in productions at the Edmonton Fringe Festival and performed with comedy groups in town before moving on to pursue an acting career in New York and Los Angeles.

Nathan Fillion turns in an impressive performance in his latest film and we really appreciated the opportunity to talk to him about it. Here’s what he had to tell us about "Waitress,” a rare and sparkling comedy:

Q: This doctor, he was….

NF: …awesome. I agree. Next question. [Laughs]

Q: You were actually playing two characters: the good guy and the bad guy. I mean the good doctor and the bad guy sneaking around with his patient. Did Adrienne have that vision of you being those two personalities?

NF: Well, tell me, was Jenna a bad guy then because she was cheating on her husband? It’s interesting that we’re both being unfaithful to our marriage, but Jenna we forgive far more readily because she’s in what’s obviously an abusive and dangerous relationship that we don’t want her to be in. But we’ve all known couples or people that are together for some reason or another – I think we talked about this earlier – where it’s ‘oh my God, they broke up? They were so perfect together. What could possibly be wrong?’ And although it’s not abuse and maybe no one’s getting beat up, certainly something within them is not bringing them together and they’re not happy. I think we all know people who are in a marriage that they’re not happy in. Does that make him a bad person that he’s looking for happiness elsewhere? I think that’s what the movie becomes about for me at least as far as everybody is looking to be happy. But it’s about the decisions you make. Are those decisions the right decisions that will bring you happiness?

Q: But when we see how adoring your character’s wife ends up being, what did you imagine he was looking for elsewhere?

NF: Again, I put it in that nebulous ‘what could it possibly be?’ that these two people are together. They seemed so perfect. I obviously don’t know their relationship so I put it in that nebulous thing that obviously he’s unhappy for a reason. The reasons why were not important – not important to the story, not important to He was looking for happiness, she was looking for happiness. If they found something together that stirred something within them, there’s obviously an attraction. He was obviously attracted to her. Did he instigate? Man, I think she was all over him if you know what I mean. I’m hoping you don’t write that down, but she jumped on him.

Q: What do you think was so attractive about your character’s stilted dialogue?

NF: I think you can feel it when someone is attracted to you. There’s something in their actions, there’s something in the energy that somebody gives off that says I like you more than maybe you realize or maybe I should. Whether subconsciously or not, I think people read that and feel that. I think it’s part of when somebody likes you, even not in a romantic sense, but somebody truly likes you and cares for you and respects you, that’s what keeps you coming around and hanging out with that person is that you have that sense, that feeling on some level that they’re there for you. I think there’s certainly that going on with Jenna and Dr. Pomatter.

Q: Did you do any research in order to be authentic in the role as a doctor, such as when you perform the sonogram?

NF: Well that was actually the only technical thing I had to do and they had a nurse who told me the baby was a little lower, a little farther south. That was fine. And basically the way to angle it and how to find where the baby would be and what that motion would look like. Otherwise you’ll notice that Dr. Pomatter never straps on any gloves and gets any more intimate than actually making out with Keri.

Q: After having done so many action projects, is it nice to do a movie where you just talk and kiss?

NF: Now this is where we get into another area that we talked about earlier today. There are people who say, ‘this is a real departure for you’ because they’re only familiar with my last few projects whereas if you go back a little further, I was a romantic foil in a sitcom, before that I spent three years on a soap opera. This movie screams soap opera – infidelity between a doctor and a patient.

Q: I know that’s not all you’ve done. I mean just having a stretch of that and then getting back to this sort of thing.

NF: Everything I do I try to ground in reality and if you’re on a spaceship, you’re still playing the reality of what that relationship is. If you’re in a speeding car, you’re still playing the reality of a relationship, so regardless of the backdrop and the setting, I just try to always be truthful. It’s fun. There are different challenges with every job, of course. I’m always having fun.

Q: How was it working with Adrienne as a director?

NF: Lovely, absolutely lovely. I remember there were times when I said to her, ‘I can do it like that. That’s how you want it? Alright.’ It was a strange angle she was taking and I wasn’t there for the filming of the rest of the picture, but in seeing the completed project, now I see her vision and now I see the throughline that writers and directors, they have that gift of that vision that I actually don’t share with them. When I saw the movie for the first time, it was in Sundance at our very first screening. I was more than pleasantly surprised. I knew it was going to be a beautiful story. I knew I loved the story. What I didn’t know was how much it would affect me and I’m just glad to have been a part.

Q: What was her vision? What was her message to the public?

NF: Good question on that. I knew what I got out of it as far as seeing people, like we talked about, trying to be happy and trying to make the right decision. Andy Griffith pretty much hits the nail on the head when he says, ‘in my life when I’ve been faced with choices and I could take one path or another, I always took the wrong one, I always made the wrong decision. It’s not too late for you to do what’s right’ trying to save her from the life that he’d had that had made him a crotchety old lonely fellow. That’s the message I take away from that. We all want to be happy. It’s the decisions we make. Are they going to make us happy? Are they the right decisions, the right thing to do?

Q: When she finally had the baby, that to me was the point in the film when she was finally liberated. A lot of women say that when they become mothers, they have a whole different outlook.

NF: A married couple friend of mine just had their first child and we’re so very proud of them and both of them, the mother and the father, spoke to me of this moment of clarity right after the birth where everything changed. He said it was like a switch in my head. I looked at the world in a different way than I had looked at it when I walked into the hospital. He said the world was different to me. And I see the flick of that switch in Keri, that moment of clarity.

Q: She did it to you too in the office. She just cut anything in her life that wasn’t happening after that child came.

NF: The clarity, yeah, the clarity.

Q: "Drive” is really awesome.

NF: Thank you for that.

Q: How many episodes have you shot?

NF: We’ve shot six now.

Q: How many are in the first season?

NF: We’ve only shot six. We’re on a writer’s hiatus right now. We’ve got an order for thirteen. We’ll see how it goes.

Q: Do you know the end point to your character yet?

NF: No. It’s a little journey we’ll take together.

Q: Are you guys shooting green screen all the time? You look so intense. After seeing you in Waitress then seeing those Drive commercials, you are two different people.

NF: Isn’t it just? [Laughs] It’s like I’m an actor or something. No, but thank you very much for that. It’s a pleasure. Basically what I do is I go to work and I pretend. Everything I do is glorified pretending and it’s just how well can you do it. So I go to work and I pretend to be a nervous Nelly doctor. I call upon whatever I need to call upon in my experiences and then I go and I play it up. Or I imagine or call upon some experiences or imagine what it would be like to be this really intense ‘maybe he’s got a dark past’ kind of a driver who’s driven. Let’s use that metaphor. That’s a lot of fun as well. I mean I have a good time going in to work and pretending to be different people, but it’s always Nathan having fun.

Q: Have you gotten as attached to the "Drive” character as you were to Malcolm Reynolds?

NF: Well I haven’t had the time with Alex Tully that I’ve had with Malcolm Reynolds, but there are certainly things that I can appreciate about both of them. Alex Tully is a little more everyman than Malcolm Reynolds but not much more. Here’s another person who has made difficult decisions in his life, and maybe not always the right decisions in his life, but now he’s created a life that will make him happy. The life that he’s wanted he’s created, but now his wife has been kidnapped and now he’s forced to dip back into that old life. How far can you go back and can you return again?

Q: And we’re not going to find out what that is for a good while?

NF: Yeah, I think if we wrapped it up right away, it wouldn’t be very interesting for being a long term story.

Q: If there was a Nathan Fillion pie, what would the name of it be?

NF: You know my Aunt Lorette always made an amazing meat pie and I just answered a questionnaire saying if you had a pie about your life, what would it be, and I said it would be the Look At Me, I’m On TV Pie.

Q: What would be in it?

NF: Well I just imagined it to myself being my Aunt Lorette’s meat pie with just that new title. It’s the pie that eats like a meal. You don’t have to wait for dessert for that pie.

Q: What was that experience like working with Andy Griffith?

NF: There's a guy I've been familiar with him and his work all my life. I'm thinking, every time I go into one of these situations, it's not as Nathan Fillion: Professional Actor. It's more so, Nathan Fillion: I studied to be a high school teacher in Edmonton, Alberta and I can't believe where I am right now. So I'm very much an observer more than a participant even. I thought I would be really star struck by him. I thought it would be very nerve wracking, exciting and amazing and wonderful. It was amazing and wonderful but in a way I didn't expect as far as hearing his voice is like listening to a family member. When you see him in front of you, you have a familiarity that I did not expect at all. He feels like family. Listening to him, I was like, ‘I completely trust you, everything you say. I believe everything you say. I'm nodding, I'm smiling, your voice soothes me.’ I feel very comfortable when he's talking to me and it's that familiarity. All my life I've heard that voice. I know what that sounds like. I know what he looks like.

Q: Do you have time to look for another movie project this summer?

NF: I don't even know what my schedule is past next week. I've got a really busy week but other than that, I think I'll be doing a little bit of Drive. Let me see, I've got summer coming up. In summertime I like to go home to Edmonton and visit my family because my brother's not teaching. Edmonton, Alberta, it's up in Canada, it's beautiful, especially in the summer so I like to try to visit in the summer more so than in the winter. But beautiful fringe festival in August so August I think will hopefully find me in Edmonton.

Q: Are you getting into the hockey playoffs?

NF: Actually, no. I didn't play hockey as a kid and when I wanted to watch Greatest American Hero, my dad wanted to watch hockey so I've had kind of like a disdain for hockey. And I certainly would get excited around Stanley Cup time because when I was growing up, we had the team. The owners were the team. There was just no denying it. The NHL changed the rules of the game so that our team couldn't so easily dominate the sport. That was really saying something. We had all these Stanley Cup banners up there. We had Wayne Gretsky. There was just no stopping us. So although I'm not a huge, huge hockey fan, I could not deny the excitement I felt for our team.

Q: What's it like now that Hollywood is going more to Canada?

NF: That actually works out really well for me as I am Canadian. It's not super easy making a living as an actor in Canada, thus I'm here in the United States. When I'm in Los Angeles and I'm auditioning for things, if they were to hire me as a Canadian, that's a tax credit and what not, I think it behooves a lot of productions to hire Canadians, due to a Canadian content law to protect jobs in Canada even though there are movies going up there. I hear a lot of complaints a lot about- - I see these bumper stickers around town with the Canadian flag, film strips on the side and a big circle with a line through it saying, ‘Got work?’ And it breaks my heart. It's like, aw, man. I'm pretty sure if you really look into it, the percentage of work that goes to Canada is less than 10% of what's filmed in Los Angeles, never mind the rest of the United States. Less than 10% of work in LA goes to Canada. And last time I checked, this was a capitalist economy? Aren't you supposed to compete? I think these people are getting a little bit hoodwinked into saying, ‘Blame Canada’ when really they ought to be maybe moving the system around a little bit down here to make it easier for Americans to film in their own country. I think maybe the problem isn't north of the border. Maybe the problem's right here in the city. I'll probably raise a lot of eyebrows saying that but I'm a Canadian and it breaks my heart. Don't say it wouldn't break your heart to see an American flag with a circle around it and a line through it. It'll break your heart inside. I wouldn't do that to you, America. Why you gotta do that to me?

Q: Are you looking forward to the steadiness of a TV job again?

NF: I absolutely, yeah. Even if it's just for the sheer schedule of it, having some place to go every morning is a great feeling for an actor. Rather than calling your friends up, ‘Wanna see a movie? We can go to the 11AM one because I'm unemployed.’ [Laughs] Yeah, I'm very much looking forward to it. I mean, I wouldn't look forward to it if I didn't like the stories we were telling, the dialogue and the people I'm working with but I have all those things going on so I'm really hoping that Drive will be around for a few years at least.

Q: What's the last movie you saw at 11AM because you had no work?

NF: That's a good question. It's been a long time since I've seen an 11AM movie. I guarantee you it was the first run of something and I know it was at the Arclight. No, it was at the Grove. It was at the Grove, there was nobody around, and I thought for a second it was the mommy and me movie, but it was far too violent so I knew that all the strollers parked weren't for my movie. [Laughs] That's all I remember. I can't even tell you what movie it was.

Q: What do you do in your off time? Rattlesnake hunting?

NF: You know what, I saw a rattlesnake just the other day on my hike. I do a lot of hiking up in the Hollywood hills. I love to just go travel up there. It's a nice place to go when you don't want to feel like you're in the city anymore. There's a lot of beautiful hikes if you want to see something with a waterfall, there's a lot of beautiful hikes up in Malibu but that's an all day project, go to Malibu just for a hike. Go to movies, I have a very close knit circle of friends, travel. I have a cozy little home. I invite people to my home. I have barbecues.

Q: Can you actually enjoy a movie since you know how it's done?

NF: Yes, there is an element of when you're in the industry of it sucking a little bit of the magic out of a movie. So there is that element, however when a movie does pull me out of my body and I am invested, when I am in a world that I'm affected by, I think Pan's Labyrinth did that to me. I wasn't feeling like, ‘This is some movie.’ I was moved by the story. I was momentarily transported for those hours, so I agree with you completely that sometimes, ‘I think I just saw the boom. Saw a boom shadow, saw a boom shadow.’ Or continuity errors, those things will pull me out a little bit. Yeah, being in a movie does pull the magic out of it a little bit, but it also makes -- when they do the job right and when there's no snafus -- it makes it all that sweeter.

Q: What was the set like on Waitress?

NF: I feel terrible because they all worked really, really hard for 20 days. I was done in less than a week. I would come in, film a couple scenes, I'd go home, piece of cake, no problem. What'd you do today? Made out with Keri Russell. Sounds good. But the atmosphere on the set was very friendly, very cordial. There's a lot of people there who were having a good time, believing in the project and just everybody pulling to- - I mean, it's not like we've got major money behind us, we've got something huge and elaborate. It felt very down home as far as filming is concerned. It was a lot of fun. Everybody pulled for ‘let's make this day, we've got to get it out, it's got to happen.’ It was very positive and very quick.

Q: Is there a trend in Hollywood for seasoned actors to go for heartfelt projects?

NF: I think- - people talk to me as far as, ‘When you pick your projects…’ and I think they have an idea that there's like five scripts in front of me and I think, ‘You know what? I'm going to go with sci-fi.’ Really that's not what's going on. Myself, I'm in a position, I'm sure later on in their careers when people are far more popular and box office draws, they can pick and choose as they please. But my experiences right now, not even so much for pocketbook for as what opportunities are coming my way. And I'm right now at the stage in my career where I'm actually working a great deal with people that I've already worked with so I've built a reputation with these people working my way up and now I'm actually returning to people whose talent I know and respect and can work with them again.

Q: Where else do you like to travel besides back home?

NF: I love Hawaii because it's got the tropical and there's no language barrier or money, you don't have to change your money, do math if you're going to buy something. So I like that. Costa Rica I think is becoming now a little more touristy than when I was actually there a few years ago but I love Costa Rica. I'm going to go back there. But anywhere in Europe I'll go. I love London. Paris I've seen, Spain I'd like to try. I just saw Amsterdam for the first time. I've never seen so many beautiful people in all my life. Everyone in Amsterdam is gorgeous. Everyone.

Q: Thank you.

NF: Cheers. Thank you.

"Waitress” opens in theaters on April 27th.

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