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Joss Whedon - "Serenity" Movie - Torontosun.com Interview

Bruce Kirkland

Wednesday 4 January 2006, by Webmaster

Director says big-screen spinoff of Firefly wasn’t an act of vengeance Canadian actor Nathan Fillion, centre, stars as the leader of a band of galactic soldiers in Serenity. Director Joss Whedon decided to do the film after the series Firefly was cancelled.

There is no revenge, no last laugh for filmmaker Joss Whedon.

"Do I have the last laugh?" the normally elusive Whedon asks rhetorically in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles. "I don’t think there is a last laugh. But I still have the ability to laugh!"

Punctuating his words with a dry chuckle, the 41-year-old Whedon is telling the Sun about the aftermath of Serenity, the big-screen movie spinoff of his ill-fated but much-loved TV series, Firefly.

He says there is now, finally, a measure of satisfaction. "It doesn’t suck! It’s not the worst feeling."

Serenity, freshly released on DVD, is one of those against-all-odds Hollywood stories — and the DVD culture has a lot to do with what he has accomplished.

First some history: Despite the cult success of Whedon’s earlier series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Whedon saw Firefly crash and burn in 2002. The show, for all its rave reviews, was cancelled after only 12 of its 14 original episodes were broadcast.

Stubbornly, Whedon refused to let his space western meet such an ignoble end. After sales of the Firefly DVD exploded among his fans — the people who have adopted the name Browncoats as a homage to the series — Whedon eventually got it revived as a movie. And he rocketed on with the same core cast led by rugged Canadian Nathan Fillion and including Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher and Morena Baccarin.

"It was never about vengeance," Whedon says of getting Firefly in front of the cameras again as Serenity. But he does feel he was royally screwed by Fox television executives, who he says never believed in his show.

"You know, I’ve talked to other people who have created many more successful shows than I have and they’ve gone through the same thing," Whedon says. "I think in my case it was particularly egregious. I think I was basically a victim of what I like to call ’dumb people’ — people who are never going to trust anything except what they already know."

The Fox executives, he says, did not know what Whedon was doing with Firefly, the story of a band of soldiers who, after being defeated in a civil war, turned to intergalactic banditry, like Jesse James’ gang after the U.S. Civil War. Their battered ship, paradoxically, was named Serenity. The point was to make reluctant heroes out of everyday, ordinary people in unusual circumstances.

"Your worst imaginings of what a group of executives could be is basically what was happening at the time there," Whedon says. He was told bluntly that another show, Fastlane, was "the golden boy" of the studio.

"You know that, even if these adoptive parents decide to keep you, they’re probably going to beat you up."

Whedon, facing what he saw as rejection and abuse, dug in for the long haul. "I just loved the show too much. It wasn’t just those stories. It was those actors.

"When you’re working up a story, it is one thing to write it and have them go: ’Well, we’re not going to make this!’ And it’s another thing when the set’s built and the thing is on its way and (then) have it pulled out from under you. Those people, the actors, became as dear to me as the characters they were playing and I felt a responsibility to them. I told them this thing was going to go. When it didn’t, I felt like I had sort of lied. I felt dishonoured.

"So, as much as the characters themselves were in my blood, the people I was working with had created an extraordinary atmosphere that doesn’t really happen very often in this town. It was something that I felt an obligation to."

When Serenity was released in theatres last year, it hit a modest $26 million U.S. in North America, plus another $14 million internationally.

"Obviously," Whedon says drily, "It didn’t make its money back. It got close, but you want it to blow up huge and be the next big thing. And it didn’t do that. I’m never satisfied. It wasn’t an embarrassment but it was frustrating that more people didn’t see it."

But Whedon still has faith. Just as the DVD sales for Firefly gave Serenity a life in the first place, the DVD sales for Serenity are expected to push it into profit.

"I think DVD will be a good home for it. I think its momentum will actually start now."