Even though it's been 15 years since the end of the show (and 13 years since the subsequent film), the world of Joss Whedon's Firefly is still capturing the attention of audiences both old and new alike. A pivotal aspect of the series (as well as the film) is the story of the Tam family, and River Tam and her brother Simon are two of the most beloved characters in the Firefly world. The actors behind the Tams recently shared some of their experiences at 2018's Emerald City Comic Con.
The Tams were played, of course, by Summer Glau (River), and Sean Maher (Simon), both of whom have attained an almost royal status in the world of science fiction. It was clear right from the start of the panel that the bond between the two of them is strong, and that they are pretty much the real-life equivalent of a brother and sister. Constantly laughing and mocking each other over various things, the two Tams answered questions about everything related to River and Simon, as well as their experiences working on the show and film.
In terms of their original casting, they both only had two pages of dialogue to go off of. They didn't have a full script, but they were given a rundown of what the show would be like from Whedon. Maher said that his two pages included the "I'm very smart" monologue (ultimately about how his sister is far smarter) from the pilot, while Glau's pages were generic, and did not end up in the show.
Glau praised Whedon's writing, remarking that it "doesn't take much to transport you and move you." Prior to Firefly, Glau had only done one small guest role on Angel, and she revealed that she got into the callback for that show by sneaking in. She got cast (in the role of a dancer) by using a mostly made-up resume, and thankfully her real-life dance background came in handy when it was time to shoot. She mentions that this same dance background helped her immensely with finding River's physicality, and that Whedon's decision to have River go barefoot grounded her even further.
When asked about how the two of them went about cultivating their brother-sister relationship, they were quick to say that they didn't cultivate it— it just happened. As Glau was a newcomer, filled with all of the doubts that would entail, Maher became a nurturing figure to her, and the dynamic became somewhat effortless.
This dynamic would continue to serve them as the series transitioned into the film Serenity, where Whedon told Glau that he was planning on turning River "into a living weapon." After several months of training, Glau said that the epic fight scenes in that film were difficult, but Whedon's decision to shoot it in longer takes (almost like a dance) made it much more rewarding. Though the fight training (and shooting) was intense, Glau said that playing a mentally unstable person "came pretty naturally."
When asked what his favorite scene to shoot with series lead Nathan Fillion (Malcolm Reynolds) was, Maher was fast to jump in, answering, "When I punched him?" He also enjoyed the "Kaylee's dead" practical joke from the pilot. Neither Tam was on set the day that the call came through about the show's cancellation, but they were both able to gather at Fillion's house that night for carousing, with Maher remembering that he likely "fell through some hedges" by the end of the evening.
Not only is the bond between Maher and Glau solid, but the bond between the entire cast is strong as well— according to Glau, all of the hurdles and roadblocks that they went through only bonded them all even more. Maher thinks of the show as a foundation that began some of the most important friendships in his life, and this sense of family bonding is likely why the both of them loved shooting on the ship's dining room set— usually that meant that the entire cast was together.
If there was to ever be a revival, would they do it, or is the show perfect and untouchable as it is? Maher says that he leans to the side of it being untouchable, but both he and Glau are very clear that if a revival were to happen, there's no way that they wouldn't want to be a part of it. They both love working with Whedon in general (Glau guested on Dollhouse and Maher appeared in Whedon's film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing), and according to them, "once you're a part of the Whedon family, it's forever." Maher went on to describe the artistic vibe as being something like, "I don't know what the hell you're doing, but I'll do it with you."
Would they be able to return to these characters, however? Glau wondered if she'd be able to find River again, as she describes the role as "being perfect for me at that time of my life." She brings up Maher's influence again, saying that his experience and talent continually pushed her, sometimes to a detrimental degree. During an emotional scene where Simon gets shot in the film Serenity, Glau remembered that Maher had brought out such a torrent of emotion in her that Whedon had to ask, "Could you cry a little quieter, because you're ruining Sean's close-up."
Whether the Tams return to the world of Firefly or not, they both have ideas of where they'd like their characters to go in the graphic novels and the upcoming novelizations. Glau was in favor of River finding some shoes (as well as learning more about Shepherd Book), and Maher says that he "always just wanted babies with Kaylee, and Auntie River who we'd never leave them alone with."
Above all else, both of them showed a huge amount of gratitude for the love and support that the fans of the Firefly saga give them time and time again. As the show continues to be discovered by new fans every day, the legacy continues — and they feel very lucky to be a part of it.
As for that revival? They didn't dismiss it, so who knows? No power in the universe can stop the Tams.
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