After a shaky start last season, Dollhouse, the latest offering from cult leader/TV show creator guy Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), came into its own and actually became pretty awesome. A bonus episode on the DVD set took us into the far future of the programmable-people world of the Dollhouse, and added yet another layer of mystery, as well as more anticipation for the second season. We sat in on a conference call with Joss himself to find out what's in store for his regulars, whether Firefly or Battlestar Galactica is winning the guest-star war, and how the Attic is like an episode of Small Wonder.
How will Echo, and the many other characters she is flashing to, come in to her own this season?
Whedon: Basically, through force of will. She did have all those personalities dumped into her at once, and as we pick up, we're going to find out that that's starting to affect her. Rather than be at sea in between engagements, she's much more directed and driven, and even in her doll state is growing, and learning and starting to try to access these personalities to see what they can help her with, because she has a mission that she understands now, which is to get back to her personality and get everybody back to theirs.
Can you tell us about the relationships that are coming up this season? What's it going to be like with Echo and Paul, and even among the dolls?
Whedon: Victor and Sierra just can't keep their hands off each other; they're like monkeys, and it's something that they're going to be seeing through for a while. It makes some people very uncomfortable, and sometimes it's extremely sweet. Sometimes it's just funny. But Echo is very much building herself, and she sees it as an indication that they're ready to be pushed to a level like hers. She's looking for allies, and Paul is the first person she's going to turn to for that. But then a lot of the season is going to be her attempt to put together some kind of team, even though she has trouble articulating it at first. She's looking for the sense of family that I think the audience was looking for last season. So we're going to be seeing who's on her side and who not-so-much.
Is Dr. Saunders going to factor in a little more in the season?
Whedon: Dr. Saunders would factor in much more in the season had we not lost [Amy Acker] to another show. She will factor inasmuch as we are allowed to factor her in, which is exactly three episodes' worth. They will, however, be three extraordinarily memorable episodes. Amy Acker is ridiculously talented, and the character's dilemma is fascinating to us. We grit our teeth that we didn't have the funds or the support or the success to just make her a regular, and now we're paying for it. It means that every time we have her on screen, we'll squeeze every drop out of her that we can. We're seizing the day. We just don't get to seize as many of them as we'd like.
Can you tell us a little bit about the senator who's trying to shut down the Dollhouse? Played by Alexis Denisof (Angel)?
Whedon: Yes, he's got his own crusade going. He's a very different person than Paul, but he's in a similar position, except that he's gone public with it. How much the Dollhouse loves a senator who has gone public with an attack on them, we will find out in later episodes. But he's not the Paul of the season, because he's going to have a different set of problems thrown at him, but he has a similar vibe in terms of being very tenacious and righteous. Then, I forget what the other part was?
Does the character played by Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) really marry Echo in the first episode?
Whedon: If you were those two, wouldn't you get married? They're so cute. He came in as the guest star in the first episode, which, besides being a geek dream for me, was just an extraordinary experience, because he's not just very professional and precise and talented, but he fleshed out a character that could have been a little bit of a cardboard cutout. He has such sincerity and gravitas that you feel terrible. He makes you feel you've betrayed him, even if he's completely in the wrong. It's something that he shares with Adelle. Maybe it's a British thing; I don't know.
Can you tell us who Ray Wise (Reaper) is going to be playing, and when we might see him first?
Whedon: Ray Wise will be appearing in episode six , I believe, and he's going to be playing the head of another house, so he's going to interact with young Olivia and it should be very exciting.
Can you talk about the casting of Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and what's in store for her character?
Whedon: The casting of Summer was based on the knowledge that Summer existed and the character was created with the hopes that she would play it, which she is on stage right now doing. She's playing the programmer of another Dollhouse. It's a somewhat eccentric part, but hopefully different than what we've seen her do before. The most useful part of that is that the writers work twice as hard to make sure that the character really pops and pays off, because they know that it's going to be played by somebody extraordinary.
Is it safe to assume that Summer's character works at the same Dollhouse that Ray Wise runs?
Whedon: I think that would be safe.
And is it safe to assume that that makes it a super-cool Dollhouse?
Whedon: I would say much cooler than this lame one that I'm in.
With Alan Tudyk on last season and Summer Glau this season. I just wanted to know, are there plans to get the rest of Firefly on here at some point?
Whedon: It's a death match between Firefly and Battlestar and which of them is going to get all their people. The fact of the matter is, they're people I admire and they're people I know I love to work with, and this season, I'm a lot less concerned with how the cast is perceived. Last season, we felt like we wanted to make sure that this was new territory and that people didn't think of it as just, "Oh, it's just these faces, and he's doing his old thing." Now I'm like, "I know these people can act," and honestly, the people that are watching it are fans anyway. If they know who these people are, they'll be thrilled. If they don't, they'll see good acting, so it doesn't matter to me as much. So yes, I have no fear of throwing anybody that I have worked with or just want to work with in anytime I can.
How are arced is the show going to be this season?
Whedon: The show is going to be pretty arc-y. Clearly what people responded to was the workings of the Dollhouse and the progression of the characters in it, and we're going to honor that. At the same time, I'm very much of the mind that you do need to resolve something in an episode. You can't just create a series of twists and turns. You need an episode to have a sense of completion, so there will still be engagements, or at least problems that need to be dealt with, but they will feed into the main arc as well.
Last season, you began with a number of restating pilot episodes, where you wanted to make sure that you could bring in new viewers, and this season doesn't begin with that sort of episode. Could you talk about how you approached the idea of new viewers following the show?
Whedon: Well, you know, we always try, especially in the first episode of the season, to make the premise clear enough so that if you haven't been watching it, you don't have to do a huge amount of math. There's a lot of exposition in the first pilot, in the first episode of the season, to help that. We've even rejiggered the opening credits to make it clearer. But at the end of the day, you have to go, "Well, if they don't get the premise...," and then they'll either become involved in these peoples' stories or they won't. You have to move slow enough so people can grab a hold and jump on with you, but you have to keep moving.
Do you have a pitch to new viewers on how to reintegrate themselves, or is the answer as simple as, "Watch the DVD"?
Whedon: No, I think the answer would be more like, "Buy the DVD, and buy some for your friends. Then have discussion groups where you buy more." Too much integrity in that response?
There were a lot of people who were worried that you might be canceled after your first season. What do you think it was that convinced Fox to sign you on for another round and hopefully longer?
Whedon: I think it's the nature of the business and the nature of the fan base. The nature of the fan base is they're in it for the long haul, and they're nurturing, and they're intense about it and they will see it through. They will stick with it, and that means years after it's cancelled. Firefly still sells, Buffy still sells, and that's also a business thing for the studio. They're in it for the long haul, because they know the long haul is how my work pays off. I don't make hit shows. I make shows that stick around that people come to long after they would have stopped generating revenue in the old system. With the advent of DVD and the eventual monetization of Online, there's a market there that exists beyond your Nielsen numbers, and the fans showing up and DVRing, and buying a DVD means that the base doesn't have to be as broad for the studio to think it's worth it to try and eke out another season.
Could you talk a little bit about some of the ways in which Eliza Dushku helped shape who Echo has become, and will become?
Whedon: Well, she really wants to dance burlesque. We keep forgetting to put that in. Eliza has specific things she's interested in, specific things she feels comfortable with. Sometimes I like to go to that place, because I know that she can knock it out of the park, and sometimes I like to go in the opposite direction to take her out of her comfort zone, because that's the best thing you can do with an actor. People don't usually get to see how funny she can be, how elegant. She doesn't always have to play the tough girl. So it wasn't so much that she said, "I'd like to be the following things," it was a conversation about all of the different things she was supposed to be, or had been, or was trying to be, or trying to get away from. She did go bow hunting. However, I understand that she herself was not hunted.
You've hinted that the Attic is heinous, and it's an episode of Small Wonder that you can't escape. Were you being figurative or literal?
Whedon: I've never even seen Small Wonder. I am a bully who picks on people who aren't my type. It is going to be creepy, but I think ultimately, what it's going to be like, it's going to be something that we're going to hold onto pretty tightly. I don't want to say, but it ain't pretty.
Is the set a designer's dream?
Whedon: It depends on the set designer. It might be a dream where he's screaming.
Is the unaired 13th episode, "Epitaph One," going to factor in to Dollhouse now at all, or are you just totally throwing it out?
Whedon: No, no, we're absolutely not throwing it out. It had originally been my intention to start in that era and then come back, but I just had too much information in my first episode. What we're talking about doing is perhaps revisiting that timeline towards the end of the 13 episodes in a similar fashion, but we're also looking at the show through the lens of that episode and saying, "Well, this is taking us to a more global concept of how this power is used and abused." That's a lot of what informs the season. You don't have to have seen it to understand that, but it helps if you do. I think it adds a layer.
Every television show should have an episode like that.
Whedon: I think so. I want to know what post-apocalyptic future was caused by Two and a Half Men.
What kinds of things can we expect as far as visiting the "Epitaph One" world?
Whedon: We're so fascinated by that world and really in love with the actors in it, and we also want to answer some of the questions we asked. Well, where is everybody, come the future? Who's doing fine, and who didn't make it? So we keep trying to go back to the future and then realizing, well, no, it's not time yet. It's really going to be towards the end of the season that we'll be able to do that.
A big thing that people discussed in the first season is, "Who is secretly a doll?" Now that we know that people can be remotely programmed in a flash without necessarily being dolls to begin with, is that still a meaningful question? Is everybody a doll?
Whedon: No, that's the case in the far future. It's not the case right now. I'll tell you right now, everybody is not a doll, because it would be very easy for us to pull that trick over and over and ultimately shoot ourselves in the foot, because you would find that nothing was at stake and that everybody would see the plot was coming. We've actually grounded the show fairly heavily. People who are dolls are dolls, and the other people... I'm not saying never, I'm not saying we won't question reality every now and then, but basically, we're taking the people we have and we're pushing them around as much as possible. We're trying to keep it grounded, so that people know that there is something at stake, and if somebody did have their personality altered or taken away, that that would be a huge deal. That's like the Attic; that's like death. That's like the worst thing that can happen to a character, so we want to make sure that the characters are grounded enough that people feel those stakes. If we just make people dolls willie-nilly, then it's the rabbit hole and none of it really connects or means anything.
How many seasons do you see Dollhouse going for?
Whedon: The premise is limited, and I think by season 17 you're really going to see us repeating ourselves.
Any closing remarks, Mr. Whedon?
Whedon: I love each and every one of you very much, possibly inappropriately.
Dollhouse Season 2 starts Friday, Sept. 25 at 9/8C on Fox. Read the recaps of Season 1 and "Epitaph One" here!
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