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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Preacher Man

Tuesday 15 April 2003, by Webmaster

Although FOX canceled producer Joss Whedon’s "Firefly" after a brief run last year, some familiar faces from that Western space opera can be seen on his other two shows — UPN’s "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and The WB Network’s "Angel."

Gina Torres, who played Zoe, first officer of the starship Serenity, on "Firefly," is currently on "Angel" as a mysterious being who inspires worship and subservience — and causes major trouble for good-vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) and his cohorts.

Nathan Fillion, who played Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in "Firefly," makes his "Buffy" debut as Caleb in the episode "Dirty Girls," scheduled for Tuesday, April 15.

"Joss called and said, ’It’s a little incestuous,’" Fillion says, "and I said, ’Yes, it is, Joss, and I’m all for it.’"

Asked who Caleb is, Fillion says, "He’s this nice Southern preacher, and he’s got the strength of his convictions. Unfortunately, his convictions are that all girls are dirty and they need to be cleansed, and he does that by stabbing them. He’s not a pleasant man, but he comes across as a very gentle, peaceful, charming fellow. Isn’t that just the way of evil?"

Caleb rolls into Sunnydale, where Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), her friends, fellow Slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) and a passel of potential Slayers are battling The First, a primordial evil that is unable to take corporeal form (although it has a real fondness for assuming the likenesses of dead people).

"Caleb is in cahoots with The First," Fillion reveals, "so we’re still dealing with an old villain, she’s just found a new person to manipulate. He doesn’t have magic. He only has physical strength, so when The First leaves us wanting for her ability to connect with the physical realm, Caleb fills those shoes for The First, making The First far more formidable."

"It’s like, ’I can turn into dead people, but I can’t touch ya!’ It’s an interesting weakness. She has one strength, and it’s manipulation, which isn’t a strength, really. Most villains that we’re used to just put their hands on you and start shaking you until your teeth rattle."

But with Caleb in The First’s corner, Buffy and her friends are in for the fight of their lives. "We spent four days filming this fight scene — what an undertaking," Fillion says. "It was monolithic in its undertaking, this battle scene where Buffy and all the potentials and her team first meet Caleb. Four days filming this one scene — I couldn’t believe it."

"I turned to the writer and said, ’This is crazy. I can’t believe all this work.’ He says, ’Yeah, but the idea is, we have to impart that this is the first time they meet, and we have to show that they’re out of their league all of a sudden. This is nothing they’ve faced before.’ I’m all for it."

Informed that the phrase "like nothing we’ve faced before" has been said many times before on "Buffy," Fillion laughs. "Then use this one, ’Nothing they’ve faced before, really, this time. Really, really nothing they’ve faced before.’ It happens when you live on a Hellmouth."

Although Malcolm had a dark and broody side, he still was a good guy. Fillion is relishing the idea of switching teams with Caleb. "First of all, I’m so excited about playing a villain. No one would hire me to be the lead until Joss Whedon hired me to play the lead. I’ve auditioned for many villains, but no one has hired me."

"Now, Joss has hired me to play a villain, and it’s going to give me an opportunity to show that darker side. Caleb is so pleasantly mean."

Also high on Fillion’s fun list is playing a kick-butt guy on a woman-centered show. "’Buffy’ is a very woman-strong show. It’s all about the little girl that has all this incredible power. It’s very empowering to women and to girls, and Caleb comes along. He’s just very opposite of that. He’s sexist, if anything."

"He says things like, ’Well, ain’t that just like a woman?’ He’s mean, and he’s so very powerful that you can’t say ’boo’ against him, because he can back up everything he says."

While Fillion was a newcomer to the "Buffy" set, he wasn’t entirely a stranger. "I met Sarah Michelle Gellar when she was doing ’All My Children’ in New York City. I was down the street doing ’One Life to Live,’ so we’re in the old soap-opera fraternity. We’re alumni."

"Xander — Nick Brendon — I met him when I first moved out to L.A., and he introduced me to James Marsters, who plays Spike, who I’ve seen a couple of times around town."

"And here’s a surprise for you, I auditioned to play Angel when ’Buffy’ was first starting. I’d just moved out to Los Angeles from New York City. I auditioned to play Angel, and I told that to Joss when he gave me ’Firefly.’ He said, ’Oh, I don’t remember you.’ I said, ’Yeah, I never made it to the producers.’"

The presence of a preacher on "Buffy" is just another example of religious figures and religious imagery on Whedon’s shows. Some of it comes with the territory — such as crosses and holy water — but there also have been scenes in churches on "Buffy" and "Angel,"and a regular clergyman character on "Firefly."

"I, myself, am an atheist," Whedon says. "I’m fascinated by faith, although I have none, myself."

Fillion — who played a priest in "Dracula 2000" and in three unaired episodes of FOX’s "Pasadena" — has his own theory. "I think there’s a certain comfort level with religious imagery with atheists," he says. "They have a comfort level with being able to play with those things and be fascinated by them, as a Catholic might be fascinated by mythology, but not to the worship level."

As to the question of why he keeps getting hired to play men of the cloth, Fillion chuckles and says, "I think I have that face."