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How did Nathan Fillion first get into Pixar Animation Studios? Through the friend of a friend.
Someone he works with on the ABC detective series "Castle" grew up in Emeryville, Calif., the Bay Area home of Pixar, Fillion said in a recent phone interview. And that guy had a friend who worked at Pixar.
So Fillion organized a tour of the Pixar studios, for no other reason than "because I wanted to go," he said.
"I like to think I did a Pixar 'inception,' to put a bug in their ear," he said.
It worked. Fillion now is part of the Pixar crew lending his voice to a character in the animation studio's latest feature, "Monsters University," which opens Friday, June 21, nationwide.
He provides the voice of Johnny Worthington, the studly BMOC big monster on campus who leads the Roar Omega Roar fraternity, the champions of Greek Row. His frat aims to recruit James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman), the big blue furry monster audiences met in "Monsters, Inc.," while shunning the green spherical geeky monster, Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal).
Being a voice actor, Fillion admitted, "is not a super-difficult job." He recorded his role in two sessions, usually alone. "You have to rely heavily on the director and his unifying vision for the piece," he said.
"Monsters University," he said, "harkens back to our favorite '80s frat movies but, because it's Pixar, it's a well-crafted story, and it's got heart."
Fillion's role is that of "the stereotyped president of the cool frat," who can be a jerk and a bully. "These guys actually exist, so I wanted to make sure I brought some honesty to it."
Fillion was in a fraternity when he attended the University of Alberta, but "we were more like the Dead Poets Society. We weren't that far away from a nerd frat," he said. "We were poor, and our only thing was class we had a lot of class."
He said the frat brothers in his class included two lawyers, a doctor, a diplomat and a Rhodes scholar and, of course, Fillion, whose role as the dashing Capt. Mal Reynolds on the short-lived sci-fi series "Firefly" and its movie spin-off "Serenity" earned him the fan nickname "Captain Tightpants."
"Firefly" and "Serenity" were created by the great Joss Whedon, director of "The Avengers," creator of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and producer of "The Cabin in the Woods." Whedon also directed the Shakespearean adaptation "Much Ado About Nothing," also opening today in Salt Lake City. And he again hired Fillion for a pivotal role.
In that film, Fillion plays the comic-relief character, Dogberry. He's a ridiculously pompous constable whom Whedon depicts, in this modern-dress version, as a swaggering detective from a bad cop show.
Fillion called Dogberry "a flawed character," and quite fun to play once he cracked the code of Shakespeare's version of the English language.
Dogberry "thinks very highly of himself. He is vain. He is not bright, but he doesn't know it," Fillion said. "He doesn't know he has all this going against him, and it's one of his strengths."
Fillion isn't the only Whedon regular to star in "Much Ado About Nothing." The romantic leads are played by Amy Acker (who appeared on "Angel," "Dollhouse" and "The Cabin in the Woods") and Alexis Denisof ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel"). Also appearing are Clark Gregg ("The Avengers"), Fran Kranz ("Dollhouse," "The Cabin in the Woods") and Reed Diamond ("Dollhouse").
Whedon, by the way, also has a Pixar connection: He was one of the seven credited screenwriters on "Toy Story." It's his only Oscar nomination.
Working with Whedon, Fillion said, is not unlike working for Pixar. "When I go working for Joss Whedon, I'm only going to be working with fantastic people, people who can make the material live and breathe," he said.
"When I first came to L.A., people told me, 'It's not what you know, it's who you know,' " Fillion said. He used to take that as a disparaging comment about Hollywood cronyism. "Now I hear that, I think, If I'm going to do a project, and I call the shots, I want people who I know their capabilities, I know what they're going to bring to the table, I know I can count on them."