Mania Interview: Joss Whedon -

Mania Interview: Joss Whedon

14 Comments | Add


Rate & Share:


Related Links:



  • Series:

Mania Interview: Joss Whedon

The Avengers director talks life at the speed of comics.

By Rob Vaux     May 01, 2012

 In the annals of geek fandom, the name Joss Whedon holds special significance. Early days as a screenwriter on Roseanne honed his skills, which came to sharp fruition on the modern classic TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Subsequent projects have seen their ups and downs, but his signature wit and emphasis on character have earned him a loyal fan base. His knack for ensemble work and deep-set love of comic books made him an ideal choice to helm the big-budget adaptation of The Avengers due for release this Friday. He talked about the project, and others in his career, at a recent press conference for the film. A partial transcript of his comments follows.


Question: What was the biggest challenge for you on this project?  

Joss Whedon: The hardest part is – and always will be – structure. How do you put that together? How do you make everybody shine? How do you let the audience's identification drift from person to person without making them feel like they're not involved? It's not necessarily particularly ornate or original, but it had to be right, it had to be earned from moment to moment, and that's exhausting. That was still going on in the editing room after we’d shot.


Q: What in your mind separates a good comic book adaptation film from a bad comic book adaptation film?

JW: Well, there's all sorts, but for me, it's capturing the essence of the comic and being true to what's wonderful about it, while remembering that it's a movie and not a comic. I think Spider-Man, the first one particularly, really captured the formula of telling the story that they told in the comic. It was compelling, and that's why it's iconic, but at the same time they did certain things that only a movie can do.

I think you see things like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where they just threw out the comic, or Watchmen, where they did it frame for frame, and neither of them work. You have to capture the spirit of the thing and then step away from that, and create something cinematic and new.


Q: You've done movies with big ensemble casts before, like Serenity. You had to introduce characters then. How did you go about introducing all of the cast members of this film, the cast of characters?

JW: It's the same problem I had with Serenity and swore I'd never have again. Tracking the information is difficult, because it's not as much fun as tracking the emotion of the thing. You have to know how much people need to know, because some people come in knowing everything, and you don't want to tell them too much, and some people will come in knowing nothing and you don't even want to tell them too much. You want some things to be inferred. It's fun to see a movie that has texture beyond what you understand. When I watched Wall Street, I didn't know what they were talking about, but I was very compelled by it. It clearly mattered a lot. Or if I watch any film about sports, I feel the same way. If you feel that there's a life behind the life – if there's a life outside the frame – then you feel good about it. Organizing that is the most exhausting part of the film.


Q: What advice would you give Warner Bros on getting their Justice League movie going?

JW: [In a quiet, hopeful voice.] Call me. [Laughter.] Honestly, it's enormously difficult to take very disparate characters and make them work. DC has a harder time of it than Marvel, because their characters are from an older era, a bygone era where characters were bigger than we were. They've amended that, but Marvel really cracked the code in terms of making heroes we could relate to. That sort of veracity really started with Iron Man. It’s really helpful to use that as your base.


Q: What was your approach to spectacle in the film?

JW: My approach to spectacle was kind of wrong-headed: the most important thing for me, was that it not be spectacle for its own sake. It had to be earned, believable and understandable visually. The audience needed to know exactly where things were, what was at stake, who had to get where from where and how, and what was in their way. I tend to be very pedantic about that. I don't just want a blur of things crashing around. I want to know how everybody's doing. I think sometimes I would try to obey the laws of physics, and that would actually just make for weaker footage. Eventually I just had to give myself up and realize that every time a car is hit by anything, it blows up and flips over.


Q: Could you confirm which alien race it was that Loki was working with in the film?

JW: The alien race is the Chitauri, or a version of them. They are not one of the key races and they don't have a story or history and really, that wasn't the point. I know this debate will go on long after I am dead, so I'll just say it was the Kree-Skrull race and really make everybody angry. [Laughter.]


Q: How did you decide which secondary characters, such as Pepper Potts, to incorporate into the movie?

JW: My first instinct was not to have anybody from any of them, partially because you need to separate the characters from their support systems in order to create the isolation that you need for a team. Also, when they would go back to their own movies, they'd have something that the Avengers didn't have. I didn’t want to suck the juice out of all the sequels coming up. But Pepper, that was really Robert [Downey’s]'s thing. He pushed hard. He didn't want to be Crazy Alone Guy. He wanted to be Crazy in a Relationship Guy and he really thought Gwyneth [Paltrow]  would bring something great to the table. He’s the one that convinced her to come and do it. And that made sense because he's been through two movies. He's had more of a journey and he is in more of a stable place. But he can still be that and be completely isolated from the world in his giant tower that he built and owns.


Q: There's an interesting balance between the action, characters and the conflicts they have, such as Iron Man rejecting the soldier mentality Captain America had. How did you develop these characters? Any ideology involved?

JW: Well you have to write something that you believe in. Captain America was kind of my ground zero for this film. The idea of someone who had been in World War II, had seen people laying down their lives in the worst kinds of circumstances, in a world where the idea of community and the idea of a man being somebody who is a part of something, as opposed to being isolated from or bigger than or more famous than it… it’s a very different concept of manhood than what we see today. The way that it, in my opinion, has kind of devolved from Steve to Tony is fascinating.

Obviously you're not gonna stand around and speechify too much, but the idea of the soldier – the idea of the person willing to lay down their life is very different than the idea of the superhero. And since I wanted to make from the start a war movie, I wanted to put these guys through more than what they would be put through in a normal superhero movie. It was very important for me to build that concept and to have Tony reject that concept on every level so that in the end when he's really willing to lay it on the line, you get where's he's come from and how Steve has affected him.


Q: How did you come up with the idea to cast Harry Dean Stanton for that post-Hulk scene with Mark Ruffalo?

JW: We needed to get Banner from the horror of what he had done to a place where he was prepared to go back into that state. The idea was to put him in a slightly surreal situation with somebody who clearly had no problem with what he was. Seamus McGarvey, our DP, was actually shooting a documentary about Harry Dean and spending a lot of time with him. I sort of got him stuck in my head and thought “who is more accepting than Harry Dean Stanton?” So I got to write this weird little scene, and it became not so little – like12 pages long. I was like, “this is great. Bruce Banner falls into a Coen Brothers movie.” But we got it trimmed, and the fact that they even let me keep it – and that we actually landed Harry Dean to play it – was very exciting. To work with Harry Dean and to quiz him about Alien and The Missouri Breaks… what a privilege.


Showing items 1 - 10 of 14
1 2 >  >>  
Dazzler 5/1/2012 4:04:48 AM

It's a mistake not using an established race from the Marvel line.  That's just lazy and ignornant to the fans.  Strike one for the movie for me. 

TwoCase 5/1/2012 5:53:00 AM

It was the obvious choice. They need to save the kree and skrulls for later. Can you imagine if they used the skrulls and not properly set them up? Fans would have gone nuts. Plus, they're already shoving a ton of characters at the audience. This army didn't need to be well defined because they work for a higher power. 

jedibanner 5/1/2012 6:02:38 AM

Isn't the Chitauri part of the Marvel Ultimate's universe?

ElBaz13 5/1/2012 7:08:19 AM

Dazzler, the Chitauri are part of the Marvel U.

And agree with TwoCase. I would rather they save the kree/skrull for something bigger.

monkeyfoot 5/1/2012 7:34:46 AM

I also agree with TwoCase. Skrulls, Kree, Brood, Shi'ar, and some others are all aliens with large elaborate histories. If they just got thrown in as cannon fodder troops think how really pissed fans would be.

Whedon says all the right things for me. It's like he's reading my mind on how a movie should be done. I've never been a Whedon-worshipper. I hardly watched Buffy or Firefly, and some Dollhouse but I do admire him. Even though he's had career failures, they are not failures on his part but rather the circumstances he was working under. He is man who writes movies, TV and comics and is well-versed in each one. Finally, it seems the Mighty Marvel elder forces of Eternity, Infinity, and the Living Tribunal have all come together to put the perfect man on the perfect project at the perfect time. I can't wait to see it this weekend.

Tevii 5/1/2012 8:45:15 AM

@jedibanner - are'nt all the marvel movies supposed to be Utimates? Otherwise Nick Fury would be white.

chervil 5/1/2012 9:15:57 AM

IIRC there was some red tape involved in using the skrull since reportedly FOX currently has the movie rights to the Super Skrull, and MARVEL didn't want there to be any confusion or hiccups.
Hence using the Chitauri instead.

Love Whedon's work, and really glad to hear how much thought and heart he put into this.
It is really good to see someone who understands his craft so well, and understands his audience so well, and works hard to make sure everything meshes.

Still upset that Bay turned the Transformers into one big 12 yr old fart/sex/raunch fest instead of focusing on the story.
The first one held some promise, but all that character development was wasted in the next two just to focus on hooking the teenage market. 

At least Whedon is making sure that any moviegoer can enjoy the film, whether they are fans of the genre and follow the comics, or just happen to come in off the street not knowing any background on these characters.
I had decided to wait until Sunday aft. to see it (so I could avoid all the yelling and screaming and maybe actually hear the dialogue), but the squid is all overhyped now and wants to go see the midnight showing on Thursday. (We spent the last two days watching IM, IM2, Hulk and Thor and will cap it off with CA tonight. )

TheFuzzyDan 5/1/2012 9:38:27 AM

@Tevil - Actually, the movies have been borrowing elements from the mainstream Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe and creating their own identities while trying to stay true to the source material.  Nick Fury is black and forms the Ultimates as a part of Shield in the Ultimate Universe and those elements are in the movies.  Yet, Bucky fights alongside Cap in WWII and (SPOILER ALERT) is seemingly killed like in the mainstream Marvel Universe.  I think this is why some of the Marvel representatives have started calling the movies the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It borrows from the two comic lines, stays true to the original feel but has its own identity.

shac2846 5/1/2012 10:24:44 AM

 Read and interview with Ed Brubaker yesterday and he said they definitely borrowed his winter soldier stuff for the cap movie as Bucky gets seemingly offed while holding a scoped rifle. It was suppose to be an obvious nod of things to come. FuzzyDan I believe is right. I read an interveiw with Fiege where he talks about fusing all the things that have worked over the years that includes mainstream continuity and ultimates.

Did anybody hear that they are writing the marvel movie nick fury into the regular comic continuity as the original nick fury's son. He just also happes to wear and eyepatch too. Thought that was lame maybe they will turn me onto it as he becomes more of a major character in the comics. 

Tevii 5/1/2012 10:26:15 AM

@The FuzzyDan- that makes sense. Gives them some freedom as well, much like the DC Animated Universe

1 2 >  >>  


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Please click here to login.