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Joss Whedon - Stanforddaily.com

By Anthony Ha

Monday 19 May 2003, by Webmaster

Joss Whedon is the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff "Angel." "Buffy" has attracted a cult following - it’s a funny, scary and moving show that tells the story of Buffy Summers, the "Chosen One" and her battles against a wide range of supernatural evils. At its heart, "Buffy" used horror as a metaphor for the pains of growing up. Whedon wrote and directed many of "Buffy"’s finest episodes, including the almost entirely silent "Hush," the musical "Once More With Feeling" and the series finale, "Chosen," which airs this Tuesday at 8 p.m. I spoke with Whedon earlier this week about the finale, "Buffy"’s legacy and his plans for the future

INTERMISSION: Is the "Buffy" finale pretty much completed?

JOSS WHEDON: Yeah, we’ve edited it and are putting the finals touches in now.

INT: What are your plans for the immediate future?

JW: Coma, followed by some sleeping. Obviously, "Angel" is coming back next year, so I’m going to be working on that. Maybe develop a film, maybe develop the next project.

INT: What would you like "Buffy" to be remembered for?

JW: Well, the main thing is just the one - the strong female heroine, who hopefully empowered a lot of people.

INT: I read an interview with "Angel" co-creator David Greenwalt saying that the "Buffy" finale will compare to "The Lord of the Rings" in its scale and epicness - was he exaggerating?

JW: Actually, I think he meant the excellent animated movie from the 1970s. I mean, the finale is similar in its ambition, and there is a big-ass battle, but we obviously had a much smaller budget.

INT: What was writing and shooting the finale like for you?

JW: Well, it was hard to write, because it’s the last one ever, so the pressure is a little bit large. It was hard to shoot, because, again, it was kinda like "The Lord of the Rings" without the budget.

INT: How much were the plot and content of these last few episodes affected by the knowledge that you were so close to the end?

JW: Um, very much. We knew from the beginning of this season that it was going to be the last season of "Buffy," and we’ve been gearing towards this one episode for the whole year. It caps off the whole show and it says a lot of things that I wanted to deal with.

INT: In the recent episode "Empty Places," the Scoobies [Buffy’s friends] and the Slayers-in-Training basically rebelled and kicked Buffy out of her home. Do you think they made the right decision?

JW: That’s an interesting question. You know, it’s not one that we really ever answered, because things just kind of take their own course. The fact of the matter is, I’d say yes, Buffy needed the time off. She needed a reality check. But at the same time it also allows her to be the kind of hero she hasn’t been in a while.

INT: What do you think of season seven as a whole? Has it differed from what you originally planned?

JW: No. Again, we had a very specific mandate about where we were going. There were a couple of episodes which we spent just advancing the arc, which made me sad, because I like every episode to be more completely contained. I think it was really exciting to see the quality of the last few scripts, because the writing staff knew that these would be the last few episodes, so they just worked overtime to do their absolute best work.

INT: Some fans have complained that the show’s core characters have become less likeable in recent seasons. Do you agree?

JW: I think it’s probably just taste in some respect, because when you have characters over several years, you want to avoid the "MASH" syndrome of everybody being so likeable. A lot of times, the most interesting drama comes from when there are two people with totally valid perspectives who can’t agree . . . I think things have gotten tougher over the last few years, but we want to challenge the characters so that we can examine what’s so important about them.

INT: What has surprised you the most about the show and its reception?

JW: Well, the reception, mainly. That’s what I never expected - to get critical acclaim. I expected to make good TV and fly under the radar. It’s been a huge surprise and a delight, although it increased pressure a lot. I would say I never understood the depths and breadth to which this show would take me as a writer and director and creator. I thought this show would be a good vehicle as a story, but art is the thing that becomes larger than the person who makes it - that’s what happened with "Buffy."

I’m a better writer now, and I understand people better because of what "Buffy" has taught me. I also attribute that to the actors, they were so talented and could go anywhere that we wanted, anywhere that we could find in ourselves, things that we never dreamt of. Sure, we didn’t do everything right, but I’ve learned more about life and art from "Buffy" than I will from anything else.

INT: How do you feel when an episode gets fans really mad, i.e. killing Tara [whose romance with Willow was one of the most sympathetic portrayals of a homosexual relationship on television] in the episode "Seeing Red"?

JW: Obviously, I’m not out there to make people angry. But if they feel passionately about the show, they’re going to be angry every once in a while. If they don’t ever get angry, then I get worried. About Tara’s death, it was and is very controversial, but I stand by it. I do understand a little better now about why people were so upset, and I regret that it hurt some people the way that it did.

INT: You’ve said before that you give audiences what they need and not what they want. What do you mean by that?

JW: What I mean, and I got a little shit for saying that after Tara’s death - fans thought it was demeaning, but it’s not; I am a fan, I watch the show every week to see what will happen - but the fact of the matter is, no one wants to see Romeo and Juliet die happily married. Everybody feels terrible for them, wishes they could get away, but if they did, people wouldn’t remember the damn play as much . . . I think that people need two kinds of fulfillment - one in which you give and one in which you hold back.

Part of fulfillment is need, is longing, is being unfulfilled, that’s the nature of tragedy and a lot of drama. Very often, what the fans want, they get. But very often, what they want, they can’t quite have, because we want them to feel the way our characters felt, we want them to feel how Willow felt after Tara died. Some people will never forgive me for making that statement, but I’m not saying I know better, I’m saying that the narrative exists beyond me.