‘Dollhouse’: Joss Whedon says unaired ‘Epitaph One’ will guide Season 2
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Despite not-so-hot ratings, ‘Dollhouse’ got a second-season reprieve and will embark on its new journey Sept. 25. Whew!
After some tense moments for creator Joss Whedon and Whedonites everywhere, Whedon sat down -- maybe he was sitting; this was a phone interview -- to talk with Show Tracker about upping the ante for Season 2, how he writes for his audience, his extracurriculars and his film ‘Cabin in the Woods.’
Show Tracker: What was the first thing you did when you found out that ‘Dollhouse’ was renewed?
Joss Whedon: I’m not afraid to say panic. I’m not too much of a man to use the words ‘completely panic.’ The first thing I did, even before it was totally official, was go out to a restaurant, which is where I do most of my writing, and write down everything I thought about what Season 2 would be, and sent it to the writers. I wrote down everything that I thought would be useful -- what we hadn’t had enough of, what I thought had clicked, what we could improve -- and also things that excited me about the second season. Once I had that memo out to the writers I felt like I was ready for anything. I wasn’t but it was cute that I thought so. What was the second thing you did?
Well, I’d had a few drinks by the end of that memo and I’m not allowed to tell you anything. What happens in Vancouver is nobody’s business.
The dolls are becoming self-aware....
We saw that Sierra and Victor are developing as much as their childlike personalities will allow, and Echo is becoming more self-aware. So do we assume Dolls can learn and develop? Sometimes, yeah. And sometimes they can go further than intended. The mind is a mysterious beast.
And, of course, developmental problems, a la Alpha, are possible?
Yes. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have much of a show.
‘Epitaph One,’ the unaired final episode of last season, showed a glimpse of a future. [Readers, if you haven’t seen it, get it on DVD!] Would you say that it’s a malleable future? Could this future be averted?
Yeah. We talked about whether it was malleable or not, and right now we pretty much take it as gospel. But then we have a lot of different opinions about how it gets there and who does what. We’re fascinated by the implications of this future, and a lot of this season has been guided by it without being so beholden to it that people who didn’t see it won’t understand. We were incited by the idea that the abuse of power is more widespread than just this one house.
And speaking of the house, we’ve heard that Ray Wise is joining the cast. There are a lot of other exciting guest stars coming up this season, too. Give me one word to describe Jamie Bamber.
Gosh, I have a lot of words for him. Wait, I only get one word? This is unfair.
You can have a sentence if you like.
How about precise, charming and terribly sympathetic.
How about Summer Glau, of the late ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’?
Precise, charming and terribly sympathetic. Sorry, I only have three words that I’ll use for everybody. Summer is elegant, damaged and sweet.
Stalwart, tortured and great. A little generic, but so true.
Tall! Comforting, disarming, evil.
Are there specific characteristics that you look for in actors?
The people that I come back to are people who are either extremely versatile or just right for the part, but they all share the same work ethic and they all throw themselves into a part or a task with enormous professionalism and gusto. Nobody coasts. Nobody isn’t bringing their ‘A’ game.
You have quite a devoted following. As you write, do you consider what your fans will think? Is that a consideration?
It’s a consideration, but it’s not the first one. The first one is ‘What’s cool?’ If I think something is cool, then other people will too, because I’m a fan. Something that makes me go ‘Ohh, tingly,’ that’s something that other people will share. I am the audience. When you’re thinking about the fans, you’re more thinking about ‘What do we not have enough of?’ and ‘Where do we need to be next, emotionally?’ But beyond that, you’re thinking ‘What makes me excited, what’s wrong with me, and how cool is that?’ It’s a playground.
You also think about the actors. What will challenge them? What will jazz them? What haven’t I seen from them? It’s just all part of the same equation. The audience includes the people making it. Actually, I think the people making it and me might make up about half of the audience.
I’m the other half!
With your ‘Dollhouse’ production schedule and doing other things like ‘Cabin in the Woods,’ do you get to read comics much? And if you do, what are you reading now?
I sort of fell out of the comic book world. I was always a Marvel boy and then everything got so crossover-y that I couldn’t follow anything anymore. It’s weird ‘cause I went from pulling 15 books a week to not even going. I think the last thing that I really held out with was The Walking Dead. I go through these phases, and right now there’s just a radio silence.
Tell us about your film ‘Cabin in the Woods.’
It’s a horror film about five young people who go to a cabin in the woods and terrible things happen to them -- and it’s also a horror film about why five people go out to a cabin in the woods and terrible things happen to them.
Can’t wait. But back to ‘Dollhouse.’ How are things progressing now that the writers have digested your manifesto?
We have the first 13 episodes completely figured out in terms of what we want to accomplish, not in terms of having broken every single story. We’re not thinking beyond that right now. It’s hard. It’s a hard job. My job is hard. Whine, whine, whine ...
-- Jevon Phillips
Photos, from top: Joss Whedon on the set of ‘Dollhouse’; Dichen Lachman. Credits, from top: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times; David Strick’s Hollywood Backlot