Sean Maher is perhaps best known for his role as Dr Simon Tam on Firefly, a show which despite being axed in its first season is still the subject of rage, speculation and hot debate. Last week he was in Melbourne for Oz Comic-Con, and took some time out to speak to us about Reavers, ‘Super Joss Whedon’, and how the question of why the story hasn’t been continued on either the big or small screens becomes so much more pertinent now in the wake of The Avengers.
The first thing that becomes apparent is Maher’s continuing enthusiasm for the series and the closeness he still has with his cast mates. “I feel so blessed to be part of a phenomenon, for lack of a better word. I had no idea when I signed on to the pilot that ten years later I would still be talking about it, because it’s not like it lasted seven seasons.”
When asked about his day, he laughs and explains how he went for a walk and “it’s so funny, I came back to my hotel room, and turned on the television, and Jewel [Staite] was on my T.V. screen – and I’m embarrassed because I’d never seen the movie. It was like a horror/thriller, and she was being chased by Reaver looking things. I thought ‘what in the world is this?’ So, naturally I sat down and watched the entire movie.”
Maher initially came to be involved with Firefly when little more was know about it other than that it was a new Joss Whedon show, and that it would be sci fi. “Nobody knew anything about it…I got just a tid-bit of the script, the speech that Simon has in the pilot where he’s explaining to the crew the background of what happened to River, and how he had come to be here on the ship, and I was just blown away. It was like three pages and I just thought it was remarkable.”
With no further details available, he asked Joss Whedon to explain the story to him. “He just spoke about the world of Firefly and talked about every detail, and I’m pretty sure my jaw was on the ground… I walked out of that meeting and called my agent and said I know there’s no script, and I know it’s a long shot, but I really want to go after this – I love this guy. I was in LA, and there were two weeks until the test, and I wasn’t screwing up other auditions, but I certainly had Firefly on the brain and I was “I want Firefly, I want Firefly, I want Firefly.”
He describes the experience filming Firefly and Serenity, saying “I hate to sound like a cliché, but it was just so perfect in every way. I think from the first moment that we met and started working together the cast gelled so quickly. It was so wonderfully organic, I think that’s what people responded to – because there was so much going on with us as actors and people that the characters were evolving from there. I think having a ringleader like Joss, you know…he’s a rare, rare person in this industry to be a man of his stature, and to be so accessible. To be a mentor and a friend, to be, (laughs) Super Joss Whedon.”
The axing of Firefly was a shock, and ten years down the line, people are still angry about it. Maher’s response to the continuing outrage is “the fans are remarkable. I’m not surprised that it continues on, but it never ceases to amaze me. I am humbled, I am grateful.“ He goes on to say that “I think the fans are really the reason the movie got made. If we didn’t have the fans and the Browncoats’ support, there’s no way that the story would have gone on.”
Serenity was made several years after Firefly finished, initially without the cast knowing that it was in the works. Maher didn’t find out until he and Summer Glau went over to Joss Whedon’s house for dinner. “He was cooking and said ‘so I’m going to Cape Cod to write this movie’ and I was like ‘what?’ and he was like ‘yeah yeah, it’s a go!’ and I was like ‘no…’ I almost didn’t believe it until we were actually at the table reading the story, hearing these actors bring these characters to life again, and that was really for me when it set in.”
He describes the film as “like getting back on a bicycle. Nothing was very different, the ship just happened to be built on the Universal lot rather than the Fox lot, so we all got confused as to where the bathroom was when we had to go pee, but other than that, no.”
However, despite the original plan for two more films, no more were made. When asked if he would be involved in any future incarnation, Maher replies “yes” before the question is even finished. “Absolutely. In a heartbeat.”
The reason why no more films were made following Serenity has been put down to money, prompting fans to suggest a Kickstarter page to raise the funds. Maher responds, “you know I think we all, the cast members, we’ve talked about this, and we would never want the fans to pay for the movie. We think the story should be told and we think there is enough money in Hollywood, that somebody, an executive or somebody should come up with the money and fund the movie for the fans. There’s no way the fans should have any financial responsibility for whether or not the story gets told. The fans can come and buy the tickets when the next movie gets made, or they can tune in if the show finds life somewhere else, but I would never expect the fans to fund it themselves.”
When asked why this was the case, despite the clear fan demand, Maher says “It’s the one question I just don’t have the answer to. But I have to tell you that now, with the success of The Avengers, the question becomes more pertinent – why not? Certainly now that Joss is in a whole different sphere of Hollywood, I would imagine that he has more pull, and I never, never, never underestimate him… In terms of hoping and praying that there is a life, I think I secretly wish that there are some discussions going on that I’m not privy to. Who knows?
Joss loves the world – he thinks it’s some of the best work he’s ever done, and he was not done telling the stories. There’s so much more he wants to do with the characters, that it would just make so much sense that it would happen again. But, you know, I see him enough, and he hasn’t mentioned anything lately.”