Even if Nathan Fillion weren’t currently playing the eponymous mystery writer on the hit TV series “Castle,” the genre fans out there would surely know the charming Canadian actor from his work with cult-beloved producer Joss Whedon. Fillion had a pivotal role as a serial-killing priest in the final episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” captained both the ship and ensemble cast of space western “Firefly” (and its spin-off feature “Serenity”), and goofily played Neil Patrick Harris’ superhero nemesis in Whedon’s web musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”
Fillion currently co-stars in writer-director James Mottern’s terrific desert drama “Trucker,” starring Michelle Monaghan in a career-launching performance as Diane Ford, a free-spirited (okay, promiscuous) big-rig driver who’s forced to watch over the 11-year-old son she all but abandoned to her ex. Fillion plays Diane’s drinking buddy Runner, one of the locals whose casual relationship with her proves complicated by the fact that he’s married. In support of the film, Fillion called me to talk about trucks, villains, Joss Whedon’s super-fans and the superhero franchise he’d like to reboot.
What’s the largest vehicle you’ve ever been behind the wheel of?
I had a Ford F-250. It was a big ol’ farm truck, but it wasn’t a rig. That’s about the biggest I’ve ever driven. That’s what I drove back and forth to high school. I was a poor guy, and it was a truck that my uncle owned and let me drive because I had no money. It was little compared to the thing Michelle [Monaghan] was driving around.
Runner’s relationship with Diane is unconventional, to say the least. Some people believe that men and women can’t be just friends when there’s any chemistry between them. Would you agree?
No, I don’t agree. I think when there’s chemistry, you know if there’s going to be some sort of compromising. You can know that. I like to think I’m able to draw the line. When it comes to married women, or if you’re in a relationship yourself, I try to keep myself out of situations that would force me to make decisions that could [lead] to trouble.
Michelle Monaghan’s been getting a lot of buzz for the role since the film premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Could you share any outside observations about her in this performance?
I’ll tell you what I really enjoy. We all go to the movies, we all watch television, we know what they’re about, how they work. When the main character is a cop or a spy, it’s very exciting, but I also very much enjoy when the main characters are nobodies — a trucker. Michelle’s as serious as a heart attack about her work. She’s just very, very natural. You don’t need to have a huge role to attack. She attacks what is seemingly a small character.
Your career has been a bit entrenched in the Cult of Joss Whedon. Have you had any bizarre encounters with Whedon’s super-fans?
Yeah, one or two. [laughs] One thing I can say about Joss’ fans is that they’re dedicated, passionate, intelligent and very excitable. If you go to a sci-fi convention and there’re 3,000 of them in a room, one of them is going to get a little riled up and ask you to take off your pants. I’m a pretty reasonable man. I don’t let things get too far out of hand. I try not to mix fans and booze. I keep a lid on things.
Speaking of Whedon, the only villain I’ve known you to play was Caleb on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Do you feel you’re ever typecast as the nice guy?
Not in the least. If anything, I’m typecast as a guy who’s maybe not so nice. He’s the hero who’s the anti-hero, or you think he’s a nice guy but he’s an adulterer. I’ve played so many roles, like a man who is married who cheats on his wife.
Maybe it’s your even-keel disposition that gave me this perception.
I agree. That’s part of the trick. People don’t walk around acting like they’re the villain. The villain walks around acting like he’s the good guy. The villain always thinks the show is about him, he’s going to win. The villain doesn’t think he’s a villain.
I know you’re too busy with your own TV show to work on Whedon’s series “Dollhouse,” but if you had time, what kind of character do you think you’d play?
Well, I wouldn’t be a doll, because they’re all in really great shape. I would be some incredibly rich businessman who hires a bunch of dolls to be some kind of private army. Yeah, that would be me.