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Nathan Fillion

Nathan Fillion - "Drive" Tv Series panel at Wondercon 2007 - Drivefans.com Report

Friday 9 March 2007, by Webmaster

This Sunday, WonderCon hosted a panel for TV’s hit Drive, featuring four of the talents behind the scenes. These are their stories.

We begin with an extended FOX promo that I’ve never seen before but doesn’t seem to include any new footage. It’s the general one about a secret, illegal cross-country road race where people die and everyone has their reasons.

Our special guests are introduced. First to enter is Greg Yaitanes, executive producer and director of the pilot. Next is an up-and-coming unknown actor by the name of Nathan Fillion. He appears to be somewhat popular, judging by the eruption of cheers and applause. Well aware that he is the major draw for the room, he plays the crowd, motioning the fans to raise and lower their applause like a conductor. He beams, posing for photos. Co-star Kristin Lehman joins him, and they immediately begin chatting quietly; he takes some pictures of her with his digital camera and shows them to her. The final panelist is co-creator Ben Queen, who, to my surprise, looks about 12. Or 20. He’s probably, like, 37 but really takes his vitamins or something.

Before the panel gets started, Greg says that they brought another clip to show, which has footage from the reshot pilot as opposed to the original one. It’s almost identical to this preview, which focuses on a scene in which Mr. Bright explains to Alex Tully that he is in, you know, a secret, illegal cross-country road race where people die and everyone has their reasons. His reason being his missing wife. The version we saw, however, includes an amusing moment when Alex threatens to beat Bright up, to which Bright casually responds, "[Beating me up] would also be grounds for immediate disqualification."

When the clip is over, Nathan quips that he loves the FOX announcer guy and does an impression: "One man! One machine!" We laugh, because Nathan is funny.

Moderator Craig Tomashoff kicks off the panel by giving Ben Queen the opportunity to explain the premise of Drive, which, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, is a secret, illegal cross-country road race where people die and everyone has their reasons. The Race begins at the southernmost point in the United States, but no one knows where it ends. Ben was inspired by a 1970s film called The Gumball Rally. The IMDb plot outline describes it thusly: "A disparate group of drivers take part in a secret and illegal cross country road race." Yep. Sounds like Drive, all right. The movie was based on the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, the real-life race that was also the basis for Cannonball Run, which IMDb describes thusly: "A wide variety of eccentric competitors participate in a wild and illegal cross-country car race." See, now, it almost sounds like Drive, but it’s eccentric and wild rather than disparate and secret. Ben Queen further distances Drive from Cannonball Run by saying, "This show has about 40% less Dom DeLuise."

Craig remarks that the show has had somewhat of a rocky history, what with being pushed back in the schedule and having to recast and reshoot the pilot, but Greg responds that he and Tim joke that the pilot they made now is with the cast they always wanted. Tim wanted to reunite with Nathan Fillion, for instance, but he was busy filming White Noise 2. Any issues in the production have been due to timing, not to due to things not working. In fact, they just turned in the cut of the pilot (airing April 15!), and they just started shooting the third episode.

Somehow, the focus shifts to Kristin Lehman, perhaps because she is an attractive blonde woman at a comic book convention. She explains that her character, Corinna Wiles, is different because she’s not a participant but a stowaway attempting to infiltrate the Race. So she chooses the best, smartest, bravest, most handsome driver-

"And when he isn’t available," says Nathan. He and Kristin have an obvious rapport; he says she’s very fun to work with and attempts to show us pictures on his digital camera, but they’re kind of hard to see.

Discussion turns to the cast and their cars. Greg says the show has a huge ensemble of ten main characters and five recurring characters, with about a dozen people in six cars. One particularly intriguing element, however, is that there are 75-100 racers in the Race, none of whom know who else could be a competitor. This of course allows new characters to pop up at any time to replace old characters who...well, let’s just say Tim Minear thinks the show could be called Fiery Ball of Death. In this show, however, even the cars are characters. Greg described the camera as a character as well, which sounds like a very interesting idea.

Ben Queen picked the cars, so there are no effeminate English cars (or talking cars or cars emblazoned with the Confederate flag). He admits that when pitching the show, he went to Toys ’R’ Us and bought Matchbox cars, iconic cars, because within the show, he says, there are all sorts of mini-shows. When you enter Wendy’s minivan, for instance, you’re in The Soccer Mom Show. When the time came to get the real cars, he found that he basically used the Matchbox cars as models and ended up with life-size versions of what he’d envisioned originally.

Somehow, the focus shifts to Tim Minear, perhaps because he is an attractive brown-haired man not at a comic book convention. Nathan says that he wanted to work with Tim again and segues into a question: "Are there any Browncoats here?" The crowd do their best Abigail Breslin impersonations, and in New York, Sylar winces. Nathan then asks, unrelatedly, who is on his MySpace friendslist. The crowd responds vehemently, and then Nathan gets back to praising Tim. He thinks he’s funny. He likes his style. "I like taking credit for his hard work." He likes his dialogue and the stories he tells.

Kristin likes Tim because he wants to work with actors he’s worked with before and have them play dissimilar roles. She worked with Tim ten years ago (presumably referring to Strange World), and she had recently been working with FOX (having starred in the ill-fated Killer Instinct and guest-starred on Prison Break) when she got a phone call from Tim Minear and Ben Queen, whom she had also worked with (Century City). They told her about the show, and it sounded savvy and witty and compelling; Tim and Ben’s excitement about the project was evident in the script.

A comment lauding Greg’s camerawork takes us into the War of the Worlds anecdote. Greg never wanted actors in moving vehicles; rather, he and Tim were inspired by a shot in War of the Worlds where the camera seamlessly goes in and out of Tom Cruise’s car as it flees from terrifying special effects. To accomplish the same task in Drive, they went to Zoic, who most fans know from their excellent work on Firefly and Battlestar Galactica (Ben and Greg claim there will be no spaceships in this show, however). He envisioned the opening scene of the pilot as one shot to give it a sense of urgency, and that can be accomplished with the magic of greenscreen.

On the subject of not actually driving cars, Nathan brings up The Incident and asks Kristin to explain. Kristin has no idea what he’s talking about, so she passes it off to Greg. As he begins the story, Kristin realizes exactly which Incident he’s talking about. Now, I’m not sure I caught the whole story because there was far too much laughing, but as far as I can tell, what happened was that they were supposed to be filming a serious scene. Nathan and Kristin drive up, and they’re supposed to put it in park, but as soon as they get out...the vehicle zooms away, and they run after and try to stop it from killing anyone. It sounds like a raucous affair. Nathan begins to reminisce about tearing away in his car when he was eighteen, his mullet waving in the wind. Fangirls swoon.

Craig Tomashoff brings up a topic discussed earlier in the sci-fi panel regarding how much the creators know about the world of the show and where the story is going. Ben responds that they’ve mapped out the mythology, which includes where the finish line is and who’s behind the Race. He hopes the show is like nothing we’ve ever seen. Greg chimes in that he wishes they could show us more, but we’ll have to wait till April. Incidentally, he’s very happy about April on FOX, as it’s a good time to premiere. It’s certainly better than March (I still miss you, Wonderfalls!).

Craig again reuses an earlier topic and asks Nathan and Kristin whether they like to know in advance where the story is going. Nathan crafts some sort of nonsense about past, present, and future and levels of knowledge and wraps it up by saying he does his best to smooth the transition. Kristin also likes not knowing where the story is going because it helps her stay spontaneous and be in the moment.

Craig has apparently run out of original ideas because he falls back on the sci-fi panel again to ask whether there are any sci-fi elements in the show. Ben answers that while it’s not sci-fi, he and Tim do refer to it as a genre show. What genre, he does not say. Is "secret, illegal cross-country road race" a genre?

It’s possible Craig actually asks a question appropriate for a Drive panel at this point, but my notes don’t indicate why Greg starts talking about the greenscreen process. It turns out that none of the first unit folks even leave L.A. Instead, they send out a second unit to film all the driving scenes across the country. They’ve employed Spiro Razatos, who worked on Talladega Nights, our generation’s Days of Thunder. Incidentally, he also worked on Angel.

Speaking of Talladega Nights, Nathan and Kristin mention that they just visited NASCAR, and then Kristin talks about complexity as a strength of the show, and I don’t see how the two go together, but hey. She enjoys that there’s a race within the Race involving challenging, fatal tasks. Greg adds that it’s not predictable and, interestingly, there’s no set structure for an episode. Every week is a different "movie." Ben, who drives a Prius (although there are no Priuses...Prii? in the show since they’re not exciting), says that he likes being able to do a high drama, a broad comedy, and a thriller all in the same show.

As people begin to line up for the Q&A, Nathan Fillion, that man among men, decides to give us a taste of what Drive is all about. He asks for a volunteer. Hands shoot up, including mine. He points to a guy in blue, representing the Water Tribe. Then he turns and points to me. Or...in my direction, as he’s actually pointing to someone behind me in orange, representing the Fire Nation. These two guys, let’s call them Sokka and Zuko, walk up to the stage as Nathan tears something in half. Sokka attempts to get Nathan to sign something, but he won’t, as those are The Rules.

He tells them that his friend PJ Haarsma wrote a new book called The Softwire, and he is somewhere out there at WonderCon. He tells Sokka and Zuko that when the panel is over, he will text PJ and tell him that the first person who presents him with half of his boarding pass (he gives one half to each of them) gets a free copy of his book. There is some chattering, and Nathan responds, "’Where’s PJ?’ Exactly!!"

As Sokka and Zuko return to their seats, Nathan proclaims, "You’ve just seen Drive."

Here come the questions! The first question is for Nathan. Please assume that every question is for Nathan. Because it is. Except for maybe two. One might think Nathan Fillion invented cars.

Nathan seems to have played a lot of tailor-made roles. How does he go about choosing roles? Nathan answers, "The promise of employment." But seriously, folks, in this instance Tim and Ben geared the character of Alex Tully to him, so of course it feels tailor-made. But he’s sure that he could take any role and make it seem like it was tailor-made for him. Kristin jumps in: "He plays a mean woman." Nathan quips back: "A strong black woman."

A guy asks about two of Nathan’s already filmed projects, White Noise 2 and Outing Riley, the Project Greenlight film. When will we be able to see them? Well, White Noise 2 should be coming out in April, but Nathan has no idea when the latter will see the light of day. He has a decidely unsexy nude scene in it.

A girl offers Nathan a chance to respond to a recent comment by Tricia Helfer: "I dated Captain Mal." Nathan explains that he was set up on a blind date with her, and it was the best date he ever had. He begins to muse upon the obligatory question of who would win in a fight between Number Six and Mal but then comes to the conclusion, "Why would you fight Number Six?"

Here comes a question for everyone: what’s your favorite car? Ben chooses a 1983 white Firebird...that he put in the show. Kristin is hesitant at first, but she divulges that her favorite car is a Porsche Carrera...which is what her ex-husband drove. Greg doesn’t drive now...but he used to drive a sweet Mustang. Nathan always wanted a VW dunebuggy like the Monkees had. But what he’d really like is one of those things on the show Future Cars that’s, like, a skateboard with wheels and you can just press a button and whoosh, you’re in the Batmobile. He’d really like a Batmobile.

The next question is back to Nathan. Someone wants to know if we’ll get to see the goofy Captain side of Nathan in the show. Greg says we definitely see some of Nathan’s humor. Nathan says Alex and Mal are similar in that they’re both cornered individuals, and, of course, Tim has that dry humor of his. He adds, "The pants are far more comfortable."

The next girl embarrasses herself by not knowing that Nathan’s character’s name is Alex Tully, but she manages to ask him to tell us about him. Nathan explains that Alex is a landscaper, leaving off the puzzling "rogue" modifier used in the press materials (sadly, no one asks, "What’s a rogue landscape?"). He’s been coerced into racing because of his missing wife, played by Amy Acker. He was selected for a reason, however, and all Nathan will say is that he’s got a feeling that...he wasn’t always a landscaper.

The next questioner has also not been paying attention, as she asks how hard it is to manage the cast when they’re flying all over the country to film. Greg reminds her that the cast never leaves L.A. due to the magic of greenscreen. Nathan and Kristin note with amusement that they just filmed a scene in "Cape Canaveral," or...Pasadena.

A guy has two questions for the Fillion: what’s been his most challenging role and does he still play Halo? The answer to the second is yes. He thinks about the first one for a bit and settles on Bill Pardy (Slither) because they filmed nights and it was cold. Being in sweltering heat and pretending you’re okay is easy, but it’s extremely difficult to be freezing and pretend you’re not. So that made it very challenging.

Someone has a very good question for Ben Queen: how do you structure a show that has a defined finish line? Ben starts out by saying that "finish line" may mean something very different from what we’re expecting. It’s not just some line you get to cross. And his goal is to make you love every character and want all of them to win. He thinks they could have a finish line every season.

We’re back to Nathan, who’s asked to compare the casts of Firefly/Serenity and Drive. He comments that in the former, he got to work with everyone all day, but with the latter, they’re more separated, so he can come in, do a scene with Kristin, and go home.

The final question is for Kristin Lehman. Kidding! It’s for Nathan again. But it could have been for Kristin, since it involves Keri Russell. But the question is not about Felicity but Nathan’s new movie Waitress. Poor Kristin. She does get in a dig about Nathan’s tight jeans, though. Nathan says Keri was very nice, and he’s been fortunate to have been paid to make out with beautiful woman. Evangeline Lilly, Keri Russell...Kristin Lehman? It’s fun, not romantic, he says. A very positive experience.

Much like the Drive panel itself, which is now over. Remember that Drive premieres on Sunday, April 15, with two episodes and then moves to its regular timeslot with a new episode on Monday, April 16, at 8:00. It’s just like Prison Break with cars!

And if you happen to be Sokka or Zuko, please tell us which one of you got the free book.