We are so proud to publish this interview with a woman who has consistently given us Whedonverse stories since 1998 with no end in sight and the very person that Scott Allie proclaimed as "the nicest and the bestest of all the writers. Anywhere." We're talking about, of course, the Buffyfest crowned Queen of the Whedonverse: Jane Espenson.
Jane has written and produced for over a dozen hit TV shows including Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Tru Calling, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Torchwood, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and many more...not to mention comics. Oh, and she invented the word "Zima". How cool is that? We couldn't be more honored to pick her brain.
Buffyfest: First of all, we just want to say thank you. We’re huge fans of your work and we’re delighted that you’ve taken time out of your busy schedule to talk with us!
You've worn many hats in your career - showrunner, executive producer, writer - which do you find to be your most comfortable title and which is the most challenging?
Jane Espenson: "Writer" is the one I value. That's the part that interests me the most and that I have some faith I can do well. Running a show involves a lot of things that aren't about the writing – and that take time away from the writing. I mean, I can imagine running a show again, but it will always be the writing that I love.
Buffyfest: Which actors do you think have done the best with the lines you’ve given them? Was there a moment on a show where you were blown away by a performance of the words you created?
JE: Oh, there have been a lot of such moments from many actors. The one that's coming to my mind now is the work of Enver Gjokaj on Dollhouse when we had him impersonate another actor in the show and he absolutely nailed it, and then went beyond impersonation to a real and deep performance. Loved that.
Buffyfest: Joss Whedon is known for having a "Joss" character in every show he creates (Xander, Doyle, Wash, Topher). Are there any "Jane" characters in shows you've worked on or created? What are the pros and cons to the writer having an avatar or raisonneur in their work?
JE: I've often commented on a certain awkward bluntness that I share with Anya. But I didn't create her. I haven't really created enough stuff from whole cloth to have even had this chance. I certainly put myself into every character as I write them – I think it's most likely that I'll continue like that and not have a character that represents me.
Buffyfest: We obviously love Buffy. What are you watching right now on TV that you love and why?
JE: Glee. I love it. Love the energy and the colors and the music and the humor. Why aren't there more shows copying this wonderful energy? I thought this season would bring on the Glee clones, but I didn't read any pilots that would qualify. I think companies are missing the boat by not creating more recession-era bright programming like this right now.
Buffyfest: You've been writing for the Buffyverse for over a decade now. What do you consider to be Buffy's finest moment as a character?
JE: Can a moment be a whole episode? Because I want to say the whole episode "The Body."
Buffyfest: What was your favorite season of Buffy and why?
JE: Season Five because I believe I wrote more episodes that season than any other season. I like writing a lot of episodes. Or maybe you mean dramatically. Probably Season Five. The show was mature, just turning dark, and our wrapping up of the high school experience capped the main metaphor of the show. Loved that year.
Buffyfest: Where do you see Buffy when she's 50 years old?
JE: In which timeline? I can see a future where she's scarred and bitter, and I can see one where she's transcendent and at peace. I don't feel it's for me to declare one more valid than the other.
Buffyfest: If Season 8 was written for TV, besides the special effects limitations, do you think the story would've been on the same track?
JE: Hmm... probably not. The visual freedom of comic books allowed us to do things that would've been impossible to stage and film and to intertwine characters played by actors whom we'd never have been able to get back at this stage.
Buffyfest: Let's turn to the Riley One-Shot. The title “Commitment Through Distance, Virtue Through Sin” was very powerful. Can you talk about how that title came to you?
JE: Oh, thanks! I haven't heard anyone comment on that title before. I often like one word titles that point out the theme, but this just wasn't lending itself to that. But there was an interesting commonality between the two stories in the issue – Sam was making the argument that Riley could go to Buffy and yet strengthen, not damage, his marriage. Whistler was making the argument that Angel could serve the bigger good through a whole lot of evil along the way. Counterintuitive ways to a goal. But "Counterintuitive Ways to a Goal" is a terrible title. So I decided to just spell it out and I liked how it sounded.
Buffyfest: The one-shot seems to be written as an allegory, mirroring Angel’s story through the narrative of Riley. How hard was it to write that type of narrative in the short space of a comic?
JE: It was actually one of the easier ones I've written since it was a lot of talk. I disguised it with action, but it's just a pair of two-person conversations, which are my favorite thing to write. The mirroring was the reason to tell the story, so that happened first and then it was just writing people talking, which is just a matter of winding them up and letting them go. I didn't have it all right the first time through – there were a couple sets of notes from Joss that led to adjustments. But it actually was a pretty easy road!
Buffyfest: Buffy seems to be at the center of this issue although she doesn’t ever appear. Is she the parallel connecting Riley and Angel’s story?
JE: Yes, she's at the center of both decisions, which is structurally lovely, but the story would've worked without that. It was the similarly counterintuitive solutions to the problems that tied the stories together.
Buffyfest: At Dragon Con, Scott Allie mentioned that for a moment they felt like your arc of Season 8, "Retreat", could have run for ten issues. Would you tell us what your original pitch for that story was and what, if anything, you wish you'd had the chance to keep in there?
JE: Oh that's right. There was that moment. I remember that. Scott had that idea, and I think I was like, well, I can write as much as you want and then Joss jumped in right away to say, no, the plan was right as we'd imagined it to begin with. So the ten issue plan lasted for a minute. Nothing was expanded and then lost. My original pitch was shockingly close to what you see on the page. It was a rare moment where I pitched a story to Joss and he just said, yes, go do that.
Buffyfest: In the second issue of “Retreat”, Dawn compares Werewolves to Slayers in this way: "The demon part is the part that you are and the old human part is the weak, rejected part that gets tossed aside--" that's very telling. What do you think it means to be a slayer? Other than being the leader, what makes Buffy different from all those other chosen?
JE: I think the thing that makes Buffy special is the Buffiness – Dawn is wrong about the human part getting tossed aside. That's a fear Buffy has, but I don't think it's true. It's her essential character that she was born with that makes her special.
Buffyfest: Buffy Season 8 has taken some criticism from fans who say that Buffy has lost her feminist message by way of her bank robbing, rogue slayers abusing their powers and the recent Twilight arc. How do you feel about Season 8 so far from a feminist perspective?
JE: I hadn't heard that. I think if we try to make women characters better than we really are, then we're holding doors open for them. Let 'em be as disarmingly fallible as men. No one's better than anyone else—that's the important thing.
On Firefly, Caprica and Torchwood
Buffyfest: We recently read your Firefly short story "What Holds Us Down" and thought it was fantastic. Would you tell us the inspiration for this love letter to Kaylee and Wash?
JE: I wanted to bring those two together because it was a combination I wanted to see. And it made sense to me that the pilot and the mechanic would have a story that centered around the ship. And I wanted to play with a lot of the stuff you don't to do in script form – I wanted an "internal" story. This just hit all the switches. I'm really proud of it – it's the kind of story I would want to read. That's what lets me know I'm on the right track.
Buffyfest: It was just announced that Caprica will be back sooner than we thought. Any hints from the writer's room as to what we can expect from the Adama and Graystone families in the new season? Will we eventually get to see a link between Bill Adama the boy and Bill Adama the pilot as the show moves forward?
JE: The announcement is about the airing of the second half of season one, so these are episodes that have already been shot – I can tell you that you should look forward to visiting some other colonies and that you're going to see more of the structure of the monotheist religion and you're going to learn more about the history of young Joseph and Sam Adama.
JE: Oh I love Torchwood so much. I adored Children of Earth. I love Jack and Gwen so much. Loved Ianto, of course. I loved James Marsters when he was on the show. Love love love. I haven't dived into Doctor Who yet, I have to admit. I know that's shameful. But I simply found Torchwood without going through Whoville.
Buffyfest: With Torchwood's move from the BBC to Starz, some fans (and actors, including James Marsters) have expressed concern about the continued equal representation of queer characters. What are the challenges of telling authentic, LGBT stories on American television? Will Torchwood be able to remain as queer friendly as it's been for the last three series?
JE: Torchwood will not change in this respect in any way. There is no pressure, no obstacles, not a whisper of concern.
Buffyfest: You recently reunited with your former Buffy co-writers for the Stop the H8 photo campaign. In light of the recent rulings that both Prop 8 is unconstitutional, what are you’re hopes for the future of the marriage equality issue in California and nationally?
JE: Drew Greenberg organized that photo shoot and I thought it was brilliant. It was important and it was also a great excuse to get the gang together again. As for your question about hopes, I don't even want to state them as "hopes," since that leaves open the possibility of doubt. Marriage equality is an absolutely certainty and it's just a matter of when. I feel that even the opponents themselves are starting to realize that they're the people who are going to make future generations shake their heads and blush. You can see it on their faces now, that they're hearing their own words ringing hollow. Hang on. It's going to be soon.