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Joss Whedon on Human Trafficking and His New Show, Dollhouse

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Buffy and Firefly creator Joss Whedon addresses the controversy behind his new series, Dollhouse, and fans’ demands for a Dr. Horrible sequel.

Q: Where did the inspiration for Dollhouse come from?

A: It came from me and Eliza [Dushku], and talking about how versatile she is and realizing that somebody ought to prove it. We talked about what she should play and what people expect of her, and that came together with some other stuff that I’d been thinking about. It became Dollhouse, as legend has it, while I was in the bathroom — which, sadly, is true.

Q: The show is also an opportunity for you to prove your versatility, essentially writing in a different genre for every episode.

A: It’s both the blessing and the curse of the thing — it keeps us from getting bored, but it isn’t like we can fall back on a formula. Every week we have to figure out how to write a whole new thing and make it still matter. It sounded simple and great, and then I got there with my staff, we all looked at each other, and we realized that I’m an idiot.

Q: Which genres have you had the most trouble with?

A: Part of why the show got shut down for a bit was that we were varying things too much. When we wrote a romantic comedy, Fox pretty much said, “You don’t have license to do that. You have license to do a thriller structure within which romantic comedy might take place.”

Q: The drama behind the production has fans convinced you’re not going to get a fair shake.

A: I’m not worried about getting a fair shake. I’m really just thinking, “Did we find it soon enough — are the first episodes more than the sum of their parts? Did we engage enough? Did we keep it going?” I think the first episodes are compelling. I also think we find our voice much more strongly in the second half, so hopefully people will go there with us.

Q: You’re a feminist. How does a show about women being subjugated fit in with that?

A: It’s terrifying. There’s no way you can avoid the idea that this feels like high-end human trafficking. But what I’m interested in is the idea of a woman who has no identity, who is gradually becoming self-aware and saying, “I think I know more than they want me to.” It hurts me and intrigues me.

Q: Tonally, this show is darker than most of your other work.

A: It is a little darker. There are places in the show where I don’t know which way is up. I’m like, “That’s either very beautiful or completely offensive.” There’s an episode called “Man on the Street,” which has a framing device of people on the street saying what they think of Dollhouse or whether it was evil. I could be all of them.

Q: There’s also an upcoming episode about a crazed fanboy. Are you trying to say something?

A: It’s about Echo [Dushku] being the backup singer for this pop star, and there is a crazed fan who is stalking her — and occasionally setting people on fire.

Q: Which I’m sure you yourself have experienced.

A: [Laughs] Not only is it not a representation of any of the fans I’ve ever known, but the episode is also not really about that. There are interesting things to say about fandom, the unreality of it, and that’s definitely in there. But I think my poor fans think I’m picking on them more often than I actually am.

Q: Is that as close as we’ll get to a Dollhouse musical?

A: That’s it. The fact of the matter is, Buffy lends itself to that kind of genre in a way that none of my other shows have. I will say that if I was going to hire a human being to be the perfect person, she better be singing with me and there better be an orchestra that suddenly plays out of nowhere.

Q: You’d have to hire the orchestra, too.

A: Don’t get me wrong — it’s complicated. But in the fantasy I’m a billionaire, so shut up.

Q: We’re all dying for a Dr. Horrible sequel.

A: And we’re striving for it. We have a lot of ideas, and one of them is good, so we just need to figure out how, when — all that good stuff. We’ve thought about lengthening it; we’ve thought about movies; we’ve thought about Broadway. The fact of the matter is, all we know is that we don’t want to do exactly the same thing. Part of the fun of Dr. Horrible was the unexpectedness of its structure. Even if we fell on something more traditional, we just want to do something different.

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