Halo 3: ODST lets people experience events leading up to the epic story told in Halo 3 through the eyes of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, as they search for clues leading to the whereabouts of their scattered squad and the motivations behind the Covenant's invasion of New Mombasa. We had a chance to chat with Nathan Fillion, the actor who voiced Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck.
WP: How did you get involved with the Halo series of games? You had a small part in a prior Microsoft project, Jade Empire, before you started working with them on Halo 3. For Halo 3: ODST, you obviously had a much more expanded role, but how did you first get involved in the gaming scene?
NF: Well, Jade Empire and Halo were completely unrelated. I got involved with Jade Empire through some friends of mine in Canada, as a matter of fact. Then I was simply public about loving Halo, how we were on Halo 2 at the time, playing LAN parties at friends' houses. One of the Bungie guys — it was Marty O'Donnell who got a hold of me. He does the music and has composed the music for all the Halo games. He read it in an article somewhere and gave me a ring through my manager to see if I'd be interested, and I said, "Not only would I be interested, but I have a couple of buddies who were on Firefly" — they were fans of Firefly — "who would be pleased to join us as well." That's how Adam (Baldwin) and Alan (Tudyk) got involved.
WP: What was it like working with them again? Did you guys perform your lines together? Did you record them separately? How did that work?
NF: Most always, it's separate. They were kind enough to have Tricia (Helfer) and I together because we had a lot of stuff that relied a little bit more on chemistry, so they had us both in the same room. It makes it a lot easier. For the rest of the time, it was pretty much always apart. There was some stuff we did — I remember Alan was finishing off just as Tricia and I were coming in, so we got to watch the end of Alan's session, but as far as working together, just Tricia and I.
WP: Is that any more difficult when you're doing the voice acting and recording the lines by yourself without having another actor or actress to play off of, as you would on set?
NF: It certainly is different. It's not extremely difficult. I think we're all at a level — all these actors they have working for them at Bungie — where we can kind of handle the pressure of recording our voice.
WP: (laughs) So I guess it's safe to say that you're something of a Halo fan. Do you play a lot online?
NF: It's safe to say that, and yes, I do. I pretty much almost only play online. When the new games come out, I'll play the campaign through, but I pretty much only play online.
WP: With ODST, is it weird playing as yourself, hearing your own voice, and seeing your own face on the screen? Or is it really cool?
NF: It's both a little weird and really cool. When I'm playing the campaign with my friends — I was doing this just the other night — they commented on how weird it was. They don't know if it's me talking to them or if it's Buck talking to them, so what I did was, every time Buck said something, I'd repeat it, or I'd add something to it.
WP: When you're playing with your friends, do you trash-talk as much as Buck does in the game?
NF: No, I think I'm pretty relaxed when I play. I do a lot of shrieking like a little girl.
WP: (laughs) Were you always a fan of gaming, or was this something that you got into as you got older? Do you have a preference, Nintendo or Sega, back in the 16-bit days?
NF: We had a little gaming system called the Telstar. It had a wire coming out the back that split into two and had two little forks on the back of the wires. You had to screw the forks into these little posts on the back of your TV, and we played Pong. My neighbor had Intellivision, my friend had Atari, and another buddy of mine had ColecoVision, but we didn't have any of these superior, incredible, advanced video game platforms. My parents were teachers, and they would sometimes borrow computers from the school, when computers were just coming into fashion, when the new technology was just coming into schools. They'd sign one out and have it at home for the summer so we got to play it for the summer. I remember that Commodore 64 was completely useless. The Apple IIe, we got some games on the Apple IIe, and that was a lot of fun. Lode Runner, I remember, but I didn't get a proper game console until 1995 or 1996.
WP: What was your first proper game console, then?
NF: My first one was a PlayStation, and then I went to a Sega Dreamcast. I tried the PlayStation 2 for a little bit, and then I was told about this new Xbox, and I thought, "That's going to be the one. That's going to be the big machine." I was scheduled for a double hernia surgery, and I bought it the day before my surgery because I was going to be down for a few weeks. I bought a bunch of games that I'd researched, and while I was in the store, just off-hand, I said, "Oh, and give me that Halo game too." It was kind of an on-the-spot decision, and I never turned back. Halo all the way.
WP: When you got the call for Halo 3 and the part as Buck for ODST, did you see it more as a job or did your inner gamer come out, and you saw it as more of a chance to be in your favorite video game?
NF: Obviously I'm a fan of the game, and this has happened to me on a number of projects. I've been very, very fortunate in that I not only get to be a fan, but a participant. Rather than just a spectator enjoying it, I get a piece of the action. I get to watch its conception; I get to watch its birth. Bungie was so sweet to me. They sent me down to Seattle to come and play Halo 3: ODST with them. It was fantastic. I couldn't believe it. It was phenomenal. I got to watch how the thing was built. I got to see them developing their next game, which is Halo: Reach, and then there was this whole section of the building where nobody was allowed to go because that contained Bungie's super-secret project, but I'm not going to lie to you. I sneaked over there, and I saw some stuff that got me really, really riled up.
WP: Have you already started lobbying them to include Gunnery Sergeant Buck as a character in Reach?
NF: We've all kind of raised our eyebrows and said, "You know, it sure would be cool. I guess it would be fun."
WP: Let's talk about some of your other roles. You've managed a very varied career with some big-name productions in movies as well as TV, but you've also done some very cool independent Web series, such as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and the PG Porn short on Spike. How do you pick your roles? Do you look for something that just looks like it will be a lot of fun? To be honest, everything that you do seems like you're having a lot of fun. Or are there some other criteria to help you decide on projects?
NF: You know, people are always under the impression that I get to pick what I want to do. "Now I'm going to do a video game." That doesn't quite happen. A job comes up, and I'm thrilled by it, I'm excited by it, and I try out for it just like everybody else does. I tell you what. I lost out all the time.
WP: How much of yourself do you bring to your characters? When you're playing a character, whether it's Buck in the game or Castle on your TV show, is that really all the character and all from the script, or is there a little bit of Nathan in each of your characters?
NF: They're kind enough on "Castle" — they hang out with me enough and I'm around all the time. A character starts to grow. You put in a little bit into the character; the character starts to put a little bit into you. It's a kind of amalgamation as far as Castle is concerned. It's a growing process.
For Halo, it's all kind of pre-done by the time I get there. I'm only there for a few short hours. At points, they would say, "We've got to do something for this. We just need a long list of things you would say if there were a grenade being thrown at you." At that point, you can improvise a bunch of different things and have some fun with it.
WP: One of the things that you mentioned earlier was that your parents were teachers. On "Castle," you play a writer. In real life, you co-founded Kids Need to Read a couple of years ago to help give books to children. How important were books to you when you were growing up, and how have things been going with Kids Need to Read?
NF: Things are going great with Kids Need to Read. From a bumbling little charity that we kind of conceived of and started, it's become an official 501(c)(3) thanks to a bunch of Browncoats, fans of Firefly and fans of PJ Haarsma. That thing is a full-blown charity; it's got a life of its own. We're getting a lot of books into a lot of kids' hands.
For me growing up, having books was like a ticket to ride. Even now, if I didn't have books, I wouldn't have half the imagination I have. Things light me on fire when I'm reading. I really enjoy being transported. I'm reading "World War Z" right now by Max Brooks. That book scared the crap out of me. I love it! I love that I can be at work, sitting on the set, I have 10 minutes before the next thing I've got to do, and for 10 minutes, I can escape. I love it, and I would love children to have that opportunity as well. You teach a kid to read, you let him read, you give him the experience, there's nothing he can't do.
WP: It's great what you can do with your imagination. With Castle as a character, you mention that you bring a little bit of yourself to it. Are we ever going to see Castle pick up a video game controller or mention his love for gaming?
NF: I wouldn't say never.
WP: With Kids Need to Read, you mentioned the Browncoats fan organization has helped out a lot with that. Has it ever surprised you how much sustained popularity "Firefly" has had?
NF: It constantly surprises me. It's brilliant. I've never done a project that has had such incredible legs, but that is a gift of Joss Whedon. He writes stories and characters that people relate to and gravitate to and want to spend more time with.
WP: Have you ever tossed around the idea of doing a Firefly video game with Alan, Adam and Joss?
NF: Mm-hmm, we've tossed that around.
WP: I take it that would be something that you'd be up for doing.
NF: Oh, yeah. Geez, I know nine people who would be up for doing that.
WP: (laughs) When you walk on to the Castle set for the day, what is it that you most look forward to as an actor? Is it just jumping into the role? Is it being able to do something new every day?
NF: For all the talented cast that we have — we have a really great group of cast — that's only about nine people. There are about 300 guys and women doing incredibly hard work every day before I get there and after I leave. They have even longer hours than I do. I enjoy their company. From the first season to the second season, we have about 97 percent of the original crew, and that kind of speaks to the family that we're building and the job that we're doing, that everybody who could come back did come back. It's a great group of people, and then on top of that, there's the work. I love finding real-life experience. I just love when there's something in the script that says to do this, but we find that when we're there with the set, when we're there with the other actors, we find a little slice of real life that just didn't exist, and we kind of breathe life into it. I like that.
WP: Here's more of a fun question for you. When you were growing up, did you ever expect that you'd be seen by women worldwide as a sex symbol?
NF: I always kind of hoped, but I never really expected it. I think that if you expect that kind of thing, it kind of negates the possibility of it ever happening. You can cross your fingers and wish for it, but if you start expecting it, you're not going to get it.
WP: Is it still possible for you to hang out with friends at a local bar, or do you get noticed every time you're on the street?
NF: I'm not a big fan of crowds, and anytime you mix alcohol and crowds, I get a little uncomfortable, but I'm at what I like to call "perfect famous." People recognize me and say nice things about my work, but I don't have any helicopters or paparazzi, which would upset me.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about, whether it's about the Halo game, "Castle" or any of your other projects that you wanted to mention?
NF: Good question. I've got an independent film called "Trucker" coming out. "Castle," you mentioned. Dr. Horrible won an Emmy; we're all very proud. I think that's all we've got. I think we covered it.
WP: One last question. For the kids out there who are playing on Xbox Live, we won't ask you what your gamertag is, but if they happen to run into a match with someone who sounds suspiciously like you, how will they know they're playing against you?
NF: 'Cause they'll be face-down in the dirt. Boo-yah!
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