Nathan Fillion in <EM>Serenity</EM> Nathan Fillion in Serenity

Movie sets can be notoriously cold and impersonal places where busy cast and crew members scurry around barely looking each other in the eye, but that wasn't the case with Serenity, writer-director Joss Whedon's big-screen take on his short-lived sci-fi Western series, Firefly. No, it was the kind of set where Whedon begins a take by yelling to his actors, "OK, everybody, be awesome!" It was a place where the cast openly joked about rubbing each other's behinds, and a mysterious bottle labeled "Extra Longlasting SEXY Powder" could be found where the actors relax in between takes. In short, everyone had a grand old time. And why not? After all, the chance to revive a canceled TV series as a feature doesn't come along every day, and that's something that everyone involved with Serenity is keenly aware of. "There's a different energy this time — we don't feel the specter of doom hanging over our heads," jokes Whedon. "When we were making the series for Fox, there was this overriding feeling that we weren't liked by our parents. But Universal [which bankrolled Serenity] has been so supportive. It's been such a positive experience." spent the day roaming the passageways of the rebuilt Serenity, catching up with some of the ship's crew as well as the guy who pulls their strings.

Nathan Fillion isn't only the once and future star of Firefly/Serenity — he's also the show's biggest fan (next to Whedon, of course). "I remember meeting with Joss when he was casting the pilot," says the actor, who plays Mal Reynolds (or, as he's known in cyberspace, "Captain Tightpants"). "I had a lot of questions about the show and he had a lot of answers. Everything he said left me going, 'Oh, of course it would be like that!' I watch other sci-fi shows [with a] suspension of disbelief, but this is far more reality-based and it's the reality of our world that I love." Like Firefly's devoted fans, Fillion spent the first few postcancellation months in a state of mourning. But when he got the call that Serenity was a go, a weight was lifted off his shoulders. The first few days on set were "unreal," he says. "What we do here feels to me like the TV show, but then I see the dailies and I see the difference. This is darker, edgier stuff; things we couldn't have done on TV."  "Darker, edgier" also describes Mal's state of mind as Serenity starts unspooling. "The film picks up a few months after the series left off and Mal is definitely a darker, sadder man. Let's just leave it at that." To lighten the mood, Fillion has become the set clown, cracking jokes — that is, whenever he's not pondering Serenity's prospects. "All I want is for this movie to be a huge success," he says eagerly. "I want it to lead to a trilogy, because I want to do this again."

Gina Torres wasn't exactly a newcomer to genre TV when she signed on to Firefly as Zoe, Mal's fearless second-in-command, having done stints on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, M.A.N.T.I.S. and Cleopatra 2525. But she noticed something different about her new gig right away. "The other shows I had done, particularly Cleopatra, were mutant-heavy and highly stylized. In contrast, there's something so bare-bones and human about Firefly. It was unlike anything else I'd ever worked on. Joss lets situations evolve from the characters' relationships as opposed to creating extraordinary situations." Because of her previous roles, Torres served as a helpful advisor to cast mates who were sci-fi virgins — like Jewel Staite, aka flighty mechanic Kaylee. "At first I was a little nervous about doing a sci-fi series, because I had heard that the fans could be kind of crazy," says the newbie. "But our fans have been great. One of my favorite days making this movie was when about 20 fans worked as extras. They brought 'Congratulations' cakes for the cast and crew. We had a great time." As the Serenity shoot hit the halfway mark, both Staite and Torres mulled over their next projects. Staite hoped to find a gig in her native Canada — she succeeded, recently popping up in an episode of Vancouver-based Stargate: Atlantis — while Torres planned to shoot a thriller with hubby Laurence "Morpheus" Fishburne

When he's not on set, Adam Baldwin can regularly be found popping off shots with his trusty digital camera. Some of these photos find their way to the movie's official website, but most of them come home with Baldwin. "I like to show them to my kids and say, 'Hey, look — Daddy's in a movie! I'm really working, not just sitting in a bar all day!'" Baldwin, who has been kicking around Hollywood since the early '80s with small roles in such pictures as Full Metal Jacket and Predator 2, credits Whedon with finally giving him a part that leaves an impression. As Jayne, the resident brawler, he gets to kick butt while delivering many of the funniest lines. "Jayne is very much the kind of guy I watched in those Western shoot-'em-ups while growing up," he says. "I was a fan of actors like Eli Wallach and Warren Oates — big, tough guys with a wry sense of humor." On Firefly, Jayne's loyalties seemed rather loose at times, but he's straightened himself out for Serenity. "He's definitely a strong member of this crew now. He probably thinks he could run the ship, but he doesn't want all that responsibility. As long as he's getting paid, he's happy."

Some TV creators might feel a bit nervous about making the leap to feature filmmaking, but when asked about the transition, Whedon simply says, "I felt ready. And it helps that I'm working with people I know and love." Part of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer-Angel creator's goal with Serenity was to bring a new look to sci-fi features. "A lot of science fiction has gotten so monochromatic.... There's an airlessness that comes with all the digital technology that I just don't buy. So while we have some greenscreen [special effects], we're very devoted to doing as many practical effects as we can. We want things to feel real." As for future Serenity movies, well, that's something he can't allow himself to think about right now. "My sequel plan is to make a movie that's good enough that it deserves a sequel. But if there never is another one, if this does just OK and the people who see it like it, that's how it should be. It would be kind of a cheat for Mal to become the hero of a giant franchise."