It is a well-known fact here at THN that I’m somewhat a fan of Firefly. The sci-fi western starring Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk combined a great world, intriguing narrative and some utterly brilliant characters with a typically snappy Joss Whedon script. What’s not to love? Who knows, but Firefly was cancelled after a limited run in 2002, despite its Browncoat army of fans protests.
Since the show’s farewell movie SERENITY, Joss Whedon has successfully assembled The Avengers on the silver screen already and is overseeing the upcoming sequel AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, while it’s cast has been busy on films like I, ROBOT, DODGEBALL and WRECK-IT RALPH, not to mention starring in hit shows Castle, Suits and Homeland. Had everybody moved on and forgotten their love of Firefly and its cast? Of course not!
When Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion announced Con Man (a partly-autobiographical comedy web series featuring a similar backstory) on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, the fans made their feelings known. Records tumbled, with Con Man passing its $425,000 target almost immediately and raising over $2million in under 2 weeks, in part down to some genuinely funny videos and downright silly content from the leads.
Given the total already raised, not to mention the vocal popularity of Firefly fans, you’d forgive Alan for resting on his laurels:
‘We’re gonna continue (making videos) and we’ll have the “Hang W/” App where we’ll talk from set and stuff like that, check in with people who’ve donated.
Now that we have this community that we’re engaged with, we want to keep engaging with them – they’re our new partners. We were just editing a video where we’re answering some questions that people asked. So we don’t just disappear. “Thanks for that! See you later!”’
Despite keeping himself busy, we were lucky enough to speak to the Con Man creator himself to discuss his latest project and its real-world inspirations.
For those who don’t already know, what can you tell us about Con Man?
Con Man is a comedy that follows my character, Wray Nerely, who 10 years ago, was on a spaceship show and flew the ship, much like I did on Firefly. Nathan Fillion’s character (Jack Moore) was captain, much like he was on Firefly, but their show was called ‘Spectrum’. That’s the show within Con Man.
Unlike Nathan’s character who has become a megastar, Wray’s career has flat-lined and he goes to conventions every opportunity he gets because that’s almost his only invitation within the acting world. He’s hoping to restart his career and you follow his struggles within the acting community while simultaneously going to conventions and interacting with that world.
With the backstory in particular there are a lot of similarities to real life. How much of Con Man is based on your experience?
Some parts of it are very close, other parts of it drift away… Sean Maher (who played Simon Tam in Firefly) attends one of the conventions and he plays a version of himself. Wray Nerely hasn’t seen Firefly, so in that episode he gets the name wrong a couple of times. He’s heard good things, he just hasn’t gotten around to it… There’s ways to play with the reality and people with these characters, to share experiences that I’ve had.
One example is voicing a video game, that comes directly from Nathan and my experience with ‘Halo’ (‘Halo 3’ and ‘Halo: ODST’) where we had recorded separately and when we got back together to talk about it we had very different lines. His were all very heroic, ‘Follow me’, ‘We’ve got ‘em on the run!’, ‘Way to go man!’, where mine were all ‘I dropped something’, ‘Ouch, that hurt!’, ‘Does this look infected?’; I had all the worst lines!
I played those games and remember picking up on that!
Oh great! (laughs) When I tried to pitch my voice as a baritone and be heroic they’d go ‘That’s not it! A little higher! Can you cry? We could really use a good cry…’ So that’s directly from my experience. A lot of sci-fi actors do videogames so it made sense for Wray to do that as well. So sometimes it’s very close and other times it’s based on something that’s happened and just exaggerated, because with the world of sci-fi conventions, there’s a lot of room to move. It’s a fantastic world and it’s fun to use everything that’s at your disposal.
Conventions look a lot of fun from the outside; how much do you enjoy them?
I enjoy them very much! The best things about conventions are the fans. I don’t know another place where people are as accepting and supporting of one another as at conventions. If you say ‘I’m Wonder Woman today’ and you put a Wonder Woman costume together, people are going to say ‘Yes you are Wonder Woman’ and people are going to want their picture taking with you. They’re just there to have a good time and support all the different projects that are there. They have love for them. And some people have connections to them. I’ve met so many people through Firefly who have had a struggle in life, possibly medical issues. They have a connection to your story, project or character that meant something to them. And soldiers, oh my god, soldiers, that were on the battlefield and then at night they’d watched Firefly… It’s just amazing. I actually get to bring a veteran in to touch on that (in Con Man). I’m sure a lot of people who go to these things have had the same experience, I know a lot of them have, so it’s great to be able to do that and show it in the world in a funny way too, so it’s light-hearted.
What motivated you to make Con Man in the first place?
It had been going on for about two years. I can fall in love with a moment, I can fall in love with a scene. I’ve been going to so many conventions and there isn’t one where there’s not at least a moment that I go ‘Argh that would be so much fun. I would love to tell this story.’ I’ve written quite a bit, it’s gonna be 120 minutes so it’s longer than a movie and I wrote it on my own. I’ve been blessed to have met a lot of great writers, director and producers over the years that I could share it with, to say ‘Hey, am I right? Does this work? Do you like this like I like this?’ and I’ve had such incredible encouragement and sometimes help to turn it into what it is now.
I can’t share a lot of the actors – we’re starting to announce them but we’re not shooting until June so we have some time to cast it – but the actors who read the script are excited about it.
I’m just in love with the stories and the world. Whenever I’m at conventions, it keeps needling me to tell these stories and it just seems like it’d be such a good time to play it.
How’re you enjoying the pressure – I imagine there is pressure – of being the show’s creator? Are you enjoying the role?
Absolutely. You can’t underestimate the encouragement of fans and I think when you share something you care about there’s a moment of insecurity or anxiety – are people going to be on board with this? – but people are, they just want to know more about it and since I want to tell more about it I’m just getting more excited. There’s a lot of pressure right now, only because there’s so few people working on it. As we get closer, a whole army of people come in and its gonna be great. We can all start creating this world together. I’m just really excited to start filming and getting it made.
Obviously you enjoy working with Nathan, because you two are good friends in real life, but is it strange having him as producer?
Umm… It’s strange. It’s going to be neat having him say what I tell him to say (laughs). I guess as a producer he can say ‘I’m not saying that’, but I’ve even seen it in action, that I’ve said ‘say this’ and he’s said it; thats different from our actual relationship! I don’t get to tell him what to say so I’m enjoying it!
Has collaboration between you and Nathan always been on the cards?
I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Nathan, for years, I was always pitching sketches for us to do. Even when we were on Firefly that was something I was constantly doing with Joss (Whedon) I was pitching a script all the time!
So Nathan has heard me pitch things over the years and he’s been very nice about it in interviews, how excited he is and very supportive ever since we did the first read-through, that he wants to make this with me.
What sort of things did you pitch for Firefly? Anything make it into the show?
I actually got a couple of bits in, Joss let me have little pieces… I kept going on and on about Wash. There was a theme about me being wimpy so I’d want a scene where Book and Jayne would be working out, I’d be walking past them and Jayne says ‘Hey, you wanna work out? You think you can lift it?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, sure’. Then I take off my shirt and I’m covered in tattoos (laughs) all these prison tats. And they go ‘oh my GOD! Are you serious?!’ The idea is that Wash flew ONE mission in the war and spent the rest of the time in prison camps. He got by telling stories of the war with bounty shadow puppets (Alan lets out high pitched singing and makes sound effects) I kept pitching that again and again. And of course in that scene the idea is that they’re like ‘Wow, you went to that prison? That’s the most notorious!’ and I’m like ‘Yeah and only two years there…’. Then I’d get on the benchpress and I’d get it an inch off the peg and it’d collapse on my chest. ‘Help me, urgh, help, get it off’… Joss put some shadow puppets in one of the episodes. I also wanted one where I locked the keys in the spaceship, I wanted one where I was allergic to the planet and I started swelling up and I couldn’t fly the ship… There was always a comic element to them. Firefly was very funny already but mine were always on that side of things.
While we’re talking about Firefly – I can’t imagine a day ever goes past where you don’t get asked – It’s been over 13 years, how do you feel about it now?
Wash was the closest role to me I’ve played. I’ve had a chance to play some really fun roles in different projects, but Wash is closest to me in that, when everybody in Firefly would say ‘we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna shoot the guy, we’re gonna kill him’, Wash would go ‘Okay, why is there only killing? Is there is a run away thing? I’m good with running away if anybody else can get on board with that…’ He was more of a pacifist than everybody else, he was a smart-ass, he couldn’t help but take a jab at Jayne whenever he had an opportunity, he was a lover not a fighter. He was just wanting to have a good time and get along. Do the job, have some adventure but ‘if we could not kill or hurt anyone that’d be the best’ and that’s closest to me.
And the show in general?
Well, Firefly changed my life. When I moved to LA I didn’t know anybody and all my friends sprung from Firefly, so I have friends who are on the east coast who were friends before I left New York and then I have my new family out here [Los Angeles]. We will contact each other, usually it’s Nathan getting everyone together, we all go to Nathan’s for a party and this project has changed that a little bit. Now I’m in constant contact with people now, it’s great, it’s so much fun. You know as you get older everybody has their own busy lives and you kinda get pulled in different directions but this has brought us all back together again. It’s just fun. It’s been a welcome development as a by-product of this you know?
I’ve seen Sean and Gina are both going to be involved and obviously yourself and Nathan so I imagine it does feel a bit of a little reunion in a lot of ways.
Yes. Everybody is on board with doing the show; I just don’t wanna plug people into roles so that they’re in it for 12 episodes. I’m hoping that one day we can make more of this and really give people roles that could be part of an arc within the larger show. So Sean is in it, and Gina’s in it so we’ll see who else…
I saw William Shattner’s name mentioned, is there anyone you’d really love to get on board?
I have a great idea for an episode that isn’t in the first 12 episodes with Lou Ferrigno who was the original Hulk. I know Lou from conventions and we’ve talked at least half a dozen times about how we wanna work together. I wanna do an episode where he’s doing a production ‘Of Mice and Men’ and he’s playing Lennie, and we get sort of stuck together so I’m the only person to do the whole play with him. I would love to do that play with him; I think that would be brilliant! And I think he’d be great at that! It’s something that nobody has ever seen him do and within the Con Man world it feels like anything is possible you know, so as far as writing, there’s a lot of room to move. Lou Ferrigno I really wanna work with.
Excellent, anyone else you’d like to see in the show?
George Takei would be great. I think George Takei is a great voice in the sci-fi world, not just as an actor and a fellow pilot of a spaceship. I just like his causes in life, he’s got a very funny sense of humour, very bawdy, ‘oh my…’ (Alan does a brilliant George Takei impression) He’s a god-damn American treasure, let’s just say that! But there’s so many, so many people.
You’ve already broken records, did you expect it and how big could it get?
You know, I was forced to answer that question a couple of times on the way. You question yourself, before we embark on this is it something we think we can be successful at? Are the fans going to be as enthusiastic as they turned out to be and beyond? I feel like things are changing in Hollywood, but you can meet people who are still very pessimistic about the support. I met with someone while we were planning, someone to help out with the campaign, and I had the meeting with her and her staff and she said ‘well you’re not gonna be able to fund this, just with those weird convention nerds.’(laughs) And I said ‘Oh. This isn’t going to work!’ And she said, ‘Oh no, it can but this is the way that I say we do it’ and I said, ‘Oh no, I’m sorry, you misunderstood me. THIS isn’t going to work. You and me. And your staff. I apologise, I wanna thank you for your time but you’re insulting the core of this project. You just broke the cardinal rule; you insulted the fans and it’s over.’ So there were a couple of people who had that; within the more traditional level of productions and studios and things, who echoed that sentiment, if not in the same way that’s what they’re saying. We met with a couple of people who didn’t understand the world and part of their misunderstanding was underestimating the fans and their support and enthusiasm. So we were glad that we were right about them.
Well, you’ve definitely proved them wrong…
And now, with so much support, we’ve been able to consider things that we had… It’s such a big world, there’s the show ‘Spectrum’, which was an hour long show that supposedly existed 10 years ago. We fleshed out the story a lot, a couple of the episodes touch on that. It’s a big world, there’s still a book to write. We wrote a chapter, we started it out, we kicked it off and we were getting into it more and more then we were like ‘Let’s focus on Con Man and let’s set this aside’. Now that the fans have been so generous and supportive, there’s room to go, you know and we’ve always wanted to do a comic book. We’re very familiar with that world, we have friends in that world, we have relationships with animators and comic book artists so we can start finishing up the book, releasing them as comics, so there’s places to go. If the funding continues, we can continue.
You’ve promised the fans a spaceship, how likely is it to be a familiar sight?
It’ll be great, I’m gonna be piloting a spaceship, my character ‘Cash’, one letter off (laughs), is a little more heroic than Wash was, he was a fighter pilot in the wars – of which there were a few – and he’s equally as brilliant at flying. He’s a little bit hardened but not a total hero.
What would you say to people who are still to invest in Con Man? How would you encourage them to jump on board now?
The more support, the better it’ll be. Productions cost a lot, like many productions we were very conservative. There are digital effects once we’re on the spaceship, there are scenes that we had to cut within the episodes, for production costs… There was a scene I really wanted to put back in and some very funny stuff that happens at the conventions that now we’re beginning to make possible. The farther we go over budget, the more of those scenes can come in. It’s a world where things just spring up, and this is before we even get on set. We’re gonna be working with a lot of funny people and – it’s always been my experience – that scenes get a little bit funnier, you tease them out a little bit. And so, the more support, the more Con Man!
Con Man is due to begin filming in June for release later this year. For more information or to get involved then visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/con-man.