Whether he’s a doctor trying to help his sister, or a vicious Shakespearean villain, Sean Maher has been one of the more popular actors in the Whedonverse. He was the guest of honor during Whedoncon, which took place in Woodland Hills, CA earlier this month. He had two panels, where he talked about his career and his family, and also gave some very valuable advice.
He recalled how he auditioned for the role of Simon Tam on Firefly back in 2002. He had only two pages from the pilot, and asked Joss Whedon for more information. “He told me the story of Firefly,” he said, “so I got to hear it from his mouth. I was just blown away.”
At the time, Maher was up for another show aside from Firefly, and he auditioned for that job first. After a while, Joss told Maher he had to read those lines again….on the set. That’s how Maher became Dr. Simon Tam.
He says he really enjoyed being part of the Serenity crew, and often keeps tabs with the cast. “We respect each other as people and as actors,” he says. “It was the first time I ever experienced a group that I loved so much, and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. When the cameras were rolling, suddenly we were stepping into this level of professionalism and work that was effortless.” He called it a case of catching “lightning in a bottle.”
When Joss said he hoped to have the show continue as a movie, Maher admitted he wasn’t sure it would happen. It didn’t really hit him until the first table read. “Everyone started to read from the script, and I kept losing my place because I was just staring at these people who I had come to love so much, speaking the words of these characters that I missed so much,” he said. “At that moment, I was just like ‘wow, this is really happening.'”
Then he played the cunning Don John in Much Ado About Nothing. He admits this was something he wasn’t sure he could pull off because he never did Shakespeare before. An e-mail from Joss that said “I need a sexy villain. What sayeth you?”, plus encouragement from his agent, was what he needed to take the chance. He not only had to do Shakespeare, but also get the role down in just one or two takes. “Essentially what you saw was basically live theater on camera,” he said. “It was pretty challenging, but there was no cheating. Everybody knew that and everyone understood that.”
Maher was indeed a sexy villain, especially his scene with Conrad played by Riki Lindhome. The movie was film at Whedon’s house, and it was filled with many of his friends.
These days, Maher is with his husband and their children in Michigan. He had an entertaining story of how they decided to wed just after Maher learned the Screen Actors Guild would not add his significant other to his insurance unless they were married. That led to a hectic organization of a wedding, including getting a justice of the peace.
He’s hoping to develop a new TV show, and learning the finer points of screenwriting. It takes him out of his comfort zone, but he thinks that’s fine. He says he wishes somebody had told him to fail and let it be messy and make mistakes. “Our mistakes are our greatest teachers,” he says, “I believe they’re not easy but I wish I had fallen down more or let myself fail more because I am a recovering perfectionist.” He used the quote, “What if I fail, Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”, to inspire him to take more chances, especially his efforts to become a screenwriter.
He also says he’s not sure if he could be a director, although he once directed a high school production of Bye, Bye Birdie…with David Barbour from Stranger Things. Still, he says it’s important to try. “If we don’t push, if we don’t fall or fail,” he says, “then we don’t know what we’re capable of.”
He also discussed how people are becoming more polarized in their opinions, especially due to social media. He said that people could like the same food or same movies, but their political views could keep them from being friends. “It’s so polarizing that there’s only one or two points of view,” he says, “and that they’re so case-specific that we can’t find middle ground, and I think that’s a tricky thing right now, especially in social media.” He even admits he watches Fox News occasionally to see a different point of view.
Also, he talked about how Serenity would change if a sequel was even planned, seeing the crew ten years later, their lives and the ‘verse changing. He was also asked what kind of Marvel character he could be. Someone suggested Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four.
Maher recently completed a short film called The Visit with June Squibb from Nebraska, and can be seen in a Hulu movie called Beyond the Edge. He’s also in three WB/DC animated movies as NIghtwing.