The writer, director, and geek icon has learned a thing or two about conquering villains
It’s tempting to confuse writer and director Joss Whedon with the fearless adventurers who populate his films and television shows—Buffy Summers, vampire slayer; Mal Reynolds, space cowboy; pretty much any of the (nearly) invincible Avengers. But no matter how much praise his “worshipful” fan base heaps upon the “geek icon,” Whedon is as human as any of us. And after the election, he was in tough shape.
Several months before Hillary’s defeat, Whedon founded a super PAC called Save the Day and sunk $1 million into it to help her get elected. He also directed “about 20” star-studded campaign ads on her behalf. Though he tried to prepare himself for Trump’s rise to power, he couldn’t predict how awful he’d feel living in a post-election America. Like a lot of us, eating, sleeping, and working have been a struggle for Whedon since November 9, when his psyche (along with his Twitter account) got “stuck in alternating loops of anger and despair.”
Make no mistake—Whedon is not giving up, on himself or his country. GOOD sat down with the iconic filmmaker to find out what’s keeping him afloat in these dark times, other than directing (as-of-yet unreleased) ads for Planned Parenthood. If you’re a Whedon devotee, we might as well tell you now that he remains tight-lipped about his involvement in a rumored Firefly reboot. But he’s harboring another secret that just might come in handy: He believes in you.
Let’s go back a few months. Did you expect Trump to get elected?
For most of last year, I would have said yes. I was the guy screaming at everybody, “No! Pay attention! He’s gonna win!” Then the last couple of days before election, the polls were looking good and I finally was like, ‘Ok I'll relax my belly.’ That’s when the punch came.
Did Trump win because you let your guard down, Joss?
Well, no. But I do think it's a bad idea to get complacent. The only way I survived the first couple of days after election was by changing the narrative in my head to: ‘This was always going to happen. This is the story of America. And it's a horror movie. And it's a tragedy.’
Did you just say that in movie trailer voice?
I think I just talk like that sometimes? In a world, where an orange pile of ... It does get a little post-apocalyptic.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I have a weak spot for stories of that little girl who faces big odds. We're all her now.[/quote]
How did things improve for you after those early days?
Thing is, the first couple of weeks are very similar to how I am right now. Everyone else was like ‘#Resist.’ I was like ‘#EatAllTheCake.’ Morbidly eat cake. I don't have a plan. I don't have a recovery mode. There were people the day after election who were like, ‘Here's what we gotta do next,’ and I was like, ‘You're not a person. You're a weird robot.’
It's been awhile now, though. I went to the march in D.C., I’m shooting something for Planned Parenthood. It's not like I laid down and died. But emotionally, I just can't do this. I can't read the news and have a heart attack every 15 minutes. I keep hitting these walls. It's like a cartoon, where I keep going through this series of brick walls and leaving a Joss shape in all of them.
What if you eased off the news intake a little?
I'm gonna. I really gotta get away from the Twitter. I used to be charming and witty and now I'm just like bile, more bile, super bile. My rage has overwhelmed my wit.
How has the creative process been?
I’ll say to myself, ‘I need to do research. I should read this book.’ But then I’ll notice that the cover looks pretty heavy. I should probably just have this cake instead. And all of this alcohol. Can I just lay down here and somebody give me a bath every couple of weeks?
That’s not many baths.
Well, there has been a drought.
Tell me about your experience at the Women’s March in D.C.
In some ways it was really great. There were so many people expressing themselves, it was a really powerful statement. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations for how it would affect me, though. I pictured this massive estrogen bomb radiating into me, giving every cell a sense of purpose. My friend said, ‘Not everything is a comic book, Joss.’ Why not?
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]If you have a forum, you speak out. It’s as simple as that.[/quote]
Kidding aside, it must be heartening to see such a mass mobilization of resistance, at the march and afterwards.
I absolutely believe that is crucial. I joined the protests in LA, I went by myself with my little sign. Marching and protesting and town halls and calling senators are absolutely the most important thing. That is the only thing. That and journalism have the greatest chance of saving us. If you're not a journalist and you can't knit, resistance involves making a sign, making a call, getting out there. It couldn't be more vital. They are going to try to wear us down. The only thing we can be sure of having is that continued anger and momentum. Continued outrage. Continued solidarity.
I’m hearing whispers of hope here.
I'm really drunk. (Kidding.) Maybe hope is my dark secret. I’ve been watching the GOP chip away at the idea of America for as long as I've understood what politics were. To believe we could build that back up again, well—it takes a lot of belief. But we have a mass movement going on. It just needs to prove it's stronger than 60 million very misinformed voters who are not afraid to be uncaring and obnoxious. I do have a weak spot for stories of that little girl who faces big odds. I guess we're all her now.
What do you think of those who criticize Hollywood for speaking out against Trump?
If you have a forum, you speak out. It’s as simple as that. Does it always help? No, but sometimes what's important is the simple act of someone speaking. Will there be a backlash? Always. But not speaking out is the Good German. You cannot ignore what is happening right now. I mean, I don't want to talk about politics. It affects way people view my work, in a very terrible way. I wouldn't do it if the situation weren't dire.
Last question. You’re a father of two kids. How much are you telling them about your fears?
I don’t have much of a ‘the world is not going to end’ game face. I remember going off in the car about death and disaster and environmental collapse and my daughter was like, ‘Dad, I’m 8!’ Sorry honey.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]They are going to try to wear us down. The only thing we can be sure of having is continued momentum.[/quote]
Truth is, we are financially stable, live in a very progressive neighborhood, there is virtually no bullying at their school, no overt racial intolerance. You might even call it a … bubble. The situation at this point remains rather academic for them. For me, I’ve had this problem, that I'm a rich, white, more-or-less straight guy. What the eff do I have to complain about? I know I should get in the back of the line for screaming. Yet all I want to do is scream! My kids have seen me working to deal with this. They’re always going to see that. But they sleep at night.