Joss Whedon on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and the Marvel Universe
By Fred Topel
How and why is Agent Coulson alive and a central character in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? If you’re expecting Joss Whedon to spill the beans and spell out that answer, I’m sorry to have to disappoint you. However, at the 2013 summer Television Critics Association event Whedon did talk about how the ABC television series and Marvel films play into each other and whether audiences could see any characters – besides Agent Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) – crossing over.
Joss Whedon Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Interview
Buffy famously died twice and you dealt with that. How differently can you deal with Agent Coulson who’s died before?
Joss Whedon: “It’s a very different journey than hers. Part of that is informed by the actor, part of it’s informed by the situation, but the important thing is that we’re going to go on that journey with him.”
What do you say to people who suspect Coulson is a life model decoy? It seems like the most obvious answer right now.
Joss Whedon: “Yes, it does. I don’t say anything because I’m not going to confirm or deny anybody’s ideas. I’ve heard a dozen ideas, more than a dozen. Somebody at some point is going to be right, but I’m never going to say when that happens. I’m not even going to blink.”
Is it weird or refreshing to be in charge of a TV show where you’re not the primary showrunner?
Joss Whedon: “It is weirdly refreshing. It was very important to me to get these guys. When we did Dr. Horrible, even when we worked on Dollhouse, we had a very much ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ thing. Not just Jed [Whedon], Maurissa [Tancharoen] as well. I’m reading every script and every story and doing notes and rewrites. I’m doing all of the stuff. I just can’t be in the room every day. Knowing that I have a group who’s going to push it forward and share the sort of hard to convey idea of exactly how I want the show to feel, it’s a great relief. It’s why you do television. You build these families. You find people like Jed, Drew Goddard, Tim Minear who are going to take your vision and not just further it but enhance it in ways you couldn’t see coming.”
When you filmed Coulson’s death scene in The Avengers, was that his death scene or did you have something percolating for the character down the line?
Joss Whedon: “I absolutely killed him. It was not percolating.”
That wasn’t your idea either, was it?
Joss Whedon: “No, Kevin Feige told me before I took the gig, ‘You gotta kill Coulson.’ And I understood why and I said, ‘Okay, but you’re taking the rap because I get a lot of heat for that stuff.’”
Then why is there the scene where it’s noted that Nick Fury swapped the card decks?
Joss Whedon: “That was a character thing about Nick Fury and about leadership and about the gray area that is S.H.I.E.L.D. versus The Avengers.”
Could Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders be on the show?
Joss Whedon: “We’ve seen Cobie on the show. We would love to see her again. We’d love to see Sam too, but he’s a movie star and a workaholic so whether or not he’ll make time for us, I can’t say yet. I hope so.”
How often do you think you’ll be able to direct an episode?
Joss Whedon: “I don’t think it’ll happen again for the next couple of years because I’m getting behind another camera in another country, but we have some directors we’ve worked with before that we trust very much. The producers are always on set. We’re very, very careful about making sure that what we have in the script is what shows up on screen.”
Are you prepared to make calls to Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, or any of the others and ask them to come on the show?
Joss Whedon: “I’m prepared insomuch as I think it’s a great idea for the show and a perfectly good idea for them. I’m not going to go begging and I’m not going to use up favors I need for Avengers 2. As I said, the DNA of the show is the show. Those guys would be a delightful bonus but we’re not building our arcs around them, and we’ll see what happens.”
Would you worry the movie characters would overshadow the show’s cast?
Joss Whedon: “Well, the good thing about the universe is that they’re superstars in that universe, so if they showed up, if they overbalanced it slightly, it would actually make sense. That’s how people would react to them in the universe of the show. So I don’t think that’s a problem but I do think it’s a problem if you have them too regularly and then people are just wondering when do I get to see the movie star again instead of concentrating on these guys.”
The idea is suggested that Coulson died to unite the Avengers over his death. Would they really have not fought the alien menace if he hadn’t died?
Joss Whedon: “I can’t say. He died, they did.”
What does all this Marvel development mean for Dr. Horrible 2?
Joss Whedon: “It pushes it. S.H.I.E.L.D. took its spot and that’s just the sad reality.”
How do you decide the movie tie-ins you want to do? The one in the pilot makes sense.
Joss Whedon: “You know, a lot of it comes from talking to the Marvel movie people. We say, ‘Can we do this? Will this help? Will this tie together? Will this somehow blunt them? We don’t want to hurt the movies at all.’ With Extremis, we said this will give us a ticking clock, this will be useful for us and they were excited. They said, ‘That’s great, it’ll build on the mythology that we just created and then people will get something out of that.’ On other occasions they’d be like, ‘Yeah, don’t touch that. That we need for the movie,’ and I’d like to protect the movies too, particularly the last one in Phase Two. I hear it’s going to be wonderful.”
What is different about a show of this scale versus a motion picture?
Joss Whedon: “End of the day, it’s people. Somebody said, ‘How are you going to do this again? It was so big.’ The question is never how big can it be. The question is how small can it be and people are still going to be showing up and really caring. Some of my favorite issues of comics when I was a kid were issues where people just sat around talking and the fight wasn’t coming until the next issue. It was getting into character like that. I’m not really worried about the scale.”
What is it like doing the biggest comic book movie of all time and its TV show?
Joss Whedon: “It doesn’t suck. I’m not going to lie. It’s pretty gratifying.”
Did you ever think, when you were a kid, that you’d be doing this?
Joss Whedon: “Yeah, of course I did. It’s that or get a job.”
When Much Ado turned into an indie phenomenon, was your reaction, “It’s nice that everyone is as excited about this as we are,” or “What’s going on?”
Joss Whedon: “Little bit of both, little bit of both. We definitely made the movie thinking maybe we’re just going to show this to each other at parties, but the movie came completely from passion. The fact that other people responded to that passion, I’m surprised every time it happens and absolutely delighted. In this case, a little more surprised because, you know, black and white Shakespeare home movies don’t usually get this kind of response, but I’m just grateful.”
The transition from trying to get people to watch your shows to having the biggest movie and now this highly anticipated show, what’s it been like personally to go from the guy stumping to this?
Joss Whedon: “You know, here I am stumping. At the end of the day, I had to spend a lot of time selling Much Ado. I want people to see everything and you can’t guarantee that they will just because a show has hype. For me, my biggest concern is I’m looking at the next script and the script after that and the script after that and making sure that we keep our game up because if people are watching, I want to make sure that they get everything they can.”
As both a fan and the producer of The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., what are your thoughts on DC’s Batman/Superman plans?
Joss Whedon: “You know, I got excited. I only heard about it, was busy doing this when they announced it, but it sounds cool to me.”
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