Interview with Joss Whedon of "Dollhouse" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Joss Whedon

Interview with Joss Whedon of "Dollhouse" on FOX 9/17/09

I can't describe the joy I felt in learning that I would get to talk to Joss Whedon.  I am a long-time geek as well as TV fan, and he created some of the best TV shows in Geekdom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.  His movie "Serenity", based on the Firefly TV series, is one of the best movies ever made, in my opinion. Last season his new show, "Dollhouse" blew all of us scifi fans away.  It's great to have him back!

As you can imagine, I was in a bit of awe to actually be able to talk to him and ask him questions. I needn't have worried because he's a really nice and funny, down-to-earth guy. I've done a lot of these interviews now, and his is the only one that made me laugh through-out. I guess that's because I usually talk to actors, not writers.

"Dollhouse" started out as a good show, but it got even better over the first season. Now that it's on the second season, they are really just taking off. You will love the first episode. It's great.  You can read my review of it.

Here's the interview!

FBC PUBLICITY: Dollhouse Conference
September 17, 2009/3:00 p.m. EDT
Todd Adair
Joss Whedon


Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Dollhouse conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode and shortly we will conduct a question and answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. As a reminder, the conference is being recorded. I’ll now turn the conference over to Mr. Todd Adair for some brief opening remarks.

T. Adair Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. Joss, thanks for taking the time out to speak to everyone. Dollhouse has its second season premier Friday, September 25th from 9 to 10 p.m. ET/PT. We do have screeners available of the episode. If you have not received one and need to have one, please e-mail me after the call and I’ll be happy to send one out. Since we have limited time here, we’ll just get started with the call and we’ll open it up for questions.

Moderator Thank you, our first question will come from the line of Natalie Abrams of Please go ahead.

N. Abrams Hi, Joss. How’s it going?

J. Whedon Hey, good. Now what’s your follow-up?

N. Abrams Congrats again on your MUN. For Dollhouse, how will Echo, and of course the many other characters she is flashing to, come in to her own this season?

J. Whedon Basically, through force of will. She did have all those personalities dumped into her at once and as we pick up, we’re going to find out that that’s starting to affect her. Rather than be at sea in between engagements, she’s much more directed and driven, and even in her doll state is growing, and learning and starting to try to access these personalities to see what they can help her with, because she has a mission that she understands now, which is to get back to her personality and get everybody back to theirs.

N. Abrams For my follow-up, I just want to know how many seasons do you see Dollhouse going for?

J. Whedon Dollhouse, the premise is limited and I think by season 17, you’re really going to see us repeating ourselves.

N. Abrams Thanks, Joss.

Moderator Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Dan Fienberg of

D. Fienberg Hey, Joss, thanks for doing this call. Last season you began with a number of restating pilot episodes where you wanted to make sure that you could bring in new viewers. This season doesn’t begin with that sort of episode. Could you talk about how you approached the idea of new viewers following the show?

J. Whedon Well, you know, we always try to make, especially in the first episode of the season, but generally we try and make the premise clear enough so that if you haven’t been watching it, you don’t have to do a huge amount of math. There’s a lot of exposition in the first pilot, in the first episode of the season, to help that. But at the end of the day, you do have to go, “Well, if they don’t get the premise,” and we’ve even rejiggered the opening credits to make it clearer, than they’ll either become involved in these peoples’ stories or they won’t. You have to move slow enough so people can grab a hold and jump on with you, but you have to keep moving.

D. Fienberg Do you have a pitch to new viewers on how to reintegrate themselves or is the answer as simple as watch the DVD?

J. Whedon No, I think the answer would be more like buy the DVD, and buy some for your friends. Then have discussion groups where you buy more. … settle? Too much integrity in that response?

D. Fienberg I think you get the point across.

Moderator Anything further, Mr. Fienberg?

D. Fienberg Nope, that’s it.

Moderator Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Fred Topel of Crave Online. Please go ahead.

F. Topel Hi, Joss. Can you tell us what Ray Wise is going to be playing in and when we might see him first?

J. Whedon Ray Wise, I believe, will be appearing in episode six and he’s going to be playing the head of another house, so he’s going to interact with young Olivia and it should be very exciting.

F. Topel My follow-up is actually for Dr. Horrible. What started in the homegrown effort for you guys and it stayed that way moving forward with all of the claim and success you’ve had?

J. Whedon The claim and success is not a problem for us. We’re totally comfortable with it. We are working on a follow-up. The question of whether it stays homegrown or whether it outgrows that is one that we ask ourselves. It doesn’t effect the storytelling. The story we want to tell is about the people, whether we do that on a shoestring, the way we did it for before, whether we do something bigger and invite other people into the process. It’s a decision we’ll make after we love the show.

F. Topel All right, thank you very much.

Moderator Thank you, and next we will go to the line of Abby Bernstein of If Magazine. Please go ahead.

A. Bernstein Hi, is there a difference between having Tara Butters and Michelle … on this season as opposed to Sarah Fane and Elizabeth Craft?

J. Whedon There is enough of a difference in sensibilities to make it interesting, but not so much of a difference in quality as to make it problematic. They really are similar in that they are rock solid, very story driven, really good producers and delightful to be around. But then they have different obsessions and they come up with things differently. I love and miss Liz and Sarah but Tara and Michelle have really brought a fresh eye to it.

A. Bernstein How are arced is the show going to be this season?

J. Whedon The show is going to be pretty arcy. Clearly what people responded to was the workings of the Dollhouse and the progression of the characters in it and we’re going to honor that. At the same time, I’m very much of the mind that you do need to resolve something in an episode. You can’t just create a series of twists and turns. You need an episode to have a sense of completion, so there will still be engagements or at least problems that need to be dealt with, but they will feed into the main arc as well.

A. Bernstein Thank you very much.

Moderator Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Suzanne Lanoue of The TV Mega Site. Please go ahead.

Suzanne Lanoue Hi, Joss. Thanks for talking to us. I was going to ask you, the episode, I don’t remember what it’s called – the one that jumps into the future and …

J. Whedon ‘Epitaph One’.

Suzanne Lanoue Thank you. Obviously you can’t give too much away, but is any of that going to factor in to Dollhouse now at all, or are you just totally throwing it out?

J. Whedon No, no, we’re absolutely not throwing it out. It had originally been my intention to start in that era and then come back, but I just had too much information in my first episode. What we’re talking about doing is perhaps revisiting that timeline towards the end of the 13 in a similar fashion, but we’re also looking at the show through the lens of that episode and saying, “Well, this is taking us to a more global concept of how this power is used and abused.” That’s a lot of what informs the season. You don’t have to have seen it to understand that, but it helps if you do. I think it adds a layer.

Suzanne Lanoue Right, that was a mind-blowing thing to watch.

J. Whedon It was fun.

Suzanne Lanoue Every television show should have an episode like that.

J. Whedon I think so.

Suzanne Lanoue All right, thank you.

J. Whedon I want to know what post-apocalyptic future was caused by Two-and-a-Half Men.

Suzanne Lanoue Great, thank you.

Moderator Next we’ll go to the line of Charlotte Coles of Please go ahead.

C. Coles Hi, how’s it going?

J. Whedon All right.

C. Coles Good, I wanted to ask, there were a lot of people who were worried that you might be cancelled after your first season. What do you think it was that convinced FOX to sign you on for another round and hopefully longer?

J. Whedon I think it’s the nature of the business and the nature of the fan base. The nature of the fan base is they’re in it for the long haul, and they’re nurturing, and they’re intense about it and they will see it through. They will stick with it and that means years after it’s cancelled. Firefly still sells, Buffy still sells, and that’s also a business thing for the studio. They’re in it for the long haul because they know the long haul is how my work pays off. I don’t make hit shows. I make shows that stick around that people come to long after they would have stopped generating revenue in the old system.

With the advent of DVD and the eventual monetization of Online, there’s a market there that exists beyond your Nielsen numbers, and the fans showing up and DVRing, and buying a DVD, and proving on all my other projects that they don’t do these things lightly, that it runs deep in them, means that the base doesn’t have to be as broad for the studio to think it’s worth it to try and eke out another season.

C. Coles I have read a couple of interviews with Eliza Dushku in which she talks about how she had a hand in developing her character. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about some of the ways in which she helped shape who Echo has become and will become.

J. Whedon Well, she really wants to dance burlesque. We keep forgetting to put that in. Eliza has specific things she’s interested in, specific things she feels comfortable with. Sometimes I like to go to that place because I know that she can knock it out of the park and sometimes I like to go in the opposite direction to take her out of her comfort zone because that’s the best thing you can do with an actor.

The fact is she shapes it because she is very specific as a person. She’s very specific in the way she presents and even though there are many different aspects to that, the people don’t usually get to see how funny she can be, how elegant. She doesn’t always have to play the tough girl, but she really just presents. It was a conversation about all of the different things she was supposed to be, or had been, or was trying to be, or trying to get away from that led to the creation of the show. It made me think, “Wait a minute. That’s what the show should be about.” So it wasn’t so much that she said, “I’d like to be the following things,” although we talked about what the characters are, it’s just that she is so many people that we pluck from them. She did go bow hunting. I understand, however, that she herself was not hunted.

C. Coles Thank you.

Moderator Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Elise Wax,

E. Wax Hey, Joss. Dollhouse deals with people manipulating emotions and your upcoming film, Cabin in the Wood, it deals with people that deal with fears. … and if there’s something about these themes that really intrigue viewers sparks you?

J. Whedon The two pieces were written, or conceived, very far apart and then they ended up at the same time, which is awkward for me because it does seem like, “Well, he does like to do that.” But the fact of the matter is I am obsessed with it. People are constantly being manipulated, and controlled, and conditioned, and lied to. I feel like it’s a valid thing to discuss and to use the various sort of arch. There is an evil corporation that is controlling your every thought as a concept, is something that is so not that far removed from how we live our lives in terms of socialization, and advertising, and our society, and so I really can’t seem to get past it because it does fascinate me. How do we create ourselves when society is telling us who to be?

E. Wax Do you think there will be another one-off episode that will be exclusive to the season to you, DVD of Dollhouse?

J. Whedon I don’t think we’ll have a DVD exclusive because I don’t think anybody’s going to pony up the dough for it. But I do think we will be revisiting the world of Epitaph One.

E. Wax You guys haven’t even probably thought as far enough for the DVD, but what kinds of things can we expect as far as visiting the Epitaph One world?

J. Whedon We’re so fascinated by that world and really in love with the actors in it, and we also want to answer some of the questions we asked about. Well where is everybody, come the future? Who’s doing fine and who didn’t make it? So we keep trying to go back to the future and then realizing well no, it’s not time yet. It’s really going to be towards the end of the season that we’ll be able to do that.

E. Wax Okay, great. Thank you so much.

Moderator Thank you, and we’ll go to the line of Joe Diliberto of Soap Opera Weekly. Please go ahead.

J. Diliberto Hey, Joss, great to have a chance to talk to you. I’d like to know a little bit more about the relationships that are coming up this season – what it’s going to be like with Echo and Paul, and even among the dolls this year?

J. Whedon Victor and Sierra just can’t keep their hands off each other, and they’re like monkeys and it’s something that we’re going to be treating, they’re going to be seeing through for a while. It makes some people very uncomfortable and sometimes it’s just extremely sweet. Sometimes it’s just funny.

But Echo is very much building herself and she sees it as an indication that they’re ready to be pushed to a level like hers. She’s looking for allies and Paul is the first person she’s going to turn to for that. But then a lot of the season is going to be her attempt to put together some kind of team, even though she has trouble articulating it at first. She’s looking for the sense of family that I think the audience was looking for last season. So we’re going to be seeing who’s on her side and who, not so much.

J. Diliberto I was really impressed with what Amy did in this premier here. Is Dr. Saunders going to factor in a little more in the season?

J. Whedon Dr. Saunders would factor in much more in the season had we not lost her to another show. She will factor inasmuch as we are allowed to factor her in, which is exactly three episodes worth. They will, however, be three extraordinarily memorable episodes.

Amy Acker is ridiculously talented and the character’s dilemma is fascinating to us. We grit our teeth that we didn’t have the funds, or the support, or the success, to just make her a regular and now we’re paying for it. It means that every time we have her on screen, we’ll squeeze every drop out of her that we can. We’re seizing the day. We just don’t get to seize as many of them as we’d like.

J. Diliberto Great, thanks.

Moderator Thank you, next we will go to the line of Troy Rogers of

T. Rogers Hi, Joss.

J. Whedon Hi.

T. Rogers I noticed the guest star lineup looks really impressive this season. You had Alan on last season and Summer this season. I just wanted to know, are there plans to get the rest of Firefly on here at some point?

J. Whedon It’s a death match between Firefly and Battlestar and which of them is going to get all their people. The fact of the matter is they’re people I admire and they’re people I know I love to work with and this season, I’m a lot less concerned with how the cast is perceived.

Last season, we felt like we wanted to make sure that this was new territory and that people didn’t think of it as just, “Oh, it’s just these faces and he’s doing his old thing.” Now I’m like, “I know these people can act,” and honestly, the people that are watching it are fans anyway. If they know who these people are, they’ll be thrilled. If they don’t, they’ll see good acting so it doesn’t matter to me as much. So yes, I have no fear of throwing anybody that I have worked with or just want to work with in anytime I can.

T. Rogers Okay, and for follow-up I wanted to know what ways are you going to stretch the parameters of the tech this season?

J. Whedon We’re going to stretch the tech fairly heftily. I actually can’t answer the question directly because a lot of it has to do with the different ways in which this tech can be manipulated, and we’re going to see that it’s not all the simple chair treatments. There’s more that can be done and the excitement and the danger of that is a large part of this season.

T. Rogers Okay, great. Thanks.

Moderator Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Jeanie Jakle of the San Antonio Express. Please go ahead.

J. Jakle Hi, I came into the call a little late so I hope you excuse me for asking…

J. Whedon No, actually I need to see a note from your mother.

J. Jakle All right, I will have it to you first thing in the morning. Did you talk about the casting of Summer and also what’s in store for her character?

J. Whedon The casting of Summer was based on the knowledge that Summer existed and the character was created with the hopes that she would play it, which she is right on stage right now doing. She’s playing the programmer of another Dollhouse. It’s a somewhat eccentric part but hopefully different than what we’ve seen her do before. The most useful part of that is that the writers work twice as hard to make sure that the character really pops and pays off because they know that it’s going to be played by somebody extraordinary.

J. Jakle Thank you very much.

Moderator Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Eric Goldman at

E. Goldman She beat me to the Summer question, although I will ask, is it safe to assume that Summer’s character works at the same Dollhouse that Ray Wise runs?

J. Whedon I think that would be safe.

E. Goldman And is it safe to assume that that makes it a super-cool Dollhouse?

J. Whedon I would say much cooler than this lame one that I’m in.

E. Goldman I wanted to ask also, we’ve got some glimpses at the back-story of some of the other characters like Sierra and Victor, but still a lot to fill in. Will we be delving into that more as the season progresses?

J. Whedon Yes, we will. We know how extraordinary those two performers are and we are very curious about their stories as much as we are about Caroline’s. So yes, we will definitely be seeing some episodes that highlight them and their pasts and where they’re heading.

E. Goldman Lastly, can you hint at all, we know that November/Mellie will be returning, but how she will return since for her, it would seem that her time with the Dollhouse is over?

J. Whedon It would, wouldn’t it? I can’t tell you exactly how. I can tell you that she’ll be back early on and that we’re definitely not done with the character, and that probably means there’s going to be some pain involved. More than that, you’re going to have to wait for it.

E. Goldman Gotcha, thanks a lot.

Moderator Thank you, and next we’ll go to the line of Alan Dart of Star Log Magazine. Please go ahead.

A. Dart Hey, you have a number of interesting guest stars in the new edition of the season, in addition to Summer. Can you tell me a little bit about Jamie Bamber’s character and a little bit about Alexis as a senator? I think I read he’s trying to shut down the Dollhouse.

J. Whedon Yes, he’s got his own crusade going. He’s a very different person than Paul but he’s in a similar position except that he’s gone public with it. How much the Dollhouse loves a senator who has gone public with an attack on them, we will find out in later episodes. But he’s not the Paul of the season because he’s going to have a different set of problems thrown at him, but he has a similar vibe in terms of he’s very tenacious and righteous. Then, I forget what the other part was?

A. Dart Jamie Bamber, I read that Bamber marries Echo early on in the season.

J. Whedon If you were those two, wouldn’t you get married? They’re so cute. He came in as the guest star in the first episode, which was just besides a geek dream for me, an extraordinary experience because he’s not just very professional, and precise and talented, but he fleshed out a character that could have been a little bit of a cardboard cutout. He has such sincerity and gravitas that you feel terrible. He makes you feel you’ve betrayed him, even if he’s completely in the wrong. It’s something that he shares with Adelle. Maybe it’s a British thing; I don’t know.

A. Dart I read an interview with Eliza where she said that you’re shooting in HD this year and if that’s true, how is that effecting the style of the show, the shooting of the show, how the show is going to match up to how it appeared last year?

J. Whedon We’re keeping a lot of things basically the same but we are trying to free up the camera and to create more depth and emotion with the lighting and the camera work. The HD packet is smaller. It takes less time to light. The lighting is more environmental. We get more time for the actors. We get more opportunities to do different angles. We’re going handheld more, but not like it’s if F1, but more like something that still has some of the elegance of the first season but is also a little more visceral.

It also means that occasionally, we finish our days extremely early and nobody’s hating that. Our DP, Lisa Weegand, has done a lot of independent features and so she’s got some really interesting ideas and she can give us classical looking television. It looks, I think, very beautiful but at the same time we can tweak it a little bit more or, we can take it a little bit farther and do that faster.

A. Dart Thank you very much for your time. Good luck this year.

J. Whedon Thank you.

Moderator Thank you, and we’ll go to the line of Matt Mitovich at Fan Cast.

M. Mitovich Hey, Joss.

J. Whedon Hey.

M. Mitovich In the EPK, you hinted that the attic is heinous and it’s an episode of Small Wonder that you can’t escape. I was wondering if you were being figurative or literal?

J. Whedon I’ve never even seen Small Wonder. I am a bully who picks on people who aren’t my type. It is going to be creepy but I think ultimately, what it’s going to be like, it’s going to be something that we’re going to hold onto pretty tightly. I don’t want to say but it ain’t pretty.

M. Mitovich Is the set a designer’s dream?

J. Whedon It depends on the set designer. It might be a dream where he’s screaming.

M. Mitovich With Amy Acker gone, I just wonder, are we going to get a new doctor character to tend to the wounded?

J. Whedon We haven’t featured the doctor. We see somebody in the BG. We will be seeing Dr. Saunders again and the stories just haven’t lent themselves to bringing in another person in that capacity. So if we need to, yes, but not so far.

A. Dart All right, thanks for your time, Buddy.

J. Whedon Thank you.

Moderator Thank you, and we have time for one more question and that will come from the line of Charlie Andres of IO9. Please go ahead.

C. Andres Hi, Joss. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. I’m wondering, a big thing that people discussed in the first season is who’s the doll. Who is secretly a doll? But now that we know that people can be remotely programmed in a flash without necessarily being dolls to begin with, is that still a meaningful question? Is everybody a doll in …

J. Whedon No, that’s the case in the far future. It’s not the case right now. I’ll tell you right now, everybody is not a doll because it would be very easy for us to pull that trick over and over and ultimately shoot ourselves in the foot, because you would find that nothing was at stake and that everybody would see the plot was coming. We’ve actually grounded the show fairly heavily. People who are dolls, are dolls and the other people, every now and then, I’m not saying never, I’m not saying we won’t question reality every now and then but basically, we’re taking the people we have and we’re pushing them around as much as possible.

We’re trying to keep it grounded so that people know that there is something at stake and if somebody did have their personality altered or taken away, that that would be a huge deal. That’s like the attic; that’s like death. That’s like the worst thing that can happen to a character so we want to make sure that the characters are grounded enough that people feel those stakes. If we just make people dolls, Willie-Nillie, then it’s the rabbit hole and none of it really connects or means anything.

C. Andres Okay, great. Thanks very much.

J. Whedon Thank you.

Moderator Thank you, and any closing remarks, Mr. Whedon?

J. Whedon I love each and every one of you very, much - possibly inappropriately. That’s it. That’s all I got.

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