Joss Whedon: Nytimes.com Interview
JOSS WHEDON may be as much a cult figure as the characters he conjured for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” but since 2004, when his vampires faced the final apocalypse, he has been everywhere but television. “Dollhouse,” his new Fox series, is his welcome back. In the show Eliza Dushku (Faith in “Buffy”) stars as Echo, a blank slate of an underground operative whom clients transform into whatever they desire, be it negotiator, assassin, friend or lover.
But even fame and a hard-core fan base couldn’t protect the 44-year-old Mr. Whedon — who wrote a movie (“Serenity,” based on his TV series “Firefly”), an Internet musical (“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) and a thriller (the forthcoming “Cabin in the Woods”) during the interregnum — from a dreaded Friday night time slot. In a telephone interview with Kathryn Shattuck, Mr. Whedon spoke about expectations for Echo, and for himself.
Q. So where did you come up with the idea for “Dollhouse”?
A. At lunch. I came up with the idea with Eliza. She had made a deal to do a show at Fox, and we were sort of talking about the kind of show she ought to do and the kind of people she ought to play and what people expected of her, and then lo and behold the show just sort of popped up and started barking at me.
Q. You said she had made a deal. Did that deal include you?
A. No, I had no intention of doing another show. I just sometimes spend time with Eliza and talk about her career and how she can work it and take control of it and, you know, make the kind of television she’s proud of and interested in and that will challenge her in different ways as often as possible. And because we were covering all the things she wanted in a show, this show then came out of that.
Q. What was the next step?
A. I told my people, “I think I accidentally made up a show, and maybe we should try this.” I did go to Fox. Within a week we sat down and gave them the concept, the episodes, the five-year arc, a one-sheet, and everything just sort of fell into place, and they said: “We’re not really interested in a pilot. Why don’t you give us seven episodes instead?” Which was quite a vote of confidence. That later became 13 episodes before we’d ever shot a foot, and so it was slightly, you know, kismet. Obviously it became more complicated, but it definitely was an organic process.
Q. Tell us about Echo. She’s going to start remembering, and then what happens?
A. Oh, all heck breaks loose. The arc of the show is really her not remembering so much as becoming self-aware, knowing things in a more complex way than she should, knowing that she exists and eventually knowing that she used to be different than she is now. We as an audience are searching for her identity, but she is more searching for the concept of identity, at first.
Q. What personalities is Echo going to take on?
A. She’s going to be a rich older woman who has died, she’s going to be a blind cult member, she’s going to be a dominatrix, she’s going to be a backup singer for a pop star, she’s going to be a safecracker, she’s going to be a somebody’s wife. She’s going to be, you know, whatever’s next.
Q. The show has been moved into a tough time slot. How do you feel about that?
A. It’s a tough time slot if your expectations are to take over the world. If your expectations are to hold your own in a tough time slot, then it’s not a tough time slot. Knowing that genre shows have a life outside of their airing and that so many people are watching TV at a different time than it airs anyway, it’s certainly not the same as it used to be.
Q. What was your thinking behind “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”?
A. Twofold. On one hand I wanted to set an example of the creative community making something without any help from studios of any kind and actually getting it out to the public and making a profit on it. And the other half was my feeling that there are not nearly enough supervillain musicals.
Q. I guess not. Will “Dollhouse,” like “Buffy,” have a musical episode?
A. Not in the same sense, though Echo does play backup singer at one point. “Buffy” lent itself to that kind of thing in a way that my other shows don’t. I would say that “Dollhouse” is a little more grown-up. But don’t worry. I’ll never completely grow up.