High Stakes 2004: Whedon Fans for Kerry

"Let freedom ring. Unless it's on vibrate. Can we pretend I didn't say that?" -- Joss Whedon

[This article was up on the web magazine I wrote for for about three days, until High Stakes made us take it down. The election is long over, I worked pretty hard on it, and this is my page, not a web magazine, so here it is in its entirety.]

On October 24, 2004, there was a fundraiser for John Kerry and John Edwards, High Stakes 2004 at the Cinescape in Hollywood. Hercules T. Strong of Ain't It Cool News had originally planned to host the fundraiser at his own apartment, but the event got just a bit too big when Joss Whedon decided to attend and bring along several of his friends.

Among the attendees were Buffy stars Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Amber Benson, Adam Busch, Danny Strong, and Tom Lenk; Angel stars Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, and J. August Richards; and Firefly star Nathan Fillion. Nearly 300 fans came by, donated money to the Kerry/Edwards campaign, and schmoozed with their favorite actors.

A film about John Kerry looped on the big screen in the main room at the Cinescape accompanied by the soundtrack for the Buffy musical "Once More, with Feeling." The combination was a bit surreal, although at times it felt very appropriate. All of the actors were mobbed, but Joss Whedon was super-mobbed; I never got an opportunity to talk with him. But I talked with a few of the actors about what was going on with their lives.

Nicholas Brendon said frankly that he was looking for work; he said he'd been ill for awhile, and getting healthy was his first priority. (Looks like he succeeded, because he looked trim and terrific; his hair was very short.) The lovely and much taller than I expected Amy Acker, seven months gone, said that it was hard to find work while pregnant. (She's due in January; it's a boy.) Tall, handsome, and friendly, J. August Richards talked about how he was "just hanging out" these days.

Alyson Hannigan just finished a play in England, and she said that she and husband Alexis Denisof were just hanging out, working on their new house. "Not actually working, but having work done," she said, "because there would be hammers flying... " I asked her about her recent pilot, Americana, which was not picked up; she said, "It was a blast, but that's how the cookie crumbles."

Amber Benson and Adam Busch, clearly a couple, arrived together and spent most of the evening holding hands. Amber looked beautiful, as always; her hair has gotten very long, way past her waist. I asked Amber what she was working on; she said that she and Chris Golden are currently writing a sequel to The Ghost of Albion called Accursed. Adam said he was just playing his music (the band is called Common Rotation.) I was sorry I didn't get up the nerve to tell him that I thought he was a marvelous actor, and one of the best villains they'd ever had on Buffy. And that the two of them made a very cute couple, although let me tell you, it's odd when you're a Buffy fan to absorb seeing Tara and Warren as a couple.

The highlight of the afternoon was Joss Whedon's conference call Q&A session set up with all forty-two Buffy/Angel/Firefly parties around the country. Alyson L. Abramowitz, National Chairperson of High Stakes, asked the questions on behalf of other fans at the remote locations.

Alyson Abramowitz: (Reading questions from fans at other parties around the country) I've had many political discussions with conservatives, a couple with a certain person in the Firefly cast. What do you feel is the best method to convince someone like Adam Baldwin to get them [to vote for John Kerry]?

Joss Whedon: Adam Baldwin. No more questions, thank you. [laughter] There are certain people whose minds will not be swayed one way or another, no matter what happens, but if I were talking with someone like Adam, as I have on some occasions, I would simply say that this is not a party matter.

This is not about liberals and conservatives, it's not about Republicans and Democrats. The Republican party and the Democratic party have different ideas on how things should be run, but they're all for the same end: to make the country safer and stronger, to build the economy, to make everybody feel proud of their country, and to keep us safe amongst other nations. I don't believe the current leadership is really a member of either party. I don't believe the current leadership is doing anything for any of the people, be they Republican or Democrat, and that's what needs to be looked at.

Q: I hear that Emma Caulfield is a Republican and she's voting for Kerry. [applause and cheers] Due to the high concentration of vampires and demons, do you think Sunnydale County usually votes Democratic or Republican?

A: Sunnydale is all about hiding from the truth ... pretending everything is all right to try to convince its citizens that everything is all right when they're being picked off one by one. So who do you think they're voting for?

Q: What's your position on building a complete series around Eliza Dushku, now that it looks like she might become available?

A: If Eliza Dushku were interested in doing a series with the character of Faith, I would start salivating. She's one of the characters that I adore, she's one of the actresses that I adore, and that character has struggled so much with so many things and so many decisions, there's so much to say about her, I would love to do it. Whether it will happen, I really can't say ... but that's something I've never lost interest in. Eliza is a smart and interesting actress, and she definitely needs a venue that is worthy of her.

Q: You mentioned in your [Air America?] interview Saturday that the invasion of Iraq caused some changes in the story arc of Buffy's season six. What was the original storyline, and [how did it change?]

A: The fact is, there wasn't a huge change in the story for Buffy, but when we were writing the story, we decided that we were going to shake up the paradigm of the show by having her fight evil at its source, attack evil instead of waiting for it to attack her. And then we started hearing a lot of rhetoric from the President that sounded very similar. We as a writing staff got very nervous and very upset, and we were worried that some of those rhetorics might overlap. We'd like to remind the President that he is not a high school girl who kills vampires. Ultimately, what happened was when Buffy crossed the line and she became an ineffective leader who endangered the persons around her, they kicked her out of the house.

Regarding the fifth season of Angel, we tried to say, can you work with the current administration, can we bend it to our purpose, can we still maintain our personal integrity when we're inside a system that is so blatantly corrupt? And the answer is so clearly no.

Q: Besides being incredibly funny and exceptionally well written...

A: (interrupts) Very good question. [laughter]

Q: ... your shows contain strong, albeit implicit ideological themes. Is this something you actively try to incorporate into your work, or do you feel that the situations are left open to audience interpretation?

A: Well, inevitably, a person's beliefs are going to become part of what they write about. There are times when you have to be very careful. You have a responsibility not to put out a message that is inherently against what you believe. At the same time, you do have to be able to tell a story; you're not making a speech, or propaganda. If fiction doesn't speak to people, it's not genuine fiction about people. There are a lot of Republican and very conservative fans of the shows, and there is something in there for them; we want everybody who watches these stories to get something from them. They should be about the human condition, not just my political leanings or my beliefs. Yes, they're going to be my stories and the things I want to talk about, but they're for everybody. If somebody starts to feel not included, then that's a bad thing.

Q: [How do you make your characters so brilliant?]

A: There's only one way to make characters truly brilliant. Hire brilliant actors.

[Joss pauses to introduce Nick Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, and Alexis Denisof who are in the small booth with him.]

Alexis Denisof: I'll take any questions, as long as Joss answers them.

Whedon: As far as making characters method, I think it has to do with touching on something that happens to everybody in a story that happens to nobody. Taking an everyday experience and making it bigger than life so that people can relate to it emotionally.

Q: Joss, how do you stand on [different fan campaigns and what can fans do to make things better?]

A: Get John Kerry elected, or I will spiral into depression and stop writing. [laughter] That's not an answer. ... The fan base has always been motivated by altruism and by the desire to make things better and by a willingness to get out there and do what's right. I've been the beneficiary of that so many times, and I've been so appreciative of the Save Angel campaign, the Save Firefly campaign, and I worked on campaigns that seemed hopeless. Dukakis. [laughter] I worked long and hard, I was out there and I had people stare at me as if I was a crazy man when I tried to get out the vote.

Sometimes you work on a campaign that cannot win, and ultimately that's the only way to win the ones that can be won, so when you work on campaigns, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't ... but to our fans, it never seems to matter. This is one campaign that we can, and will, and must win.

Q: I feel that it's every American's responsibility not only to vote, but also to explain to others why they are voting the way they are, so you have an opportunity to hear the argument of all sides without it being filtered through the political pundits on television. I don't understand the current backlash against various media artists stating their opinions and campaigning for their candidates. It's no different than major businesses that donate large sums of money and backing their candidates. What made you come out at this point in the election and help support John Kerry?

A: The fact is, everybody does ask that question at some point: who cares what this entertainer thinks? Like many entertainers, one of the reasons I have stayed away from becoming visible in the public eye is because that's a question that's hard to refute, and one is also terrified of making a fool of oneself. But I'm confident that will happen no matter what, so obviously, go with it.

The fact is that in every campaign, in every election, the feeling has always been that the United States as a machine is so big that it will stand, no matter what, no matter who is in office, no matter what the next four years do. It'll zig, it'll zag, but it'll stay the course, it'll stand. I actually believe that we have an administration currently that has belied that notion, and has, in fact, made it so that this republic could crumble. We are less safe in the world than we have ever been. America is regarded with more contempt by other countries than it has ever been. The deficit is in a place where it has never been before. Nothing in this country is going right, and the President is acting as if none of that matters.

There comes a point in your life when you can no longer be silent, even if you're worried that someone else is going to be more articulate than you are. Even if you're worried that you may not have all the facts. Nobody has all the facts; it's increasingly difficult to get any of them from the news. But more easy to get from the Internet, from all sorts of different sources. This is a time when, if you have the will, you can stand up and make yourself heard. And I believe this is the one time when we simply have no choice. We must be heard.

Q: Are you thinking of directing the third X-Men movie?

A: This is one question I promised I would answer, and one I actually don't think I can twist into a political diatribe. I did promise I'd say whether or not I'm going to be directing the third X-Men movie, and the answer is, I'm sorry to say, no. I won't be writing or directing it. Quite frankly, I thought about it for a long time, I looked into my heart, and I realized that Fox didn't ask me to. And frankly, if they don't ask you to direct a movie, and you show up on the set and start directing it, it's a faux pas.

So, ultimately, the fact that I'm writing the X-Men every month in The Astonishing X-Men ... is getting my X-fix on just fine. I'm writing a screenplay of my own right now, and it'll be nice to work on something that wasn't created by me or anybody else many years ago.

Q: About Serenity, the Firefly-based movie, as the movie opens, how much time has elapsed since we saw ... the crew?

A: Basically, for those of you who may have seen Firefly, the movie opens approximately six months after the show closed down. For those of you who have never seen Firefly -- don't laugh, Nicky Brendon, if you've never seen Firefly, you're in trouble -- the movie actually begins before everybody got together, and explains the plight of River Tam, and Simon answers the question of whether or not she is actually psychic, and begins also with a couple of characters who were living on the ship now having left the ship ... for the initiates, it's sometime past and exactly what's going on is explained. If you have never seen it, we're starting fresh, it should be very clear who everybody is and what they're doing.

Q: You said that the Angel finale was not a cliffhanger. If the last episode of Angel had Angel, Spike, Illyria, and Gunn literally hanging from a cliff, would you consider that a cliffhanger? What actually would you consider a cliffhanger in your world?

A: If they were all hanging from a cliff, I would probably call it a cliffhanger -- unless, of course, I had started the show with all of them hanging from a cliff. The fact of the matter is, the reason I always maintained that the end of Angel was not a cliffhanger, even though we don't ultimately know the fates of the people involved, is that the message of that show was very simply, you have to keep fighting.

And once again, there is no more relevant message for what we are here for today than that. You have to keep fighting. One thing about this country, you never get to sit back and just let things happen. When you do that, well, we all see what you get. You have to keep fighting every single day to make things better if you want to call yourself a moral, decent, responsible person. It's extremely hard, and that is the story that I was telling. If I had ended it by explaining what happened to everybody, I would have been untrue to that message. Therefore, I don't consider that a cliffhanger.

However, if you like, I can tell you. Gunn pretty much dies, Illyria lives, Spike got the Shanshu, Angel gets his arm cut off, and Xander loses another eye which is weird because he wasn't even there.

Q: In the commentary for "Objects in Space," you discussed your view on life, the universe, and everything. This discussion seems to tie together not only the guiding forces behind this episode, but behind many episodes in each of your series. In writing and directing Serenity, do you find that it's easier or more difficult to explain this sort of philosophical underpinning?

A: Well, basically there's nothing like a TV show for rambling on about yourself. Sometimes they give you as many as seven years, and sometimes as many as eleven episodes to put forth your philosophical views, and fully examine the interior lives of people. Movies definitely don't give you the same kind of opportunity, but they give you a forum that's very large to say what you believe in, and anybody who knows me will see me in Serenity. It's a very personal movie, it's also a very political movie. There are certain levels of depth and nuance that simply can't be reached in a movie, which is what makes television such a great medium. There is a certain level of ... strength that you can find in a movie that's harder to come by in television. That's why I love both.

Q: A Spike question now. I think Spike represents a tortured independent voter, following his instinct vs. reason. If Spike were eligible to vote in the presidential race, who would he vote for, and why?

A: (thoughtfully) Who would Spike vote for? Let's talk a little bit about Spike. He is so hot. [laughter] Spike is an interesting character for me because I secretly always felt that he was a tad more involved as a human being than Angel was, Angel having had humanity thrust upon him, whereas Spike actively sought it out.

However, to say who he would vote for is a little tough, because although he is a decent, responsible person, he loves to fight. And if he doesn't have somebody to fight against, he will get cranky, he might just want to be ornery. He might think that people have been so lackadaisical and so apathetic that they deserve four more years of George Bush. He has a wicked sense of humor. So I couldn't really say who he'd vote for. Maybe Nader.

Q: You're used to dealing with scary stuff. What frightens you most about the Bush administration's policies?

A: What frightens me the most? I've always come at this from the point of view of his foreign policy, which long before September 11, long before he misguided us into a war with Iraq, long before any of that, George Bush showed an extraordinary lack of interest in foreign policy and in the foreign nations. I believe he thought that once we were America, we were John Wayne, and so it didn't matter what we did. This was borne out by his first statement, that the country would no longer provide aid to any country that allowed abortions, when he was the ruler of a country where it is a constitutional right. This was borne out by his dealings with China very early on, which by the way happens to be a fairly large place. This was borne out in all of his dealings with other nations.

In fact, I know somebody in the Washington press corps who has followed a couple of presidents and some presidential hopefuls, and he was talking about the Bush administration and how great it has been for his marriage. Because when Clinton went anywhere, into foreign countries, he spent time there, he spent time in a hut, he spent time with the people, he would get into the politics of the country, and the life of the country. He was fascinated by the world and by America's place in it, and what we could do to help, and what we couldn't. Bush stays exactly long enough to have his picture taken, and gets my friend back home to his wife.

So Bush is destroying our place in the league of nations and this world, and I would remind him that this is the only one going, since there is no one on Mars as yet. He's doing a great job for my friend's marriage. That is truly the thing that scares me the most. His complete disregard. And of course, this was seen in his making war on Iraq when there was a hue and cry amongst all civilizations for him to cease -- and he didn't. Exactly how little he cares, how he is out there right now, sowing the seeds of terrorism by turning America into what so many other countries already thought it was, an uncaring giant that forces its beliefs on other countries. This is not what we can afford to have the world see us as, and certainly not what we can afford to be. [applause]

[Joss introduces Nathan Fillion, who just joined them in the booth]

Q: If you ever direct an X-Men movie, will you make Wolverine wear yellow spandex?

A: I've always wanted to make Wolverine wear a yellow spandex thong. I'm pretty sure that's why Fox didn't ask me to direct it. [laughter] Yellow spandex is fine in comic books. It's a little tougher in the real world. And I think I can even segue that into, once again, the difference between comic books and the real world.

[closing]

Remember the most important thing. ... this is not the end. There is so much more to do. What more can we do? As we learned four years ago, we have keep fighting, we have to do everything we can to get people to vote intelligently, to vote for their country, and take it back again.

1 comment:

wytchcroft said...

this is now a very interesting little time-capsule of a piece and one that i am glad you have opted to keep visible.

cheers.