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Steven Spielberg gave Firefly star Nathan Fillion one of his first big breaks by casting him in Saving Private Ryan. But he soon became frustrated with himself after he couldn’t do this pivotal scene in the movie.

Nathan Fillion couldn’t do the 1 thing he was brought on to do in ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Nathan Fillion posing at the premiere of 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' in a blue suit.
Nathan Fillion | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Fillion caught a lucky break when he was cast in Spielberg’s critically acclaimed WW2 film. He was hired after moving to Los Angeles, where he wasn’t getting acting work for a long time. The scene Fillion was brought on for was a small one requiring him to cry. Normally, this would’ve been an easy scene to do for The Rookie star, as the actor was already experienced with crying on cue.

“It used to be something we do on the bus on the way to school is to see who could cry first. And you weren’t allowed to cheat by reaching out and pulling out a nose hair,” Fillion told Sirius XM not too long ago.

The actor typically made himself cry simply by thinking about sad things or watching Disney films. But because of the suspense he experienced when he was about to film Saving Private Ryan, Fillion couldn’t let the tears flow.

“My very first movie was with Spielberg. I had never been to London. I was staying in a hotel just off Piccadilly Circus. Time difference… nerves… excitement… movie! I was incredibly tense. And all I had to do is cry. I’d just spent three years doing just that on a soap opera! [Pretends to cry.] But I was so tired and I was so tense. I couldn’t cry,” Fillion once told Games Radar.

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Spielberg offered Fillion some words of encouragement for his Ryan scene. But they didn’t encourage the Castle star enough, as the actor felt he wasn’t living up to expectations.

“We did the scene and then it was, ‘Cut! That was awesome, that was brilliant, let’s come in a little closer this time… Nathan how do you feel? That was great.’ I had to say, ‘What are you talking about? I couldn’t cry! I was tense!’ I was beside myself thinking, ‘What am I going to do?!’ I was so nervous,” Fillion remembered.

It was after this that the Oscar-winning filmmaker gave Fillion the words that he needed to hear.

“And he simply said to me, ‘First of all, there are five of us in that video booth, and we all bought it. So whatever you think is going on, you are acting it. What I hear you telling me is that whatever you feel here, it’s not coming forth. Let’s go talk about this. Hey everybody, we’ll be right back,'” Fillion recalled. “He leads me out to one side, we’re behind this blown out building in this little French town, walking behind this army truck, and he says, ‘Tell me about your story.’ So I tell him about the character’s back story, this is what’s going on, the family, the brothers hit by a car. And I immediately start thinking about how terribly sad this is.”

It turned out visualizing his character’s backstory was exactly what Fillion needed to tap into the necessary emotions.

 “And he made the story I’d given him so real I cried on the spot. It was so sad. And he said to me, ‘You look ready, how do you feel?’ I was ready. We came back in, and he whispers, ‘All right, let’s do this, start the rain, rolling, and…’ Off we go! You couldn’t stop me crying. If I remember correctly I cried 17 times that day! Not bad at all – a very positive experience,” he said.