Sunday Brunch: The Best Advice Nathan Fillion Never Gave Me



Two weeks ago, I was sitting in a darkened room at the Dallas Convention Center with about 4,499 of my closest friends. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Not the number of people, but that they’re my closest friends. Really, I knew maybe five people in that room.

It didn’t matter, of course. Why? Because it was Dallas Comic-Con. Because once you enter the doors, it doesn’t matter if you’re a DC girl in love with a Marvel boy, or a woman who thinks Star Trek is better than Star Wars, married to a man who thinks the opposite is true. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a major fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original, with Robert Englund) while your husband prefers the grittier, somewhat more reality based (and I use that concept very, very loosely) world of The Walking Dead. Once you enter Comic-Con – and this is especially true in Dallas, I think – everyone is a friend; you just haven’t necessarily met them yet.

In any case, two weeks ago, on Saturday evening, I was sitting in Hall D, 4th row center, waiting with those 4,499 other people for a special solo Q&A from Nathan Fillion. You might know him as Richard Castle.  You might know him as Captain Hammer (from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog) or Captain Tightpants (aka Malcolm Reynolds, from Firefly and Serenity). You might know him as Caleb, the evil priest from the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’re old enough to have watched more than just cartoons in the late 1980s, you may even remember that he was one of Murphy Brown’s many, many receptionists, which was my first experience with his work.

The Q&A started later than its originally-scheduled 6:00 pm, because Mr. Fillion is a truly nice person. He could have had his handlers stop his autograph line so he could get to the hall on time. He chose to stay, make eye-contact with each of them, and keep signing ’til the line was done. It also didn’t end on time, at 7:00, because he also chose to ensure that those 4500 people in Hall D got their full hour with him. Sure, Twitter would have exploded with nastiness if he hadn’t made those choices, but if you follow his Twitter feed at all, you’ll know that even there, he’s a pretty nice guy.

It’s rare, at conventions, for anything substantive to be asked in Q&As. It’s not that there aren’t people with really good questions; it’s that those people are usually not the first to line up behind the microphones. Most of the questions, then, tend to come from admittedly-adorable small children who ask things like, “What’s your favorite animal?” (For the record, Fillion prefers cats. I forgive him for this.)

But two weeks ago, in Dallas, a young man stood up at one of the microphones, and shared that he’d just been cast in his first television pilot. He asked Nathan (I can call him Nathan after being alone in a dark room with him, and a moderator, and 4,499 of my closest friends, right?) two things: one, to demonstrate his “soap opera long take” technique; and two, give some actorly advice.

The soap opera bit was hilarious, but the advice…the advice was amazing. And while it was meant as advice to a young actor, I found it to be as universally applicable as Natalie Goldberg’s Rules for Writing (and I’ve written about those before).

Here’s what he said:

“Just remember:  You’re there because they want you there.  You already have the job. Do your job.  You are good enough to get the job.  You’re good enough to do your job. Don’t get stressed about things that aren’t in your control.  Control what’s in your control.      Know your lines.  Be pleasant.  Do good work.”

Let’s take a closer look at those points, shall we?

Don’t get stressed about things that aren’t in your control. Even the best of us can only control our own behavior, our own attitudes, our own reactions. Sure, it’s easy to get upset about things in the world – war, crime, various social issues we feel passionate about – but we can’t fix those things. We can, and should, become informed, but freaking out over things we can’t control doesn’t help us, and it doesn’t help others, either.

Control what’s in your control. It seems obvious, right? If you can control something, you should. Either Tim Gunn or one of the former Project Runway designers who appeared on one of his shows phrased it this way: “We cannot control how we are perceived; we can only control how we are presented.” I can’t control your reaction, but I can control my attitude, and my delivery, and any number of other things. I can’t fix every social issue that I care about, but I can put my money, my vote, and my voice behind who can.

Know your lines. While this would seem to be specific to actors, I think it applies to almost everything, if you use a loose interpretation of ‘lines.’ The part of me that does improv and voice-acting doesn’t have to worry about memorizing lines, but when I’m meeting new people, I know that I have to be positive and outgoing – that meeting people’s eyes and engaging with them is a version of “knowing my lines.” It also means knowing that I can’t be as bawdy with my friend who is a priest as I can be with my friend who is a comedian. (Well, actually, the priests I know are pretty bawdy, but you get the point.) It also includes basic manners. Some of the lines we’re expected to know, are things like using ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ offering assistance without being asked, and standing back when assistance isn’t needed.

Be pleasant. As I recently wrote to a friend who asked for the best piece of advice each of his friends had to offer, “When all else fails, try good manners.” Even the toughest day or the hardest task becomes more manageable when you have a pleasant attitude. If that means getting up early so you’re well-caffeinated before you have to deal with people, then do so (that would be part of ‘know your lines’ and ‘control what you can control,’ as well). There’s a reason that saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar has lasted for ages.

Do good work. Nobody’s perfect. Nobody is ever expected to be perfect. That doesn’t mean we have the right to be lazy, to turn in shoddy work, or to half-ass projects because we don’t feel like pushing ourselves. I’m not saying we have to over-extend ourselves all the time either – far from it. Just give the best that you can at any given moment, and know that sometimes giving your best means asking for help or saying no.

I wasn’t expecting to hear an actor whose work I admire offer life-lessons in the middle of a Comic-Con Q&A. I know, from the reactions in the room at the time, and from the comments on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere on the ‘net, that other people were as surprised by both the eloquence and the simplicity of Nathan’s advice to that young actor, and by its relevance to people in general.

I’m still going to grumble, from time-to-time, about the lack of substantive questions in Q&A’s, or about how moderators should control the lines better (I gave feedback – extremely polite, but detailed feedback – about this to the Dallas Comic-Con organizers). But thanks to that young actor whose name I don’t know, and thanks to Nathan Fillion, and thanks to the 4,499 friends who sat in that darkened room with me, I’ve been reminded that sometimes amazing advice comes from the most unusual places.

Also? Nathan Fillion is a genuinely nice guy.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the e-zine All Things Girl on 1 June 2014, but the original link is referenced but not archived at the internet archive.