Months ago I called Nick and told him that I would be covering the junket for Serenity, the big screen version of the cancelled TV show Firefly, no matter what, even if I had to pay my own way to Los Angeles to do so. This past week the junket was held at the Four Seasons hotel right outside Beverly Hills, and true to my word, I made sure that I got there. Talking to Joss Whedon has been yet another in a long string of highlights in my online journalistic career.
Next week I will be bringing you the other exclusive one on one interviews CHUD.com got – Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin. And next week I will also bring you the Joss Whedon mini-press conference. But first I am going to share with you part 1 of the epic one on one I got with Whedon that day, an interview that spans everything from Serenity to his work on Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men comic and the final seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. (And a note about Whedon: I really monopolized the guy’s time, and he seemed pretty damn tired from promoting his new film, but he still gave me thirty great minutes.)
Here’s the truth about me as an interviewer: I don’t walk in with notes and questions, so my one on ones are a little more organic. That means that while the main focus of Part 1 of this interview is Serenity and Whedon’s comic work, and the main focus of Part 2 is Buffy and Angel, there’s a little overlap here and there. I thought about restructuring the interview so that all the separate subjects stay together, but in the end I have opted to keep the free flowing, conversational nature of the actual interview.
Look for Part 2 later this week, and look for more from the rest of the crew of Serenity over the course of the next two weeks!
Serenity opens September 30th.
Q: Would you say that adversity is your muse? After the Buffy movie didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, you came out with the show. After Angel was having a very hard time you came out with the best season of the series. And after Firefly was cancelled you powered through and made this movie happen.
Whedon: I wish I had a better muse than adversity, but I think that you might not be wrong. If someone tells me a thing can’t be done, there’s an itch you want to scratch. I don’t always set out to do it that way, I would like things to be simpler, but I do think that there are some specific examples where I know it made me a better writer. The less you have to work with, the more you have to make what you’re working with matter. Everytime something gets taken away from me, I need to either think of something better or, if I’m going to bring it back, I need to have a good reason, a justified and resonant reason. It’s part of the process of riding the rapids. They wouldn’t rapids if there weren’t any rocks. It’s a muse that’s more like mosquito – you want it to go away while it’s flying around you – but yeah, I’d say it’s helped.
Q: This film is less Star Trek: The Motion Picture and more Wrath of Khan in that things actually happen, changes actually take place to the world of these characters. Was there ever a worry with all the preview screenings that your die-hard fans would leave the theaters, go home and write up detailed reviews online, spoiling the hell out of the film?
Whedon: There was some, but first of all I have a great faith in my fanbase. They’re very polite and they’re very trusty. They understand that they themselves sometimes don’t want to be spoiled, and they don’t want to do it to other people. Ultimately I am trying to reach people who may not be in my fanbase, who may not even be on the interweb, God forbid. People who, even if they were, wouldn’t go somewhere where they could be spoiled. It was a calculated risk.
Q: You’re sort of pegged as the feminist guy. What is the statement you’re making with Inara? It almost seems counterintuitive to have a prostitute as a feminist character.
Whedon: That’s because our view of prostitution is very much rooted in the prejudices of now. Prostitution is something that has been viewed differently over the years in different societies. There have been societies where prostitutes were priestesses. There were societies where it was merely a way of making a living and there have been societies where it’s been condemned. Right now the sex trade is unbelievably exploitive and disgusting and should be condemned. But the act of having sex brings with it a lot of social stigma that I don’t think it needs have.
The fact of the matter is the idea of a Companion is not the same as the idea of a prostitute, and I think it’s very reactionary and a very Mal point of view to just assume that is. Originally I was going to have something more unlovely, I had the idea of the ship’s whore. It was, as I refer to it, a Deadwood idea. And then people say, ‘See, he was influenced by Deadwood!’ But that was seven years later. But it was my wife who said what about doing something along the lines of a geisha or a Renaissance courtesan who really is a high member of society and extremely well trained. The idea of giving somebody pleasure and peace and philosophy and sexual release all as one thing, to me there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not a part of that puritanical movement. I think if we in fact legalized the sex trade and regulated it in such a way that it was not killing people, it would probably benefit society. But society is not ready for that. So I don’t say that a lot. And certainly never to a reporter!
Q: Well that bridge has been burned. In the universe of Serenity, Chinese is spoken, Chinese is a general influence – but there are no Chinese people.
Whedon: It kind of happened that way. We auditioned Asian actors. We auditioned pretty much every race for every role. Including for Simon after we cast River. She looks kind of Asian, and they could be half brother and sister. It was just how it worked out. And then some people have been offended by that, but ultimately the cast is fairly multi-racial and absolutely the people who are supposed to be playing those parts, so what are you going to do?
Q: Is there like a nerdly explanation, like the Chinese superpower is in another part of the solar system?
Whedon: No, I don’t have a fan wank for you there.
Q: Is that what it’s called?
Whedon: Yeah, a fan wank is an explanation for a discrepancy or an unfinished bit – ‘Well, this is because of such and such and such and such,’ when clearly the writers didn’t think of that.
Q: As a Marvel writer shouldn’t you be handing out No-Prizes for that?
Whedon: No, I don’t think you get a No-Prize for noticing there aren’t any Asian people.
Q: But you hand out No-Prizes for explaining it.
Whedon: No-Prizes were really for like catching. Now we’ve gone from No-Prize to fan wank, which I think is part of the beauty of how much nicer people have gotten in this community. We’ve gone from ‘Let’s point out their mistakes,’ to ‘Let’s paper over the cracks.’ Let’s make it so it’s more enjoyable for everybody.
Q: Why do you think it is that the fanbase for Firefly and Serenity is so extremely vocal? Buffy and Angel had a great fanbase, but it was never as vocal as this. Was it because the show was cut short?
Whedon: I think so. Buffy and Angel fans were getting Buffy and Angel every week. Firefly fans knew there was the possibility that they might get it back. They’re still fighting. When Angel was cancelled the Angel fans were incredibly vocal and active. But in this case it was taken from them so early and they identified with it so much that it has been more difficult, there was more to shout about.
Q: There are aspects of this film that feel like a series finale. Is there closure for you now?
Whedon: Yes. Obviously we have an arc we were going for that became the plot of the movie. Hopefully the movie feels like more than a series finale, because if that’s all it feels like I’ve totally failed. But yes, the movie is supposed to have closure. It’s supposed to have closure because it’s a film and unless it’s a French film from the 60s, it’s supposed to have closure.
Q: Well it feels like a series finale in a similar way to Buffy and Angel series finales, where it felt like we could still go on and there are more stories to tell, but we’re OK leaving it here for now.
Whedon: For me that’s how I do everything. I tell the story so that if that universe is never visited again, I’ve said my piece. Having said that, it’s perfectly OK if they want to make a franchise out of it. There are always more stories to tell about these people. That’s how my brain works. Maybe it’s because I always loved comic books and Dickens and other things that never ended, but you always want to be – I wasn’t thinking, ‘God, I can’t wait for another one’ when I saw Star Wars. I was ‘Oh I can’t wait to see that again.’ And then when they said there was going to be another one, that was cool too. It was gravy.
Q: Speaking of comics, what’s next with Astonishing X-Men? You’ve ended your 12 issues with Emma Frost quite possibly betraying the team and with the return of the Hellfire Club. How long do we have to wait for the next one?
Whedon: It’ll be the beginning of next year.
Q: What kind of rules are Marvel handing down to you? Are they being tight or are they saying, ‘Joss go nuts with our universe?’
Whedon: No, they’re not saying Joss go nuts with our universe, because everybody’s going nuts. If we really opened up the dark truth about Wolverine there are 17 of him and one has gone rogue. And there’s two Rogues. And one has gone Wolverine. There’s just no way to keep any kind of continuity. Every now and then it bugs me, every now and then I think they could do a better job of listening to what I’m doing or keeping me informed.
House of M happened because Johnny said, ‘OK I’ll do another year but I need four months and I don’t want anybody doing New Avengers while I’m doing that,’ and they came back and said they had this special event and Bendis was going to do this whole Elseworld called House of M. We did fall behind in schedules – although not as behind as the actual release dates would indicate. They held one or two of the books for a little more than we had, and I’m not sure why. But yeah, we fell behind and nobody told me that they were starting House of M anyway. And then I read what they were doing, I read it in Wizard, and I said, ‘Uh, this dialogue doesn’t reflect what’s happened.’ So they changed it and it still doesn’t reflect what happened. I was like, ‘I could have explained what had happened!’ I had played it pretty close to the chest because nobody had bothered me about what I was doing, and maybe I should have told them more – it turned into a little bit of a clusterbone.
House of M is really cool, but I’m just like, ‘Uhh, what’s going on?’ And plus there’s nothing you can write that Bendis hasn’t written twice in other books that are out by the time you get it out. I wish I were kidding but my God, he’s really prolific and occasionally writes what you were going to write a lot better than what you going to write and that’s no fun for anyone. Except for the readers, and who cares about them?
So it’s been a little tough. By and large I stay in my own sandbox. I got to use the FF and I wanted to use the Vision in the Danger arc, but they told me Bendis was going to use him so I couldn’t.
Q: They just brought him back in Young Avengers.
Whedon: Yes, but that was after the fact. I check with certain people about certain things and make sure not to step on any toes and then I kind of do my thing and I have to ignore what is going because there are so many books.
Q: One of the annoying things at the end of Grant Morrison’s run – which was so great – was that the next month the effort began to undo what he had done. Are you considering that when you’re done you’re going to return everything to the status quo?
Whedon: They’re going to do a lot with House of M. Ultimately I’ve explained what changes will be made by the end of my run that I insist they adhere to. I’m not going to make very many radical changes because it’s handed from person to person. I’m passing them the talking stick and I have to leave them something to talk about. But I am going to have my fun along the way in the next 12 issues – well, 13 issues.
Next time: Will Spike return? Why did Xander live? What show will Joss Whedon TiVo?