Is there a TV show that gets more love from fans than Firefly? Despite a truncated season and an unceremonious cancellation by Fox, Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western refused to give up. Fans pressed the network for a DVD release, and after they got it, the sales convinced the studio to greenlight a feature film. Three years after the show was canceled, Whedon wrote and directed the film Serenity, which gave fans some form of closure (even if it didn’t end the way they wanted it to).
For a show that was on the air for such a brief time, there are a lot of entertaining stories from its cast and crew. The following fun facts about Firefly delve into the early days of production, the final days of shooting on the series, and even some ideas that were thrown around should the series get a second season. Read on to learn all the things you didn’t know about the best space western that ever was, and check out our list of other shows like Firefly for more awesome sci-fi TV.
Inspiration can arrive from the strangest of places, and that includes the catalyst for Firefly. According to Joss Whedon, the idea for the show came to him when he was on vacation in England. He was specifically trying to avoid work when he started reading The Killer Angels, a Civil War novel about the four-day clash at Gettysburg.
In a 2002 interview with the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy), Whedon explained why the book made him feel so inspired:
The minutia of the Battle of Gettysburg and the lives of the people in it really made Firefly just pop out of my head. I want to get into people’s lives this intimately. I want to do it in the future and show that the future is the past. So I built the structure of the world and the look of the show on the Reconstruction Era.
During the casting for the series, Joss Whedon auditioned several actors – and one of them would later go on to star in Whedon’s internet musical, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. That’s right – the part of Dr. Simon Tam almost went to Neil Patrick Harris, who at that point was still mostly known for his role on Doogie Howser, M.D.
The role ultimately went to actor Sean Maher who brought much less visual baggage to the show. Still, it would have been pretty cool to see NPH soaring through space.
It’s hard to disconnect Mal Reynolds from Nathan Fillion, but at one point series creator Joss Whedon thought about casting Nicholas Brendon, who played Xander in Buffy, as the wily space captain. Reddit user /u/clockworklycanthrope related the story after attending a local comic-con in 2014. When a fan asked Brendon what role he would play on Firefly, he answered that the part of Mal was originally written with him in mind – but Fox wanted the show six months earlier than expected.
Brendon joked, “So, then, Fillion took out my eye, and became Mal.” (For those unacquainted with the Buffyverse, Fillion played the evil priest Caleb, who gleefully removed Xander’s left eye in the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
You never know when a cuddle might break out on a film set, especially when it’s for a scene between Firefly‘s resident lovebirds Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Zoë (Gina Torres). During a 2015 Firefly reunion, Tudyk and Torres told the story of how they wound up in bed together for real.
One day while waiting for the film crew to shoot a love scene between the couple, Tudyk decided to take a nap. As it turned out, Torres had the same idea. “We got into bed, and sort of spooned and snuggled and talked about our day, and chilled out,” Torres told Vulture. “It was cold, so we just snuggled up.” When the crew said they were ready to shoot the actual scene, Torres jokingly replied, “No, we’re good.”
Some of the most fun dialogue in Firefly comes from characters using Chinese curse words instead of their bleep-worthy English phrases. This was a way to show the culture of the ‘verse was built on a blend of English and Chinese traditions. To learn the Chinese phrases, the actors would listen to their lines on tape and mimic the dialogue. This worked for every actor except for Jewel Staite, who played the ship’s mechanic Kaylee.
At a reunion for the castmates in 2015, Staite revealed she never listened to the tapes. She just winged it. As she put it, “Actually, all of my Chinese [on the show] is ADR’ed later on, to be more precise, because they couldn’t figure out why I was the only one who wasn’t getting it.”
On the set of Firefly, Summer Glau was reportedly really serious about her role. She memorized her lines and rarely made a mistake, but the first time she messed up a major line, Nathan Fillion turned the blunder into an on-set tradition. At the Phoenix Comicon in 2015, Glau explained that when she forgot one of her lines, Fillion would scream, “Summer!” And that caught on like wildfire.
It wasn’t long before everyone on set was screaming, “Summer!” anytime something went wrong.
The cast loved working on Firefly so much they were always pitching story ideas to Joss Whedon and the writing staff. According to Nathan Fillion, his co-star Alan Tudyk appreciated the idea of the crew going to a dog-fighting planet where half of it was bathed in perpetual night. As Fillion explained to Entertainment Weekly:
We had this dog pheromone of some kind, and Jayne was messing around, and splat! – the thing bursts and we’re all covered in this pheromone. So we have to run back to the ship with these feral dogs chasing us.
Don’t you wish Firefly had gotten a second season?
It’s not unusual for costumes or props from one film production to be used on another, but it has to be mentioned that the space marine outfits from Starship Troopers are the exact same costumes worn by the Alliance troops in Firefly‘s “The Train Job.”
According to eagle-eyed viewers, there are still some pieces of the purple-painted costumes that are covered in blood from the Bugs in Starship Troopers.
Joss Whedon’s initial plans for Firefly were to make it a bare bones western/science fiction series about a small ensemble of bandits. But then he watched Stagecoach, the 1939 western directed by John Ford. The film follows nine characters as they trek through the southwest to find a new home. Whedon liked this conceit and applied it to his show.
Whedon mirrored the cast of Firefly on the characters from Stagecoach right down to their jobs, but the character parallels weren’t just fixed to the main cast. He even took the Apaches (the main threat of the show) and changed them to the Reavers, a diabolical group of space cannibals.
When Fox put Firefly into production, that made for three Whedon-produced television shows that were writing and shooting at the same time. Jose Molina, who wrote the episodes “Trash” and “Ariel,” told io9 that it wasn’t out of the question to find writers from each show pacing and smoking on a patio at Whedon’s Stewart Street production studio. As Molina explained:
The Buffy and Angel writers would wander out at given times and ask us Firefly guys, “Did you get any time with Joss today?” We’d be like, “Yeah we got half an hour,” and they’d shake their heads and go, “Lucky b*stards, he loves you more than he loves us.”
It would seem Fox was never all that hot on Firefly. After Whedon delivered a script for the two-hour pilot episode, “Serenity,” the network told him they wanted something lighter. Whedon and his showrunner Tim Minear went back to the drawing board, locking themselves in a room at Whedon’s Mutant Enemy office.
The process of writing the new episode was “crazy,” Minear told The Hollywood Reporter. “We broke the story and each wrote half of the episode. And by Monday morning, we had written the ‘Train Job’ episode and the network liked it. And we got picked up.”
The cast was deep into production on the first and only season of Firefly when Fox began rolling out their disastrous marketing campaign. Fifteen years later, Alan Tudyk told The Hollywood Reporter that at one point, the cast heard a rough cut of a promo and it was obvious Fox didn’t even know who was on the show. But the actors didn’t let that get them down.
“[The promos] used a scratch track for the voiceover but the announcer mispronounced our names. So on the set, we started calling each other by those mispronounced names,” Tudyk said.
When the news of the show’s cancellation came down from Fox, it couldn’t have been at a worst time. The axe fell in the middle of filming the episode “The Message.” Even though they were being kicked off the air, the cast still had to keep shooting. So they found secret ways to say f*ck you to Fox.
Gina Torres told The Hollywood Reporter, “One of the little games we played in those final days was that providing little Easter eggs, liking coming up with innovative ways to flip the bird. Like a scene where I tucked all my fingers but one into my pocket.”
If there’s ever been two actors who had more fun on set than Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, they’re not telling. In The Hollywood Reporter‘s oral history of Firefly, it was revealed that the two friends spent a lot of their time racing around the Universal lot on golf carts while filming Serenity.
They would “try to run each other off the road” and shoot at each other for fun in front of the tourist trams.