They say you should never meet your idols, the implication being that you’ll only be disappointed. But an hour from my scheduled interview with Joss Whedon, I was inclined to think that the real reason you shouldn’t meet your idols is because you might throw up on them. I was a teeny bit nervous.
Now, unfortunately I can’t spill the beans on what we talked about in the interview. We were discussing his new film Much Ado About Nothing and that’s embargoed for now – you’ll have to check out a future issue of Starburst Magazine to get the content of the actual interview (sorry!). But when my fellow nerds found out that I’d been in a room with Whedon, they didn’t care what he said, they only wanted to know one thing: “What was it like to meet him?” And I can answer that one.
The Fandom Factor
Like all other nerds who are old enough to remember Buffy hitting our screens in 1997, I’ve been a Whedon fan for 16 years. A rabid fan, would probably be a fairer assessment. I was at that impressionable age where everything you see and do shapes who you want to be. And Buffy made me want to be a script writer (and also a superhero, but hey, you’ve got to be realistic about these things).
An Offer You Couldn’t Refuse
He seems to make things because he genuinely loves them – not because he’s getting paid or because he thinks it’ll be successful. It also helps, of course, that he’s witty, intelligent and charming in interviews and you can’t help but think that he must be a really nice person. Talented, nerdy and nice? No wonder he’s earned the nickname Nerd Jesus.
So when I was first asked if I wanted to conduct the interview with him on behalf of Starburst, my emailed reply was one word: ‘YES!!!!’
That cautious excitement got me through the first week (cautious just in case it fell through – because of course it would. I wouldn’t actually get to meet Joss Whedon, surely?). And then, once everything was confirmed and locked in, and I’d been to the screening of Much Ado (which is predictably excellent), a new emotion got hold of me: Fear. Gut-churning, dry-mouthed fear. I was convinced that my prepared questions were trite and obvious. Nothing in my wardrobe was appropriate. I had to wear something empowering – I didn’t want to shame myself in front of a feminist icon by wearing a short skirt or seeming flirtatious in any way, but jeans might be too casual. It’s possible that I may have been over-thinking things.
My interview with him wasn’t until late afternoon, so the day of the interview wasn’t exactly the most productive. It was hardly my first rodeo, as they say. I’ve been a journalist for a while now. I’ve interviewed dozens of people. But I had never been nervous like this. And when I arrived for the interview, the waiting room had a very different vibe to it from others I’ve been in.
A lot of the gathered journalists were sleep-deprived (the Oscars had been on the previous night), but the room had a nervy buzz to it. Occasionally people brought up the subject of Whedon and how much they loved his previous work, but in a muted, restrained way. No-one wanted to drop their professional demeanour, or admit that this one was different. This wasn’t any old interviewee: This was Joss Whedon. The room went silent whenever someone else was called in for their interview. And eventually it was my turn.
By now, my professionalism had managed to wrestle back control of my voice and my limbs, and my stomach was behaving itself. I was now relatively sure that I wasn’t going to puke as soon as I opened my mouth to ask the first question. Before I went in, the PR guys warned me that Whedon was jetlagged and not quite on his A-game. He’d been conducting interviews all day. I nodded – I’d been expecting that. And then, with no dramatic drawing back of a curtain or anything, I was in the room with him.
And if that’s Whedon’s B-game, then I can only imagine what his A-game is.
Nerd Hosanna In The Highest
He stood to greet me, shaking my hand and offering me a seat, apologising for his slight sleepiness and opening the conversation with a smart bit of Dickens paraphrasing. ‘Bloody hell, he’s clever’ I thought, congratulating myself on even picking up on the reference. I was following him so far. It wasn’t a bad start.
The interview got underway and for the next 15 minutes I cheerfully and passionately discussed feminism in Shakespeare with Joss Whedon. I consider myself a Shakespeare geek and a lover of language. I’ve got an English degree under my belt and I read constantly, everything from Chaucer to Pullman. But you know that feeling when you realise that you are hopelessly out-classed by the person you’re talking to? Yeah. That. His command of the English language is frightening. Even jet lagged he’s a linguistic gymnast. He speaks like other people write. Anyone can be smart and funny when they’ve got the time to give it some serious thought and put it down on paper, but he can do it off the cuff.
I managed to keep my cool throughout the interview, only giving in to my nerdy side as I packed up my stuff, blurting out that Buffy made me want to be a writer. “Wow,” he said. “Well, commisulations, I guess”. And with that I was out the door and back to the real world, stunned that for 15 minutes my life had overlapped with that of my all-time idol.
Basically, if you’ve got the chance to meet Joss Whedon but you’re scared he won’t live up to expectations, don’t be. He won’t disappoint. When people ask what he’s like, there’s only really one reply I can give.
He’s Nerd Jesus.
He’s exactly what you think he’d be like.
Much Ado About Nothing is out in the UK on 14th June