Joss Whedon interview: Avengers, Marvel, Titan A.E.
Joss Whedon chats to us about Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Jason Statham, what he's up to next, and more...
Joss Whedon: assembler of Avengers, slayer of vampires, houser of dolls, vlogger of Doctor Horrible, and now, um, ageist of Ultron. To be fair, Joss Whedon is geek royalty, and needs no introduction. So hopefully, he won’t mind that we gave him such a lousy one.
We got to chat with the man himself at the Avengers: Age Of Ultron press event, and here’s what happened…
From what we’ve heard about this one, it sounds like you had to trim down a lot in the editing room. Was there any particular favourite scene you wish you could have saved?
Well, there was more shirtless Thor. The DVD extras are going to be enormously popular. But no, for me, it’s really a couple of little exchanges that I thought would have helped the emotionality and the clarity of the thing. The flow of it, that’s all.
We cut out an hour. And we cut 45 minutes on the first one, and I don’t regret any of that. It’s an inevitability with these things, you do too much, because what you don’t want in the editing room is too little.
And is that where Loki ended up? Or was that only a rumour?
No, you’re right. It’ll be in the DVD extras. Being charming as always.
The feeling you get when you watch the first Avengers and then this one, is that you had a bit of a brainwave of how to bring Hawkeye into it in a bigger, more personal way. If you were staying for the next one, is there any character you wish you could spend more time with?
Yeah. Well, I feel like we learned what we needed from this – that’s not to say I wouldn’t revisit it – but it would have to be for a different reason. It’s was central to the theme of this film that we find out who he really is. And it was also some of the most fun, because those are the moments when it’s just the actors, and you’ve got it in the can. Rather than going ‘later on there will be a robot exploding and it’s going to be wonderful!’
You’ve said before that your interests go from comic books through to opera and other totally different art-forms. Will there be a big creative swerve from you next?
I’d love to swerve. I’d like to have a swerve. But I’m also staying open to the idea that, after all the soul searching and research and free time that’s supposed to be coming up, that I end up making another superhero film. I don’t want to cut off any possibility, but it would be nice to flex a different muscle I think.
We know you’re a fan of Crank 2. Could this be the opportunity for you to team up with Jason Statham? Is that the dream?
[Laughs] I actually saw Jason Statham in a store one time. And I was totally star-struck! I don’t normally get that. For some reason, he made me go ‘ooooh! Gosh!’
But he doesn’t call, he doesn’t write. We don’t ‘know’ each other.
It’s sad to hear that. From the press conference yesterday, it doesn’t sound like you’ve totally written-off the idea of doing more Marvel. Would you be more advisory again do you think?
We haven’t really discussed it – we finished the film like 36 seconds before people saw it. And now they’ve got another 36 seconds to finish Ant–Man. So, it hasn’t come up.
But, y’know, I love them and I love that world and my thesps, so it would certainly be hard to walk away completely. At the same time, part of me thinks that’s the only way I’ll get anything else done.
We mentioned a project from your past, Titan A.E. in an article recently, and it got lots of nice comments about how underrated it was. Is that how you feel about it, too? That it was ahead of its time maybe?
Nahhh, I think in some ways it was a bit behind its time. I enjoyed it, but there are some things that just could have been better. I felt like I got very invested in it, as I do whenever I do a script doctor job. It felt like some of the stuff played beautifully, but some of it was a little… Old school.
You’ve mentioned before that, when you met James Cameron and he wanted you to work on Avatar, it was a big deal to you and you gushed with questions. You must get that now, the other way around. What do young writers ask to you, and what do you say back?
I don’t actually ever talk to young writers. I don’t like them and I don’t want them around… No! Honestly, I’m doing this [gestures to Avengers pictures]. If someone asks me how to break into the business, I just break into a cold sweat. I’m terrible at questions like that.
I have friends, if they write scripts, I will look at them. It’s fun. My advice is often terrible. I’m not really aware of how the business works, and I didn’t study writing. So I have a few tips, but I’m not much of a mentor I’m sorry to say.
Before we run out of time: I was just wondering if the decision came from you not to have an end-of-credits sting? Do you think teasing upon teasing isn’t really necessary now that the whole phase is announced?
No, no, we just didn’t have anything we loved. We were like: ‘if we come up with something we love…’, but we were never going to replicate last time. I didn’t even intend to do that the first time, when I pitched it to Kevin it was a joke!
And then he said we could do it, and I said ‘what?’, ‘the shwarma!’, ‘I was kidding!’. So I give him full credit for that, and how important than scene was. We thought it would have to be something different now, and if we came up with something, that would be terrific. But then we thought maybe we should just make the scenes that come before the credits really good istead.
Did you see the fake Spider-Man one?
Wait, did someone actually make one?
Oh, I thought it was just a rumor, I didn’t know that was what they were doing. That someone actually made it.
It was someone cleaning a window, opposite Stark Tower, then Spidey climbs over and says ‘you missed a spot!’
Is it good?
It’s not ours though, nope!
Well, Joss Whedon, thank you very much.
We also joined Mr Whedon for a roundtable interview later in the day. Not all of these questions are ours, and thus we’ve taken some out, but we thought you’d probably like to hear the contents of the chit-chat, so here we go…
[Walking into the room, full of male journalists] Finally! No chicks! [mimes dealing out a deck of cards as he sits down] Ideal!
Have you recovered from making this movie? I read that you found it exhausting…
[Raspy voice] I’m fiiiine. No, I haven’t recovered because I think I still have a little filmmaking PTSD. And, so, sudden notes can really set me off! But I’m looking, I’ve got the end in sight. Some more press tomorrow then I’m officially unemployed.
Are you looking forward to that?
Uhhh, I may cry. In front of all of you. Thus ruining our guys’ night out.
You followed the first Avengers with Much Ado About Nothing, so are you planning to do something similar soon?
No, I’m really going to take a break!
What is the state of play with Bellwether [Whedon’s production studio, which put out Much Ado and Brin Hill’s In Your Eyes]?
Just, you know, it exists for a certain kind of project. So, I don’t know if that kind of project may come up soon or not. I don’t know if I’m going to be working on large scale or small scale, home movie scale… I’m still feeling my way around. Which I am excited to do.
You said in an interview that Age Of Ultron is ‘not perfect, but it’s baldly, nakedly, me’ so, what about it is not perfect?
I wish I could have used any phrase that didn’t involve the idea of me bald and naked. It’s just horrifying, sorry. But yeah, I think I spent so long fighting about this, that and the other in the cut, and the enormous struggles on post-production for a movie like this, that I sort of forgot.
But, you know, I live in these characters, and things I’ve done, I’ve been dying to put on screen – and I put them on screen. Things I never thought they would let you say in a summer blockbuster – I got to say. And, the last frame of the film is the last frame as written in the first draft of the script, and that’s something to remember to be grateful for.
All you’re ever writing is yourself. And I miss it every time. I mean, I literally, about three years after Buffy ended, I started working on an idea for a book, and in the middle of doing that I went ‘oh my God, I was Buffy! Ohhhh, Christ! Oh yeah, now I see…’
The thing I love about fantasy is that it allows everybody to identify with it, just one step removed. And somehow that one step of removal means I don’t notice that I’m writing an autobiography and have been by entire career.
Is it also because it’s your last take in this Marvel adventure, were you tempted to put an element of your trademark death into it?
Um, I felt it was disingenuous not to raise the stakes and show that there is a price.
A lot of this movie is about power and heroism, and true heroism has to be earned, has to be proved… There has to be a cost. But that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that someone has to die, it means that you have to feel that they’ve been put through the ringer. And, that there’s an emotional cost.
You don’t want them to feel too safe, perfect and happy, even if they have their own movie coming out a year later. So you really want there to be emotional stakes. I also think, I wanted a feeling of loss, but I wanted that to be like ‘what we lost was this group, that it couldn’t sustain and it would have to change.’ The first movie is about putting them together, the second movie is about tearing them apart.
You know, in that sense, when I’m talking about The Godfather: Part II, I’m always like ‘please understand, I know that movie’s better, I’m not comparing them’. I’m saying that, as an inspiration, it took an origin story and then in the second film it got very strange and it had this split time frame and it told this very tragic tale of loss of the soul. Even Empire Strikes Back, it’s like ‘wait a minute… things are not awesome.’
And that’s what you want to chase, I knew this was it for me, so I do think that I had to say farewell, so there’s a poignancy that, if what you’re doing in life isn’t reflected in the work in some way, you don’t hit the same level of emotionality.
In general, it feels like the Marvel films recently have been getting darker. Was that a bigger plan? How much do you have to deal with bigger plans when you do a Marvel story?
You know, every movie’s got to have its own energy. When Cap 2 came out there was definitely of ‘are they going to want us to lean into the grittier shoot-‘em-up now, because that’s a very different feeling?’ and then Guardians came out: ‘now they’re going to want us to be a lot goofier, we might need to have an animal sidekick.’
But, y’know, the thing that I loved about the comics was that every comic had its own mood, and its own genre. And the movies are the same way. They approach it film by film, there is no mandate. It’s not like Harry Potter, where it’s like ‘the people are growing up at this level, the books are growing with them.’
Here, every movie is a new opportunity, because they know as much as the audience grows up, new people are coming in, which isn’t something the comic book industry has always been able to say. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t make something very intense, but that would be more of a niche thing.
What would your advice be to the Russo brothers, going from the really gritty one to the big bombastic aliens one?
I think they came from Arrested Development, they are very versatile, that’s the thing you need to be. Honestly, my only advice to them is ‘start training. Get a trainer, and start eating protein.’ [Everyone laughs] I’m deadly serious.
Because the physical toll of making these things is phenomenal. And it’s going to be twice the price.
Is it because you work so many hours?
Yeah. I don’t know about them, but they won’t be going home and rewriting it every night like I was. And there’s two of them. But I don’t sleep! So, I’m very careful of staying away from the doughnuts. I don’t need to be hyper for 20 minutes and then be sleepy, I can’t afford that, ever.
Did you have the opportunity or the will to give them some tips?
No, you know what? They came in, they did their thing, I saw their thing, I loved their thing – I was like ‘you guys are good!’. The first time I met them, I had already seen the film, and I thought they did a bang-up job, and that’s it. I worked on all of the movies, at some level, but I worked on Cap before they were on it.
James [Gunn] came in, and we went over Guardians, notes and stuff like that. But I already knew James knew what he was doing, that’s why I championed him in the first place. So, I’m not Joe Wisdom – every now and then I would talk to someone about Marvel’s process, which is something you have to get through, every studio has a different process. I’m not like, Old Man Filmmaker: [crotchety deep south voice] ‘you know what, son? What you need is a wide show, so you can see all the people!’
Is the physical toll the reason you said this is your last Marvel film for a while? Are you a bit bored by the Avengers now?
Not bored. Never bored. But I do think there would be diminishing returns. It was very important to me that this film feel like a film and not the next episode, and I hear people say ‘well this movie is just setting up the next movie’ and I die inside. [Quiet baby voice] ‘It’s not… It’s its own movie… go away,’ [righteous Cap-like voice] ‘brilliantly argued, yes!’
But, I mean, the physical toll is enormous and I’d like to see my children again, instead of not. Um, but, I’m a filmmaker, that’s just going to happen. You have to be all-in when you make a film.
Something where the ensemble grows and grows, I think every one and their mother will be in Infinity War. It’s two movies… And when they said ‘we’re going to split it into two movies,’ I was like ‘oh that’s brilliant, and I think I just made the decision I was aiming towards.’ That helped me. There’s no way!
In this film, we get some insight in the past of Black Widow. How do you explain the fact that there hasn’t been a Black Widow movie yet? Everyone has been talking about it for years, Scarlett has said she wants to do it, why is it not there yet?
You know, that has a lot to do with the part of Marvel that I’m not a part of – how they decide their slate. I do know that Kevin fought to get Black Panther and Captain Marvel on the slate, and it took a while.
Who’s he fighting with?
Money guys… You know?
And why are the money guys not prepared to do it, in your opinion?
The only thing that speaks to money guys is money, and now in the era of Lucy and Jennifer Lawrence, I think people are going ‘well, I think, okay, maybe this will make money.’ That’s really the language.
And also in the comic book industry, people always say ‘it’s for the boys,’ well – no it’s not! One of the great things about Marvel when I was reading it as a kid, and it’s something I’ve never really said, but when people ask me ‘oh, strong women characters?’ – it’s like, a lot of them, they were in the comic books!
Fuckin’ Phoenix, and Storm? Who are clearly the strongest people on their teams.
Do you think it says a lot about Hollywood then? Is Hollywood sexist?
What! Good lord! You sound insane, or like a woman! [All laugh]. Yeah, Hollywood’s incredibly fucking sexist. And I’m sure the auto industry isn’t a bastion of feminism… But everyone sees what Hollywood makes, rather more clearly, because North Korea didn’t hack Chevrolet. But yeah, everyone’s moving slowly in the right direction, but it takes time.
How difficult is it to be subversive and to try to change things in an industry that is so focussed on commercial success?
Well, you know, for me, some people are radical. And I’m one of those people who works within the system, and I don’t think Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a particularly radical idea, but I did have in mind making a change. And that change was, a women heading an action based show, and a genre show, heading it as not the heroine, but the hero.
And, I wasn’t the only person doing it. There was Xena, and other things before that. But I got to be part of that wave that crested and did change things. And you just make people comfortable with it. You make people realise that they didn’t even know they were watching something different.
At what point did you decide not to stick Captain Marvel into this one? I saw that it was maybe on the cards…
I never decided not to. Um, they haven’t cast Captain Marvel! I said, the one thing at the end would be if we saw, because we keep referring to this wider universe, and we meet these two people with new powers, and all the new characters were saying ‘we’ve never done this before, in the Marvel cinematic universe’ – the game is changing and the old guys are the dinosaurs.
Which is great, because I love westerns. It’s the old guy that matters. They don’t make a lot of movies where the old guy matters any more. So, I said it would be fun when we see a bunch of new people, if we see someone that we just don’t explain. They’re just there and we say ‘look, we’ve reached into the future of Marvel! We’ve reached other studios, and we’ve done all that stuff’ and then they’re like ‘we’ve got a Captain Marvel movie coming out, and we’ve got Spider-Man,’ but I’m like ‘my film is locked – you have failed me!’
I just thought it would be an extra kick, at the end of the day, but the scene still says what I want it to say.
[We did have to remove some interesting questions redacted in the interests of spoiler protection]
Joss Whedon, thank you very much, again!