Castle star Nathan Fillion, even over the phone, exudes that relaxed, slow-drawl charm that is the mark of all good Southern gentlemen. That is actually kind of odd since he was born and raised in Alberta, Canada, not Tupelo, Mississippi.
He began his acting career in soaps, even gaining a Daytime Emmy nod for his work on One Life to Live, but it was his work on Joss Whedon’s sci-fi/western epic Firefly that gained the actor the following he has today.
Fillion and Firefly
But popularity with the fans doesn’t always translate into good ratings on TV. After Firefly was canceled, Nathan watched two more shows burn out in an instant (Miss Match and Drive with six episodes each) after landing a recurring role on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. This time around, it was Fillion who went looking for something different and he found it in the cozy mystery series, Castle.
“I’ll say this. In my real life I sit around, I chat with people, (so) when I’m on TV I wanna be doing things that I can’t get away with in real life. Let me squeal tiers and smash into something. Let me get away with stuff.”
Playing the mystery novelist turned detective, Nathan, as Castle, gets away with plenty.
What sets Castle apart from most cop shows on TV today is the sense of humor. It’s Bones without the excessive gore.
“I gotta tell ya,” says Fillion. “I’ve seen a lot of crime shows where cops, are dark and brooding and haunted (but) we actually hung out with some homicide detectives in New York City and these guys are not dark and brooding and haunted. They are, if anything, balancing life out. They’re regular guys. They tell the most incredibly entertaining stories, “oh get this, so this guy kills a guy, so we’re chasing him…” it always starts with some guy killed a guy, but the story is funny and very entertaining, these guys are brilliantly cleaver. So I think in that way Castle is very much like reality.”
King of the Castle
In the show, Castle is also surrounded by women. Though there are two male detectives on the peripheral (Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever), the major forces in Castle’s life are female.
Says Fillion, “I think Castle is very comfortable around women; he’s been married twice, he’s a single dad, got a fifteen year old daughter, his mother lives with him and also he’s got Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). He’s got women everywhere around him, in fact his publisher is one of his ex-wives. He’s never really had an adult male role model in his life, and I think that’s one of the reasons he stays so childlike in his adult years.
If you only tuned in to the pilot episode of the series, you need to revisit the show. Later episodes show a softer Castle, with an emphasis on his relationship with his daughter. Generally, I’m not a fan of the character’s personal lives popping up on my mysteries, but in Castle it belongs.
In Castle’s pilot episode, his character came on a little strong, a bit too wiseacre and as a result, not sympatric enough. Since then, they’ve made a switch which is outlined clearly in a recent bit of dialogue from Castle himself, “I’m a wiseass, not a jackass.”
Maintaining that distinction between the two is crucial.
“You’re always going to have a bit of a weakness in the pilot episode,” says Fillion. “It’s an intro. You’ve always got to bang that out. I try to get the pilot out of the way so that you can get into the meat of it. And then you have the fact that the first episode is the first crack, everybody’s finding their feet. You get into a rhythm, and by the time you get to that second episode and then you’re off and running.”
A literary cop show
The other line writers have to watch is the one where Castle seems smarter than the cops. Early critics of the series (myself included) were a bit put off by scenes that made Detective Beckett look like she couldn’t do her job without help from the celebrity novice. Can the writers make Castle look smart without making the cops look dumb? Nathan Fillion says, absolutely.
“We have very intelligent homicide detectives but they go at their job in a very different way. Castle doesn’t pretend to be a cop at any point in time, he simply knows story – if this were a story that would be the guy that did it. That’s his approach, which is certainly different, but when it comes to solving a murder you have to be both factual and scientific and logical and incredibly creative at the same time and I think that’s where his strength lies. Both attention to detail and he has a very good base of knowledge, he’s very well read and he knows story – that’s his angle.”
Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Nanny McDead when Castle mesmerizes the squad room by relating his version of how the crime happened as if it were a scene from one of his books. Nathan laughs, saying his own storytelling skills aren’t quite as mesmerizing.
“My weakness is, while I’m telling a story, I’ll get distracted by details which send me off on tangents. I blame my mother. When I call home and I talk to my folks, my mom always wants all the details. ‘So I had a meeting today for this particular project.’ She’ll say, ‘tell me the story and start off with this; I walked into the office and the carpet was a lovely shade of… and go’. That’s how she sets it up. So I think that’s my weakness. I get a little too detailed, but yes I do love telling stories.”
Which is why the role of Castle, the mystery writer with a nose for murder could be, should be, Nathan Fillion’s next big hit.
Watch Castle every Monday night at 10:00 on ABC.