One of the most beloved geek icons, Joss Whedon has done a little bit of everything in the creative field. He’s mostly known for his television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), which follows Buffy Summers and her friends in Sunnydale. The show lasted seven seasons and there was even a spin-off based on Buffy’s vampire lover Angel. This created his own universe, aptly named the “Whedonverse.”
Whedon would go on to work on television shows like Firefly (and then its movie sequel Serenity), Dollhouse (2009-2010). Whedon became an even bigger name when he started directing and writing Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) movies. However, he has done much more than some people realize.
A third-generation writer who has written numerous comic books, Whedon has been part of television shows you wouldn’t imagine (Roseanne, anyone?) and has very publicly talked about his disappointment in his own films, which led to him either walking off set or punching a bathroom stall so hard he left a dent. Without further ado, let’s learn 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Joss Whedon.
15. He Walked Off The Buffy Movie Set Because Of Donald Sutherland
Most people remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. It may be Whedon’s most beloved work. However, the TV series was adapted from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) movie that Whedon wrote. He was there for most of the shooting, but then he left because he could not stand to be around Donald Sutherland, who played Buffy’s Watcher, Merrick. According to Whedon in his interview with A.V. Club, “he was just a prick…. He would rewrite all his dialogue, and the director would let him. He can’t write—he’s not a writer—so the dialogue would not make sense. And he had a very bad attitude. He was incredibly rude to the director, he was rude to everyone around him, he was just a real pain. And to see him destroying my stuff… Some people didn’t notice. ”
Ultimately, Whedon was not happy with the overall movie. He said in his interview with Yahoo, “it didn’t turn out to be the movie that I had written. Not that the movie is without merit, but I just watched a lot of stupid wannabe-star behavior and a director with a different vision than mine — which was her right, it was her movie — but it was still frustrating.”
14. The Whedon Curse
Buffy may have been on for seven seasons, but Whedon’s other shows didn’t share the same fate, usually getting cancelled after a season. This happened so many times, it could be referred to as the “Whedon Curse.” The first time this happened was the Buffy spin-off show Angel, which lasted five seasons. It was cancelled in part because Whedon asked for an early renewal, which led to WB pulling the plug. Then it was the sci-fi series Firefly, which was cancelled after one season for several reasons. The former Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman claims it was cancelled because “it didn’t perform [in the ratings].” It probably didn’t help that the episodes were aired out of order on Friday nights. This was followed by two seasons of Dollhouse (even though it was cancelled before the first season even finished), for reasons speculated on by many websites– most commonly that it was boring or because people were expecting something like Buffy and Angel.
Joel Watson created a comic strip, “Cursed, Hexed And Vexed,” about the Whedon curse. Even Guardian Liberty Voice mentions the Whedon TV Curse, though they are optimistic thanks to his latest successful show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But don’t speak too soon– otherwise we’ll have to say goodbye to another fan-beloved television show!
13. Early Work: Roseanne And Toy Story
Whedon has several surprising inclusions in his filmography. He wrote comedy spec scripts for shows like The Wonder Years (an episode based on his real experience of getting mugged in NYC). Whedon was especially interested in Roseanne because, as he says in Newsweek, the show “had a feminist agenda . . . it was real, and decent, and incredibly funny.” He became a script editor on the second season. The difficulties on set led to him writing several scripts for the show as well.
Another fun entry on Joss Whedon’s resume was that he worked on the script for Toy Story. Apparently, the original script was terrible. They were also debating turning the film into a musical. But Whedon, along with the head of Pixar, John Lasseter, thought it would be a bad idea. After all, what buddy comedy would be better as a musical?
Amy Pascal talks about Whedon’s other major contribution to Toy Story, as reiterated by Business Insider: “Buzz Lightyear had always been conceived as a Dudley Do-Right: dim-witted but cheerful and self-aware. Joss helped them re-envision the character as an action figure who isn’t aware that he’s a toy, and who therefore takes his job as an Intergalactic Space Ranger quite seriously.”
12. Joss Whedon and Feminism
Quickly Google search “Joss Whedon and Feminism” and you will quickly find vehement defenders, as well as some objectors, of Whedon championing feminist ideals in his works. In a detailed Mary Sue article, Whedon is said to be “lauded as being one of the most forward-thinking show creators and writers currently wielding his craft today.” Many people would say Whedon’s characters, especially Buffy Summers, are examples of empowering female characters. Yet the same Mary Sue article goes on to describe how Buffy is “a weak character” who “descends from a line that was literally created by men.”
Some feminist fans and others were also left a little burned by Whedon’s portrayal of Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Her treatment was called “cringeworthy” by CNN and The Daily Beast said “Whedon gives his favorite character the kind of female troubles only a man can write.” Whedon has spoken about wanting equality, and his works have been praised, but also deeply questioned about how truly feminist they are.
11. He Quit Twitter… And Came Back For Trump
Joss Whedon quit Twitter. This was actually pretty big news for a while, especially since it was right after Avengers: Age of Ultron came out. Some people believed he quit Twitter because of “militant feminists” who were upset by Black Widow’s portrayal in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Whedon denied this in his interview with BuzzFeed News, commenting about how the real reason was because “I just thought, Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place…. And this is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life.”
However, Whedon returned to Twitter after 19 months away. The reason? He had to post an anti-Trump video starring famous actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. He linked to the Save the Day website to encourage people to vote. How did he get the actors to join in? According to Yahoo, Whedon described it as “Doing a voting PSA to help get out the vote and stop orange Muppet Hitler.”
10. Avengers: Age Of Ultron “Broke” Him
Working on The Avengers seemed like a dream come true for Joss Whedon. Until he was making Avengers: Age of Ultron and the film broke him. And we’re not being dramatic. Whedon literally said in an interview with LA Times’ Hero Complex, “It’s weird because the first one was very, very, very, hard. This one was much harder. It a little bit broke me.” What was so difficult about the second film? Whedon wanted the film to be even better than the first and for it to stand on its own, which led to “being paralyzed by either indecision or the weight of responsibility… This was the hardest work I’ve ever done.”
Whedon went on to tell Variety that he “was so beaten down by the process…. Some of that was conflicting with Marvel, which is inevitable. A lot of it was about my own work, and I was also exhausted.” He felt the film was a failure, claiming “The things about it that are wrong frustrate me enormously, and I had probably more of those than I had on the other movies I made. But I also got to make, for the second time, an absurdly personal movie that talked about how I felt about humanity…” These are the many reasons Whedon will not be returning to helm Avengers: Infinity War, which will be directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (known for their Captain America movies). It’s probably good Whedon didn’t direct a third Avengers movie, since he said in an interview he would “kill everyone.”
9. Founded Mutant Enemy Productions
Mutant Enemy Productions is the production company Joss Whedon founded back in 1996. He named it after his first typerwriter, which in turn was named after a song lyric in “And You And I,” sung by one of Whedon’s favorite bands, Yes. The production logo was drawn and voiced by Whedon himself, which is referenced on the “Bargaining (Part 1)” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Tara, who mimics the little zombie’s voice through a little pink finger puppet.
The company was created to produce Whedon’s various projects, starting with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show. Mutant Enemy would go on to produce Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse (which was also produced by 20th Century Fox), and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon’s horror film The Cabin in the Woods (2011) was also produced by Mutant Enemy. Mutant Enemy Productions currently produces Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which is also produced by ABC Studios and Marvel Television).
8. He Has Some Acting Experience
The man behind the camera has gone in front of it before. His first “role” was an uncredited voice-only appearance as a news caster in the Buffy episode “I, Robot… You, Jane” (in 1997). His first on-screen appearance was as Numfar of the Deathwok clan on Angel. Numfar is a low-level demon forced to do the “Dance of Joy” by his mother in honor of Angel and his brother Lorne. Dance Whedon dance!
He made uncredited appearances in Firefly (in 2003) and Serenity (in 2005). In Veronica Mars, he played Douglas in “Rat Saw God” (in 2005). Whedon followed this appearance up three years later with a couple of voice roles in the Robot Chicken episode “Help Me” (in 2008). This included voicing himself, a cowboy and a scientist. He made other brief appearances on TV shows, including Written by a Kid (in 2012), Husbands (in 2012), Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (in 2015) and Another Period (in 2016). He also made an appearance as himself in the short College Humor Youtube “Comic-Con Cosplay Catastrophe.”
7. The Many Myths Surrounding His Shows
There are other stereotypes associated with Whedon’s works and listed on TVTropes. These include the idea that parents abandon their children or abuse them (Whedon’s parents split when he was 10, though he doesn’t speak ill of them) and anyone can die (we’ll move along so we don’t spoil some pretty shocking deaths).
People usually expect characters in Whedon’s shows to be “holding hands” and singing kumbaya. Yes, there is some hand-holding (complete with flames), but his shows have also explored loss (still can’t watch the Buffy episode “The Body” without at least tearing up), sex (what we call Angel’s “true happiness”), and other heavy topics you aren’t likely to be talking with the family about over Christmas dinner (and if you are, we’re sorry). Other “myths” include ’90s girl power feminism, Whedon’s penchant for girls who are mentally unstable, constantly bantering characters, and the belief that every project is doomed (see #14 for details on why that might not be such a myth after all).
6. He Continued Buffy and Angel In Comics
Usually when a show finishes airing, that’s as much closure as fans will get. Sure, there may be a spin-off book or comics, but usually these are based on already existing material or non-canon stuff. However, Joss Whedon himself penned comics for Buffy and Angel that are considered additional seasons to the fan-favorite series. Buffy has gotten to explore seasons 8, 9, and 10 in comics. An eleventh season via comics is currently in the works.
These comics allow Whedon to traverse territory he never would’ve been able to afford to explore with a TV budget (like turning Dawn into a giant). Other writers have also written the comics, but Whedon has penned many himself. Whedon also wrote original spin-off material as well, such as the eight-issue limited series Fray, which takes place in the future of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe and features the Slayer Melaka Fray.
5. Some of His Other Comic Book Work
Besides his own TV show spin-offs, Joss Whedon has written comic book work for Marvel’s X-Men. His Astonishing X-Men run is beloved by many fans, lasting for 24 issues (plus Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1). His run is detailed fully by Comic Book Herald, which credits him for improving the relationship between Cyclops and Emma Frost, as well as making female characters like Kitty Pryde the main focus of the series. He also wrote an arc for Runaways.
Whedon was interviewed by the A.V. Club, who inquired about his Astonishing X-Men and Runaways series. When asked if he would be interested in writing other company-owned characters, Whedon answered, “Well, I think I pretty much scratched the Marvel itch until it bled. Marvel is in such flux, character-wise…. I’ve been reading Runaways from issue one. It was delicious fun for me to dive in and see what I would do with them.” It’s funny that Whedon would go on not just to helm Avengers movies, but also help with the X-Men movie.
4. He Worked As A Script Doctor
Early in his career, Whedon would often be uncredited when he helped work on scripts. He would write loop lines, which are pieces of dialogue said by actors in the sound booth that are then added to a scene. Whedon would also try to improve scripts. He worked on Waterworld, on which Whedon claims he “accomplished nothing” and only “wrote a few puns, and a few scenes that I can’t even sit through because they came out so bad…” Whedon had even more involvement in Speed. The screenwriter, Graham Yost, says “Joss Whedon wrote 98.8% of the dialogue. We were very much in sync, it’s just I didn’t write dialogue as well as he did.”
Whedon also had a big part in the X-Men films. For the first film, director Bryan Singer asked for a script from Whedon, which he happily delivered, but then it never got used except for a couple small scenes. One is where Wolverine proves to Cyclops he’s not Mystique by calling him a “dick,” which is right out of Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. He’s also responsible for this cringe-worthy Storm line: “Do you know what happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else.” In an EW interview, Whedon claims it was Halle Berry’s fault because she read the line “like King Lear.” His story arc in Astonishing X-Men, “Gifted,” also inspired the events of the fan-panned movie X-Men: Last Stand (2006).
3. He Comes From A Family Of Writers
Writing seems to run in the Whedon family. He is a third-generation TV writer. His father, Tom Whedon, was a screenwriter for shows such as Captain Kangaroo (in 1955), The Electric Company (in 1971), It’s A Living (from 1985-1989), The Golden Girls (in 1985, but he helped produce the show for many years), and Benson (from 1980-1981). His grandfather, John Whedon, had writing credits on The Donna Reed Show (in 1958), The Dick Van Dyke Show (from 1962-1966), The Island at the Top of the World (in 1974), and The Bears and I (in 1974).
Whedon is also the middle child of five brothers. His two younger brothers have worked as writers and producers. His younger brother Jed Whedon helped write and produce Dollhouse (in 2009), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (in 2013), and a couple episodes of Spartacus: War of the Damned (from 2012-2013). His other younger brother, Zack Whedon, worked as a writer on several projects, including Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (in 2008), a few episodes of Fringe (from 2008-2009), and the thriller Come and Find Me (2016). He has also taken on other roles, serving as an executive story editor on Southland (in 2013) and as part of the miscellaneous crew on Deadwood (from 2004-2006).
2. He Dented A Bathroom Stall Thanks To Alien: Resurrection
In an A.V. Club interview with Joss Whedon, he shares his experience working on Alien: Resurrection in detail. As a writer on the movie, Whedon did not have any good memories to share, but he did mention a defining moment when he was sitting with the director, who was editing the film. The director had made a change that did not make any sense to Whedon, having a character get a gun and ultimately getting offed by the alien. However, the way he directed it, according to Joss, “made no sense whatsoever.” He went on to ask the director, “Can you just explain to me why he’s doing this? Why is he going for this gun?” Whedon claimed the director, in his French-accent, said “Because eet’s een the screept.”
Whedon was not happy. In fact, he says in the interview that “I have never been angrier. But it’s the classic, ‘When something goes wrong, you assume the writer’s a dork.’ And that’s painful.” But Whedon didn’t just use his words. After the exchange, he went to the bathroom and punched a bathroom stall, leaving a dent.
1. Created A Wonder Woman Movie Script
The upcoming Wonder Woman movie has a few writer and story credits, but none of them are Joss Whedon. That’s unfortunate, considering Whedon already wrote a script for the film. He talked about the script in detail during an interview with Rookie, describing Wonder Woman’s character:
“She was a little bit like Angelina Jolie [laughs]. She sort of traveled the world. She was very powerful and very naïve about people, and the fact that she was a goddess was how I eventually found my in to her humanity and vulnerability, because she would look at us and the way we kill each other and the way we let people starve and the way the world is run and she’d just be like, None of this makes sense to me. I can’t cope with it, I can’t understand, people are insane. And ultimately her romance with Steve was about him getting her to see what it’s like not to be a goddess, what it’s like when you are weak, when you do have all these forces controlling you and there’s nothing you can do about it. That was the sort of central concept of the thing. Him teaching her humanity and her saying, OK, great, but we can still do better.”
You can actually read his entire script for the film here. So when the 2017 film comes out, we’ll have to compare it to the Whedon version and see who really should have written Wonder Woman.