Article sur Summer Glau by What Culture
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Summer Glau
You’re unlikely to come across a more fervent fandom than the surprisingly active Browncoats. The fans of Joss Whedon’s prematurely cancelled sci-fi Western series Firefly – and its brilliant-but-tragic cinematic sequel – are still tirelessly campaigning for its return, in the meantime making do with comic books and other spin-offs that continue the story. As they wait for a proper resurrection, their adoration goes elsewhere.
Mainly wherever the stars of Firefly go, with star Nathan Fillion’s current crime series Castle probably kept on air solely from devoted Browncoats, Whedon’s significant fanbase continuing to grow outside of his Buffy work thanks to those Avengers film, but the one actor who’s managed to continue a career of cult sci-fi work?
That honour goes to Summer Glau, who broke through in Firefly and Serenity as the mysterious, mostly mute River Tam. Kidnapped and experimented upon by the baddies, River doesn’t get a chance to show off her skills much in the TV show; then, in the films, she becomes a one-woman killing machine for the ages.
From there she’s popped up in shows like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dollhouse, and countless other genre shows and films with a similarly small but devoted audience. She has almost as much of a following as the show that spawned her career, but even they probably don’t know about the jobs she missed out on, or her pre-acting career – these are ten things you didn’t know about Summer Glau.
Apparently when it came for Glau starring in her break-out role of River Tam in Firefly (and its movie spin-off Serenity), she drew a lot on her early life for the character. A shy and withdrawn kid – she’s still pretty anxious, even going so far as to ask her boyfriend to go ask fellow celebrities for their autographs on her behalf – she found a lot to sympathise with in the similarly quiet, anti-social River. It didn’t help that she was home-schooled either.
And not just for a little while, either. Nope, Summer Glau was taught at home from third to 12th grade. It wasn’t thanks to pushy parents or anything, though – it’s because, even from a young age, the actress knew that she wanted to be in showbusiness. So, the home-schooling was a necessity, to fit around all the auditioning and extra education she was getting elsewhere.
“To me, there was no other option. I wanted it with all my heart,” she’s since said. “My parents had to say, ‘Honey, you can do this. We believe in you.’” It didn’t, however, help with her social skills or what her peers thought of her: “No one understood why I did it at the time. I was always the kid on scholarship.” But that was before she was even trying to make it in Hollywood. Before that she had a different career path.
One which, when you consider some of her later roles, kind of makes sense. The real work that Glau was dedicating her early life to was dancing – whilst she always had an interest in acting, to begin with, it was all about the ballet. She still keeps up her dance training, albeit a few times a week as opposed to the intensive amount she did when she was younger, and her experience almost landed her a part in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan – until that particular character was written out of the script.
Which is disappointing, because Glau has a lot more experience in ballet than anybody else in that movie. “I was a very shy girl, but I love the way dancers express their feelings through movement instead of with words,” she’s since said of her decision to take on that most punishing of dance styles. Whilst she never made it big in the world of ballet, she did teach classes for a while.
In fact Glau trained so much and was so good that she got to the level of prima ballerina, but had to stop because of an injury. An injury caused because she leapt over a camel saddle her family kept in their living room for some reason, an bust her foot on the fireplace. How did she not realise it was there? Because she was preocuppied with a script for a play she had in her hands. It’s like it was fate or something.
It does seem somewhat fated that Glau ended up being such nerd royalty. She’s a huge nerd herself. Well, sometimes. Whilst the role of Cameron in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was written specifically for her, because Josh Friedman was such a fan of her fight scenes in Serenity, she had never seen a single one of the time-travelling murder robots before she got the job, necessitating a crash course.
She may not have much time for James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s epics of red eyes and Guns N Roses, but she’s a tried and true comic book junkie. She appeared as a villain in The CW’s critically acclaimed superhero show Arrow, donning a costume inspired by classic DC villain Deathstroke under the name Ravager.
Before she indulged her bad side, however, she got to voice one of her favourite comic book characters in the direct-to-DVD animated movie Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Glau was pretty much a no-brainer to play Kara Zor-El, better known as Supergirl, the long-lost cousin of the Man Of Steel. Any chance she might reprise the role in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice…?
Knowing about Glau’s early career makes the start of her acting work rather unsurprising. The first role she was cast in (besides a lot of commercial work she did beforehand) was as a prima ballerina in an episode of Angel, the spin-off series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer that saw the titular heroic bloodsucker moving to Los Angeles and becoming a private investigator. The episode “Waiting In The Wings” saw him treating his employees to a night at the ballet.
A night which goes rather tits-up when the immortal Angel notices that the prima ballerina, played by Glau, had previously appeared in a performance he’d watched over a hundred years ago. It turned out the director was a wizard, jealous that the dancer loved another, and cursed her to only dance with him. Forever. Nice guys are the worst, huh.
It was a rather small role that mainly made use of Glau’s dancing experience, but it was basically what made her career. Joss Whedon technically created Angel but was mostly pretty hands-off, spending more time working on Buffy, but he saw and loved Glau’s performance in “Waiting In The Wings”. Then somebody suggested he put her in this Firefly show he was working on…
Whatever you think of Joss Whedon (and there’s surely many reasons to go off him, no matter how big a Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan you are), he’s a pretty good pal. Along with giving Glau her first acting job with that small role in Angel, she also enlisted her mentor’s help in auditioning for a role he was intimately acquainted with: Kitty Pryde, the X-Man with the ability to walk through walls who appeared properly in The Last Stand.
Glau had quite an in with Whedon, too, since in between movie and TV work he had written the comic book storyline the third X-Men film was loosely based on. “Gifted” told the story of a mutant with the ability to “cure” his fellow super-beings, with Whedon electing to bring back Kitty Pryde as a main character for the first time in decades.
Pryde was a big part of the X-Men when he was reading it as a kid, and it’s been said that the character inspired the atypically strong female roles he’s penned in his work ever since. So, duh, if you were Summer Glau and you were up for the role of Kitty Pryde, you’d go to the guy who knew her best. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough, since the part went to Ellen Page instead, but considering what a mess The Last Stand ended up being…
Disappointing though that rejection may have been, it’s part and parcel of the acting game. Actors will go to countless auditions, and it’s getting their foot in the door in the first place that’s the important thing. As Glau shows, though, even with Joss Whedon on your side, you could still face disappointment. But she’s had plenty more missed opportunities besides the Kitty Pryde Last Stand thing.
In fact her first big audition, a while before she considered Angel, was to play the pink Power Ranger in one of the many iterations of the kung-fu giant robot teen series. Again, her dancing experience probably would’ve helped, and apparently she was on the shortlist, but she never ended up getting the part.
Since her big breakthrough in Angel she found it a little easier to find work, but Glau found that she was turning stuff down thanks to her Firefly schedule. Whilst she did eventually take a part on The 4400 it was a brief arc towards the show’s existence, rather than the lead she was previously offered; around the same time she nearly played Hiro’s doomed girlfriend in Heroes, but again, there were scheduling conflicts.
Great though Serenity was in a lot of ways, it also gave as it took away. The film sequel to Firefly brought fans a lot more of what they loved, but also twisted the knife a little with regards to the show’s cancellation, feeling in many ways like a more final ending than Fox dropping the axe. Fan favourite Wash, the titular ship’s pilot, was killed off, because actor Alan Tudyk didn’t want to commit to sequels.
At least he got a big proper send-off, mind. Ron Glass, who played Reverend Book, was already departing from the series before it got cancelled. He appears very briefly in Serenity, only to be killed off-screen and again given a rather fleeting death scene to say goodbye to the cast.
Behind the scenes, though, he got a much more fitting farewell – thanks to Summer Glau. One of the more esoteric props on the sci-fi show was Book’s Bible, which eventually got passed into the possession of River. Glau annotated the entire Bible in character, and gifted it to Glass as his leaving present, which is pretty sweet. He later auctioned it off for charity, which is kinda ungrateful.
Being a trained dancer does have its uses on a film or television set. Since she moved into an acting career Glau has since taken up a handful of different martial arts, with the lead-in time to making Serenity involving several months of intensive training so that she’s be able to do most of the fight scenes for the film. Since then she’s also done firearms training for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a practice that saw her injuring herself on a shooting range. Woops.
Joss Whedon estimated that Glau did 13 95 percent” of her own stunts on Serenity, the director choosing to do long takes of her fighting. “She was a dancer so we were able to train her in ways that others can’t do,” he has since said. Would’ve saved a lot of time on The Matrix if Keanu Reeves had done ballet in his youth.
Amazed by her dexterity, when asked by one of the stunt coordinators on Serenity, “She can kick a guy in the back of the head around a pole. Can we build a pole?” Whedon replied, “Yes we can”, so sure was he of her fighting prowess. Remember that episode of The Big Bang Theory where the geeky cast are typically pathetic when they try to chat her up? They should just be glad they didn’t make her angry.
There’s a vocal contingent of internet users who like to claim that Summer Glau isn’t much of an actress, mainly based on her appearance in Firefly, which isn’t really a fair metric to measure her skills by. She’s mostly mute for the entirety of the show’s short run, only breaking out of her almost-comatose state when Serenity kicks into gear. For the TV series, she mostly just sits or stands still, keeps her mouth shut, and looks a little moody. When she does speak, it’s important.
In which case you could probably make a case for her being a bit naff, because when it came for her to finally have some proper dialogue – in the season finale “Objects In Space” – she kept flubbing her lines. Don’t worry about giving her a hard time, online, retroactively though. Her lovely co-stars had that covered.
Thanks to the spectacular out-takes that scene provided every other member of the Firefly and Serenity cast decided to make a running joke of it, using Glau’s first name as a curse word whenever they forgot their lines or otherwise messed up a take. It’s good to have that sort of support when you’re appearing in one of your earliest roles. Adam Baldwin always was a jerk, eh.
Tempting though it may be to hang around with the star of many of your favourite shows (not in a creepy way, creeps), watch out. If you befriend Summer Glau, it may be curtains for you. And for god’s sake, don’t let her be in your TV show. That’s the advice given by a particularly paranoid group of geeks who have identified Glau as the common denominator between several prematurely cancelled telly series, coining the idea of a Summer Glau curse.
Obviously that’s nonsense, since curses don’t exist, but she definitely has some bad luck. Besides the obvious example of Firefly – calm down, Browncoats, Netflix will probably give it a try right after they bring back Full House – she also had roles on doomed shows like The Cape, The 4400, The Unit, Dollhouse, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
All shows that had a certain dedicated viewership, but which were canned after their first or second seasons (to be fair, in the case of Dollhouse, that was more of a mercy killing). It’s bad luck for an actress who’s good in everything she does – especially Sarah Connor Chronicles – but hey, it could be worse. At least she’s never appeared in an Exorcist film, because that’d be like, double curse.
Fingers crossed that Jeff 1000, the satirical mockumentary robot show she’s currently starring in for Wired, doesn’t suffer a similar fate. Can webseries even get cancelled?