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Joss Whedon, Vampire Creator
An interview with the creator of BUFFY and ANGEL.
By Edward Gross
May 23, 2000
You've got to give Joss Whedon a lot of credit. The guy decides to take a failed motion picture named BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, which was based on his script, and turns it into the hottest genre series since Fox introduced THE X-FILES. And as if this isn't accomplishment enough, he and co-creator David Greenwalt turn out a spin-offANGELthat is every bit as popular as its progenitor.
In between, Whedon has also served as a script doctor, represented this summer by his efforts for THE X-MEN (little of his material apparently made it into the final cut), and the big-budgeted animated adventure, TITAN A.E. Somehow he has also managed to crank out the script for a proposed musical version of Dracula, and is already hard at work on a comic book miniseries for Dark Horse that takes place in the BUFFY universe, only 500 years in the future.
Where he gets this energy, no one knowsincluding Whedon himselfbut as always, he continually makes himself available to discuss his creative efforts, taking the time to discuss the season that was with FANDOM. Unlike the creators of other shows that have become hits, Whedon refuses to forget the people that were there in the beginning, and who continue to support him and his visions to this day.
FANDOM: I'M AMAZED AT THE FRESHNESS THAT BOTH SHOWS HAVE. IN BUFFY, YOU HAVE A SHOW ENDING ITS FOURTH SEASON ON SUCH A CREATIVE HIGH. IS IT TOUGH TO MAINTAIN THAT FRESHNESS, OR IS IT STILL FLOWING EASILY?
JOSS WHEDON: It's still flowing. There's just so much that these people can go through and so many life experiences we can touch, and because we have the added benefit of being a fantasy show, we're in arenas where it doesn't feel that it has a sameness. We're completely hyped about next season; we've got all these ideas that are completely different from this season. We get into a thing where, 'Oh, we've done this pattern before; oh, we've done this thing before,' but there's no sense at all of petering out or of stretching ourselves too thin to come up with ideas. It might be by year eight, but right now it's really not.
We try to keep the shows fresh. We've done a lot of things this year which are different. Some of them have met with approval, some less so. But we're going to keep trying and get out there experimenting, because we get bored. We don't want to watch the same damn show every week, and we don't want to make the same damn show every week.
WAS DAVID BOREANZA'S ABSENCE FROM THE SHOW A DIFFICULT THING TO DEAL WITH?
That just made it easier, because it meant we had new places to go. What had become tough was figuring out how we could possibly wring any more changes out of the Buffy/Angel relationship. We no longer have that problem. Then there was collegebasically we had an embarrassment of creative riches.
YOU HANDLED THE CHANGE IN THE RELATIONSHIP WELL DURING THE SECOND CROSSOVER WHEN BUFFY CAME TO ANGLE TO WARN HIM ABOUT FAITH.
That was a really important scene to me, because we all assumed they would just resolve it. They get into an argument about Faith, and at the end of the episode they resolve it and everything would be nice and pretty. I was working on the scene and I kept asking myself, 'Why can't I write this scene?' I finally realized that it's because they can't
make up; he has to fucking cut loose at her, and as soon as I started to write it, I realized that it was the defining moment where he basically said, 'I have a show; it's not just an offspring of your show; it's something different.' And at that moment, the training wheels came off. That, to me, in a very different way was as powerful a moment as 'I Will Remember You', the last episode in which Buffy came over.
The truth is, we work so hard on these shows. So many people have been like, 'I don't know about Riley; I don't know about this; they're all different in college.' So we've all been questioning ourselves: do we still have it? Are we still doing any good here? But I think the episodes prove that we are.
AND ALTHOUGH YOU'VE KILLED CHARACTERS BEFORE, MAGGIE WALSH'S (LINDSAY CROUSE) SUDDEN DEMISE WAS REALLY SHOCKING. IT SEEMED LIKE HER ARC WAS JUST GETTING STARTED.
A lot of our great shocks come from things we can't control. We were basically told by her agent that she had to be done by Christmas. We knew that was going to be the progressionshe would create Adam; Adam would destroy herbut we weren't sure how long that would go. So we decided to do that abruptly, and it charmed the hell out of me. It's always fun to do something a little startling.
YOU AND I HAVE DISCUSSED IN THE PAST HOW THESE SHOWS ALMOST WRITE THEMSELVES, AND GO IN DIRECTIONS YOU DON'T ALWAYS EXPECT.
To an extent, the characters are telling us what they need, and to an extent, the situation is as well. Seth Green decided to leave, and we had to deal with that, but it opened up some of the most fertile ground that we've had this year.
FOR BOTH SERIES, WOULD YOU SAY THERE WERE ANY PARTICULAR STRENGTHS OR WEAKNESSES?
I think we were kind of tentative on Angel
, and we had some hits and misses. It was a question of finding out what worked. We really discovered that our principals are really where the heart of the show is. I had hoped for Angel
to be more of an anthology than Buffy
, and to an extent it still will be, because it's not quite such a soap. But ultimately, the heart of the show is our main characters, and we're going to be a little less about trying to go out and try and solve these external crimes that we don't really feel emotional about. It's going to make our job as writers harder, but hopefully it will make the show better. At the same time, some of the most emotional stuff we've done this year has been on Angel
. Because it's a more straight-ahead, guy, action show, I've got to be proud of that. 'I Will Remember You' and, particularly, 'Five by Five', the first Faith episodethose things make me cry. They get me. To be able to go there on what is nominally a more straight-ahead guy show, to me is kind of neat.
AND THE LAST BATCH OF SHOWS FOR THE SEASON GOT BETTER AND BETTER.
Yeah, I really feel we hit strengths toward the end where we hit our stride. Often you can be petering out by that point, so I feel very good about that. The episode where Angel went bad ['Eternity'], to me was the benchmark of the show. It so revolved around our characters; Cordelia was so funny in that episode, and David had such a good time with that.
WORKED BETTER THAN YOU HAD ANTICIPATED?
I wouldn't say better, because the show I anticipate is always so staggeringly brilliant that it makes the Earth rotate in the other direction, but it has done what Buffy
has done in that it has lived up to my hopes to be a decent show, and then it has shown me things that I hadn't expected. A work of art takes on a life beyond its creator, and when that happens, it's the most gratifying thing in the world. It's like raising a child who becomes a grownup and is suddenly talking to you. Angel
has started to do that; Angel
is talking to me now. It could have been just a nice solid formula show, and I think it's going to be something more than that.
HOW DO YOU RATE BUFFY
This has been kind of a difficult year because we shook things up so much. I actually think it was a very strong year. There have been things that have been difficultthe Initiative, budget-wise, and figuring out the motivations of a lot of people who aren't your core group. Ultimately, my heart is always with my core group. So that's been sort of tricky, trying to get this feeling of a huge government conspiracy when we have a shrub and it's pretty much, 'We're going to patrol past the shrub.' Eventually you begin to feel that you're just playing dress-up. But we did manage to pull some epic scope on that.
A lot of people have sort of been twitchy about the fact that Buffy got herself into a happy relationship, where she actually gets to have sex. That makes people nervous. By and large, the more nervous I make peopleunless they stop watching the showthe better I feel, because that's what this year was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about 'We're all redefining who we are; we're sort of falling apart,' and sort of doing what you do in the first year of college. You're experimenting, and that's what we've been doing. Ultimately I feel really good about this year. I think some of the best single episodes have been produced this year. We end pretty strong, and the last episode is just so bizarre I can't describe it. The last episode is all dreams, and it's just about as strange as it needs to be. It was a very fun and beautiful way to sort of sum up everything everyone had gone through, what it meant to them and where they are. It's divided into four acts that are four dreams: Giles, Willow, Xander and Buffy. There are basically four short stories about how these people feel, with a through element. We realized we had taken them to a pretty interesting place this year.
END IN A SPECIAL WAY?Angel
has a totally different feel, but I like it just as much in a totally different way. It's just there to be a very strong, iconic story that clearly defines where everybody is in Angel's life, and what we can be looking forward to next year. So it's a very strong, emotional, iconic tale, whereas BUFFY is definitely more cerebral and bizarre. They're two very different hours, but both doing the same thing: sort of summing up where we are, how these people feel about each other and where we're headed.
ARE THERE ANY HINTS YOU CAN GIVE FOR NEXT YEAR?
Not a lot. Basically, in terms of Buffy
, this year has been about getting scattered and getting distracted, changing and wondering if the old gang still exists, plus the freedom that college causes. Next year is pretty much about bringing it back, taking a step back and bringing it closer to home. It will be the whole Scooby Gang very involved with each other, and the idea of them as a family. Yes, you get freedoms when you first go to college, but life doesn't stop happening. We want to ground them again.
WHAT ABOUT ANGEL
FOR NEXT YEAR?
I can tell you less about Angel
. We don't have a specific emotional mission statement. The thing about Angel
is that even though we're very much worried about the characters, it's not about growth and change the way that Buffy
is. Angel is a person who's stuck in time. He can grow; he can learn, but basically he's not every man going through every boring thing. Whereas in Buffy
, there are stages in life that we map out; it's a hero's journey going from youth to adulthood, but with Angel, because he's already there, we don't think of the years in the same way. We know what arcs we want to see, who's going to be kissing who, who's going to be fighting who, but it's not the same kind of, 'This is the place we need to take him too,' like Buffy
LET'S HANDLE A COUPLE OF QUICK RUMORS. WILL FAITH BECOME A RECURRING CHARACTER?
That's one of those things that's dependent on people's schedules. Would I bring back Eliza? In a New York minute. Actually, I think she's a real asset, and the worse thing that should happen to us is that she should become a regular, but Eliza's got her own stuff going on, and we're being tentative about that. We definitely are interested, but we'll have to see.
WHAT ABOUT AN EPISODE IN WHICH ANGEL BATTLES ANGELUS, WHICH YOU MENTIONED IN A RECENT INTERVIEW?
It's not a priority, because it's not something you want to do right away. You want to save a show like that for your Baroque period, which Buffy
entered during episode two. But, sure, why not? Angel vs. Angelus? How much fun would David have? You see, my actors having fun is actually a big consideration. Truthfully, though, when they have fun, it shows up on the screen as really good work.
JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY, WHY DO YOU DIRECT ONLY EPISODES YOU'VE WRITTEN?
It's easier to write an episode than direct it. Well, not easier, but Scheduling-wise, I usually direct an episode when there is something I desperately want to saywhere there's a moment that I want to capture, an idea I want to try out. To create something, that means actually writing it. I may actually direct a couple of episodes that I don't write next year, just because of my time being as it is. By and large, the only time I've done it is when I've co-written with David Greenwalt. The bottom line is that I like to create. To me, the writing is the most important thing, and if I'm going to take the time to direct something and it really pulls a lot out of my schedule, usually I want it to be something of my own. At the same time, it would certainly be interesting to direct somebody else's script.
DO YOU EVEN HAVE THE TIME TO CONSIDER DOING YOUR OWN MOVIE?
The next thing for me, I hope, is to direct a film, and I'm starting to circle around the idea of a script that's in the back of my head. But the two shows are my priority.
ARE YOU STILL TRYING TO GET INTO COMIC BOOKS?
I'm doing a limited series for Dark Horse called Fray
, about a Slayer that takes place 500 years in the future. I need some flying cars, damn it! It's set in the Buffy
universe, except that nobody from Buffy
would appear in it. The comic book exists in its own way, and I can't mess with that history. I was going to do something about Faith, but then I was like, 'I'm bringing Faith back,' and it would interfere with that. By setting it in the future, I don't have to create a whole new world; I can sort of play off of this mythology but not through jeopardizing the characters from the show. We're just talking to an artist. I've written the first one and a half issues. The tone is a gritty, action-adventure, sci-fi fun thing. It's not quite as based in the day-to-day experiences of a girl's life the way that Buffy
is. It's a much more broader-scoped adventure. It's really fun. Writing the first issue was different from anything I've ever done.
THERE ARE RUMORS THAT YOU WERE INVOVLED WITH AN ANIMATED VERSION OF DRACULA
. WHAT IS WITH YOU AND VAMPIRES?
You know, I'm not obsessed with vampires. The reason they offered me Dracula
and the reason I took it, was that it was going to be a musical. I am desperate to write a musical, and I thought Dracula
lent itself to that, so I said, 'Jesus, here we go with the vampires again, but it's different.' But then they wanted to go to a different place than a musical, and I sort of got stuck with my thumb up my ass and a script in my hand. So that's over. They're still developing it. What I think they're trying to do sounds very cool, but I was advertised a musical, and if I'm not going to do that, I have other vampires to write about.