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Dollhouse’s Joss Whedon Answers Your Questions

March 6th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

You asked the questions, now we have the answers. We recently asked Joss Whedon’s fans to send in questions for the creator of Dollhouse, which airs on Fox tonight at 9 EST/8 CST. The response was overwhelming, but we picked a few of our favorites and shared them with Joss. His answers, which we’ve grouped by “theme,” are below.

As a creative person, how do you keep your head on straight when your work engenders so much intensity in both directions? — Karla

Joss: Um, have you met me?

Do you watch the movies/television shows the cast members from Buffy, Angel, or Firefly star in? Any favorite works of the cast members in particular?

Dude, Summer Glau is a Terminator. Summer Glau is a Terminator! My work on Earth is done.

And Castle [the new show starring Nathan Fillion] looks fun.

Out of film, television, and internet, which media do you find is most enjoyable to work on, most stressful, most rewarding, and why? — Chloe

Honey, it’s all stress. I’m defined by stress. I’m on the ten best stressed list. The rewards are different — movies are big and intense, TV is long and deep, internet is tiny and personal and mine all mine — but all worth pursuing. I’m a media agnostic. If it’s stories, I’ll brave the stress.

How do you develop a character? Do you have a specific archetype, trope, or “slot” to fill in your shows that you fit a character to, or do you create their personalities separate from their purpose? — Anne

Purpose informs personality. It’s not like I say “I need a wacky sidekick” — although I did when I was working on Disney musicals, but that was the form. I tend to focus on one character (perhaps a young woman of unnatural abilities, to pull an example randomly out of nowhere) and then the other characters are built from the needs of that character’s journey.

You get a lot of critical and fan acclaim for being an excellent 3rd generation writer but I really enjoy your directing style. Who are your influences in that regard and what kind of background training did you receive before you got behind the camera? — buffywrestling

I had no production experience outside of my backyard, but I had the best professors in the world. I’m influenced by everything I’ve seen and I studied most of the great American directors at Wesleyan (hint: watch EVERYTHING.) If I’m gonna pick directors, I’d say Borzage, Minnelli, Hitchcock, Carpenter. Today. But for some reason, Soderbergh’s The Limey had the most immediate and visceral effect on my sense of style. It’s so casually daring. Also, comic books really help dynamic framing and narrative coherence.

I recently read an interview with you in Mother Jones magazine. “Geek God” I think was the term they used for you. How do you feel about your success? What advice do you like to give other “geeks” with good ideas? — Jennifer Russell

If you have a good idea, get it out there. For every idea I’ve realized, I have ten I sat on for a decade till someone else did it first. Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.

As for my success, well, I’m for it.

You obviously love music, and you’ve shown yourself to be a great composer and lyricist. Is that all self-taught or did receive some formal musical education? — Steve

I have a great piano teacher, Bill Augustine, who knows everything and doesn’t mind when I don’t practice (ever). But I never studied. I just like what I like.

All About Dollhouse

You’re known for projects where main characters grow and evolve with one another, which dramatically changes the dynamics of their relationships. How difficult will doing that be [when Echo, the main character on Dollhouse,] is different every week? — Michael

As the series progresses, I think you’ll see that there’s a great deal more to Echo than who she is that week. And the evolution of the people around her is going to be equally important, and therefore equally twisted. In some ways, this premise allows for radical character shifts that usually require a few seasons and/or an alternate dimension. But it’s all to a purpose — we don’t just randomly throw things out there. More I cannot say. Keep watching! That means you, all of America!

I’m enjoying your use of the phonetic alphabet as a naming system. Does that mean Echo was the fifth “doll?” Will there be an Omega? Or a child “doll?” Are there only 26 at a time? I have to admit I was surprised after seeing the previews to see male dolls. Will there be any duel assignments? Love interests? May I look forward to a musical episode? — “Freddie”

Duel assignments, love interests, check. Omega, check. Child dolls, no check. A.I. covered that territory powerfully in a much safer venue. We couldn’t and shouldn’t go there. And I can’t do a musical of EVERYTHING…

What is different about writing for the world in Dollhouse? What are some challenges or opportunities about writing in a more concrete version of reality [vs. the worlds depicted in Firefly, Buffy and Angel]? — Jenn Handorf

This reality thing is a bitch. You gotta obey the laws of physics. I didn’t take physics. I want my alternate realities! And more horses.

Actually, the human brain is the most surreal landscape I’ve ever walked through. Though this does try to be more grounded, in some ways this show has license to be crazier than anything I’ve done.

I heard a rumor that [you are] no longer interested in working on Dollhouse due to the success of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I hope this isn’t true because I really liked the second episode of Dollhouse a lot. — Han-Earl

I’m cutting the last eps of Dollhouseright now and I’m sorry, but I’m in Heaven. Scary, crazy Heaven.

Adelle’s mentioned that Echo is highly requested among Actives. Why is that? — Jennifer

She’s got that spark that no one else has. We call it the “She’s Eliza Dushku, For god’s Sake” factor.

What’s the confessional? — Jennifer

The computer station where you enter the details of your engagement, so you don’t have to confess to them to Adelle DeWitt, even though she is all comforting and British.

I’ve heard the original [Dollhouse] pilot had to be changed or re-shot. Will we get a chance to see the original pilot episode at some point in the season or possibly on a DVD extras? — Nathan

Bestest DVD extra since that musical commentary I read about somewhere.

There’s been a lot of comparison to the story of Echo being a sort of warped interpretation of the River Tam story, do you agree/disagree? — Vivienne

It wasn’t meant that way, but I do have my little obsessions…

Will we get to see some unethical women purchase the services of an Active? In my experience it’s women who have the kind of complicated relationship based fantasies that Actives would be suited to. Guys tend to (again just my experience here) fantasize about physical activities, not so much with the stories. — “Fionnlaech”

We definitely hit that (poor phrasing) but not as much I’d like. I guess we’ll have to wait for Season Two, All of America!

You mentioned in an earlier interview that Ms. Dushku hasn’t really had a chance to do much comedy in her career, will you give her a chance to bust out her comedic chops in a coming episode??? — “Fionnlaech”

Wait’ll you see her with Patton Oswalt. So cute.

Are you concerned about Fox canceling Dollhouse before it’s really able to grow into your dream? If so, what differently are you doing this time around? — Ryan

I’m doing what I did every year on Buffy — wrapping everything up with a pretty bow made of questions.

What aspects of hidden human desire are you most looking forward to touching on in Dollhouse? — Douglas

Perversion. Often more shameful than harmful. Why?

Also, as a side note, I want to become a television writer but have no connections, so could I be unofficially your child? Mind if I call you “Dad?” — Douglas

You may call me Miss Puppythighs.

I like the virtual families that develop on your shows. But between Adele’s “X” management style, and the lack of operative self-awareness, it looks like Dollhouse isn’t going there. Should I just be patient, or do you have an alternate plan to invest us in these characters? — Jane

You should be patient BECAUSE I have an alternate plan.

Back to Dr. Horrible’s Lab

Are you going to release a soundtrack CD with the commentary of Dr. Horrible? — Ellen

That’s the hope.

We all know that Dr. Horrible was a result of, and a metaphor for, the writer’s strike. He even says, at one point, that he wants to “put the power in different hands.” But things didn’t turn out so well for Billy in the end. How did the tragic ending relate to the writers-strike metaphor, or did the metaphor not extend that far? — Jonathan

We didn’t write it as a metaphor — we just wanted Penny to have an agenda besides being torn between two men, and Billy’s perspective is the classic cry of the noble villain. But this is a story that’s been relevant for a long while — like, since there’s been power. And people hoarding/abusing it. Wonder Woman brought up similar issues, which may be part of why it wasn’t made.

Understanding Firefly

Was there a particular reason [Firefly] sort of did a throwback to the Old West, was it because the similarities of the time and the possibilities of the future, or just because you liked the idea of the Wild West lifestyle? — Ally

The West fascinates me because it’s the creation of culture and morality out off nothing but remnants. But it lacks spaceships! Solution: Firefly.

What was your plan for the extended story arc of Firefly? — Tish

A three-season game of Uno. It’s best we were cancelled.

Burning Buffy Questions

We know that Seth Green left the show in early Season 4 to further pursue his movie career. I was wondering, had Seth stayed on, what plans you had for his character? — Olivia Parks

Pretty much the same arc with Veruca, but longer and more tortured.

If you were offered $50 million to put Buffy the Vampire Slayer back on air would you? What if I gave you $50 billion instead of $50 million?? — Ellen

I like where you’re going with this question. Yes, I would make more Buffy with my $50 billion. And more Firefly. And Dr. Horrible. And yes, I will have truffles on that steak! I’ll have truffles on everything!

Mmmmm. Truffles.

Coming to a Theater Near You: Cabin in the Woods

From Alien: Resurrection to both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, you’ve seemed to have paid much more attention to humor or injected it much more into your work than actual serious horror. With regards to this, how serious or not is The Cabin in the Woods going to be? Will comedy be as big of a factor in the movie as terror or will this be a departure at all from previous work? — Jason

The movie has humor, but make no mistake, it’s SCARY. Drew Goddard isn’t the same kind of namby-pamby, “people have dignity so let’s not do appalling things to them” wuss that I am. Prepare for scare.

Lighter Fare

Does your significantly large fan base ever scare you a little bit? Will you use us to rule the world? — Amanda

No, but we will be invading Rhode Island. DON’T TELL RHODE ISLAND.

Whose careers do you follow the way your fans follow yours? — Kathy

Paul Thomas Anderson, Meryl Streep, Brian K. Vaughan, The Brothers Coen, Stephen Sondheim, Amy Acker… The list goes on.

If you could hire an Active – what would you have it do? — Gulliver

Something clean and decent and safe and legal.

Why are you so awesome and how can one reach your level of awesomeness without actually being Joss Whedon? — Stephanie

You could be Jed…

Where do you stand on running vs. shambling zombies? — Bubs

I believe Simon Pegg has very eloquently put that debate to rest. They shamble, if you please.

Last comment: May 11th 2012 17 Comments
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  • nmcil says:

    Thanks for bringing us this interview – Always great to read about Joss Whedon and his works –

  • Antonio says:

    Are you from
    the Echo Alert podcast?

  • -Kc says:


  • Chris says:

    The thing I like best about a Joss Wheedon production are the “curve balls”. Specificly in Dollhouse there are already so many questions. About Alpha, Ballard, Boyd, Dr Saunders & her scars, Victor. Finally, what about the “Corporation” are they “Charlie” without speaker phone? Are they behind using Victor as a foil or a lure? Is Agent Ballard possible himself Alpha subconciously chasing his tail? Bottom line will we find out anything about the “Corporation”? Government conspiracy, Evil genius, Super-soldiers in training. Throw us a frickin’ bone about them already. Thanks!

  • Marilyn says:

    I knew Hulu was awesome! Thank you so much for providing something as amazing as an interview with Joss Whedon. He is awesome. As is Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, and now Dollhouse.

  • Deg says:

    Great interview! Thanks Joss and Hulu!

  • Darthfleenor says:

    Why does he have to be ‘just’ a Geek God…? Can’t we make him, like, Supreme Overlord of Earth or something?

  • Heather says:

    I live in RI, you can totally come take it over … it’d be a lot less boring

  • Andrew says:

    As a Rhode Islander I would like to say Joss can invade us anytime, so long as he fixes our state government

  • DG says:

    Anyone else creeped out by the Miss Puppythighs comment? Something about it just sounds…freaky.

  • Jeff says:

    As a straight male, Joss Whedon is the only person it’s really weird saying “I want to have his babies” about, because I’m sure there’s some unwritten manuscript scribbled in one of his notebooks where that very thing happens.

  • Kon says:

    Whedon is a hulu superstar, which is one of the reasons why I love hulu. I wonder how much money Fox makes off of Buffy DVDs. Is that why we don’t see it on hulu?

  • Geoff says:

    Omega? idiot. it’s got to be Oscar.

  • Aiysha says:

    When will Dollhouse be aired in the UK?

  • THEO says:

    It’s so awesome that Joss loves the same obscure Soderbergh film I do.

  • Anne says:

    Thank you Hulu, for providing this opportunity, and thank you, Joss Whedon, for being spectacular!

    Bwahaha, shambling zombies.

    *hugs machete*