LOS ANGELES – Last week, Nathan Fillion noted his 25th year with ABC.
Remarkable? It is if you consider all the series he has been part of. Now starring on “The Rookie,” the 47-year-old started with a movie of the week (“Ordeal in the Arctic”) that filmed in his home town, moved on to a starring role on “One Life to Live,” and has had spots on “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Modern Family” and “American Housewife” -- and the lead on “Castle.”
“ABC has been incredibly kind to me over the years,” he says. When producers were searching for someone to headline “The Rookie,” they didn’t have far to look. “I accepted the job before the script was even written,” Fillion says. “All the right ingredients were there.”
Sure enough, “The Rookie” opened well enough to earn a full-season order. Now, it’s one of those ones that’s on the bubble. Reason to worry? Not if you look at his past. “Firefly” became a cult favorite; “Castle” ran for eight seasons.
Fillion, insiders say, is consistent – and likely to build an audience once viewers see what he can do. In “The Rookie,” he plays the oldest newbie in the Los Angeles Police Department. The job is the character’s lifelong dream, even though he may not have what takes to keep up.
“The idea of playing a character who is at a crossroads in his life and is willing to sort of throw everything aside and change his entire life without knowing how it’s going to work out was kind of a great jumping-off point,” says creator Alexi Hawley. “We are living in an age where there are plenty of people who are deciding that they want to change things up, even at a young age.”
Fillion gets to do that, while retaining that network security.
Interestingly, a sitcom wasn’t among the post-“Castle” offerings. After “Modern Family” appearances, viewers thought he was a natural. “It’s not about, ‘I’ll pick up the phone and start doing one,’” Fillion says. “Jobs come and opportunities come when they come. I recognized an excellent opportunity,” he says of “Rookie,” “and this was one I just couldn’t say no to.”
The comedic bent, he says, emerged early into “Castle.” Even though the show was billed as a drama, “it was apparent we were a comedy. There wasn’t a dramedy category when we started. ‘Castle’ and shows like it are their own genre. And that’s fantastic – it managed to keep the show running for eight years.”
An executive producer on the new show, Fillion says he doesn’t meddle in the storytelling. “I leave that to the story guys. Alexi is a fantastic storyteller. I like to think of myself as pepper. He makes the meal and I come in with some pepper. I’m not changing the menu.”
Unlike his character, the native Canadian hasn’t felt a desire to switch careers. “I’m still riding a fantastic wave,” he says. “I hope for the best but plan for the worst.”
Look at his resume and you’ll see a lot of variety. He appeared in “Saving Private Ryan,” did the hit musical web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” and voiced a string of “Halo” video games. He gained a cult following with “Firefly” and, subsequently, a guest spot as himself on “The Big Bang Theory.”
“Those guys are like-minded nerds like myself,” he says of the “Big Bang” crowd. “They have an affinity for the nerd culture. When they make ‘Firefly’ jokes or ‘Nathan Fillion vs. Ryan Reynolds for Green Lantern,’ they’re just touching on stuff we all talk about. I ran into those guys at a party and they said, ‘We’d love to have you on the show,’ and the next thing I knew, I was on it.”
Just as straight-forward as his characters, Fillion says fans are often surprised he’s as tall as he is. “Or they’ll say, ‘You sound like Nathan Fillion but you don’t look like Nathan Fillion.’”
It’s all part of the actor’s evolution. “You make your way through your career and you find yourself playing somebody’s son and then somebody’s brother,” Fillion says. ‘And then, maybe, all of a sudden now you are married and now you have a baby. And then your baby is actually 14 and then she grows to 22 and now you are the oldest. That’s your title, ‘the oldest.’”
Fillion, however, isn’t one to forget those who helped him along the way. “One Life To Live” was his education in the business. “If you’re going to learn the ropes, learn them from the best. I was working with people who had been in the business 15, 25, 35 years – you can’t argue with that kind of experience. Those people took me in, not only on the show but personally. I nurtured relationship there that I maintain to this day.”
When he went to Hollywood to try his hand, “no one would touch me. It was like a year and I was watching my savings go down. But that was a great thing that happened because now I truly appreciate how very difficult it is to succeed in this industry,” he says.
To land a long-running show like “Castle” was “more than I could have asked for,” Fillion says. “It’s more than I could have hoped for.”