When actor Sean Maher, idolized by sci-fi fans as Dr. Simon Tam in Joss (The Avengers) Whedon’s cult series Firefly, came out publicly two years ago, he was naturally (and frequently, he recalls) asked if he feared being typecast. What he wasn’t able to discuss then was that he’d already been cast as a villainous ladies man Don John in Whedon’s filmed-in-secret adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing (now playing in theaters). The 38-year-old veteran actor, who with his longtime partner is the father of two adopted children, chats with Queerty about working with Whedon again, the possibility of another Firefly project, and why he’s a tireless advocate for gay adoption.
Everyone in Much Ado About Nothing seems to be having a blast. How much fun was it to play Don John?
It was my first villain and first Shakespeare. I had so much fun and am so grateful. I’d auditioned for villains many times in the past. I’m so grateful Joss thought of me for this. I love the character. He isn’t just plain mean, he’s very calculating and manipulating. He’s earnest to your face while he screws you over.
Joss did some gender bending in his adaptation [Conrade, traditionally a male character is now female] and a seduction scene was added. Was there ever discussion of keeping Conrade a male and adding the seduction scene?
Oh, that’s funny. I didn’t think of that. I don’t know if that was discussed.
You must appreciate that your first part since coming out publicly is as a villainous ladies man.
It’s funny that this was the first role after I came out. The question everyone kept asking was if I was going to be typecast so actually… [Laughs] My next project had me rolling on a bed with a woman.
Much Ado is a reunion not only with your Firefly creator Joss, but with Nathan Fillion, your costar in the series, and many of the crew members. What’s the likelihood of another Firefly sequel [the first, Serenity, was released in 2005]?
I honestly don’t know. If there is a status I’m not privy to it. I get that question all the time. I’m as baffled as the next person. I always hoped there’d be another movie. The only thing I’ve heard discussed is the possibility of an animated series. It’s very unofficial.
It’s been a decade since the show was canceled and fans are still devoted to it. Last year you and the cast made a splash at Comic-Con. How do you account for the show’s continued appeal?
More and more I’m starting to feel that there was an essence of having something taken away before its time. Obviously the story is wonderful and the characters are extraordinary. This world that Joss created was so universal and resonated with so many people. Now 10 years later I think this notion of nostalgia and having something that was snatched away commits to the continued dedication of the fans. I don’t think anyone’s giving up hope that there’ll be another life for it somehow.