You can take Firefly off the air, but you can’t take the sky from legions of Browncoats. Mistreated by FOX, which aired the series out of order and skipped three episodes entirely, Firefly stood out for its ambition, its distinctiveness among bland network TV line-ups and most of all its unfulfilled potential. Joss Whedon had a seven-season arc planned out, but only one season was ever produced. Fan demand couldn’t save the show, but convinced Universal to produce a movie follow-up, Serenity. There have been spin-off comics and an announced MMO video game reuniting the original cast, though unfortunately, there’s been no news of its development since March 2016.
Firefly continues to have an extremely active and passionate fandom to this day, impressive for a quirky existentialist space Western that lasted one season 15 years ago. Much of this success can be attributed to the vibrancy and depth of its characters. So what have the actors who brought the crew of the Serenity to life been lending their talents to in the decade-and-a-half since FOX made that painful cancelation announcement? Read on to learn more about the careers of the people behind the cult phenomenon.
15. NATHAN FILLION (MAL)
While Malcolm Reynolds, a veteran from the losing side of the Unification War-turned-spaceship captain on the outside of the law, is still one of Nathan Fillion’s most celebrated roles, it’s far from his only one. Seriously, with a chin like that, how could he not become a star?
His biggest mainstream claim to fame was as the title character on the mystery series Castle, which lasted eight seasons on ABC. He’s played both superheroes (Green Lantern in various DC animated movies) and super-douchebags (Captain Hammer in Doctor Horrible). In addition to working regularly with Joss Whedon, he’s also filmed an appearance in every film directed by James Gunn, though his Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 cameo as Simon Williams ended up on the cutting room floor.
14. GINA TORRES (ZOE)
Gina Torres was appearing in genre TV shows since before she played the Serenity’s second-in-command; before Firefly, she was Nebula in Hercules, Cleopatra in Xena, and the original actress for Anna Espinosa in Alias. Since Firefly she’s received more starring roles, the biggest of which has been as Jessica Pearson in the legal drama Suits.
Torres worked with Joss Whedon again playing the embodied form of Jasmine in Angel‘s fourth season. Voice acting roles include Vixen in Justice League Unlimited, Airachnid in Transformers Prime, and Superwoman in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. She is married to Laurence Fishburne and has co-starred with him in both the Matrix sequels and the Hannibal TV series, the two of them playing a married couple in the latter.
13. ALAN TUDYK (WASH)
Wash, the lovably nerdy pilot of the Serenity, is still probably the character that comes to most people’s minds when they see Alan Tudyk’s face. His voice, however, is a different story. Tudyk’s had a few major live-action roles since Firefly, notably Alpha in Dollhouse and Tucker in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Most of his recent resume, however, has been in animation.
Superhero fans might recognize him as The Flash in Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Green Arrow among others in Young Justice. Over at Disney, he’s become something of a good luck charm, providing a voice in every one of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ movies from Wreck-It Ralph onward. In a return to space opera, he stole the show in Rogue One as the voice of K2SO.
12. MORENA BACCARIN (INARA)
Inara’s a fairly unique character as a sex worker respected and accepted among the Serenity crew. Actress Morena Baccarin’s biggest claim to fame since Inara has been another role as a sex worker, Vanessa Carlyle, in the Deadpool movie. Also of interest to superhero fans, she plays Leslie Thompkins on Gotham and voiced Black Canary on Justice League Unlimited, as well as Talia al Ghul in the DTV Batman animated movies.
It’s not just superhero series she’s been acting in, however. She’s returned to sci-fi as Adria, the antagonist of Stargate SG-1‘s final season, and as Anna, the leader of the visitors in the 2009 V series. In more realistic work, her turn as Jessica Brody, the wife of a POW in Homeland, earned her Emmy and SAG nominations in 2013.
11. ADAM BALDWIN (JAYNE)
For a decade or so after Firefly‘s cancelation, it was impossible to walk five feet at a sci-fi convention without spotting someone wearing Jayne’s knit hat. Jayne hats, however, aren’t as common a cosplay accessory these days, and while some of that might be changing tastes of fandom, a good chunk of that seems to be due to embarrassment over the actor who played Jayne.
Adam Baldwin has become… controversial. He’s kept a career going with a major roles on Chuck and The Last Ship and many voice acting roles over the years, including Superman in the movie Superman: Doomsday and Hal Jordan in the games Injustice Gods Among Us and Infinite Crisis. However, he’s probably most famous now for launching the GamerGate hashtag. The less said about that debacle, though, the better.
10. JEWEL STAITE (KAYLEE)
Canadian actress, Jewel Staite has acted in both American and Canadian TV series since she was a kid. The young stars of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel programming often have trouble adjusting to their adult careers, but Firefly eased the transition for Straite. The Serenity’s perky bubbly mechanic remains Staite’s most iconic and certainly her most frequently quoted role.
Like her fellow Firefly alumni Gina Torres and Adam Baldwin, Staite has since become a part of the Stargate universe, playing the roles of Ellia and Dr. Jennifer Keller on Stargate Atlantis. Her other most notable recurring role, at least in the United States, was as Caroline Swift on The Killing. She’s made several single episode appearances in many shows including Supernatural, Legends of Tomorrow and Castle.
9. SEAN MAHER (SIMON)
Compared to some of his fellow Firefly stars, Sean Maher’s acting resume has been relatively sparse since he last played Dr. Simon Tam, a surgeon trying to protect his younger sister from government agents. There have been some highlights, however. Whedon fans will remember him as Don Jon in Much Ado About Nothing, while superhero fans should note him as Shrapnel on Arrow and the voice of Nightwing in five DC animated movies.
The Playboy Club, the last TV show in which Maher played a main role, got canceled by NBC after just three episodes aired. Maher was able to use his role as a closeted gay man on the show as a way to come out about his own sexuality. He’s since had guest roles in the LGBT-themed series Looking and EastSiders.
8. SUMMER GLAU (RIVER)
Since her break-out role as the mentally unstable but utterly badass River Tam in Firefly, Summer Glau has been in demand for practically every other major science fiction TV series. This is due to both her acting ability and her physical skills. She’s both trained in multiple martial arts and as a ballerina — skills that lend themselves to being able to pull off amazing action choreography. In fact, Whedon first discovered her when casting a ballerina for an episode of Angel.
Her stand-out parts since River include Tess Doerner in The 4400, Cameron and Allison Young in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Bennett Halverson in Dollhouse, and Ravager in Arrow. She also voiced Supergirl in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Of course, nerds everywhere still dream about her getting her deserving big screen breakthrough of River Tam Beats Up Everyone.
7. RON GLASS (BOOK)
The preacher Book was the oldest of nine main characters in Firefly, and Ron Glass, being the oldest actor of the bunch, had done most of his biggest roles before joining Firefly. Most notably, he played Detective Ron Harris in all eight seasons of the classic ’70s sitcom Barney Miller and provided the voice of Randy Carmichael in Rugrats, along with appearances in everything from Friends to Star Trek: Voyager.
After Firefly, he continued to voice Randy in the Rugrats spin-off All Grown Up, but that was his last regular recurring role. He appeared in two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and had small parts in films like Lakeview Terrace and Death at a Funeral, but on November 25, 2016, he sadly died at the age of 71 from respiratory failure.
6. MARK SHEPPARD (BADGER)
Due to its short run of only 14 episodes, Firefly didn’t get the chance to establish too many recurring characters outside of the main nine, but the smuggler Badger made an impression in the two episodes he appeared in. Joss Whedon himself was supposed to play the role, but it ended up getting filled by actor and musician Mark Sheppard.
Sheppard’s biggest claim to fame has been in another, much longer running cult favorite TV series. He plays the demon Crowley on Supernatural. Other roles of his in genre TV favorites include Romo Lampkin in Battlestar Galactica, Tanaka in Dollhouse, Benedict Valda in Warehouse 13, and Canton Everett Delaware III in Doctor Who (he’s just one Sherlock appearance short of completing the SuperWhoLock trifecta!).
5. CHRISTINA HENDRICKS (“SAFFRON”)
At this point, Christina Hendricks’ recurring role as a con artist of many names in Firefly has become a “before they were stars” piece of trivia. Firefly wasn’t the first TV show Hendricks acted in, but it predated her star-making breakout role as Joan Holloway in Mad Men. That part earned her six consecutive Emmy nominations and two wins at the Critics Choice Awards.
In 2010, Hendricks was declared “the sexiest woman in the world” by Esquire magazine. On the big screen, she’s had supporting roles in Drive and The Neon Demon among other films. Voice acting roles of hers include Lois Lane in All-Star Superman, Saori in the English dub of Ghibli’s From Up on Poppy Hill, and the hive-mind Unity in Rick and Morty.
4. MICHAEL FAIRMAN (ADELAI)
A prolific character actor who’s appeared in at least an episode or two of a ton of TV shows (IMDb lists him as having 149 acting credits since 1971), Michael Fairman’s career was at its busiest in the two decades before playing the ruthless crime lord Adelai Niska in Firefly. He’s still appeared in shows including Monk and Sons of Anarchy, but in the ’80s and ’90s it seemed like he was in EVERYTHING.
The biggest news with Fairman post-Firefly wasn’t any of his acting parts, but his departure from the Church of Scientology in 2011. He’d acted in promotional films for the Church and reached the second highest “OT Level” before his departure, making it something of a surprise. The Church declared him a “Suppressive Person” in response.
3. CHIWETEL EJIOFOR (THE OPERATIVE)
A Shakespearian stage actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor stole the show in Serenity as the movie’s villain. The same year, he’d earn a Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy nomination at the Golden Globes for playing the drag queen Lola in Kinky Boots. For the rest of the decade, he’d play a variety of supporting parts in films ranging from Children of Men to American Gangster to 2012.
Then in 2013 he gave the Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning lead performance as Solomon Northrup in the Best Picture-winning drama 12 Years a Slave. Since then, he’s been given more high profile roles including Vincent Kapoor in The Martian and Mordo in Doctor Strange. In the near future, he’s set to voice Scar in the CGI remake of The Lion King.
2. DAVID KRUMHOLTZ (MR. UNIVERSE)
The other major new character introduced in the Serenity movie was the eccentric tech genius Mr. Universe (not to be confused with Steven Universe’s dad, though that crossover crackfic must exist somewhere on the internet…). Around the same time as Serenity‘s release, actor David Krumholtz had started playing the two roles he’d become best known for: Goldstein in the Harold and Kumar movies and Charlie Epps on the TV series Numb3rs.
Krumholtz tends to play geeks and/or comedic roles. His working relationship with the Judd Apatow crew goes back to the Freaks and Geeks days, and has played supporting parts in various Apatow-produced and later Seth Rogen-produced movies. His biggest role in one of these films was as the voice of Kareem Abdul Lavash in Sausage Party.
1. JOSS WHEDON (CREATOR)
In the aftermath of Firefly‘s cancelation, Whedon seemed like he was gonna be stuck as a cult figure, unable to recreate the major success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel got unexpectedly canceled in its fifth season, while Dollhouse barely lasted two years. Much of his 2000s work was decidedly niche, writing X-Men comics and the musical Doctor Horrible.
Then he got a gig writing and directing a little film called The Avengers. Released the same year as Cabin in the Woods, which he co-wrote, Whedon had the biggest success of his career. He decided to follow it up by directing a micro-budget film of Much Ado About Nothing, then exhausted himself on Age on Ultron. Whedon’s finishing Justice League for Zack Snyder and set to direct Batgirl, but has become subject to backlash. Still, he remains a staple of on-screen geekdom.
Did we miss anyone from the Firefly crew? Let us know in the comments!
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