The new season of Dollhouse is fast approaching – though not fast enough for its legion of fans (we still have to wait until next Friday, September 25). So we had a ton of questions for sometimes tight-lipped creator Joss Whedon when we spoke with him during a press conference call yesterday. Though he didn't spill everything, we did learn about what's in store for the characters this season, where the central story arc is going, and what roles newcomers Summer Glau and Ray Wise will play – heck, we even got Joss to talk a little bit about Cabin in the Woods. Read the interview below, and look for our review of the season premiere next week.
How will Echo, with the many characters she's flashing to, come in to her own this season?
Basically through force of will. She did have all those personalities dumped into her at once, and as we pick up, we are going to find out that that is starting to affect her. She is much more directed, and driven – even in her Doll state, she is growing and learning. She understands she has a mission now, to get everyone back to their personalities.
How many seasons do you see Dollhouse going?
The premise is limited, and I think by season 17 you are going to see us repeating ourselves.
Do you have a "pitch" to bring in new viewers, or is it simply, "watch the season 1 DVD?"
No, it's more like buy the DVD. Buy some for your friends. Then have discussion groups, where you buy more. Too subtle?
What role will Ray Wise be playing in the new season?
He will appear in episode six, as the head of another house. He will interact with Olivia – it should be very exciting.
How arced will the show be this season?
The show is going to be pretty arc-y. Clearly what people respond to is the workings of the Dollhouse, and the progression of the characters in it, and we are going to honor that. At the same time, I'm very much of the mind where you need to resolve something in an episode. You can't just create a series of twists and turns with no end. You need a sense of completion, so you will still have engagements. But those engagements will feed in to the main arc as well.
How much will the DVD-only episode, "Epitaph One" factor in to this season?
Originally, it was my intention to start in that era, then come back, but there was just too much information in my first episode. What we are talking about doing is perhaps revisiting that timeline towards the end of this season, in a similar fashion. We are also looking at the show through the lens of that episode, looking at the global concepts of how this power is used and abused. You don't have to have seen "Epitaph One" to understand it, but it does help. It adds a layer.
A lot of people were convinced you would be cancelled after season 1. What do you think saved you?
The nature of the business is the nature of the fan base, and the nature of the fan base is that they are in it for the long haul. They are nurturing and intense about it, and they will see it through. The fans are still interested in my work years after it has gone off the air. Buffy still sells. Firefly still sells. That's a business thing for the studio. They are in it for the long haul. In the old system, these shows would have stopped generating income, but with the advent of DVD and the eventual monetization of online streaming, there is a market there that exists beyond your Nielsen numbers.
How has Eliza Dushku helped shape the character of Echo?
She really wants burlesque, and I keep forgetting to put that in… Eliza has things she is interested in and feels comfortable in. Sometimes I like to go to that place because I know she can knock it out of the park. Sometimes I like to go the opposite way, and take her out of her comfort zone, because that is the best thing you can do with an actor. The fact is, she shapes the role because she is very specific as a person. People don't generally see how funny she can be, how elegant. She doesn't always have to play the tough girl.
Dollhouse deals with people manipulating emotions. Your upcoming film, Cabin in the Woods deals with people manipulating fear. Did one inspire the other? Is there something about these themes that really resonates with you?
The two pieces were conceived very far apart, but ended up [coming to fruition] at the same time, which is awkward because it does seem planned. The fact is that I am obsessed with it. People are constantly being manipulated and controlled and conditioned and lied to. I feel like it is a valid thing to discuss, and to use the conceit of an evil corporation controlling your every thought is something that is not very far removed from how we live our lives. It does fascinate me. How do we create ourselves when society is telling me who we are supposed to be?
Do you think there will be an episode that will be exclusive to the season 2 DVD set, like "Epitaph One" was for season one?
I don't think we will because I don't think anyone will pony up the dough for it. But I think we will be revisiting the world of "Epitaph One."
We're so fascinated by that world, and in love with the actors in it. And we want to answer some of the questions that that episode raised. Where is everyone in the future? Who is doing fine, and who didn't make it? We keep trying to go back to the future, then realize it's not time yet. It will be towards the end of the season that we can do that.
What kind of relationships can we expect between the Dolls?
Victor and Sierra can't keep their hands off each other. They're like monkeys. It's something we are going to see through for a while. It makes some people uncomfortable, but sometimes it is extremely sweet. Sometimes it's just funny. Echo is building herself, [their relationship] as a sign that they are ready to be taken to her level. It will be her attempt to put together some kind of team – though she will have trouble articulating it at first. She is looking for the sense of family that the audience was looking for last season.
Will Dr. Saunders have a larger role this season?
Dr. Saunders would factor in much more this season had we not lost her to another show. She will factor in as much as we are allowed to factor her in, which looks like it will be about three episodes worth. They will, however, be three extraordinarily memorable episodes. Amy Acker is ridiculously talented, and the character's dilemma is fascinating to us. We grit our teeth that we didn't have the funds or the support or the success to make her a regular. Now we are paying for it. But it means that when we do have her on screen, we are going to squeeze every drop out of her that we can. We are seizing the day – we just don't get to seize as many of them as we would like.
You use a lot of actors from other shows. Are there plans to get the rest of the cast of Firefly on Dollhouse?
It's a death match between Firely and Battlestar. The fact is, there are people I admire, and there are people that I know I love working with. This season I am a lot less concerned with how the cast is perceived. Last season, we wanted to make sure this was new territory, and didn't want people to think I was just reusing the old faces and doing the same old thing. I know these people can act, and honestly, the people who are watching are fans anyway. If they know who these people are, they will be thrilled. If they don't, they will see good acting. So it doesn't matter to me as much. I have no fear of throwing in anyone I have worked with or want to work with.
How are you going to stretch the parameters of the tech this season?
Fairly heftily. I can't actually answer the question directly because a lot of it has to do with the ways this technology can be manipulated.
Can you talk a little bit about Summer Glau's casting, and what is in store for her character?
The casting of Summer was based on the knowledge that Summer existed. The character was created with the hopes that she would play it – which she is on stage doing right now. She is playing the programmer of another Dollhouse. It's an eccentric part, but hopefully something different than we have seen from her before. The most useful part of that is that the writers work twice as hard to make sure the character really pops because they know the part will be played by someone extraordinary.
Is it safe to assume that Summer's character works at the same Dollhouse that Ray Wise's character works at?
That would be safe.
Is it safe to assume that that makes it a super-cool Dollhouse?
I would say much cooler than this lame one I'm in.
Will we get to see more of the backstory for characters like Sierra and Victor?
Yes we will. We know how extraordinary those two performers are, and we are as curious about their stories as we are about Caroline's.
November/Mellie will be returning, but how will she be returning? It would seem that her time with the Dollhouse would be over.
It would, wouldn't it? I can't tell you exactly how, but she will be back early on. We are definitely not done with the character, and that probably means there is going to be some pain involved.
You have hinted that the Attic is "heinous" and "like an episode of Small Wonder that you can't escape. Were you being figurative or literal?
I've never even seen Small Wonder. I am a bully who picks on the little guy. It is going to be creepy but something we are going to hold on to pretty tightly. I don't want to say much, but it's not pretty.
A set designer's dream?
Depends on the set designer. It might be a dream where he is screaming.
In the first season there were a lot of questions surrounding who is a Doll. Now that we know anyone can be a "sleep agent," is everyone a Doll?
That's the case in the far future; that is not the case right now. But I will tell you right now, everyone is not a Doll. It would be very easy for us to pull that trick over and over, but eventually we would shoot ourselves in the foot because you would find that nothing was at stake and everyone would see the plot twists coming. So we've actually grounded the show fairly heavily. The people who are Dolls are Dolls. I'm not saying never, but basically we are taking the people we have and pushing them around as much as possible. We are trying to keep it grounded so that people know there is something at stake. If we make people Dolls willy-nilly, no one connects.