Joss Whedon interview, Dollhouse hitting its stride?
By April MacIntyre Mar 23, 2009, 0:08 GMT
Dollhouse creator- Joss Whedon - Dushku plays an “Active,” a member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. © Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos
Joss Whedon, creator of groundbreaking cult favorites “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” "Dr. Horrible" and “Firefly,” reunites with fellow “Buffy” alumna Eliza Dushku in FOX's Friday night series "Dollhouse."
Dushku plays an “Active,” a member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas.
Hired by the wealthy and connected, the Actives don’t just perform their hired roles; they wholly become - mind, personality and physiology – whomever the client wants or needs them to be.
Whether imprinted to be a lover, an assassin, a corporate negotiator or a best friend, the Actives know no other life than the specific engagements they are in at that time.
"Dollhouse" had a 21% build in total viewers over the last two weeks and enjoyed its highest number since its premier on Friday, February 13th.
Friday, March 20th saw the sixth episode entitled “Man On the Street,” where Echo became a perfect wife for a lonely Internet mogul played by guest star Patton Oswalt.
Sierra’s attacker is also finally revealed. Meanwhile we learn that Mellie’s life is in danger and Agent Ballard’s investigation takes a surprising turn when he comes face-to-face with Echo for the first time.
Monsters and Critics was on a conference call with Joss Whedon last week.
Will Dollhouse have humor built into the script?
J. Whedon There is humor in the show. There’s a lot in the episode after “Man on the Street.” But the fact of the matter is this is not a comedy. This is not the typical, well, if there is a typical Whedon show, this is not it.
It’s not the lighthearted romp that the other shows were. The fact of the matter is there’s definitely funny stuff coming up. There’s always moments of funny, but it doesn’t build like a comedy.
It wasn’t designed to be a comedy. It’s not going to play that instrument. You have to do different things at different times. If people are feeling like it’s too serious, then either their expectation has to be changed, or we need to lighten up a little. But, yes, I don’t think they’re ever going to see the same sort of long, six page runs of just pure humor. This is not that show.
When Sierra goes to the see the man she says is responsible for putting her there, do we find out how she got to the dollhouse? Can you elaborate on the “ick factor” some say inhabits the premise a bit?
J. Whedon More or less. I wouldn’t even say sold, so much as kidnapped. Her situation is by far the worst of anyone’s. How complicit the dollhouse was in that, how much they actually knew about her past, we don’t go to in the episode, but what actually happened to her is just as appalling as anybody’s story.
It makes me uncomfortable. I’m not going to lie. But for me, it’s part of what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with people who have power and are abusing it and people who don’t and are trying to regain it. And in some instances, we want to show the dollhouse and in the instance of November, I think he is providing a service or in the instance of as we’ll find out, Victor might be providing a service that somebody is looking for.
And then in other instances, that is going to be abused and the ick factor gets very high. It seems to get high with Sierra quite a bit, I’m sorry to say, poor girl. She really gets put through it. But it’s not something we feel that we can shy away from without being a little hypocritical. Yes, I better stop.
Why did you emphasize in past interviews that episode six was the one where you wanted people to really get hooked?
J. Whedon You know, there may have been a negative side to it because we may have said, “The first five episodes are crap,” which I don’t believe. But I do believe, and there’s also the negativity of somebody saying, “Well, now he’s blaming the network for the other episodes.”
Like, no, no, no, no, we did our best to try and figure out how to put the show over with a new paradigm under the gun while we were in production or occasionally out of production.
And then what happened with “Man on the Street,” was really, it just came to me as a concept really quickly. I pitched it to the network and for the first time, there was a real simpatico. They went, “Oh, yes, we get that,” and it was a very simple thing.
And then I wrote it faster than anything I’d ever written. It just poured out of me. It was like all of that brewing that we’ve been doing became the soup of that episode and so it really was a game changer for us on set and in production. The staff and the cast read it and a lot of tumblers fell into place. That’s how we felt about the episode.
There may be a negativity associated with hyping it, but for all of us episodes like episode eight and a lot of the following episodes really work on the model on “Man on the Street” more than anything else. So it was a big moment for us. It was a moment that we felt like we found a level and we were really proud of it.
I think it was doing an episode that somebody who had never seen the show could walk in on because it explains very clearly the premise. In fact, it’s kind of about explaining the premise and at the same time really getting under the skin of the dollhouse and of Paul’s character and of what’s going on with everybody and the workings of the place and coming at it sideways rather than just showing an engagement and flipping in some information around that engagement. This was one where we really got to look at the cogs of the clock and that’s what gave it such momentum for us.
So I figure that other people may feel differently, but we walked away from shooting that episode going, okay, we just added a layer and we feel pretty excited about it.
Why is Paul Ballard so obsessed with Caroline/the dollhouse. Is that something we would learn in a season one?
J. Whedon We don’t really go back into his story in the first season, the first of so many seasons that there will inevitably be.
Season four is like a whole two-parter. That’s because we are about to send him forward in ways he doesn’t he expect.
We feel like there’s a thorn in his side and we feel that we can push it further and twist it and possibly hit a vital organ. His obsession with Echo is rather than circling back to find its origin, we want to sort and the dollhouse, we want to just make it really challenge him in it and make it as hard for him as possible to explain himself, why he’s doing what he’s doing.
Is the show developing the way you really want, or the network?
J. Whedon I think it was both. ….definitely contains elements that were pitched or developed by people at the network in terms of the motivations of the dollhouse and the feel of the politics of the thing and what’s going on, the thriller aspect.
It was not, oh Dave, shut up and now I’ll do it my way.
It’s very much full of the stuff that they were pitching. But it also is storytelling wise, much more how I had envisioned coming at it to be only in a sense that is clearer, than my original pilot.
My original pilot was deliberately obtuse and you had to come along and stay with it and figure it out.
This, we go right up front. Here’s the situation. It’s a myth. This guy is looking for it and all that stuff. We lay it out as simply as we did in the first five, but because we get to get inside the dollhouse more and have the events there take on much more resonance, it has got what I had hoped to bring to the other episodes that I didn’t really have the opportunity as much.
So I felt like it was really finding the code to a show that I can do my best work in that the network still really can get behind. So it was a meeting of the minds.
Some people at the network definitely said, “Well, wait a minute. This idea that we’ve bought is illegal and very racy and frightens us.” There was definitely an element of should we tone this down that for me was frustrating because of what I was telling them was dangerous ground and was meant to be.
That is not to say that the only thing I pitched them was Echo had sex. The idea was always that she would be doing a lot of different things. I had a structure that the first few episodes was supposed to take us into whereby the type of engagement would always be shifting.
That she would be solving crimes, that she would be helping people. That she would be committing crimes, the she would be, that sexuality was a big part of it and the most sort of edgy and possibly titillating part of it, but not in any way the only part of it.
When I pitched, I basically, you always do it; it’s a blank meets blank. Mine was it’s Alias meets Quantum Leap. Like I thought of her more than anything as kind of life coach, as a kind of the person you absolutely need in your life at a certain moment who will either change you or comfort you or take your life to the level that you want it to be.
And that could be something nice, evil, sexual. It could be any number of things. It was never just meant to be the one. The one sort of took over because it’s the one that frightens people the most and also obviously interests them the most.
So, yes, I think we ended up not going there as much as we would have in the first few episodes because we were still in that dialog with some of the people at the network. You end up doing a disservice if you just sort of gloss over it and never hit it head on.
Having said that, I still have no problem with the idea that somebody very rich and very far off in the mountains would hire the perfect midwife because the birth of my child, you don’t want a thinker.
Why is Boyd working at the Dollhouse?
J. Whedon I will tell you without reservation that in this season, we don’t answer it.
It’s way before we had it cast or even written, I had a feeling, I knew what had happened with Boyd. There was a line from an episode that was—it ultimately even filmed, but was tossed, where he talks to Saunders, “None of us in here were next in line for pope.
Everybody has a reason,” and rolling out how people came to this place is part of something we wanted to do. A little bit later on when we had people invested in the characters enough to be asking just as you have, but we still have to wait on that. We’ll see.
Talk about some of the staff subterfuge in the series.
J. Whedon Yes, we talked about that and the different possibilities that we could tweak and the pasts that people have. How many layers of unreality can you have in somebody’s identity and to an extent, we get very excited. We have to pull ourselves back and say if we make this a lie within a lie within a lie within a lie, people are just going to start slapping us.
We’re like now we’re not invested in anybody. So we’ve talked about, but we’ve been very restrained with the concept because you have to have some touchstone of reality, even in this world.
Other than sex, elaborate on why someone would hire the Dolls, the reasons…
J. Whedon You know, we do work on it. Again, it’s one of those things where because it makes sense to us on some levels, we look back and go, “Are they with us?” But we finished shooting it before any of it aired, so it’s a little dicey there. There were times we talked about why some of the engagements it seemed a little bit like, you could find somebody who might be that person.
That a lot of the rich people have just become a status thing. It’s just this become, it’s just the way we do it. But we never spent too much time with that because we were never sure how much of an issue that was going to be.
It’s the one thing that’s difficult about making a show when it’s not airing is you don’t have that feedback yet and you don’t know what is the thing they need to hear? So it gets addressed, but probably not as much as people would like.
The Patton Oswalt thing was an attempt to address the humanity of it, the beauty of somebody who wants something with context as opposed to something that is purely sexual and then have Paul Ballard just completely not be convinced by any of it, just again and again, just hit him with it to say no, but that doesn’t matter to show the two completely opposing viewpoints and articulate both of them.
Will you venture more online, less TV?
J. Whedon It’s definitely...the new media is very attractive to me. It’s an open field. There’s a lot of freedom and I’m very afraid that that freedom will be taken away before the artistic community has a foothold in it. So for reasons both artistic and political, I wish very much to pursue new media.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m never going to do television. Everybody knows I had a rough time getting Dollhouse up-to-speed, but that doesn’t mean I’m never going to do television.
I love television and I love it in a different way than I love the Internet in a different way that I love movies. It’s a kind of storytelling that is just, the scope and the breadth and the depth that you can get from a TV show is unlike anything else and I love it.
I have to admit I’m shooting a movie right now, producing a movie that really went from script to preproduction in a matter of weeks. I did Dr. Horrible in a matter of days. And the way the television process as a grind for me that I’m not as used to as I was, but that doesn’t mean that I’m turning my back on it as a medium. I adore it.
And the people I’ve dealt with have been honorable and honest. It’s just getting TV show off the ground is rough waters, no matter what. And sometimes you feel up for a swim and sometimes you don’t.
The problem is that we have two completing opposing models, regular television, which is made for a lot of money, has a lot of crews, employs a lot of people. You can make a good deal of money in that business, so can the networks and whatnot.
And then there’s in the Internet, which is not that at all. It’s basically, although with Dr. Horrible we made money, we didn’t make the kind of money that would make a studio stand up and prick its little ears up. Nor were we paying people the kind of dollars where they can just do that for a living.
With things like Julio, all that means is that shows are going to be shown on the Internet probably instead of reaping reruns on television, which means no residuals for the artists, which means that there’s almost no money model on the Internet and a lot of money, but also a lot of waste model on TV.
They’re trying to bring them together, but nobody knows how they’re going to mix, how they’re going to meld, where they’re going to meet.
At some point it would be great if they met, if we could have fast, well made, but not slow moving productions on the Internet that employed enough people to keep the community in a good place, but at the same time, cut some of the fat out, so that everybody was able to do more work and still feel secure in their making a living. But right now that model doesn’t exist, and none of us have figured out, believe me, we’ve been talking about it, how to mix the two.
Will Boyd become more and more attached to Echo, is he going to become something of her life coach?
J. Whedon You know what he has the opportunity to do with her is going to shift. It’s definitely very much that same kind of de facto father figure. He definitely cares about her more than his job requires, but at the same time, he doesn’t have the same opportunities in these first 13 to really do anything to help her in that same sense.
Their relationship is also going to have to shift a little in the ways that I’m not going to describe. But for us on the staff, that was sort of the bedrock place of no matter what happens with these guys, we know that he wants to protect her and it’s the only truly safe place in the dollhouse is his paternal feeling toward Echo.
Will you write in more details about the other Dollhouses?
J. Whedon We do get to see one of the higher ups and we talk about the other dollhouses. We didn’t want to do a Italian Wolfram and Hart gag, where we just use the same set and fill it with Italians.
No, it’s one of my favorite things he ever did, but that’s because Angel was a lot sillier. So as the economy started to take a toll on our budget, that and the fact that we’ve thrown out our pilot, we hunkered down. So, no, you will not see dollhouse Tokyo in this season, but, boy, I’d like to.
What does Topher do outside of the dollhouse? Is he ever outside of the dollhouse or do we just assume he lives there? Does he have a girlfriend that he goes to the movies with? Are you handcuffed, as far as showing that stuff?
J. Whedon We’re not handcuffed. It’s just that at this point, we’re still interested in how they relate to our actives and particularly Eliza. So we don’t spend a lot of time with people in their outside lives, although we do spend some. We will learn a little something about the private lives of some of our employees, but something we’re threading in lightly. That’s really something you would come to later in a season.
Our first 13 are basically, just take the baseball bat and keep on hitting and then later on if you have people hooked, those threads are easier to weave in because people, they’re more invested. But at this point, we’re just swinging for the bleacher emotionally in the second half and so some things we will get to show because it will give us insights into the characters, but not everybody has an apartment set there.
Talk about Amy Aker’s character.
J. Whedon Yes, we sure are. I love that character, not just because it’s Amy Aker, but because she wears misery and torture on her face literally. We will definitely learn how she came to this fabulous career. In the last few episodes, we get to turn the Aker up pretty hot and it’s very exciting.