Serenity: The ‘Wonder’ of Whedon

Question: I hear you have a movie coming out..

Joss Whedon: They tell me that.

Question: You’re everywhere, on my TiVo, on ads..

Joss: Good, Good, because a lot of people have no idea who we are…

Question: Nice to be getting the word out?

Joss: A little bit!

Question: First off, congrats on a great movie coming from someone who has never seen “Firefly”, “Buffy”, or “Angel”.

Joss: Good. That’s the best news. If I can’t reach that crowd, whoops I failed.

Question: Okay let’s get into this because I’m sure you’re very busy.

Joss: Do your worst.

Question: Is Captain Mal a moral person? Do situational ethics apply here?

Joss: I think ultimately what defines him is he is a leader. But there are two kinds. The pragmatist and the warrior. The pragmatist is what he’s become. He’s only going to be focused on the safety of him and his peeps, getting his job done. The warrior is more idealistic, in the service of something greater but it can also make him a little scarier. The safety of him and his crew is no longer the issue; it really is the greater moral scheme.

A real leader basically needs to have both. The arc of the movie is him going from one to the other. But he’s always got the distance from the crew that a leader has. He’s a guy who feels things strongly morally, but it ruined his life so he turns his back on it. Someone like Jayne doesn’t feel it as strongly but also doesn’t have to deny it in himself.

Question: In the end people follow him because they see something in it for them?

Joss: I think everyone follows for that reason. Zoe follows because he saved her life. She follows him into a lot of stupid places. She’s a happily married woman, she’s not an adrenaline junky, and she could get work anywhere. So could Wash. She stays with Mal out of a sense of something greater, a sense of trust and obligation. Everybody gets something from the person they are following or guess what? They don’t follow.

Question: Who do you feel River follows?

Joss: The whole point of River is she doesn’t follow anyone. She’s an agent of chaos. In the Maxwell Smart version that means she’s a bad guy! She’s not in control of herself, but when she is she’s her own conscious. This is more clear in the show.

Does someone that crazy have a moral compass? Yes she does. I think by the end of the film she’s doing what she’s going to do. Nobody tells her what to do, but if I make a sequel somebody might.

Question: Is there a number you are trying to hit for week one financially?

Joss: No one has given me a number. I don’t see this as a huge out of the gate movie. Ultimately I’m more interested in week two.

Question: Is there a number that gets us a sequel?

Joss: I think I heard something like fifty million domestic or eighty million worldwide, that would set some wheels in motion.

Question: I’d bet my car you hit that.

Joss: I hope to God you get to keep your car.

Question: I was at a press junket where you discussed The Fly II, would you tell me your idea?

Joss: Okay, there were three scientists who are using the teleporters to gene splice. They discover the teleporters, two of them are best friends. One of them is the odd man out. He gets fucking pissed, he’s not cool. He takes one of the two hero types and puts him in with the fly. It’s a gradual thing and the premise of the movie is the friends start really not getting along. They start going at each other. We find out he put him in with a spider. It ends up with a horrible mutated battle royals with these two guys who loved each other.

Question: What is one thing you would have done with Alien: Resurrection?

Joss: Do you have nine hours? There is nothing I would have done the same except hire Sigourney. In spite of everything she managed to do a wonderful job. That movie is a lecture I give to students on how not to make a movie.

Question: In Serenity you blend some Chinese culture in with Western. What do you feel the strengths and weaknesses are of both?

Joss: I don’t know Chinese culture well enough to speak with authority on it, but when we think about East vs. West we tend to think about conformity vs. individualism. I think if we are going to create a system that works for everyone it will have to be a fusion of the two. There is a glorious celebration of the self in western culture that is quickly mutating into an appalling selfishness. And there’s sublimation of the self in some Eastern cultures that, quite frankly, has the seeds of greatness that contains the seeds of actual community and altruism. The point of Serenity is neither extreme is going to work.

We need a bunch of individualists who aren’t full of themselves. What we need are people who are allowed to be themselves and use the time to help people around them. Mal states very specifically you can’t codify human behavior and take the main tenets and say they’re all bad. Everybody in the world wants to have sex, and that’s a sin? Let’s just say pride is useful, pride is deadly. Somewhere in the middle lies the way we should be. Obviously the middle is where our heroes are. The middle can see both sides.

Question: Do you see a director’s cut on the DVD?

Joss: No. This is the director’s cut. I give Universal credit. In all the times we butted heads their only intent was to make the most solid streamline storytelling they could get. There’s things I took out I love but I understood why they needed to be taken out. The movie is much better now than it has ever been.

Question: I know you said you don’t have anything official story wise on sequels, but do you at least have an ending in your mind to this epic?

Joss: I have about seven. I have many endings to this whole epic, but one movie at a time is my motto. Do I spend a ton of time thinking of sequels? Yeah, I gotta have my fun.

Question: Do fan expectations ever seem unwieldy or too much to be responsible for?

Joss: If people start wearing shirts that say, “Joss is no longer my master…”

Question: Did you catch that on

Joss: I’ve seen it on a few fans. If I’m their master how come no one is bringing me breakfast? Or at least fetching my paper? Ultimately they are responding to what I do and that makes me happy. If they are excited it’s because that’s happening. I am as critical a fan as there is. Ultimately it doesn’t feel like pressure, it feels like support.

Question: Any chance you’d go back to TV with Serenity?

Joss: I love TV. It’s a totally different mode of storytelling. It’s rich and textured in a way that movies never will be. It’s absolutely glorious, but it’s a hard, hard business and I felt unwelcome in the landscape on TV. The medium as a storytelling means to me is completely unique and delightful. I’d just want to go back to TV with enough armor on that when they start shooting at me, I live. It’s up to a bunch of other people. I’d like to do a sequel but if they say they’d rather do a television show I’d consider that. I want to keep telling stories with them.

Question: Is it accurate to say you didn’t receive pressure to cast names in Serenity?

Joss: It is accurate to say that. They said “can we do a name villain” which I was totally supportive of but then they said, “Just get a good actor.” They knew the package was these guys and me.

Question: You talked about Goner

Joss: It’s actually Goners, they got it wrong!

Question: You talked about Goners being darker where Serenity is light. Is it important to have a balance?

Joss: It’s always important to have a balance. Goners is a movie with a lot of beautiful inspirational human stuff but it’s also a horror movie. It ain’t no western! Ultimately its about a darker place in all of us. The balance is different; I’m going to do something different in Goners than I did in Toy Story. I don’t think I’ll do anything as scary in goners as the mutant toys.

Question: Any chance Sarah Michelle Geller would be involved?

Joss: You know it will need a really, really good actress to pull it off so if there’s a list her name will definitely be on it.

Question: Is the world of Wonder Woman realistic or fictional?

Joss: It will be a hyperbolic realistic world. It would be realistic in the way that Three Kings was. It would be one step to the left of real, but it wouldn’t be Gotham.

Question: Your stories preach ordinary people doing extraordinary things, you tend to gravitate towards those people.

Joss: I don’t believe in extraordinary people, certainly not in politics. Ordinary people do extraordinary things, extraordinary people do damage. I do think the only people who are interesting are us. You might call them the chosen, but the minute they start acting like it, choose someone else.

Question: So will your superheroes be normal?

Joss: With Wonder Woman her flaw is that she’s that guy. Her basic flaw is that she’s so extraordinary she can’t find out how this world works. So she’s the exact opposite of the Serenity crew but she’s going to run into the same problems everybody does. What is my place? How do I fit in? How can I help? Those are the questions all of my heroes are going to be asking themselves because every morning I wake up asking myself that. That and why does my head hurt so much?

Question: Do you consider yourself isolated or alienated?

Joss: Yeah, ’cause I got me some book learning! No, I’ve always felt a remove from society. All my life, but most specifically when I was eleven I started thinking I don’t understand people, I don’t understand why they all sit around and talk about nothing. I’m not that smart, but I am that alienated. So that leads to a lot of reading and being one step removed has made me an artist. It’s also been what my art is all about. Aloneness. Not loneliness, but aloness. It’s what everybody faces. Facing that is the most terrifying and glorious thing a person can do.

Ultimately I’ve felt outside or adjacent to every group I’ve been a part of. But at the same time it gives you the distance. It’s what Sondheim says; “Studying a face, stepping back to look at a face leaves a little space in the way like a window. But to see… it’s the only way to see.”


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