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Nathan Fillion leaves Richard Castle in the dust and revs his vocal chords for Cars 3

Canadian actor of Castle and Firefly fame swerves back into Pixar's lane with role in third instalment in racing franchise

Lightning McQueen is back for another adventure in Disney’s Cars 3.

Disney-Pixar/The Associated Press

Lightning McQueen is back for another adventure in Disney’s Cars 3.

It’s only June but this year Nathan Fillion already knows what his nieces and nephews are getting for Christmas.

“I have enough little kids in my life and they are all getting Sterling Hot Wheels for Christmas,” laughs the Cars 3 star.

In his second gig for Pixar — he also appeared in Monsters University — the Edmonton-born star lends his voice to the character of Sterling, a slick-talking coupe and CEO who becomes the new sponsor of racer Lightning McQueen.

“I had some of the classic toys,” he says. “The G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu Grip. The Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots and Smash Up Derby. Do you remember those? You’d pull the cord and wheel them at each other. Those are the fantastic toys I remember having as a kid. Otherwise it was Lego or a stick and your imagination. But to go from saying, ‘Isn’t this a neat little Hot Wheels,’ to actually being one? I can’t even.”

Fillion came to Cars 3 fresh off of 173 episodes playing mystery novelist Richard Castle on the crime comedy series Castle.

“As far as taking on a new character goes, the only danger is falling into any habits,” he says of leaving Richard Castle behind. “When you do a character for eight years there are things you will start to do habitually. I think a little more focus is appropriate to make sure you are not recycling anything from your last gig.”

The actor honed his skills on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live. For three years he was Joey Buchanan, the son of original protagonists Joe Riley Sr. and Victoria Lord. His work on that show earned him a 1996 Daytime Emmy Award nomination.

“It wasn’t like one show a week,” he says, “it was every day. We didn’t do cue cards. I’ve heard rumours of cue cards. Even the older, older guys did not use cue cards. They were seasoned pros. Anyone who talks down on daytime (television), and I never will, has never done daytime. It is a mountain of work. It is 40 pages a day.

“It’s a muscle. It’s like you start doing pushups. If you do pushups every day for three years by the end of it you can do a lot of pushups. I’m pretty sure by the end of three years that memorizing, that taking of the words and letting them live, was a muscle I flexed pretty well.”

Despite guest spots on popular shows like Modern Family, Big Bang Theory and Desperate Housewives, he will likely always be best loved for playing the hilarious anti-hero Captain Malcolm Reynolds on Joss Whedon’s short lived but influential futuristic space western Firefly.

“It was almost 15 years ago that show came out and people are still loving it,” he says, “and dressing up like the characters. I will be sad on the day they stop doing that. If anyone wants to name their kid after my character on that show the kid will have to say, ‘Yes, I was named after a character on that show.’ Then there is a chance that someone may still watch it and love it and still dress up like that guy and I’ll still be relevant and everybody will be happy. Especially me.”

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