Find out what it will be like for Nolan in his new job.
The Castle and Firefly star Nathan Fillion, 51, returns as John Nolan for season five of the police drama The Rookie (Sept. 25 on ABC). In the new episodes, Nolan achieves his dream of becoming a training officer, but remains a rookie—as the LAPD’s oldest newbie training officer.
What’s it going to be like for Nolan in his new job?
Celina Juarez (Lisseth Chavez) comes in and she is very motivated, very driven…and very, very young. It’s apropos that she has Nolan as a T.O., because she makes a lot of the same mistakes that he made in the beginning. It’s a very nice echo of how Nolan started.
Which of Nolan’s qualities do you most admire?
Patience. Also, Nolan has a gentler temper than I do; I get cranky. I go, “What?” and I just get so cross. Nolan doesn’t have that. There might have been a time where he did, but he had to grow out of it quickly by necessity, or perhaps it’s just not even in his nature.
Both Castle and The Rookie are dramas, but they have humor.
They are light dramas, yes. There are moments of intensity with largely happy lives, which I think that’s pretty much how my life is, so I hope that’s close to reality.
Are you attracted to the bizarre? You played a head in Santa Clarita Diet and an octopus in Resident Alien.
I don’t say to myself, “I would like to play an octopus next.” No, Alan [Tudyk, Resident Alien], calls me up and says, “Hey, we should do each other’s shows.” He gave me the octopus [and Tudyk appeared on two episodes of The Rookie]. It’s just a matter of saying yes when an opportunity comes down the pike. My opportunities have been largely heroic, sometimes goofy, other times absolutely bizarre. And the important thing is that you’re having fun.
You and Alan have been friends for a long time.
We’ve been friends since Firefly , but we met each other years prior. When we became friends, we found out he used to be my waiter at my favorite restaurant in my neighborhood in New York.
Nolan will be going through some changes this year that will take him back to rookie status. He wasn’t going to be able to become a training officer, but now it seems that the shootout in the desert changed things.
He upset the wrong official, who set him back by having him go out to the desert on a substitute job, just to have him fill in for somebody out there and help train someone while the T.O. exam was being offered in Los Angeles. So he would miss the T.O. exam and he’d be set back for more than a year, maybe two. So Nolan was very upset. But in the desert, he wound up pulling in a bunch of really bad people, with the help of his friends.
We are so fortunate to have so many of our wonderful guest cast back again: Pete Davidson, Sara Rue. Alan Tudyk, one of my favorites. So—spoiler alert—Nolan got a golden ticket, so he gets back on track in season five.
You’ve said that things going smoothly for characters doesn’t make for great television, but we’re rooting for Nolan and Bailey Nune [Jenna Dewan]. What’s coming up for them this season?
Nolan’s a police officer, a very exciting vocation and it offers a lot of drama. That being said, Bailey is a firefighter. She’s military. Bailey is in the line of danger all the time. If Nolan gets a call on the radio; you never know what it’s going to be. If Bailey gets a call on the radio, it’s because everything’s on fire. There’s a lot of danger for her vocation, and we’re going to see Bailey get into some danger of her own.
But as far as their personal relationship, she’s somebody who really understands Nolan. He accepts her and she accepts Nolan. They both have these demanding and dangerous jobs. But she’s a fantastic match. If anything is going right and well in Nolan’s life right now, it’s Bailey.
Nolan’s job before he became a cop was a contractor, so he’s very handy. He did a terrific job designing his house himself. How handy are you?
I wouldn’t say I’m woodworking handy. That’s something that escapes me a little bit. But I’ve done some welding. I built myself a firewood rack out of steel. I helped a friend weld in some parts for his motorcycle. Some gate parts, I’ve helped with. My dad told me once, he said, “Eighty percent of fixing something is taking it apart and cleaning it and putting it back together again.” I have found that is largely true. I will confess most of my projects, I do twice. I do it once and I find, “Oh, I did this wrong,” and then I have to do it all over again. Usually there’s about a week in between where all the tools are sitting right in front of the thing I have to fix, and I’ve got to stare at it.
Both Castle and The Rookie are shows about police. But The Rookie is more about the day-to-day of actually being a beat cop. What have you learned about the job since you’ve been doing this?
The very idea that makes a police officer’s work so fresh all the time is that idea of every time the radio goes off, you have no idea what it’s going to be. I think that keeps the job very fresh for police. It certainly makes for great TV. Everything changes in a second. As soon as you hear that, and those lights go on and you speed off, it’s because something’s going on. That idea of the freshness: What is it this time?
Like an adrenaline rush too, probably.
I would think so; it would have to be. I wonder. I’m sure the police, like everyone else, get bored of their job and then have a day where it’s like, “Whoa, today was a crazy day!” I sometimes watch body cam videos and dash cam videos of police doing their job. I watched a guy chasing down an SUV in his squad car, being shot at through the windshield. They were shooting through his windshield. He’s, “Whoa, that was close.” He was so calm and just so alert like nothing was happening out of the ordinary. I was really taken aback at his level of calm. That amazes me.
What are some of the more memorable storylines for you? Is there one that particularly maybe sticks out?
I have really enjoyed doing this program. The idea of the do-over, the restart, everything fresh, it really appeals to me, and I enjoy exploring that. But when we meet pieces of Nolan’s past—his ex-wife, his mother, his half-brother—when we meet these pieces of Nolan, these things that make him who he is—his son, his son’s fiancée—these things really please me. I like exploring the storylines that tell you what built this person.
You had a connected pilot, The Rookie: Feds, last season with Niecy Nash, which was picked up. How much crossover is there going to be?
First of all, we’re so excited. The theme is the same, the execution is entirely different. It’s more of a procedural show, so there’s no formula that they’ve been following, something we established. Simone Clark [Nash] is just such a spunky character, but with integrity and heart and charm, that easy kind of, “Well, my grandma always said…” and some kind of rhyming advice, which makes it so powerful. She has such swagger, such style. We’re so excited about that branch, and then more so the fact that now we’re creating a universe. So the more crossovers we can do, the more reality each show lends to the other.
You have an executive producer credit on both shows. What is your contribution in that capacity, because producers do different kinds of jobs?
I like to think that my talents lie in knowing great people for jobs, knowing how to recognize talent, and knowing how to step back and let them do what they do best. So, I don’t try to tell a writer I know better than they do, or a director, or whatnot. My job as an executive producer is more about relationships, “Hey, you know this person, right? Do you think you could get them to come down and do our show?” “Yes, I could.” I’m out on another project, “Hey, I would love to have you on The Rookie. How would you like that?” That’s how we got Pete Davidson. I met him on a different project and invited him to come hang out with us. Pulling actors from my past—Sara Rue, Alan Tudyk, Michael Trucco—that is more my role as an executive producer.
As far as writing, I’m sure I drive all our writers crazy because I’ll just switch a line. “Hey, I’m going to switch the order of this because this is the funny part, so I want to punch it with this, I want to end it with that.” It’s always last-minute and they go, “Yeah, yeah.” Because it’s never, “Can I change this word to such and such?”
In an interview on Michael Rosenbaum’s podcast, Inside of You, you said you consider yourself lucky. Do you subscribe to the preparation-meets-opportunity belief of what luck is? Or do you really consider yourself just plain lucky?
I think (a) I am lucky, yes. But (b) I think there are plenty of people out there who fall into some luck and then it’s down to you as to what you do with that luck. If luck presents you with an opportunity, what do you with that opportunity? Can you parlay it into a job? Can you parlay it into a great relationship? Can you parlay it into a business, another opportunity?
I read somewhere that the difference between lucky people and unlucky people is gratitude. If you were to be in a car accident and your car is totaled, “Oh, my gosh, thank God I’m OK, I’m so lucky it was just the car.” So there’s the way of looking at it: I’m lucky to have survived or I’m unlucky to have lost my car. I read it was just a matter of gratitude. I think that describes me to an extent.
Do you ever think, OK, I’m going to have a series after this? Or do you think after this you might retire because you love to travel?
I do love to travel. I’ve been so lucky because you get the audition, that’s lucky. You get the part, lucky. You’re doing a pilot, that’s lucky. The pilot gets on the air, that’s lucky. If you get past season two, you are so lucky. And then I did Castle eight years. Not a lot of people have that little check on their résumé.
The odds of getting another show after an eight-year show, they’re pretty good. But as you go down the line, again, the chances get less and less: Will it go to pilot, will it get on the air, will it last? Here we are in season five, and a spinoff, which is an indicator that we have a show with an engine that can keep it moving, can keep people interested.
I think there will be a time when this town is done with me. And I think I could move away from Los Angeles at this point. If anybody needs me, I just record voiceover remotely and then fly in if they were to want me to come in and play someone’s grandpa.
You do a lot of voiceover work. Did that just happen or is that something you pursued?
That was something I was dying to do for a long time. That was a door that Joss Whedon opened for me. The WB was doing a lot of Justice League and superhero stuff, Green Lantern stuff. They would just come to all the Joss Whedon shows for voice actors. That was my in. Since then, it’s rolled pretty nicely between animated things, video games and audiobooks.
[Right now I’m in this] a setup I built during COVID, a nice little setup here, and tucked away behind it in the corner of the room is a soundproof booth that’s where I do my voiceovers. I am prepared to do that kind of stuff from home, which I look forward to. I wish I had done this 15 years ago.
If you were able to leave L.A., where’s the dream location? The tropics?
I’ve always been attracted to the tropics, for sure. My plan for retirement is to have places all over. Maybe four or five different spots with two to three tiny, little houses on each spot. A little chunk of land somewhere with great Wi-Fi. That’s my hope and dream, to say, “Let’s go to Mexico, I’ve got this little place.” “Hey, let’s go to Canada, I’ve got this little place. You want to stay? Here’s your key, you stay over there, I stay over here, we’ll meet in the middle for dinner.” I want something in Europe, I would love to have something on an island in Greece or Spain, or something where the food is excellent, and everyone’s just laid-back. I’ll just blissfully rotate with the seasons, just go through all the places. That’s my dream.