It’s been quite a year for Joss Whedon: Not only has his The Avengers become the third-biggest blockbuster ever, but Whedon also found the time to squeeze in a low-budget take on William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the movie will be premiering soon at the Toronto Film Festival. Whedon spoke to Vulture today in a frank, funny conversation to tout Much Ado, and we’ll have plenty more for you on that film next week, but in the meantime, we had to ask Whedon about all things Marvel, since there have been some major developments on that front recently. Read on for his first remarks on these subjects.
Some deleted scenes from The Avengers have found their way online this week, and I was particularly struck by the wraparound sequence that was cut from the film, where Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) tells the movie’s story in flashback and starts things up in a much more moody way. What made you decide to cut it?
Two factors. One: The movie was three hours long. Two: Audiences didn’t respond to it as well in the movie as I think they would as a DVD extra. Most of them didn’t know who this character was or what the context was, and they were like, Uhhh, I don’t know why I’m supposed to be personally involved in this character I don’t know. The rollout to the Avengers getting to Loki was so gradual that people were getting restless. I thought Cobie nailed it, and the reason I thought it was necessary is because I was trying to make a war movie and I wanted to give context that something bad had happened in the past. In a war movie, you don’t know who’s going to live or die, but you do know that this war happened and that [the characters] are going to be in a dire circumstance, and I wanted to create that atmosphere.
I was able to get what I needed without doing that. It was tough. I hated cutting it. I hated cutting the Captain America stuff with the waitress. At least I was able to call Ashley Johnson [who plays the waitress] and tell her that all her stuff was still in Much Ado About Nothing, since she had been cut out of Dollhouse, she had been cut out of The Avengers: “I swear you’re still in the Shakespeare movie!” You know, those bits had seemed very personal to me, and part of doing Much Ado was that I could go back to The Avengers and say, “Oh, it’s not about me. Even though its my film, it’s about the Avengers. I am less important than the needs of the film.”
You’ve always had an ardent fan base, thanks to Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, but now you’ve made one of the biggest movies of all-time, a film that almost everyone on earth has seen. Has that sunk in?
It never really has, but when it does, I’m going to become such an enormous dick. [Laughs.] I’m going to have a personal dog polisher and the biggest posse ever. I’m going to be insufferable — well, I mean more insufferable than I already am. You know, at some point, the numbers become meaningless. They’re large, and you can’t really count that high. I felt like I had a particular mission in making what I felt was a slightly old-fashioned movie, because I grew up wanting to make summer movies and wanting to make superhero movies, and I got to do both at once. I felt like summer movies haven’t been what I remember them to be, so I felt like I would love to evoke something that’s less hip and ironic and more heartfelt and character-driven, and apparently, other people cared about that in a large way.
I don’t think it’s a perfect movie. I don’t even think it’s a great movie. I think it’s a great time, and I’m proud of it, but for me, what was exciting is that people don’t go to see a movie that many times unless it’s pulling on something from within, unless there’s a need there. That’s very gratifying.
You appeared to be, at least publicly, somewhat on the fence about returning for the Avengers sequel. And now you’ve committed to much more than just that movie: You’re going to be working for Marvel for three years, with creative input on their other projects and a TV show in the works, too. What changed?
It was part of what made it attractive to me. I loved the idea of being a consigliere. Every writer loves the idea of being able to go in and fix a problem and then leave without obligation. It’s fun! I also love these characters and the Marvel universe, and I grew up reading the books, and I’ve been going back and reading the old books and realizing that they shaped my storytelling way more than I give them credit for. Now I’m starting up a TV show, which is something I really wanted to do, but I thought it wasn’t going to be a part of my life for the next several years. It’s like a tapas menus of projects that excite me, in addition to the Avengers sequel, which I’m excited for because I’m incredibly excited about the next story that I’m going to tell. For me, it’s a huge win.
It is unbelievably daunting, especially because I don’t want to lose sight of all the other things I have on my docket and in my heart. So, it’s going to be an insane few years, but I feel ready for that. It’s an unholy amount of productivity, but as long as I give it all I can, it’s a good thing. What’s great is that the deal with Marvel is nonspecific, so I will give all I can, but the moment I can’t, I just walk away. The moment I say, “You know, I’d like to help more on this project, but I need this time for The Avengers,” there’s no obligation. It’s not like, “You must spend this amount of time on this movie.” It’s as much as it needs to be.
It was just announced that you’re co-writing a TV series set in Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, and you may direct the pilot, schedule permitting. After all the network conflicts you’ve had with your other shows, how does it feel to finally be working on a project that may very well get the biggest promotional push of any TV show ever and will most likely not air on a Friday?
[Laughs.] You know, I can’t guarantee that any of that will happen! But so far, it feels just fine. The important thing to me is that we know what the show is. We love what it is. It came together very organically, so when we went in to pitch [to Marvel], it wasn’t like, We’re trying to find this because you want a TV show, it was, Check this out. And that’s a good way to walk in a room.
Good support is wonderful, but it’s not a hill of beans, because they may give us all this support and then decide, “Eh. Yeah, it’s Friday.” They might give us all the support and then not do that, but then audiences might go, “Yeahhh … no.” You just can’t be sure. What I do know is that it’s the show it should be, and we’ve got some really dope notions. It’s going to work very well for people who either love the Marvel universe or for people who’ve never dipped a toe in the Marvel universe.