Joss Whedon is reactivated. It’s been three years since the harsh realities of running what was ostensibly his dream job as a lifelong comic nerd—shepherding Marvel’s Hollywood takeover—forced him into self-imposed exile. Despite a successful box office haul, Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron left him exhausted and dejected. Combined with a largely negative critical reception, he deleted his Twitter and receded into the darkness.
But now Whedon’s narrative mirrors that of his own storied protagonists. Like Angel, Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he’s facing his call to action after hiding out, at a time when the fate of the country is up in the air, naturally. No, he hasn’t returned to reassert himself on the throne during this era of Peak TV, nor is he back with an original film (more on that later, though). Instead, he’s leveraging his Hollywood clout to unite a few A-lister superheroes once again. The common enemy: Donald Trump.
Whedon made a splash when he reappeared with SaveTheDay, a Super PAC boasting everyone from upper echelon celebs like Robert Downey Jr., Leslie Odom Jr. to vets like Rosie Perez and even Whedon-troupe member Tom Lenk. Since then he’s launched a slew of follow-up videos with the likes of Jesse Williams and Keegan Michael Key, all with the same goal: putting premium Tinseltown might against Trump’s unprecedented momentum, in funny, meta ways that subvert the typical celebrity vote appeals. So typical Whedon.
We sat down with Whedon to talk about SaveTheDay, his political efforts, and the question every nerd is dying to know: will a return to fiction follow on the heels of this return to the spotlight? Much like SaveTheDay, his answer implies hope isn’t lost just yet.
You’ve kept like a pretty low profile for a couple of years. What made you get back out there, and do it with SaveTheDay?
I was inspired by terror, and by a certain amount of outrage, and also a certain amount of inspiration because I’ve been a Hillary supporter for a long time and I know that is not actually a popular position, but I generally think that she is a good egg and a good politician. I just thought, I don’t have a job, so I can make this my job.
One of your most famous quotes is, “The world is largely awful, and we’ll probably destroy it ourselves."
That's for my children. [Laughs.]
When you put that quote into the context of today, are you feeling optimistic, or do you feel like this is our last shot before we are head to a Dollhouse-type dystopian future?
I don’t think it will be nearly as clean as Dollhouse. We are at an absolute tipping point, just in terms of climate change, and if Trump gets the White House—that’s it. We won’t be able to bounce back from that—there won't be problems because there won't even be a planet. But the idea that if we can actually deal with that problem is kind of a beautiful thing. The fun thing about working on something like SaveTheDay is that it's inspiring. I've become less cynical, which is appalling but kind of cool.
This liberated feeling you seem to have right now, has it led to you writing any more fiction?
I'm in the middle of a screenplay that I am extremely passionate about, and I am going to be extremely passionate about it again on November 9. It’s definitely a departure from the things that I’m known for. It's as dark as anything I've ever written.
Yeah, because I just said, "OK, id, your turn." I would write scenes and be like, "Oh this is great! I shouldn’t be allowed near people." It’s a historical fiction slash horror movie about a time when the world was going insane, World War II. I got to tell you: I was in Germany and Poland doing research for this movie and I was seeing so many parallels [to the U.S.]. And I know it's a shopworn thing to compare the orange guy to the little guy with the mustache, but you see things, indelible things in terms of propaganda, the state of the country, and the parallels are eerie as fuck.
Would you ever consider returning to TV?
Oh yeah, oh yeah!
What do you think about the current state of TV?
I feel like they’ve perfected it. I’m like, "Wait guys wait, wait for me!" I really want to make this film, but I miss television. It’s like writing a novel—you get to keep digging into these characters, it’s a real drug.
What are you watching right now?
My mind goes blank, but my biggest addictions have been Peaky Blinders, The Great British Bake-Off, and Unreal.
Unreal got some pretty serious backlash for its second season. When you see that sort of thing are you like, "Oh, maybe I don't miss writing for TV after all."
Well yeah, but there is always backlash. Everything gets backlash. I thought the second season was tight. There were a few things that I was like, “Hmm,” but there are for every season. They did a beautiful job, and it was an ambitious second season. But there is always a backlash. Ultron was a difficult experience for me because it wasn’t so much of a backlash—it did really well—but it didn’t strike the same nerve in this country. More importantly, it fell out of the conversation very quickly. People just thought, "Oh look did you see the prequel to Civil War? Yes, it’s pretty good." That broke me.
Obviously superhero culture has only grown since then. What are your opinions on the movies that have come out this year? Marvel seems to be killing DC.
I did not see Suicide Squad. I saw Batman vs. Superman. Everybody’s got their own method. I think Marvel has been more successful systematically. DC has been more cinematic—their stuff looks amazing—but I feel like Kevin [Feige, President of Marvel Studios] is a really good storyteller. He really cares about coherence, and I feel like style never defeats substance at Marvel, but a little style creeps in. Ant-Man had some, Doctor Strange might be funky, and they are doing very fun things on TV. The Marvel-Netflix thing is working really well. DC’s decision to have their shows on TV with different actors playing the same characters at the same time as their movies, is a little interesting.
My daughter is pissed: "That's not the Flash! The Flash is this guy! But we watch the Flash and Supergirl every week.
How does it feel to see a Wonder Woman movie finally being made?
I want it to be good. The trailer was just wonderful. I’ll probably be disappointed, me more than anybody else, because I’ll be like, "Wow, my version..." or whatever, but I can still get myself up for it. The trailer had her shield and her fire hammer and yep, I’m good, this will be fine, everything is good. Such an image.
So what's in your future, after Nov. 9 and the World War II script? Would you get into another franchise?
I mean, it’s a fun thing to do, to put yourself in the service of something if you think you can add an interpretation. It’s no different than any other storytelling. There are some times when you get micro-managed to death but with Marvel, they let me make two movies that were very much mine. So do I want to make James Bond movie? Yeah. Anne Hathaway does Catwoman again? Sure, I’m in. Do I want to make a Star Wars movie? Yeah. I was like, "I don't want to make a Star Wars movie. Like, god dammit, why?" But I saw the trailer for Rogue awhile ago and I was like, "I want to do that." To make a Star Wars movie and not be wed to the bigger picture.
Lastly, because I've seen a lot of people arguing about this online: Buffy/Spike or Buffy/Angel?
I’m a Buffy/Spike shipper. I always felt like he was a more evolved person, but that’s like saying Juliet’s going to be so happy with Benvolio and everyone will love it. Buffy/Angel is for the ages; Buffy/Spike is maybe for me. Actually, I’m a Spike/Angel shipper. Completely re-write the equation.