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Before They Were Famous: Nathan Fillion in 'Saving Private Ryan'

Nathan Fillion in Saving Private Ryan
DreamWorks

A man can't become a Geek God overnight. It takes years of sweat and toil – and those are just the soap opera years. Nathan Fillion knows all about the hard road and heartbreak one endures before they nab an iconic role like Captain Malcolm Reynolds.

Fillion began his career as Joey Buchanan on "One Life to Life" which earned him a Daytime Emmy nomination in 1996 (watch a clip here), and a desire to head west and seek his fortune in LA. In 1998, he nabbed two shiny gigs – a supporting role on the sitcom "Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place," and a feature film debut in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan."

The future Browncoat didn't play just any random soldier, he was the title character! Well, sort of. Fillion plays "the other Private Ryan" who Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) mistakes for the Ryan he was sent to find. Unlike a lot of awkward debuts in awful films, Fillion's first role is one to be proud of -- he's not the cocky hero we've come to know, but a sobbing soldier who just wants to go home and check on his little brothers. Watch it and weep:

Fresh from the battlefields of France, Fillion landed his first gig with Joss Whedon as the murderous Caleb on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It was the start of a beautiful friendship which culminated in Fillion taking the helm as Captain Mal in the short-lived but beloved series "Firefly" and its big screen spin-off, "Serenity."

"Serenity" may have sailed into the black, but Fillion has stuck around. He's enjoyed a variety of feature and television roles, and currently stars as in the ABC series "Castle." He's done voiceovers for video games and DC animated movies, and sung his heart out in "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog."

A popular fan pick to play any Marvel or DC superhero, it was fitting that he recently stepped into a gaudy mask for James Gunn's superhero dramedy, "Super," which just hit selected cities on Friday. Those who doubt his geek godhood only have to watch the fans who mob him at Comic-Con. Or you could ask Steven Spielberg, who knew Fillion was the real deal a decade before we did.

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