Joss Whedon has a couple of movies coming out in the next month or two … first up, his sci-fi thriller Cabin in the Woods … then, a smaller indie film you may have heard of … The Avengers? Well, to promote these films, Whedon sat down with British GQ magazine for a little interview, excerpts of which you can read below.
“Soon, I will be ‘King of all Hollywoodland'” declares Joss Whedon ceremoniously, his mock regal tone punctuated by short sips of hot tea. While the 47-year-old, New York-born director is being sarcastic, the claim has some truth to it: Whedon has just finished directing [The Avengers], the Marvel superhero mash-up destined to be this summer’s biggest blockbuster. Naturally the comic book community are furiously speculating on the plot details but Whedon remains understandably tight-lipped. “The following Avengers die…” he says with a smile. “Wait a second, you almost got me!” Keen to return to matters that can be discussed more openly, Whedon moves the discussion to Cabin In The Woods, Drew Goddard’s brilliantly unpredictable horror that the pair made in 2009. “It’s like a Christmas present from three years ago you forgot to unwrap,” he grins. To mark the film’s release, we sat down with Whedon at London’s Covent Garden Hotel to discuss the rise of torture porn, tussling with the Hulk and whether superhero films can ever be too big…
GQ.com: You’ve called Cabin In The Woods a “loving hate letter” to horror films. What tropes particularly annoy you?
Joss Whedon: Drew and I are enormous horror fans but we both lamented the trend in torture porn and dumbing down with characters falling more and more into stereotypes. Take the ad campaign for a movie called Captivity, where the billboard showed basically kidnap, torture and execution, in that order. That encapsulated the way I felt horror movies were going: they were becoming this extremely nihilistic and misogynist exercise in just trying to upset you, as opposed to trying to scare you. The classics that Drew and I went back to – the [John] Carpenters, the Nightmares -it seemed they had a different intent: it was not strictly about shock value.
Are there any unfinished projects that you are hoping to revive post-Avengers?
I do have screenplays I’ve written that never saw the light of day but I don’t usually go back to them. When I’ve told a story, I want to tell another story. Some people might have a hearty laugh about that because I’ve taken Buffy from movie to TV to comic and Serenity from TV to movie to comic. I don’t mind being in the same world, I just don’t like telling the same story. I have spent a bit of time thinking about if Avengers does well and I can do anything I want for a short period of time [laughs]. What would be the next big thing? There are two things that I cannot resist: one is musicals and the other is a spaceship in trouble. But I am smart enough not to combine the two things…
2012 is the year of the musical: Les Miserables, Smash, Rock Of Ages. Given that you have directed episodes on Glee, would you like to capitalise on it and do your own?
The musicals that I love on stage are generally meant for the stage. I’m not a Les Mis fan. I have a lot of friends who just want to beat me with sticks when I tell them that but what I’m interested in are new musicals, real book musicals – not jukebox musicals. When they first told me about Smash a couple of years ago they told me they were writing something original, so if that’s the case then I would be interested. But I’m so much more interested in the genuine backstage. That’s the great thing about The West Wing: you really felt like you were in the thick of it.
You once bid for the Terminator franchise. If you were to buy Bond, what would you do with Skyfall?
Honestly, there was a time when I thought of little else. When I was at MGM, before they’d [announced] any one to direct it, it was hard not to think “What would I do? Could I have Daniel Craig and a ton of money, please?” Most Bond films are by their very nature disappointing but there’s something quite charming about them that I do enjoy. I think I could do something great with the Alien franchise but I’m probably not going to try again. All those things – like Star Wars – that I love, it’s always tempting to imagine dipping your toe in them. But no matter how much you think it would be fun to get into something that has already been established, you’re going to have to deal with all the restrictions and enormous numbers of executive producers.
We read that you fought with the Hulk on the set of [The Avengers].
It’s fun to say that Mark Ruffalo and I fought a great deal, because he’s the sweetest man that I may ever have met. Yes, we did actually lay out some mats and tussle but just trying to figure out what the Hulk would be doing, what a person does in a real fight. Once he gets angry you have to keep asking “well what’s making him angry now…” and go moment-to-moment. That’s been the hardest thing in this movie. Mark is tremendous, I think he’s going to blow people away – again – and we’ve gone where nobody has. We’ve got the Hulk in the house and everything pisses him off.
You’ve also done a film version of Much Ado About Nothing. Did you talk Shakespeare with Thor director Kenneth Branagh?
We have not discussed Shakespeare – I’ve spoken to Ken but mostly on the phone. He called me when I was doing Cabin In The Woods to ask about Chris Hemsworth, and then I called him when he was doing Thor to ask about Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston for Avengers. He’s great, he was really helpful and smart and fun. But would I invite him to a Shakespeare reading? No – even if I could I think he’d consider it something of a busman’s holiday. Most of my friends are people who love to do it but don’t get to very often. If I could get Mark Rylance to the house I would. Looking grim there, unfortunately.
Given that horror films are getting gorier and superhero films are getting bigger: how worried were you about making Avengers too big?
The trick is always “is it earned?” Does the sound and fury signify anything? With this film it was always a question of if the audience was going to go through this, making sure the Avengers went through it as well: really testing them, not just watching them punch people for two hours. It is big because it is by necessity big – it’s not spectacle for its own sake and I’m not good at that. They wouldn’t hire me for that, they’d get another guy. They’d get somebody whose specialty was carnage. It’s partly the reason that Drew was the right person for Cabin: he will wade in gore with the glee of a 12-year-old. Whereas I will wade in Glee… [laughs]. I don’t think people will watch Avengers and say “Oh, it’s entered into the baroque stage and it’s too much” I believe in the story and the people that I work. I’m just excited for everybody to see all the fun I’ve had.
Thank the gods for Joss Whedon. He has a sensibility that really speaks to a great many people … people who love to be entertained in an intelligent and significant way. Far too many people just churn shitty movies (*cough* Michael Bay *cough*) by doing the minimal amount of work (i.e. relying on over the top FX and not really devoting any time at all to thoughtful storytelling) and audiences eat that stuff up. But there are a lot of people, me included, to prefer to be challenged mentally. Joss is one of those challenging, visionary storytellers. We are so lucky to have him. I am so pleased that he is getting bigger jobs like this because he finally gets the chance to show the world how you can marry blockbuster entertainment and intelligence … hmmm, imagine that. I love reading his interviews. I and I know I’m gonna love watching his films :)