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Joss Whedon - About Buffy, Alien & Firefly - Shebytches.com Interview

mercredi 24 mai 2006, par Webmaster

Interview with Joss Whedon by SF Said

Credit where it’s due. There would be no Joss Whedon interview here without Pixie, the amazing Shebytches columnist. In fact, I would know nothing about Whedon at all if she hadn’t made me watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I’d been aware that the show existed, and that a lot of women I knew loved it, but I’d never really given it a chance. Until I actually watched some - and then I couldn’t get enough.

Same with Firefly, Whedon’s science-fiction western series, and now with Serenity, the brilliant feature film based on that series, which is about to take the world by storm. I saw it at the Edinburgh Film Festival in August, and then saw it a second time, because I couldn’t get enough of it either. Like Buffy, it delivers non-stop action, laughs & thrills - but it’s also got characters who are complex, substantial, believable. The women and the men alike. And how rare is that ?

I think that’s central to why I am now consumed by the Whedonverse. There’s a sophistication to his take on gender that I find incredibly refreshing. I’d discussed this a lot with Pixie, and we both wanted to know more about where it came from. So when I sat down to interview Whedon, that was where I wanted to start. And it turns out he’s got lots to say about his love for shebytches...

Q : Is it surprising to you that so many women love your stuff ?

A : No. Everybody knows there is a little girl inside of Joss. I literally grew up wishing that I were a woman. That doesn’t necessarily give me any great insight into women - in fact, many women I know have gone, "You’re an idiot for wishing that !" But I’ve always felt a great affinity for women on various levels. In particular, I think, a level of sensibility, in that I was raised by a very strong, smart, delightful, extraordinary woman.

Q : Was she a single mum ?

A : No. My father and my step-mother, they lived in Los Angeles ; I lived with my mother and my step-father in New York. And my step-father and my father are both very dear to me, but my mother was - it was a matriarchal household, and she was a very powerful person. She was a teacher, and affected a lot of her students enormously. And I had older brothers who were kind of merciless - charming, but merciless - and I was very afraid of my father, who is an incredibly dear man, but was not necessarily great with kids. And I was also very tiny, and was very often mistaken for a girl.

Q : I was too ! People always thought I was a girl when I was a kid !

A : Well, I had lovely long red hair - less and less of which I have every day - and delicate features. I was quite cute ! Something went horribly wrong somewhere, but that’s OK. But there was a sense of oppression, of not being taken seriously, of physical fear ; there were certain things that I had in common - I was very close to my step-sister as well, she was the best friend I had in my family growing up. Plus, I’m super-gay, something my wife has come to accept and even enjoy. It’s just something that has always been a part of me. And so I have, I think, a kind of a feminine sensibility.

Again, I would not take bragging rights to understanding the female experience, and there were often times in Buffy when I would say to [writer/producer] Marti Noxon, "OK, what did you go through ? What would this be like ?" I’m pretty good at getting into the heads of people that I’m not, I think that’s probably the one talent I really have, but there’d be times when I’d be, "OK, this is foreign territory to me, I am a fella." So anyway, short answer : no, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s more than anything else who I’m writing for - or as ; I’m writing in drag.

Q : I’m interested in ideas of masculinity and femininity in your stuff. Partly because I don’t recognise myself in notions of manhood that are current in our society ; and I don’t particularly recognise myself in notions of womanhood, either.

A : Yes, I’m also a hideous hermaphrodite like yourself. Oh, the shame ! No - nothing against hermaphrodites. But it is difficult, and these are roles that are constantly redefining themselves and re-entrenching. And you do come to a realisation, as you get older, that men and women actually do have not just cultural but biological differences, and that some of those clichés about how different they are, are actually true. And while I spend my entire career trying to subvert our notions of masculinity and femininity, I also have to have some grounding in the fact that some of them are based in reality - but some of them are also based in sociology, and those are the ones that have to be done away with, because they are nonsense. There is so much misogyny that is just unspoken or even unknown, among the most civilised.

Even on the drive up here, the driver was telling us about the history of the place, and he says, "In this square, this is where people were hanged, and the women were burned at the stake - they would burn a woman at the stake in the Sixteenth Century just for saying no to a man - wouldn’t it be great if we could do that today ?" And instead of just thinking it, I said, "Actually, no, it wouldn’t, and it’s a little bit creepy that you just said that."

So I think a great deal of work has to be done until there is enough equality that we can actually start to define our roles as either men or women, without the baggage of either oppression or misogyny, confusion or enforced masculinity. Gender, like sexuality, is kind of a spectrum ; I think all of sexuality is a spectrum, and to say that there’s the one thing and the other is to over-simplify. I do not think we will in our lifetimes get to a place where we can say, "OK, we’ve weeded out cultural prejudices, now let’s talk biology, what’s male and what’s female, where do they meet and how do we get them together ?"

Q : Was it part of the idea with Buffy to invert that ? I read somewhere that you were sick of seeing the blonde girl getting killed in horror movies -

A : It was very specific, I was tired of seeing that. I want the disenfranchised to have a voice. And people choose particular areas of that ; for me it’s been women. I had a girlfriend in college, and she was very smart, and I remember when Orson Welles died and I was terribly sad, and terribly drunk, and I said, "This man had so much to say and society conspired to keep him from saying it for so long." And she said, "Yeah, it’s interesting that you feel that way about him - I feel that about the entire history of my entire gender !" And I was just like, "Well put." And Buffy was very much an attempt to create an icon - to do it subtly, I didn’t expect people to catch wind of what I was doing, I expected her to become an underground icon - but in fact she lived above ground, and could eat roots and berries...

Q : So you were trying to create an icon ?

A : Yes. It was supposed to be something that, you know, little girls would play with Barbie dolls that had Kung-Fu grip. It was supposed to subvert our notions of what a hero is, very specifically. At the same time, it was supposed to do it in a fun disarming fashion. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t trying to make Buffy The Lesbian Separatist, because I didn’t think anyone would show up.

Q : How about the way you use metaphor ? Firefly doesn’t have monsters and demons, but even when you did in Buffy, they always seemed like ways of talking about emotional realities.

A : When I was writing Alien : Resurrection, I began to understand, on a level that I hadn’t before, what I was trying to do. Before it was even metaphor, it was simply, "What experience are these people going through that people can relate to ? What is the thing that’s going to make people say, ‘I am Ripley,’ not just, ‘There’s Ripley’ ?" And I was particularly dealing with this because she was coming back from the dead, and people had to accept that. So I realised, "I have to make it difficult for Ripley to have come back from the dead, because it’s going to be difficult for the audience to accept it - but if it’s difficult for her to accept it too, they will identify with her, that will be the in." And then that got me to a bigger place of, "Well, what is she going through ? What does she feel about herself ? Does she really feel human ? She’s partially alien, what’s going on with that ? And she’s dealing with this robot..."

And the moment in the movie - and I loathe the movie, and have said so publicly many times, often when I shouldn’t - but I look at it now, and I see the germ of everything I’ve tried to do in my career. It’s the moment when Winona Ryder, who is such a porcelain beauty, looks at herself and says, "Look at me, I’m disgusting." And that’s when I said, "OK, now I understand what I’m doing with my writing."

Buffy came right after that. They said, "Do you want to do a show ?" And I thought, "High school as a horror movie." And it really was. And so the metaphor that I had begun to strike at in Alien : Resurrection became the central concept behind Buffy, and that’s how I sold it, and that’s what they bought, and they got it, and they let me do it - and after that, everything was about it.

And then we came to Firefly, and Serenity, where I took away the metaphorical aspect - but science-fiction always opens you up to every element of history that you want, because the future is just the past in a blender. And so rather than a straight-on metaphor, it was more an idea of, "I can take anything from the human experience that I’ve read about or felt or seen - like, what is it like after a war ? And it doesn’t matter which war or which country - what is it like for the people who lost ?"

It’s always about people. The idea behind the show was to take nine people and say, "Nine people look out into the blackness of space and see nine different things." That is the show. With the movie, obviously, you can’t just say something that vague ; I had to make the movie more specific. It’s about freedom and about how much you can take, and how much you can control people, even for their own good, before you lose them.

Q : What can you tell us about Wonder Woman, the film you’re making next ?

A : I’ve just started writing it, so there’s not much I can say. It was a bit of a surprise to me, because I’ve never been a fan of the show or the comic book, but the character, she’s the kind of character who doesn’t take no for an answer - not even from me.

Q : She’s another young female superhero - like Buffy ; like River Tam in Serenity.

A : Exactly - she’s sort of the icon that existed before I came around, so it’s an honour to be working with her.

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