February 23, 2010

Brushes With Pre-Greatness (Volume 1)

Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer

I've never been someone who gets starstruck when encountering celebrities. Perhaps that's because I grew up in New York City, where it is not at all uncommon to cross paths with television personalities on a semi-regular basis simply by walking down the street. In addition, I used to perform with an improv group that frequently invited "famous people" to participate in our shows, so it was not uncommon to have encounters with the likes of Linda Ellerbee, Austin Pendleton or Avery Schreiber.

Of course, not every "celebrity" who came into our theater had immediate name recognition. One night, I was captaining a Theatresports team (a competitive form of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?") and was told that one of the judges for that night's show was a former member of Edmonton Theatresports. Well, we get visiting fellow-improvisers as judges all the time, so I didn't think anything of it... until we were on stage, and our judges were introduced by name - the Canadian in question was Nathan Fillion.

Now if this story took place in 2010, I'd have been flabbergasted - Mal from Firefly? Captain Hammer himself? Holy cow! However, this was like 1994 or 95. Nathan hadn't even been in Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place yet. He'd only recently started portraying Joey Buchanan on the soap opera One Life to Live so essentially, nobody knew who the heck he was... but I did.

A few years prior, when I was in college, I had to write something called an ethnography, where you observe a group of people over a few months as they engage in a regular, repeated activity, and write about any consistent behaviors that you witness. Since I was going to school at Syracuse, and it was winter time, I selected a group in my very own residence hall to avoid going outside: the girls who sat in the lobby and commandeered the TV set each morning to watch "their stories."

In other words, I watched them as they watched One Life to Live... and of course, as time went on (as this was a lengthy assignment) by sheer osmosis, I got sucked into the storyline. While I didn't become a regular viewer from that point on by any means, I did check in with the show from time to time over the years to see what the latest plots were.

Back to the Theatresports stage... I knew who Nathan Fillion was, simply because I had seen him on his soap. Though he had not been on the show too long, I knew some current storylines and some of the biography of his character, so for one of the challenges during the show, I decided to do a "scene in the style of soap operas" and went on stage playing my take on Joey Buchanan.

Luckily, Nathan had a sense of humor about my portrayal, and after the show, he was very gracious, but I think also a little bit frightened that I had so much awareness of Joey's backstory. So while we didn't suddenly become best friends, nor did he come out for drinks with the cast, I still walked away from the brief encounter with a positive impression of Mr. Fillion.

Since that time, he has been more than a little bit successful and now boasts over 500,000 followers on Twitter (which is only about 499,000 more than I have) and I couldn't be happier for him. And one of these days, I just might watch an episode of Castle (you know, if Nathan personally asked me to give it a try) but to me, he'll always be "the judge who gave me a perfect score in Theatresports."

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