Q: How nervous are you about this movie opening?
Whedon: Wow, starting with the hard stuff! The interweb is just a fad. Does that alienate people?
How nervous am I? I’m actually pretty calm. I am being medicated now, steadily, to keep me that way. I got really nervous when I realized that ultimately I have absolutely no idea how this movie will do. I believe that if people see it they will like it, and that certainly was my first job and I feel like that was more or less accomplished, but I have no idea if they actually will see it. If they don’t see it, how can they like it? So I panicked. And I freaked out – publically. I’m proud of that. And then I sort of realized it’s out of my hands. I’ll do everything within my power to get people to see it, but there’s only so much that’s within my power. If they don’t, or if they… how can I put this?… HATE it, that’s just going to happen. There’s nothing I can do about it. I believe in the film, I loved making it, I love what we came up with, I love all of my actors. That’s going to have to sustain me.
You know, that’s me now. Talk to me on the morning of the 30th when I’m hiding in the bathtub with a hat on.
Q: Can you share some of your dialogue tips? What makes the dialogue snap like it does?
Whedon: Part of it was just getting to invent the language, which came from a lot of different influences, since the movie has that genre and era mix feeling. Once I had it, it reads like a kind of poetry to me, making it easy to write. It kind of rolls off the tongue in a way that nothing I had written before ever does.
But it terms of advice or my dark secrets? The most important thing to me is finding everybody’s voice very specifically. I build shows and movies on what I refer to as The Golden Girls model – very simply, everybody’s got to come from a different place so that everybody’s reaction to something is different, equally valid and equally fun. Never having anybody say anything that isn’t the next thing they’d say, that isn’t their perspective, that isn’t their point of view. That’s where the humor comes from. Jayne’s perspective on the situation is going to be very different from everybody else’s, and when he speaks that’s what makes it funny. But at the same time that’s what makes it valid. If a line is just a set up for somebody else to be funny, it’s disingenuous to the character, and to the actor portraying them. That’s the biggest thing for me, that everybody – that includes Second Thug From Left – has a perspective that they bring with them to the piece. They don’t all have to eloquent about it in an obnoxious, proto-Tarantino way where everybody speaks volumes – I think that he’s done that very well, but I’ve seen the bad version. But respecting everybody and knowing that the whole point of the thing, the whole point of any dialogue is that it’s two people with completely different points of view trying to find a space in the middle. That’s where the conflict comes from, that’s where the humor comes from and that’s where the humanity comes from. That’s the biggest thing for me in terms of writing. I think it’s also what makes people respond to all the characters is that they’re all very present all the time.
Q: You have this great cast of characters which is a nice size for TV series, but sort of too big for a movie. What were the challenges for you to get everybody in there?
Whedon: The challenge was to get everybody in there! Obviously the TV show, you need a bunch of peeps if you want to create internal conflict and it’s not just a problem of the week kind of show. Then when I was given the opportunity of this, yes, all of a sudden I had 9 characters, and that’s a lot of people to put in a movie. But ultimately what it gave me was the chance to have a platoon feeling. The band as this great big group of people. You can focus on who you want to – in a show you service everybody to an extent, but in a film you have to say, ‘OK, Mal is the hero. He’s the guy we have to be watching. We come to him through River, she’s kind of his proxy. It’s kind of about how she affects him and how they help each other.’ That doesn’t mean anybody is expendable. You make sure everybody’s perspective brings something to the movie. Everybody’s physicality and their actions and what they’re useful for…
I think a lot of movies center around one character and there are maybe two other characters who are defined and everybody else fades into the distance. For some films that’s very useful, but because I wanted the chaotic, everything is happening at once feeling of being on that ship and being in that world, having a large cast of characters was useful because they all bring so much texture to it. Hopefully it’s not confusing but it means that it’s very lively and very lived-in.
Q: Do you have ideas for the sequel?
Whedon: It’s very sweet of you to mention the word sequel. Obviously that’s the way my brain works; it continues to tell stories. I’ve written sequels in my head for movies other people made, all the time. I had a great idea for The Fly II before they made The Fly II. It was really cool. So it’s inevitable with me that I do that, and of course I love this universe and I love these people, so I would jump at the chance to do that again. But I couldn’t think about that while I was making it, because ultimately…
Everyone kept saying, ‘So you’re making a trilogy?’ It’s just the one. ‘One in a trilogy?’ It’s a trilogy if you make two that are so good there’s a third. That was the only thing I could think of – I couldn’t think of where it came from, the series, or where it might go, a franchise. I had to make this one thing an experience worth having. The rest will either fall into place or it won’t, and if you focus on that you’re a dead man.
Now that I’ve finished it and started to market it, I think about it all the time. But I don’t tell anybody about that. Except for now.
Q: Can you talk about Chiwetel’s subdued turn as a villain?
Whedon: Chiwetel is really extraordinary, and I gave him 7:45