USA Today Whitney Matheson interviews Joss Whedon

UPDATED: Sunday, December 25, 2005 13:36
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Sunday, December 25, 2005 1:36 PM


USA Today Pop Candy columnist Whitney Matheson interviews Joss Whedon:

Joss Whedon is known for handling multiple projects at once, but 2005 was an especially busy year for the writer/director. Along with releasing Serenity, a film based on his cancelled Fox series, Firefly, the creator of cult hits Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel was tapped to write and direct a big-screen version of Wonder Woman, due in 2007. Amidst all the moviemaking, Whedon even had time to guest star on UPN's Veronica Mars, a series he has famously dubbed the "Best. Show. Ever."

Whedon and I recently chatted about Serenity -- particularly its disappointing intake in theaters -- Wonder Woman, Buffy and other hot topics. He lands at No. 13 on my list of the 100 people of the year.

WM: Looking back at Serenity's performance at the box office, do you think there's anything more that the fans, or you, could've done to get the word out about the movie?

JW: Honestly? Physically? No. I know there's nothing more I could've done, because I collapsed from exhaustion at the end of the publicity tour. And I know there's nothing more the fans could've done, because they were crazy all over themselves. Obviously, Universal could've spent more money on advertising, but I think that's the Catch-22: If you keep spending more, will you necessarily bring out more people?

Ultimately, what didn't happen is that we didn't really manage to get a sense of the movie out to people. But that's a hard thing to do; it's a weird movie. And, you know, it crosses a lot of genres, and it's not an easy sell. ... Who knows? Ultimately, you can't really point the finger -- I mean, I'm sure there's plenty of people who are pointing plenty of fingers in every direction -- but it's just a crapshoot.

WM: But the movie is coming out on DVD very quickly, and right before Christmas. Did you have something to do with that?

JW: No. They had always anticipated a fairly fast release. I think that's kind of the pattern that doesn't necessarily represent failure: The 40 Year Old Virgin came out after us, the DVD came out before. In that sense, they were riding the crest of its success. In our case, they had always been (set) on this date before the film came out. Had it done spectacularly well and was still thriving in theaters, they probably would've pushed it back. It's gonna eat into the box office a little bit because that's what DVD is doing, no matter what. I see most of my movies that way, though, occasionally, I drag my very sad, unshapely butt out to an actual film.

WM: What's the best-case scenario for the future of the Firefly/Serenity franchise?

JW: The best-case scenario is that the DVD is such a spectacular, monster hit that we get to make another movie. Then, we get to make another movie. After three movies, we're all very tired. After Serenity: Revolutions, we feel like we've played it out. And then we make another series.

But, you know, we'll never make Firefly again, because that was a thing that existed and is now gone. And Serenity isn't Firefly, and whatever comes next won't be, either. But I would love to tell more stories of this universe and to hang out with these people on and off for the rest of my career.

WM: Aside from your own, what was the best film you saw this year?

Well, that's easy, because I only saw about four movies in theaters. ... Obviously, Batman Begins struck a big chord with me. I think they did a really sweet job with that. But I'm gonna give a little shout-out to Sky High. I just thought it was really, really charming -- it reminded me of The Specials, the great classic. So I'm not gonna say it's the best, but it was one of the purest, most enjoyable experiences I had. So there.

WM: Would you ever return to series television, or is it just Whedon movies from here on out?

JW: I'm all up in series TV -- I love series TV. The problem with returning to series TV is you have to have someone who wants you to return to series TV. And by "somebody," I mean somebody with an enormous amount of money.

You know, when I was at the height of my success, I was squashed like a cockroach by the very company who had benefitted the most from that success. ... The fact of the matter is, there is no track record in TV. Nobody cares about a track record. With the exception of about one or two guys, you just can't get something on because you're you. And in some ways that's good, because you should always have to fight for something; that's how you find out that you believe in it. But in some ways it's bad, because you can be squashed like a bug when you're actually doing it right. So it's not so much that I got over TV as I began to feel the TV landscape had gotten over me. And maybe that'll change.

WM: How true are these rumors of a Spike TV movie?

JW: They're true rumors, but right now they're still just rumors. Things don't move fast in the world of anything, you know? I mean, trying to get deals made and trying to get something set up is ... I think the Sistine Chapel took less time.

WM: But you're all for the idea.

JW: I've been pushing for it -- I'm in fact, the secret mastermind behind it all!

WM: You don't think James Marsters is getting too long in the tooth to wear that leather trenchcoat, eh?

JW: I think his teeth are fine. But he and I both agree those teeth have a shelf life. They're not on the shelf, but when they are, that shelf life will be over. The glacier speed of the executive world means that we could run out of time. Or, you know, the people that I am trying to line up could become unavailable. There's a lot of factors involved, but I'm working my a-- off, as always.

WM: And right now you're mostly working on Wonder Woman. Every filmmaker learns lessons with each movie, but it seems like your lessons are bigger, or more publicized. What did you learn from making Serenity, Buffy and other films that you're keeping in mind while creating Wonder Woman?

JW: The lesson I learned from every movie I wrote was, "Direct it yourself." The lesson I learned from Serenity was, "Give them something they can latch on to," and that's really in terms of marketing. I believe that Serenity is a well-told story, but I also believe that -- and I am actually pointing a finger at myself -- it is a tough movie to sell. There's great comfort in the fact that Wonder Woman is not.

It's tough to do, well, because it's not like Batman -- I mean, I think they did a wonderful job and came up with some beautiful, inventive stuff, so I'm not dissing anybody when I say Batman's a slam dunk. You know, his parents were killed, he lives in Gotham and he dresses like a bat! Game over, man. The fact that they made four bad Batman movies is kind of a testament to the triumph of the human spirit, because it's, like, almost impossible.

Wonder Woman doesn't have that, but she does have a great recognizability. You understand who she is and what she's about the moment you hear her name, which takes a great load off my shoulders. I don't see myself in Europe having people mis-translate my long and, quite frankly, even boring explanations of what exactly the movie's about.

WM: So that makes this script less difficult to write than Serenity?

JW: Nothing could be more of a challenge than introducing nine characters and trying to make an iconic film with so much of a backstory while hiding the backstory from people who haven't seen the (series). Serenity was an incredibly tough chore. But, you know, every script is incredibly tough when it comes to films, and Wonder Woman is working on a lot of levels that I haven't worked on before. I have to be very, very careful about not falling into the scariest trap of the superhero film: the second half.

To keep the second half emotionally resonant and surprising is the thing that makes me stare at my computer all day and weep. Structurally, it is not as hard as Serenity, but if I am lazy for even a heartbeat, it'll show, and it'll show wide and it'll show big. And your mistakes, man are they large in the cinerama-dome. It's different than TV.

WM: So what percentage of Wonder Woman is already written?

JW: I'm afraid that's classified information! But I'm very close -- tell all the executives I'm very close. Closing in.

WM: And I have to ask, what actresses are on the shortlist? People want names!

JW: You know, the shortlist is so short that right now it says, "The List." ... I'm not even going there. Part of the unholy pact that (producer) Joel Silver and I made was that we're not even gonna talk about casting until we have a script and we see who's right for it. Have I thought of some people that maybe could work? Yes. Am I going to say their names? No.

WM: Though there must be a face you keep in your head while you're writing.

JW: I always have a face in my head; it is almost never the face of an actual actor. ... I've only ever written a character with an actor in mind once in my entire career before it was cast. Back when I wrote the movie of Buffy, I wanted the character of Merrick to be played by Ian Holm. Nobody had heard of him, and nobody had wanted him. We got Donald Sutherland instead.

WM: Speaking of Buffy, in your mind, where is Buffy Summers today?

JW: I don't have to say it in my mind, because I'm gonna be saying it in a comic book. I'm actually going to be writing some Buffy comics to restart the comic book line at Dark Horse. I'm going to be writing the first four ... and basically play it as season eight. I'm going to tell exactly where Buffy went after she left Sunnydale. So you'll have to wait for that answer, but it will come.

WM: OK, one last question: May I please move to Los Angeles and work for you?

JW: Yes, you may move to Los Angeles because it's a free country, but I don't have a job! I'm just a screenwriter right now. I stay at home and write the movie and take care of the kids.






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