September 19, 2005Feature
"I Like to Play Those Scruffy Characters"
Interview: Adam Baldwin
Yes, Adam, they did. Firefly was a great TV show, prematurely cancelled, that is now a feature film called Serenity. Only Joss Whedon (show creator and film director) has the rare power of not only turning a failed movie into a successful TV show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) but a failed TV show into what we all hope will be a successful movie.
Adam Baldwin describes his beginnings in the film industry quite simply, "I went on an audition for a movie called My Bodyguard back in 1979 in Chicago and I got the job." My Bodyguard proved to be an obligatory Home Video for an entire generation. Even early on, Adam Baldwin was playing a tough guy.
But Adam had already become interested in acting, claiming he "had been dabbling with it since I was a kid. It was something I liked to do, I liked the community feeling. I like the humor. When you're a kid it's all about making your friends laugh. I think that's kind of what it was. It was all about the friends. I enjoyed the literature aspect of it as well. I got to read Shakespeare, which I still have trouble understanding..."
But after having worked in the industry for 25 years, Adam declares himself "a working class actor." He also admits that perhaps he didn't see himself being an actor for a career: "If you had told me when I was 17 years old doing My Bodyguard that I'd still be doing it 25 years from now — that's pretty good. To me, that's success. Am I as famous as some people? No. Do I care? No. Do I want more money? Sure." Well at least he's honest.
He may not be super-famous, but he's certainly beloved. Those of us in the sci-fi community particularly have very much enjoyed the memorable characters he's created. And he acknowledges his fans along the way, "I appreciate those people out there who enjoyed my work along the way.... I appreciate and give my heartfelt thanks." And few television shows have fans as dedicated as the show in question: Firefly.
A TV show called Firefly, a movie called Serenity
So, at last, I get to the part of the interview people are dying to know about — Serenity. And he says, "Oh I can't talk about Firefly and Serenity in this interview." After I pick my jaw up off the floor, happy that he can't see me over the phone line, he says, "I'm kidding." I let out a giant sigh.
Adam's understanding of the character came from Firefly's Western roots. He saw Jayne as a classic archetype from the great Westerns: "The character was someone that I was familiar with from growing up and watching in movies like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Eli Wallach and The Wild Bunch with Warren Oates....That kind of rang my bell when I was a kid. I like to play those scruffy characters. I just put on this voice a little bit and off it went."
But of course, Adam brings his own unique talents to Jayne, making him a truly memorable character if ever there was one. "As an actor to approach him he's a free, a blank canvas that you can just throw anything at and a lot of it sticks....You can try a lot of stuff and you have license to do that and it's very liberating." In reference to many of the other characters he's played on TV he notes that with Jayne he's "not constrained by a suit and a tie."
But he also notes that he also leans on creator Joss Whedon at times: "Jayne is a character that you can be very broad. You can paint with very broad strokes. So my challenge with Joss was to bring in too much stuff, be too broad and let him say bring it back; 'Ok, that's too much.'"
Jayne may come off as a simpleton, but through the fourteen episodes we were privileged enough to have we learned that Jayne was a lot more than that. His most character-revealing episode was "Ariel". He explains, "Even though he's a bit of a ne'er do well, that's the realm into which he's painted, but he has that sort of honor among thieves. Even in the episode in the series where I quote unquote betrayed the Captain by trying to dump off the loony fugitives. In my own mind, I wasn't betraying the captain, I was trying to do better and just make a buck along the way. When he clocked me in the head with a wrench — 'Hello, now I'm awake. Ok, I get it now.'"
|"We thought he was going to be killed. I was living under that fear with Joss. Please don't kill this character."|
Joss didn't kill the character that day, but something else did — cancellation. Fox had put Firefly in the notorious "sci-fi slot of death". Thanks to the Fox hit The X-Files, they generally put their sci-fi shows on Friday nights to die. And it did. Adam describes the experience, "We were very disappointed. We were like a family and we all loved our characters and loved each other and the work that we were doing and always felt like underdogs. We hadn't gotten the ratings we had hoped for early on for whatever reasons. And we just thought that if more people could see it they would stay with it."
It was an uphill battle for Firefly from the beginning. Joss Whedon's original pilot episode was rejected by the network and he quickly wrote a new one more to their liking in order to get the show on the air. But unfortunately, the new pilot pleased the executives, but didn't do much for the audience, myself included. It may have taken a couple of episodes, but soon enough I was addicted to the characters like so many other fans. But not ever viewer gave it the chance I did. Yet those who stuck with it were uncommonly dedicated. "Those that actually did see it and stayed with it became very faithful and appreciated what we were trying to do, I think. And that translated into DVD sales — actually, that translated in the studio deciding to put out a DVD set and the sales thereof met and exceeded expectations. Which then drove us into making the movie."
This was something I experienced as well. My friends who hardly ever watch TV were hooked — being shown or told about the series by their friends. I saw those DVDs everywhere. Even my dad had it on his stack to-watch. While I was sad there were no more episodes to be devoured, I was happy to see the growing fan base — better late than never. But, of course, something good came out of it.
When Adam and the cast heard there was going to be a movie, of course, they were happy. "I was obviously very pleased but I wasn't surprised. I was expecting Joss to get it done — he never let it go. This was something that he was bound and determined to do. He kept saying, 'I'm gonna get this done' and he did. Again he's really a unique story unto himself in movie history. I can't think of another instance where you had a cancelled TV show after only a half a season that became a major motion picture." This is truly a unique situation. Star Trek had a major motion picture after being cancelled, but that show was on for 3 seasons — not half of one. We can only hope that Firefly and Serenity can be as successful as its cancelled predecessor.
And what does Adam have to say about the movie? "It's tight, it's a hot film." There have been a number of pre-screenings in cities across the country and the word from fans has been positive across the board. Adam explains, "It has a lot of stuff in it. It's very.... I'm not going to make any predictions 'cause I don't know. You can never read an audience or what time of year but there are none better than promoting a movie than Universal and we have a good movie to promote. Excellent movie to promote. That's why I'm so behind it. Just wish people would go and see it in those first weekend or two because that first weekend or two box office receipts will determine whether we get to keep going. So bring your friends. Not only tell them, bring them."
So it will be like it was with the DVDs. Fans will have to force their friends to get involved. Hopefully, like the DVDs, their friends will love them for it.
|"I'm not saying that [Joss] has the most gigantic audience in the world, but the audience that he has is very varied. You can't put them in a box you know — young and old, men and women, freaks and geeks — you got 'em all."|
But what was so different about filming the movie than filming the show? Well, they had more money for one. And that led to having "more time to prepare every scene. Therefore we were able to dig deeper. We had more time not only to prepare it but we had more time to shoot it with more angles, the lighting and just it became richer that way. And it ended up giving Joss more options and more time in the editing process. Because when you're doing a television series you're cranking it out in 8 days shoots then you have to edit it and get it on the air. Whereas a film, you shot it and it's coming out a year later so you had an entire year to work on it."
While the movie will probably bear a lot of similarities to the show, even the trailer reveals that everything will just be bigger. And it seems that our heros will be facing one of their biggest enemies from the show — disfigured and dehumanized men called Reavers. And does Jayne get to go toe-to-toe with the Reavers? "A bit," he says — not letting out any more information.
But turning from the beast to perhaps the beauty, what I really wanted to know is if the series continues, is there a love interest in Jayne's future? Adam replies, "I think every human being out there, Jayne included, is looking for love in some way or another and at some point everyone either settles down or gives up. I think he's got kind of a crush on Inara. The ideal woman. Independent and sexy as hell." Well, I know that seeing Jayne settle down is something I look forward to.
If you want Jayne's head too, and perhaps the rest of his body, Adam tells me that "I have an action figure for Jayne now. You can check it out at diamondselecttoys.com." I might have to check it out myself.
Fortunately for those of us who haven't seen the pre-screenings, Serenity opens in theaters on September 30th. So we don't have to wait too much longer now (thank goodness).
Check back in two weeks for part II of the interview where Adam Baldwin talks about other TV shows he's worked on (X-Files, Angel, The Inside), life in the film industry and what he's up to next.
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