When it comes to cult TV shows, Firefly is on almost every critic’s best-of list. And with good reason, as it meets most of the unspoken criteria: an off-beat subject matter in space cowboys, a cast of relative unknowns with a lot of heart…oh, and it was unceremoniously canceled less than a season in after terrible treatment from its network. But the show hasn’t disappeared from its fans’ memories, and even after a movie wrap-up, Serenity, they continue to imagine more in the form of an animated series, or a reboot.
Guess who’s here to crush your dream? Nathan Fillion, who recently stated that the show and film were so perfect, it wouldn’t make sense to try and rebuild that. Regardless, we’ll keep dreaming about a world with more of our favorite characters still on our TV screens. For example, what if the idea had never taken off, and Joss decided that in a post-Avengers world, he wanted to use his clout to create his dream project, Firefly, in 2016? Unfortunately, the actors we know and love would be a bit too old to be cast this time around. So let’s imagine who might take their place while we ponder What if Firefly Was Cast Today?
13. Shameik Moore as The Operative
Though not appearing during the series run of Firefly, The Operative is the alias of the alliance agent who works to recapture River Tam in the film Serenity. In the movie, we discover more about River’s past, during which time she learned government secrets — thus why they will stop at nothing to get her back. The Operative is a slick, highly skilled agent, manipulating the crew with ease and killing others in the process, though a humane side of him is eventually revealed.
In the role was Chiwetel Ejiofor, many years before we all learned how to pronounce his name when he won the Best Actor Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. A young up-and-comer with the potential to capture this part is Shameik Moore, who was heralded by critics and fans alike for his first-ever big screen role as Malcolm in Dope, and now stars in the Netflix series The Get Down. He’s an immense talent for sure, and he’s demonstrated an ability to command the screen even when there are bigger players who attempt to steal audience attention away.
12. Danielle Panabaker as Saffron
Unlike the other foils for our heroes on this list, Saffron uses her feminine wiles to manipulate Mal. She boards the ship on the planet Triumph as Mrs. Reynolds, having married the Captain in a ceremony during a drunken celebration. She appears to be a dutiful wife, but we soon learn that she’s a con artist, and she ends up besting most of the crew. Months later, she and Mal team up to steal an antique pistol from another one of her former husbands, and while she uses these same charms, the Captain is prepared, and he and Inara work together to escape when she almost gets them caught by the feds.
A pre-Mad Men Christina Hendricks, at the time known primarily for her role on Showtime’s Beggars and Choosers, is extremely convincing as the seductress with combat skills. Another rising star with the charisma and attitude to take on Saffron is Danielle Panabaker, who currently stars on The Flash as Dr. Caitlin Snow. Panabaker has been steadily acting since she was a child, and has only in the last few years begun taking on more adult roles. It stands to reason that she could squeeze in a couple of brief appearances as Firefly into her already busy schedule, as it would likely be a good career move.
11. James Cromwell as Adelai Niska
Though Badger is, in actual continuity, the first criminal we see hire Mal and his crew (because Fox aired the episodes out of order), many got to know Adelai Niska before the rest. After the train job goes bad, Mal shows his softer side, and decides to defy Niska by failing to deliver the promised goods, causing a rift. Though they try to stay away, Serenity ends up back in Niska’s sights, and Mal and Wash are kidnapped and tortured. Zoë and the crew end up saving the day, though Mal loses (and later regains) an ear in the process, exemplifying Niska’s cruelty.
Michael Fairman, though not particularly well known, portrayed Niska expertly in Firefly. To add a bit more notoriety to the part, James Cromwell could be a solid replacement. He has many familiar titles under his belt, including Babe, Six Feet Under, and various film and TV iterations of Star Trek. Recently, he portrayed Dr. Arthur Arden, a doctor and former high-ranking Nazi who experiments on the patients of American Horror Story: Asylum. An eastern European torturer? Sounds like a perfect fit for Niska.
10. Adam Pally as Badger
As far as minor characters go, Badger is the first to make an appearance that drives the plot of Firefly. After all, he’s responsible for the job that brought them to Persephone, where they picked up Book and the Tam siblings, beginning the story. He was also used in “Shindig” in order to incite Mal’s duel, as well as give River a reason to show off her talents. Badger embodies many of the traits of a typical crime boss: distinctive accent, selfish attitude, surrounded by muscle, and quick to flee when things get messy. Fun fact: While he was portrayed by Mark Sheppard, it was rumored that Joss Whedon initially wrote the part to play himself.
In order to capture the simultaneous goofy look and serious tone of Badger, an actor who has played both the straight man and the comedian is needed. Trained in sketch comedy, Adam Pally, of The Mindy Project and Happy Endings fame, can definitely handle this kind of character. And though he has mostly appeared in comedies, he’s no stranger to taking a more staid angle, especially in his recent work.
9. Eamonn Walker as Shepherd Book
The wise father figure, Shepherd Book boards Serenity in Persephone with Simon and Dobson, and though Mal is not a fan of religion, “Book” is quickly accepted as he helps to smooth over conflict. He forms friendships with most of the crew, and bit of his mysterious past begins to creep out. Though we never learn exactly who he was, we know that Book is much more than just a preacher. Known for his starring roles in sitcoms such as Barney Miller and Rhythm & Blues, Ron Glass fell in love with the characters in Firefly, which convinced him to take on the sci-fi role.
Also coming from a very different place theatrically would be Eamonn Walker, who, despite his youthful appearance, is only a few years younger than Glass was when he played Book. Walker is known for his portrayal of a religious character as well: he played Muslim prisoner Kareem Saïd in the HBO series Oz. Currently, Walker plays Chief Wallace Boden on Chicago Fire, who, like Book, puts himself at risk to protect those around him. It would appear that Walker’s previous roles have perfectly prepared him to play Shepherd Book.
8. Margaret Qualley as River Tam
Though everyone aboard Serenity has their own secrets, no one comes close to the mystery that is River Tam. An extraordinarily gifted teenager whose brain has been experimented on by the government, River alternates between the roles of damsel-in-distress and kickass heroine at a moment’s notice. She’s not much of a talker, but actress Summer Glau manages to portray her with emotion and depth, in addition to her psychic abilities, dance training, and combat skills.
An immense undertaking, the portrayer of River must be both young and very talented. Despite only a few years of experience under her belt, Margaret Qualley, daughter of actress Andie MacDowell, has proven herself to be a true force in the industry, appearing as Jill in HBO’s The Leftovers, as well as the intriguing and manipulative Amelia in The Nice Guys. On top of that, Qualley has years of professional ballet training, which would greatly lend itself to the role of River.
7. Daniel Radcliffe as Simon Tam
Dr. Simon Tam boards Serenity as a seemingly well-intentioned gentleman, attracting the affections of Kaylee with his looks and smarts, but he quickly causes trouble for Mal when the latter learns about his illegal “cargo.” His skills as a doctor soon prove invaluable to the crew, and slowly, he and River become a part of the family. He’s serious and a bit pretentious at times due to his wealthy upbringing, but he cares deeply for his sister and his new pals. He’s portrayed by Sean Maher, who has since played Don Jon in Whedon’s 2012 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing and can be heard providing the voice for Dick Grayson/Nightwing in recent DC animated films like Batman: Bad Blood and Justice League vs. Teen Titans.
So who could bring the same air of affluence with those shining blue eyes, and perhaps add an air of prestige? How about Daniel Radcliffe, The Boy Who Lived. Not only does he have a giant fan base with an intensity similar to that of Firefly, but he’s proven himself time and again since wrapping up the Harry Potter franchise, whether it be on stage, in film, and even on TV, where he, in fact, played a young doctor. Though he likely has numerous projects in the works, Radcliffe is looking to distance himself from the character that brought him fame, and might like to take on a new defining role.
6. Ryan Eggold as Jayne Cobb
An extremely divisive character, Jayne shows loyalty to his shipmates, but is rarely kind in his demeanor. He considers it important to be seen as tough and manly, and doesn’t often allow his emotional walls to come down. Jayne is often harsh with his words and tone, but when it comes down to it, he is an important member of the Serenity crew, often drawing upon his experiences and connections from his mercenary days. Adam Baldwin similarly portrayed numerous military characters both before and since Firefly, in addition to frequent voice roles in video games, a community he has expressed a devotion to.
It seems fitting then that The Blacklist actor Ryan Eggold might be considered for the role, were the series created today. His character on the show is a complicated one, who must remain tough and hide who he truly is in order to protect those around him. Eggold is a versatile actor, having come to The Blacklist from the CW’s 90210 reboot, where he played a teacher who was a bit of a playboy. While this might not give him much insight into Jayne, his wide-ranging array of roles could likely inform him in playing this complicated character.
5. Hailee Steinfeld as Kaylee Frye
As a contrasting character to the more serious “adults” on the ship, young Kaylee is a girly girl with a sweet, innocent disposition, and an incredible knack for mechanics. She loves Serenity and its crew, and when Simon Tam and his sister board the ship, she falls hard for the doctor, though she never lets her feelings get in the way of her duties. Kaylee is a unique kind of feminist character: she’s proudly sex-positive, happily skilled in a typically “male” vocation, but simultaneously a loving, nurturing young woman. Jewel Staite, who has been on one TV show or another for most of her life (the now-34 year old’s career began at the age of 9), plays Kaylee as completely sure of herself, even when those that are older and more skeptical choose to question her.
Hailee Steinfeld, also having been in the industry since childhood, sprung onto the scene with her Oscar-nominated performance in True Grit at only 13 years old. After making a few other films, she starred in Pitch Perfect 2, and recently began her music career with her singles “Love Myself” and this summer’s “Starving.” With her upcoming starring role in The Edge of Seventeen, Steinfeld is once again sparking interest, and her adorable persona makes her a solid candidate to play Kaylee.
4. Joe Dempsie as Hoban “Wash” Washburne
Quippy, a skilled navigator, and self-deprecating are all attributes that describe Wash, the pilot of Serenity and husband to Zoë. A bit on the goofy side with a dry sense of humor and a laid-back attitude that was shown in his stress-free style of flying, Wash was a completely devoted crew member, and a voice of practical reason where necessary. Alan Tudyk was another unknown face when he was cast as Wash, but has gone on to star in popular films like Dodgeball, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, and Trumbo, in addition to a myriad of voice roles. Recently, Tudyk (along with Nathan Fillion) created the web series Con Man, which draws heavily on his experiences in the comic convention circuit post-Firefly.
Though best known for his more serious role as Gendry in Game of Thrones, Joe Dempsie has shown his comedic chops on British TV. He appeared in the first generation of the UK series Skins as Chris, a fun-loving teen who takes on his many familial issues with a chill attitude. Chris bears a bit of a resemblance to Wash: both take everything in stride, love to joke around, fell for strong women of color, and (spoiler alert) die tragically. And though he’s rumored to be returning to GoT in season 7, Joe might be free right now to take on the part. Maybe don’t tell him his character once again kicks the bucket?
3. Vanessa Hudgens as Inara Serra
The role of Inara is one that was meant to demonstrate some of the possible positive changes of the future. Whedon imagined a world where simply being a sex worker is no longer a disgraceful profession — instead, a Companion is someone who is respected, chooses their own clients, and sometimes acts as an emotional guide in addition to engaging in intimate relations. Of course, the blunt and narrow-minded Mal still took issue with Inara’s job, causing a sexually-charged rift between the Captain and the woman he rented a shuttle to. But Inara never wavered, holding strong in her Buddhist beliefs and the practices of her position, often showing her wisdom when it was least expected. Morena Baccarin, a complete unknown at the time, was phenomenal in the role, and has gone on make a name for herself in hit films like Deadpool and Spy, as well as on acclaimed TV series Homeland and Gotham.
While perhaps a controversial choice, High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens has proven herself to be an underrated talent in recent years. After appearing in sexualized roles in such controversial films as Sucker Punch and Spring Breakers, Hudgens showed that she was working tirelessly to remove her squeaky-clean Disney image. But she continued to mine her musical talents as well, taking a turn on Broadway as the titular role in last year’s Gigi, followed by the 2016 TV special Grease: Live, where she took the character of Rizzo to new heights. After these recent performances, Vanessa seemingly has the experience to step into the role of Inara.
2. Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Zoë Washburne
The brains to the Captain’s heart, Zoë is the level-headed second-in-command on Serenity. She takes orders, as she’s a military woman through and through, but she will break rank if she feels that Mal isn’t thinking with his head. Clearly as motivated and intelligent as her character, Gina Torres is still best known for her portrayal of Zoë, though she’s found recent success on Suits and in a guest role on Hannibal.
Anyone taking on the role of Zoë would need to personify a straightforward, strong, and beautiful woman who tends to keep her guard up — unless she’s with her husband. Jurnee Smollett-Bell has been acting for most of her 29 years, beginning with a recurring role on Full House as Michelle Tanner’s friend Denise to a phenomenal turn as Samuel L. Jackson’s daughter in Eve’s Bayou. As an adult, she portrayed Jess Merriweather, a high school student tasked with taking care of her siblings while aspiring to be a football coach on Friday Night Lights, and the actress went on to star in the short-lived series The Defenders and the final two seasons of True Blood. While currently busy as the lead in the WGN drama Underground, Smollett-Bells’s impressive career and considerable range make her a great choice for Zoë.
1. Sebastian Stan as Malcolm Reynolds
Nathan Fillion’s role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds took him from Sharon’s boyfriend in Two Guys and a Girl to leading man status. The Captain of the spacecraft Serenity, Mal is the leader of his band of rebels, shirking the law in order to keep his crew together and their ship in the air. He’s a tough guy, hardened from war with a sarcastic tongue to match, but underneath it all, he’s a good man, and one who’s fiercely loyal to his friends.
In order to embody all of this (a near-impossible task), an actor with range and a handsome yet rough look is required. Sebastian Stan has shown us that as Bucky Barnes, he can play a soldier who cares about his pal Captain America, even when he isn’t certain of his own motivations. Outside of the MCU, we’ve seen him take on a number of roles that truly run the gambit, from snooty Carter Baizen on Gossip Girl, to volatile T.J. Barrish on Political Animals, to his dual part on Once Upon a Time as Jefferson and the Mad Hatter. Throughout his short, yet versatile career, the 34 year old actor has shown that he has the chops and the charisma to portray Captain Reynolds. Fans may never except anyone but Fillion in this role, but Stan would be a fine replacement nevertheless.
Would you be on board with a full Firefly reboot if a revival was out of the question? Who would you like to see portray the crew of Serenity? Let us know in the comments.