What’s Up With the Dr. Horrible Sequel?

Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Whedonites got a double dose of geek love on Saturday in New York — first the Firefly panel at New York Comic Con in the morning, and the Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog reunion at Paleyfest in the evening. Although the moderator for the latter tried to get the 411 about a Dr. Horrible sequel, Joss Whedon swerved the conversation into another topic: finances, where he revealed yet again that he made more money doing Dr. Horrible, a mostly free webisode series, than he did directing the first blockbuster Avengers film. Luckily for those who really want to know about the sequel, Vulture chatted with Whedon, Nathan Fillion, and Neil Patrick Harris before the panel. ("Sequels are my favorite!" Whedon laughed. "They always go so well for me.")

How much has been written? There is a title (which Whedon won't share just yet), there is an outline, and there are songs. Will there be a significant change in character point-of-view? Whedon grinned, and said, "I can neither confirm nor deny." The reason we suspect there might be a shift is that the sequel should feature an expansion of the universe — more Evil League of Evil, and on the opposing side, a Council of Champions.

"All the things that we got a taste of, we definitely want to expand," Whedon said. "We're fascinated by what a hero is, what a villain is. That's kind of central to what we're talking about and dealing with and tearing apart and undermining. We want more of that, without falling into bloat."

"I really enjoyed the way Dr. Horrible blurred the lines between who's the good guy, and who's the bad guy," Fillion concurred. "The world's perception is one thing, but we as the audience knew the reality was quite different."

"The villain was someone you understood and you sort of felt his plight, how he became a villain," Harris said. "In a weird way, you empathize with someone who just wants to win over the girl and thinks that if he does something memorable, whether good or bad, that he'll win, so he sort of signs over his soul in a way. It's relatable, and it's a lot more fun than just playing the protagonist."

On that same level, then, we may find that the Evil League of Evil is not quite that evil, or that the governing board for heroes such as Captain Hammer, the Council of Champions, isn't exactly entirely virtuous. "It's that thing, 'Who watches the Watchmen?'" Fillion said, referring to Alan Moore's classic comic. "Who polices the heroes? What kind of people are they?" Fillion noted that he's been reading up on various comic books for research, to understand how different heroes have "their own secrets and scandals and vices. We should see what the heroes are really like."

While Fillion has been privy to the title, plot outline, and the titles of a few songs, Harris prefers to be kept in the dark while the sequel is in gestation. "I don't want to ask Joss too much about it, because it seems like I'm shilling, like I'm trying to get a job," he laughed. "I'm just hoping that once it happens, Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn't Dr. Horrible!"

Although Whedon joked that he might not be able to get NPH for the sequel, the actor quickly countered that he would clear his schedule. "I'm jumping on pogo sticks for a living! As if. I don't know if he realizes it, but he's directed one of the largest movies in the world, so I think he can pretty much do whatever he wants, with whoever he wants. Unless they're assholes, and then that's shame on them. Anytime he calls and says, 'Hey, I got a question for you,' I just say yes."

Regardless, there is an understandable reason the Dr. Horrible sequel isn't immediately on Whedon's shooting schedule this year. "If and when it falls together, and I think it will, it won't be too long. Look, I'm not the one who's having babies right now!" he laughed. "I'm not kidding." Both of Whedon's brothers — his collaborators, Zack and Jed (which also means Jed's wife and Dr. Horrible collaborator Maurissa Tancharoen), are in a family way, in addition to their other jobs, i.e., for Jed and Maurissa, showrunning Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and for Zack, directing his first film. Plus Joss is still "in recovery" from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. So much so that it's infecting his ideas for what a good Dr. Horrible story would be — "He's just going to fight Ultron!" Whedon joked. "I'm just going to do that until I get it right!"