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Serenity : The Shepherd’s Tale

Ron Glass - "Serenity : The Shepherd’s Tale" Comic Book - Aintitcool.com Interview

Saturday 6 March 2010, by Webmaster

OPTIMOUS DOUCHE (OD): Ron, thank you so much for sitting down with us today.

RON GLASS (RG): No, thank you it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to speak with the FIREFLY fanbase.

OD: No doubt, since it’s been, what, five years since “Serenity” the movie was in theaters. So, how does it feel to come back to the FIREFLY universe for this origin prequel?

RG: This is a great opportunity for me and I think it will be a thrill for Serenity fans. All of the questions they’ve been asking me at the conventions over the years will finally be answered. I know the fans are going to go crazy because this book will be packed with some really wonderful stuff.

OD: Before we get to the book I’d like to take a step back for a second. You’ve been a TV staple now for three decades; I remember watching you when I was a baby douche on my parent’s laps during the Barney Miller days. How does it feel being on a niche/cultish TV series like FIREFLY versus your past TV work?

RG: It’s great, especially with this particular character. I was able to do and reveal things with the character of Shepherd Book that simply wasn’t possible when doing TV comedy roles. I’ve simply had one of the best times of my life playing Shepherd Book from a creativity, and collaboration standpoint. The man is truly multi-faceted.

OD: That’s interesting, because FIREFLY was one of your first forays into science fiction. I know I was drawn to the series because of its uniqueness. They always said STAR TREK was a Western in space, to which I reply bullshit — FIREFLY is a TRUE space western. What drew you to taking on the part of Shepherd Book?

RG: It’s funny, I was always a little afraid of science fiction; I never got into it and just skipped over it. Star Trek, 2001, I just never paid much attention to them. I actually turned down a lot of sci-fi offers because I didn’t want to get involved with all of the prosthetics…make-up…and other typical sci-fi trappings. Fortunately though, one of my agents had the foresight to really insist I do one episode of Star Trek…ah but I digress.

OD: Digress away, please…

RG: The thing that attracted me to FIREFLY was the story. It was the writing. It was the character of Book. When I read the pilot for the first time I was stimulated by the prospect of playing Book. There was just something about him that jumped off the page instantly; it was like meeting my fantasy role. To be able to use so much of myself to flesh out the character….OK I’m rambling a bit. In basic terms — it just excited me.

OD: That’s O.K., perfect segue into my next question. I was a theater major in college, and since I took six years to get my undergrad I had two years over my cohorts to spend time with Stanislavsky’s acting methodology. One of the tenets of the methodology is creating the “moment before” and the “character biography”. In light of the upcoming prequel, how much of Shepherd Book’s dubious past did you conjure in creating your character biography? And how in synch was it with what the Brothers Whedon have concocted?

RG: Very little. Very little. And it turns out, as I have become more familiar with Book’s back-story in the upcoming comic, I simply could not have imagined this level of creativity. So, yeah very very very little. On the one hand it seemed at first like a real disadvantage to have this character so shrouded in mystery, especially in the face of the Stanislavsky method. But it was also a great benefit, because it allowed me to truly play the moment and the intention based on speaking with Joss to gain his inspiration on how to play a scene. Every scene was an adventure since I didn’t know Book’s history.

OD: I’m an amateur Google stalker, so while I was researching this interview I was able to uncover you are a practicing Buddhist. Wait — is that true before I go any further? I did spend six years in college after all, and when I said stalker I meant Wikipedia.

RG: Uhhh…next question.

OD: Great my first phone interview and I offended the interviewee, time to rename myself Optimous Suck.

RG: No, no I was just kidding. Interesting that you ask that question. Today is the 26th of February. I actually started practicing Buddhism and received my Gohundrom (SIC) 26 years ago today.

OD: Congratulations.

RG: Thank you, this is a very significant day in my life and I consider it a privilege to talk about the graphic novel coming out that celebrates one of my most favorite characters of my career.

OD: I’m sure you knew prior to the role that Shepherd Book was a man of the cloth. So in creating that Stanislavsky back-story for Book, what tenets of Buddhism did you transcend into this future religion and the role of Book?

RG: One of the Buddhist traits was certainly compassion. Another was to play the role with a humanistic quality. That was one of the character traits I wanted to have in the underbelly of the character. I mean on the surface he was a man of the cloth, but he could also kick your ass rather quickly.

OD: Yeah, Book is definitely no Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H!

RG: Which really made it fun and exciting to do. I had a conversation with Joss about this very issue. I wanted to be a more clearly open about the logistic leanings of the character. Joss was very clear that he wanted to have Inara embody the Buddhist virtues and Book should be more of a Fundamentalist. In my own way I tried to straddle that line. When appropriate I was Fundamental, when appropriate I was more compassionate and humanistic. By the way, I’m not trying to indicate there is no compassion in Fundamentalism, I’m just talking about my interpretation as far as the character is concerned.

OD: OK, so let’s talk about why I was so lucky to get some of your time today, the upcoming graphic novel from Dark Horse. Let’s start with the title; the obvious choice is the Shepherd Book book (I sounded like a chicken), but I’m sure it’s more creative than that.

RG: Actually it’s pretty clear: it’s called A SHEPHERD’S TALE.

OD: (Optimous makes a lame joke about shepherd pies which he has chosen to omit from the interview). Ain’t It Cool News is a heavy spoiler site. So what kind of insights can you give us on what we’ll learn about Shepherd Book?

RG: Well actually in my travels over the years I was able to squeeze a few things out of Joss’ head about what the future would hold for the novel. I revealed a few things a couple years ago. Well all right there were four things. The first is that Shepherd Book found God in a soup bowl. So obviously that indicates at some point there was a profound appreciation for a bowl of soup.

OD: Like a clam chowder? A literal bowl of soup…

RG: It was more of a space goulash I think. In my mind that indicates a “down on his luck” period in Book’s life. As we see in FIREFLY there were no remnants of that part of his life. The second thing is that he was guilty of identity theft.

OD: I never would have imagined Shepherd Book stealing credit card numbers, but OK.

RG: Well no it wasn’t credit cards. What he did was take on another person’s identity, name…the whole thing. They were useful for something he needed to accomplish and that was how he came about his name and the great cause he was about to embark upon.

OD: That’s interesting because it has been alluded to in the series and the movie that he has a real inside take on the inner doings of the Alliance — how they think — how they operate. Is that why he performed the identity theft, to break free from the Alliance’s grip?

RG: Uhmmm…

OD: It’s OK to plead the fifth if you need to.

RG: I think it’s fair to say that Book did the identity theft in order to accomplish a number of goals, not just what you described about breaking free from the Alliance…I think that’s what you said.

OD: In my own convoluted way, yes.

RG: I can match you on convolution, don’t test me.

OD: That’s awesome! That should thoroughly piss off AICN readers. All right, I’m sorry, I interrupted you, I’m overly verbose when I’m nervous or excited. You mentioned there were two more reveals.

RG: Yes, part of Book is artificial. That was a hugely popular topic on the convention tour. There were no limits to the suggestions and ideas that what part of him might be artificial. So if you don’t mind I’ll just go past that.

OD: Well, I know where my mind goes, but you’re talking to a grown man that calls himself Optimous Douche. All right we’ll leave it at artificial body part and let the novel do the rest of the work.

RG: The last thing is that his greatest accomplishment was also his downfall.

OD: All right — that whets appetites.

RG: Again, had I put together Book’s bio prior to the pilot of FIREFLY, it would have been very different from what the brilliant Joss Whedon has concocted. But it is thrilling, it’s wonderful and I know that the fans are going to love it.

OD: Some of my favorite interactions in the series were between you and Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion. I viewed the two of you as very much opposite sides of the same coin. What was your take on the relationship between the two characters?

RG: I like to let Nathan know that Joss actually offered me the part of Mal first.

OD: You serious?

RG: (Ron just laughs) But I fell in love with Book, so I let Nathan play Mal (Ron laughs again – should I laugh? No). Now I forgot what your question was after that lie. (Damn it, should have laughed)

OD: It’s OK, the lie was actually more interesting, but my question was about the relationship…

RG: Oh right…right…two sides of the same coin. Yes I think so. In many ways Book sees himself in Mal. Book sees it as his mission to guide Mal in a way that will be beneficial for his personal life. I think that relationship with Mal helps Book to realize part of why he left the abbey and went out into the world. As Book says, “if he’s going to be a man of God he needs to go where people need God,” not stay where the concept of God is so comfortable.

OD: It seems like the concept of God has evolved in the future, where God is not necessarily an overseer, but more just a part of the essence of life itself. Is that a fair assessment?

RG: Well I think that I have to separate my own personal concept from the concept that is assigned to Book. I think Book as a character, his assignment of God is a fairly traditional view. Which is that God is an overseer, the director of events. Also, the power that God gives and forgives. Now, that’s how he feels in FIREFLY and SERENITY, how he feels in A SHEPHERD’S TALE you will see is different. GOTCHA!!!!

OD: I’ve always had a fascination with Abe Vigoda. Any cool stories about Abe from the Barney Miller days?

RG: Abe was always very punctual. Most times he would be on set 15 to twenty minutes early. One day though he arrived a half-hour late. So I walked over and said, “Abe is everything OK?” He said, “Yeah, I had a doctor’s appointment today and it ran a little over.” Again I asked, “Is everything all right?” Abe said, “Yes, the doctor says I have the insides of a 35 year old man.” And I could only sputter “What did he charge you?” Abe wasn’t amused. It tells a lot about both of us.

OD: All right, this next one is kind of a slight because I am so vehemently pissed off about the cancellation of Joss’ newest brain child “Dollhouse”. If FOX actually knew how to schedule and promote a Whedon project for success and FIREFLY was entering its 8th season, how do you imagine Shepherd Book would have evolved?

RG: You know, when FIREFLY was cancelled I was so personally devastated that I would not allow myself to have those kinds of visions. It was too painful. It would have been masochistic for me to engage in that kind of fantasy.

OD: All right, I don’t want to upset you. It must have been a thrill to come back to the character for the movie. Well, a bittersweet thrill once you get of the way through the script.

RG: Well that was a conversation that Joss opened with, “Ron I have good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?” And I said, “Give me the good news first.”He said in one sentence, ‘Well we’re doing a movie and you’re in it, the bad news is you’re going to die.”

OD: Well at least it was work.

RG: A couple days.

OD: While on the subject of Joss, he just seems to be one of the nicest guys in the sci-fi medium. Is there any dirt on this guy?

RG: Oh, well I hope so, but I don’t know what it is.

OD: With all of the redoings of 70s and 80s TV shows it doesn’t seem like there’s an original thought in Hollywood these days, except from Joss. Given that, has there been any talk of a “Barney Miller” reunion or remake like “Starsky & Hutch”?

RG: Many many many many times, but when Danny (Arnold) died it was his wish we not do any kinds of reunions unless they were presented as a trilogy of feature films. That never happened and his family has honored his wishes.

OD: Anything else to get off your chest about the prequel book?

RG: Just people are going to love it. People always tell me that when they watch the series, they do it one sitting. They will feel the same about the book; they will read it one sitting.

OD: So, will see any of the other existing FIREFLY characters in this book?

RG: You know, I really think it’s important not to know everything about the book, Rob.

OD: All right, I’ll let it go since you were kind enough to call me Rob and not Douche. So, any other upcoming projects you want to talk about?

RG: Actually I did a movie a couple of years ago called LAKEVIEW TERRACE that was directed by Neil LaBute. Well, Neil just recently directed another movie that opens April 16th I believe, and it’s called DEATH AT A FUNERAL. It’s a remake of a British feature that was released a few years ago that Alan Tudyk (FIREFLY’S Wash for all you heathens) was actually in.

OD: Now it will be even easier to connect you guys to Kevin Bacon.

RG: I’m not playing Alan’s part though. I’m going to a screening in a few hours to see if I’m still in it. I have my fingers crossed.

OD: Fingers crossed indeed! Ron thank you for today, it was a true honor (tons of fanboy gushing closes things out)!

There you have it folks. Ron Glass— great guy. And I am now salivating to get my hands on A SHEPHERD’S TALE when it is released this Fall.

As a final political closer, remember kids, when money and demographics obliterate a great universe rife with limitless storyline possibilities, and it is loved by so many fans, comic books keeps it alive. Thank you Dark Horse.