Sean Maher at Phoenix Fan Fest 2015
I am and always will be a Browncoat. Though I didn’t watch the entire series on it’s limited televised run, I did watch Serenity in theaters. It had a huge impact on my world view. So much so that I had Serenity’s ‘logo’ tattooed on my arm as a reminder. That being said, when I learned one of the ‘Big Damn Heroes’ was coming to Fan Fest I leaped at the chance to meet him! It doesn’t hurt that Sean is just as handsome in person as he is on screen. During his panel it felt so odd to only be ten feet away from the man who brought Simon Tam to life.
As he is in all the panels I’ve seen online, Sean is funny and friendly. To his credit he managed to watch his language. To quote him “Any children in the room? I tend to have a potty mouth during my panels, and then I always feel bad when I glance down and see…an eight year old…I actually, magically don’t to curse in front of my children and then when I’m not around them I seem to curse like a drunken sailor when I’m sober and doing a panel”.
Sean thanked an audience who asked how his role in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing came about. He was glad she asked. It turns out more people at Phoenix Fan Fest complimented his work in Much Ado, than compared to any other convention he’s attended. His involvement in that project came after a phone call with Joss, who said “I need a sexy villain. What sayeth you”? Sean’s humorous reply was “Joss does this mean you think I’m sexy”? He said Joss fired back with “Stop fishing for compliments Sean, of course I think you’re sexy. Are you in or are you out?”
When asked about his strangest fan encounter: “I don’t have a lot of strange” he said; to which an audience member said “Challenge accepted”. We all laughed as Sean declared “That was good”. In addition to Firefly and Serenity he also starred in a remake of ‘Brian’s Song’, a film about Chicago Bears Running Back Brian Piccolo. Not often discussed at con’s ‘Brian’s Song’ is a film of which Sean is very proud. Brian’s widow Joy helped write the script and was on hand for questions. Sean said he trained for football (for the film). He only had to catch, which he finds easier than throwing. The sports community didn’t want to remake the film, but Sean felt that no one younger than him knew the story and that the story needs to be told. This time with the perspective from wives, showing Brian’s treatment, and visits with his family.
Browncoats will of course have heard about Nathan Fillion taking what seems like everything from the Firefly set. For his part Sean only took Simon’s boots, which were actually his. He laughed and told us he “certainly didn’t want my vests”.
While Sean doesn’t keep up with the comic book adventures of Dick Grayson/Nightwing he does keep up with the character via the scripts he gets for the show. While discussing animation Sean admitted “I still want to be a Disney Prince. I want to do a musical”. This earned him a round of applause.
Alan Tudyk’s record breaking show ‘Conman’ was mentioned by a fan who wanted to know how much was Alan’s vision and how much was Sean’s contribution. It was mostly Alan but with room for improv. Sean said yes to the project before he really knew what it was. Alan asked him “As a gay man, am I being offensive to anybody”? “Kind of, but its really funny” Sean said. He’s sure there’ s going to be a 2nd season of ‘Conman’, though Alan hasn’t asked him yet, but Sean’s got his number.
The set of Firefly has become synonymous with pranks. When asked if he was involved with any Sean said there were so many pranks that he felt everyday was one. The show was canceled far too early, but was redeemed by a major motion picture. When asked about Simon’s evolution, getting Simon’s hands a little dirtier, and finally kissing Kaley, was redemption right there as far as Sean was concerned. As an actor, returning to a previous role is an opportunity to make it fresh. So Sean changed the way Simon talked. Joss said “No talk like Simon”. “Ok Joss. I was just trying to rough him up a bit”.
As much as we are fans of the people on tv and in movies, so are they. Sean’s a big fan of Lord of the Rings. On his first trip to Hobbiton he was ready to move in. When he met Billy Boyd (Pippin) the first time he got tongue tied. When he was supposed to see Sean Astin (Samwise) he was nervous to meet him. However Sean said he was most star struck by the woman “who could turn me straight”… Jennifer Connelly. He admires her work, shes stunning. He described riding in a limo with her as the time he felt the most stupid. Given how beautiful she is, I’d have to agree with him on all counts.
A young person in the audience asked what advice he would give to closeted LGBT youth. His suggestion was, let them decide when the time is right; don’t force it. From his experience “it’s happier to be out, and more fulfilling but I would never in a million years put pressure …if you or a person could have any kind of support system or at least, you know not even a group. Truly like one, or two people in your life, three would be gold… just somebody to talk to about that “.
It is becoming slightly more common for celebrities to walk the con floor in some sort of face concealing cosplay. Sean himself does not or rather has not cosplayed. He will however grab his phone and ask for selfies if he sees an amazing costume!!! Speaking of impressions, do his kids think he’s cool for being on TV? His daughter asked him “Uhm did you know you’re actor?” “I do know that sweetheart”. “Uhm you’re on Google”. “Are you looking at Google”? “No”. It turns out his daughter’s friend’s older sister googled him and told his daughter what they found. He wasn’t worried since the only scandalous things were some shirtless pictures of him.
Fans of Sean may have noticed his Wikipedia entry says he now lives in Michigan. He and husband Paul moved to the Midwest to raise their children with their cousins. He said they are so happy there. Sean loves Halloween, and this past one in Michigan was like a proper fall. He takes his children trick or treating but dresses up in costumes that allow him to run after his kids if necessary. His “little man who is like five, is a slippery little fish if you’re not careful. I want to be able to take off after him like a gazelle if I have to. So the last few years I’ve been a sailor which is so gay” (everyone burst into laughter). Now he didn’t specify which type of sailor’s uniform he wore, but really does it matter? Sean Maher, as a sailor? Uhm, yes please!
It’s a safe bet that every celebrity has been recognized at least once while trying to do ‘normal’ daily tasks. For Sean the funniest moment occurred at a Target while shopping for school supplies. He was in panicked parent mode because it was all last minute. Unable to find what he needed, he found a manager who recognized him. “Have you ever heard of a show called Firefly”? Sean told us “I told him I’d never heard of the show”; but then told him who he was and asked if “you had these school supplies” (referring to his list). The manager, staring and shaking tried to take a picture, so Sean’s daughter said “I’ll take the picture.” The manager said “If there’s anything I can do…” To which Sean replied, back in panicked parent mode “Uhm so the school supplies”. As they were leaving, his daughter told him they should say goodbye to the manager. Sean agreed, and they went looking for him. Sean then told us they haven’t gone back to that Target since. As we all laughed he said it’s out of the way, not because of the manager.
When Sean and his husband decided to adopt children, Sean was going to be a stay at home dad. What’s it like trying to juggle career and kids? Sean took time off and coming back two years later his female friends said he sounded like a woman who was returning to work after having children; “I don’t feel pretty, my jeans don’t fit right, it’s so weird”. Being a dad “cracked him open more than he expected”. Not having children of my own I can only imagine.
It is early December, and many people are preparing for the holidays. Sean’s family is as well with one extra special day. His husband’s birthday “is Sunday, I’m celebrating with you”. That brought laughter to most of us, and ‘awww’s from the rest. Paul is “having a great weekend. Everyone’s taking care of him”.
Very few actors ever truly ‘escape’ the roles that catapult them into the con circuit. Sean, by his own admission, will never leave Firefly. He’s actually said ‘this must be what going mad feels like’, because his son is like Jayne, always touching things. “Why does it bother me so much? Oh! Adam!” Overall he loved the Firefly episode ‘Ariel’ because of the ‘Ocean’s 11’ scene (Simon is pitching the heist to the rest of the crew) and the over all tone of the series. It’s been a few years since Firefly aired, so it’s forgivable when the Big Damn Heroes don’t remember everything; especially the Chinese. Sean said he only had two Chinese lines, (he still uses mei mei with his daughter, though he thinks it means ‘little darling’. It actually means ‘little/younger sister’). Not counting the frequent uses of ‘mei mei’ and ‘shenmu’ Sean had four Chinese lines in ‘Safe’, two in ‘Our Mrs. Reynolds’, and one in ‘Trash’. That however does not make up for the rest of the cast with their paragraphs of Chinese dialogue. When asked if anyone struggled, Sean exclaimed “Oh Alan”.
As Firefly continues to expand across geek culture, so too does the merchandising. However there are limits. It turns out Sean is one of the four cast members who does not have an action figure. His response, “Do I feel bitter about that? Do I want an action figure of myself? Hells to the yeah! Am I mad there isn’t one? Hells to the yeah. I want a Simon doll”. Of course all that was said with a comedic tone of voice, though let’s be honest who wouldn’t want a full Big Damn Heroes action figure set?
Here’s a little know secret. Sean was in the Avengers 2. “I’d love to stand in for Mark Ruffalo. I’d love to just have the camera graze my jaw… does everyone know I did that? I’m in Avengers 2”. He got a call saying Joss needed a favor. Mark wasn’t available for some re-shoots with Scarlett Johansson, so Joss asked if Sean could help him. Since no one who has worked with Joss before ever seems to say no, Sean agreed. He wore a wig to look like Mark from the back. It was the most bizarre experience, according to Sean. He got to “hang out with Joss, Jay Hunter, and kiss Scarlet, which doesn’t suck”. Apparently it’s possible to see it’s Sean and not Mark in a still of the scene. Sadly I can’t find it.
As a dedicated Browncoat, who would probably also be unable to say no to Joss Whedon, I am very much in awe of my good fortune. I actually met, and later the next day spoke with, one of the Big Damn Heroes. His friendly nature, excitement to be with fans, and willingness to engage was clearly evident – even though it was his husband’s birthday. Xie Xie Dr. Tam.