Castle Experiments With Creative & Romantic Tension

LOS ANGELES – Anyone who thinks that the dancing ends on ABC when Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke sign off Monday nights should probably take a closer look at the tricky two-step that Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic engage in weekly on “Castle.”

As choreographed here on Stages 11 and 12 of Raleigh Studios, the romance-meets-murder-mystery has Fillion’s novelist Richard Castle and Katic’s homicide detective Kate Beckett circling each other, drawing together and drifting apart, their rhythms dictated by the actors’ instincts and by people offscreen who know just how volatile on-screen chemistry can be.

Because, yeah, they’ve seen “Moonlighting.”

“When you’re dealing with romantic drama, where you have that tension, you want to make sure you maintain that tension, because that’s part of the fun, but in any real relationship there are always missed opportunities, there are always moments when you almost come together,” “Castle” creator Andrew W. Marlowe told me during one of several interviews conducted – some in the homicide squad’s interrogation room – in late July during breaks in filming what was to become tonight’s episode.

“In doing this dance, we also understand our obligation to the audience, to keep it interesting for them, but not to frustrate them and not to have them feel like they’ve been jerked around,” he said.

So, if you’ve been waiting two seasons now for Castle and Beckett to really get together, read into that what you will, straight from the mouth of the man who may or may not be responsible for last fall’s New York Times best-seller “Heat Wave,” and its sequel, “Naked Heat,” published last week by Disney/ABC-owned Hyperion Books.

“The book was written by the ruggedly handsome mystery writer, Richard Castle. I do have to say I worked very closely with him to make sure we were protecting all the elements of the show,” is all Marlowe will say about authorship.

The truth is, tension, sexual or otherwise, wasn’t much in evidence on the day I visited “Castle,” where the cast was still basking in the glow of a weekend visit to San Diego Comic-Con – an event where former “Firefly” star Fillion, in particular, is regarded as something of a rock star – and most people just seemed happy to be back at work on the show’s third season.

Fillion, whose work on producer Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the online musical “Dr. Horrible” makes him a prominent figure in the “Whedonverse,” doesn’t mind at all that his sci-fi fans seem to have followed him to a different genre.

“I call Joss Whedon fans . . . ‘gold-ticket audiences,’ because it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, they’re always there,” said the actor. “They’re always excited, they’re always supportive. They’re always loyal.”

The first lead to be cast – executive producer Laurie Zaks said that the actor “read the script very early in our casting process and called us and said, ‘I love this part,’ ” and after meeting him, “we knew it was right” – Fillion said that he recognized something of himself in the Castle character.

“He’s living in his imagination every day,” Fillion said. “He’s creating from his mind, he’s writing, he’s researching, he’s very much about the book and the printed page. And now, all of the sudden, he’s on the forefront of murder investigations, so now every day is a field trip to this guy. And he loves life, he’s having a great time.

“That’s my real life. [Growing up in Canada], I wanted to be an actor and I was watching TV and movies and I never thought it’d be possible to be in the little box on the wall with the action and the guns and the spaceships and stuff.

“But now this is my real life, and I’m lucky. My worst day is a fantastic day. I’m living the dream. And I saw that in Castle. He’s having a ball and . . . I just love the way he wears his joy on his sleeve.”

Katic, another Canadian – her parents emigrated there from Croatia – was one of more than a hundred actresses who auditioned for her part. She sees Beckett as a throwback to the “dames” in ’40s films.

“They were as sexy, as powerful, as ballsy as the boys,” she said. “And what’s fun about it is that, hopefully, within all that kind of strength of character and know-how, we are finding more opportunities for her to have the kind of sense of humor that that kind of a girl would have, and also just this sensuality and charisma that that kind of a girl has. It’s different. It’s not ditzy, it’s got a certain amount of, like – what is that phrase, the cat that swallowed the canary? Yeah, a little bit of that.”

In casting Katic, “I was looking for somebody who had strength, somebody who had intelligence, somebody who could go toe-to-toe [with Fillion’s character], but in a different way,” Marlowe said.

“When you’re creating this sort of dynamic, you want each character to occupy their own territory, their own ZIP code, if you will. And one interesting thing about the Castle character is that he represents all the different kinds of men. You know, he’s the man-child, he’s also a really good father, you can see him in relationships, you can see him as the long-suffering son.

“With Beckett, I wanted her to be a little more of an enigma for him to be compelled to kind of pull back those layers. But I was very cognizant that I wanted her to be, in a way, postfeminist, where her issue wasn’t about proving herself in a male-dominated workplace. She’s there, she’s smart, she’s really good at what she does,” Marlowe said, noting that when he wrote the screenplay for “Air Force One,” “I made a choice to make the vice president a woman and not really talk about it . . . because I felt it was where we were in the culture or it was where we were about to be.”

One of the things that makes “Castle” fun is that Fillion and Katic are never the only couples on the dance floor.

At home, Castle’s sandwiched between two determined redheads – his ultra-responsible teenage daughter, Alexis (Molly C. Quinn) and his actress mother, Martha (Susan Sullivan).

In the squad room, detectives Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) have a more traditional partnership than the one forged between Beckett and the boyish mystery writer who’s supposedly tagging along as research.

It’s “fantastic” working with Sullivan, Fillion said.

“If you look at the percentage of time that she spends on screen, you might think it’s really small,” he said. “But the way Susan kind of blows into a scene, you know she’s been busy, doing something and you know she’s on her way to somewhere doing something else.”

“Boy, is that good news, because I’m not there very much,” said Sullivan when I repeated Fillion’s remark to her a few days later at an ABC party.

“That’s why I said to the costume designer . . . ‘Put her in bright colors. She’s only there for two minutes, and if she’s in black or blue, you won’t notice. She’s got to be in yellow or orange,’ ” Sullivan said.

One of the series’ enduring mysteries – the identity of Castle’s father – remains one to Sullivan.

“I think I should be his father,” she said, joking that the idea came to her after donning the red wig she wears on the show (because dyeing her hair red, as she did in Season 1, “is a nightmare”) and deciding that she looked like a transvestite.

“I went to Andrew [Marlowe] and I said, ‘That would be a great cliff-hanger. Martha could be Nathan’s father.’ I’m sure they won’t do that.”

You may never explicitly see, either, half the things Huertas and Dever have dreamed up as backstories for their characters.

Huertas, a veteran of Air Force special-ops who served in Iraq during the first Desert Storm – and whose character, Esposito, shares a similar background – thinks that they’re there to “anchor the story into a homicide division.”

But that doesn’t mean that they, too, haven’t worked on their chemistry.

“You always want a partner that you can trust and a partner that you’re friends with,” said Dever. “We hang out together, his girlfriend and my wife [Juliana, who last spring played Ryan’s girlfriend on the show], they’re friends, so we do things together.”

Fillion has his own theory about what creates chemistry.

“First of all, it has to be in the script,” he said.

“The moment has to be there. Second of all, you have to have someone who’s able to let that moment live and breathe. I think there’s plenty of people who can take a scene like that and fail . . .. But Andrew [and other producers], they’re all very careful about casting the television show, and I think they did a great job.”