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Sean Maher - "Firefly" Tv Series - Brilliantbutcancelled.com Interview

Monday 11 September 2006, by Webmaster

Firefly’s Demise : An Interview with Sean Maher

Since we launched brilliantbutcancelled.com, our Comment Boards have been on fire about Joss Whedon’s absolutely brilliant and shamefully cancelled “Firefly.” We told some of your concerns to Sean Maher, who played Dr. Simon Tam on the ill-fated “space western.” Here’s what he had to say.

What is that experience of having a show cancelled?

"Firefly" is my fourth cancelled show, and my fourth cancelled show with Fox, to be specific.

Really? Can you walk us through those real quick?

First there was "Ryan Caulfield." I think it only aired two shows. He was a teen cop. I think there were 7 or 8 episodes shot, and I don’t think I’ve even seen them. Then I went to "Party of Five" and they cancelled that. I was Julia’s (Neve Campbell) boyfriend. Then I went to "The $treet," and that was cancelled. Then I went to "Firefly."

So, you were prepared.

Actually, with "Firefly," we all took it really hard. It was a big blow, it was awful. And then to have the fans, the Browncoats across the world, you know, they kept it going, and we kept feeling the support. It was flattering to say the least, also humbling. It was just really special to know that what we felt so strongly about was resonating.

How did you get involved in Firefly?

I was initially a little turned off by the idea of a sci fi until I met Joss Whedon. I remember I took this meeting and there was no script yet. He was taking meetings with a bunch of actors, there was a sort of breakdown, a kind of synopsis, and the show sounded incredibly interesting. It didn’t sound like a sci-fi show to me. And meeting him sealed the deal. You’re struck by his brilliance right when you meet him and you know you want to work with him. So I auditioned and then the script came in the interim, and I tested and got the part.

The writing is so clear and specific. That must be a relief to play.

Really, again, it goes back to Joss. It’s a relief to have him be the ring leader, because not only does he write this fantastic script, but he steps onto set and knows exactly what he wants. You’re really just being guided along with this incredible energy that feels so right and then you get this finished product, and it’s “Wow!” He directed the pilot obviously, and he directed the “Objects in Space” episode — he’s this full package.

He also handpicked the crew, so a lot of them came from Buffy, and a lot of them came from Angel, and so they had this relationship and had known each other for years and to step into that was an incredible environment to work in. It’s sad to say, but I didn’t realize how lucky we had it until the show was cancelled and you end up in other work situations. Not that they’re miserable, but they don’t stand up to kind of the set that Joss ran. So, working on a production of his was a gift.

Are you still friends with the rest of the cast?

Yeah, it’s funny because I think people, not that they don’t believe it, but we clicked in a very easy manner, and Joss always says that, too. That’s the way he cast the show, by the person. He saw tons of brilliant actors, but unless he connected well with the person, he didn’t want to cast them. We gelled together and we’ve stayed friends. Some of them are like family. Morena (Baccarin, who played Inara) and I always look at each other and say that we just didn’t realize how good we had it until you look back and say, “that whole situation was incredible.”

It’s such a large mythology and the sad part of it’s cancellation is that we didn’t get to see how far that the story could have gone. Were you all aware of where you were headed?

It could have gone on for seasons and seasons and seasons. I don’t think I really knew where ultimately it would lead. I mean, Joss would run set and let us know where things were going, episode to episode, but in the grand scheme of things — obviously the Reevers were a big deal.

The scariest thing in the pilot is this idea of these things that you don’t know what they look like, but you know they’re terrifying. There’s the scene where Inara takes out the syringe and once you get to the movie, you realize why. You can’t survive after seeing them or that it’s better to kill yourself before they get to you, you will become a reever, this life of everlasting torture and misery. We got to do that in the movie finally, but we only had one season.

Simon gets punched a lot. But he doesn’t often punch back.

We talked about this evolution of Simon in Season Two. We were doing this gradual thing with costume and hair and make up, sort of bringing him more to be part of the crew and I was really excited about that. Joss and I talked about how to get him to be tougher, and getting him off the ship. I always had to stay behind, because I had a stick up my ass the whole time. So we were gonna toughen him up a bit. Which we took that into the movie a bit. I hit Mal and I kill a Reever. That was a big day for me.

Your relationships seemed impossibly organic, to the point where it’s hard to know if you’re acting or improving. Were you allowed any improv? There’s no improv so much with Joss. He’s actually quite, I don’t want to say strict, it’s just that you know that his language is his language. You can bring up suggestions but usually he’s right and you have to go back to the way he wrote it.

It’s interesting, in terms of his writing, he always says he wrote after watching the actors. As people. He watched us together, and watched our relationships and our interactions and kinda wrote from there. So it was organic in that sense, and came from us in that in that sense, but once it was on the page, and once we were on set — we had a great script supervisor who wouldn’t let us change a comma.

So the unique language, the word choices like “shiny” and “Goram." That’s all Joss. It’s a very western slang, and that was all Joss and Tim (Minear).

What were you told about how it got cancelled?

We were not told much. I think we were strung along for a little while, because they were on the fence about what to do with us.

So no idea why it was pulled?

From the beginning, after we shot the pilot, coming back to work, we really never felt like the network got it. We didn’t really feel a ton of support from the beginning. It was always a little confusing.

There’s a great story that Joss tells about after the network saw the pilot, someone who shall remain nameless goes, “But I don’t get it. There are horses.”And so Joss says, “Oh. Okay, well, that’s sort of the point.” And the guy says, “But horses in outer space?” That was a comment out of an executive mouth, and so I think that from the beginning, there were some things that they just didn’t take the time to understand.

I think that they were on the fence about picking it up again, anyway. There were all these jokes on set that Fox wanted “Melrose Space.” They wanted more sex and more action, and what I liked about the show so much and what Joss loved obviously was the characters, and the relationships between them and the dialogue. When I read the pilot, I was like, “this is fantastic, it’s so unique, a post-apocalyptic western.” He created this incredible world they wanted something different and I don’t know if he was able to give it to them.

Plus, wasn’t the series shown out of order? Is that true?

Yeah, that was a mistake. They did do that. They decided to show the pilot as a special Christmas episode, so episode two ("The Train Job") was shown first. I mean, the universe of this show was a tough world to adjust to anyway, so being sort of thrust in to the second episode was really hard. The pilot introduced you to these characters, it was two hours, you got to step into this world and say “here’s what this is about.” You know, like any show, the pilot is designed to draw you in and introduce you. And the network, I think they weren’t sure about it and they wanted to re-tool it, and they ended up showing the pilot after episode eleven or something. Which was just a mistake.

I remember people seeing the show when it premiered and they were sort of thrust into it. I remember a lot them being confused. And thinking, well, if they’d seen the pilot, then you would have known their names. And now, we’re still talking about it. Fox did all these things and everytime someone hears the story they say, “huh?”

So, the cancellation wasn’t solely based on the ad campaign?

Umm ... What ad campaign? I don’t remember the show being advertised.

How did the movie come about?

After it was cancelled, there were talks about finding another home for Firefly. I did not in a million years think it would be a feature film. We thought, maybe the Sci-Fi Channel, or we would continue somewhere. But I went over to Joss’ house one night and he was like,”Universal’s doing the movie.” He was going to Cape Cod to write the script and suddenly it was all in the works. What happened was that the sales for the Firefly box set DVDs were through the roof, and Universal was already thinking about doing it. Again, though I really think that the fans helped the most. That was sort of our ad campaign. The fans were still excited. And they still are.

There is talk on many other fan sites about a sequel to the film. What do you know?

I’ve not heard either way, but they have until Sept 2007 to decide. But I haven’t heard either way. It’s one of those things. If there’s a sequel, you know, anything these people want to do, I’m there. We always joked about taking the show on the road, as a side show act - you know, “let’s get on a bus and drive cross country and re-enact firefly episodes on stage!” It’s a wonderful group of people, it’s not a question, of course we’d all be on board.

Where did you study?

I studied undergraduate drama at NYU — bounced aimlessly around a couple studios before I landed at Playwright’s Horizons and something clicked. I found my home away from home for the duration of my studies.

What would you like to say to the fans?

It’s what we always say. We consider them family. The fans are another character on the call sheet, because the show wouldn’t have gone on and the movie definitely would not have been made without the fans so I think our gratitude for them is endless.

What are you working on now?

I did a movie called “Wedding Wars” for A&E. It’s a really sweet romantic comedy centered on gay marriage. It’s not about gay marriage, but that’s the backdrop of it. It’s about the freedom to be who you want to be.

We are cancelled TV junkies, so we never ask this question, but on behalf of the fans on our site, we have to know — is there any chance we’ll see the show resurrected and new episodes made?

People always ask that and I don’t know the answer. I think the movie experience for us was so great that I think we would probably focus our attention on the bigger screen for the story. Although, I wouldn’t say never, this show always surprises me.