Joss Whedon thinks he’s one of the nicest showrunners who ever lived.
That’s what he told a writer for New York magazine, anyway. In a profile published Monday, the disgraced filmmaker and showrunner broke his silence for the first time on the alleged misconduct that took place everywhere from the writers’ room to the bedroom.
Whedon was a man too big and beloved to fail—a “guru on the hill,” according to one Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer. He was lionized by fans and beloved by critics through the Buffy era and well into his time as a maker of blockbuster superhero flicks like Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012 and DC’s Justice League in 2017. That same year, however, would prove to be the beginning of the end.
The floodgates opened when Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, accused him of infidelity and called him a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals” in a 2017 guest blog post for The Wrap. An array of abuse allegations have since been leveled at him by a gamut of people who knew him, including Justice League actors Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot.
Now, he’s “terrified of every word that comes out of my mouth,” afraid any slip of the tongue will be used against him. But still, he’s talking.
Between excusing himself for repeated trips to the toilet (a trick gifted to him by someone who recommended it as a response to uncomfortable questions), Whedon recounted a number of his “tales of horror and woe,” as he joked to New York, going all the way back to the woman who raised him. From Justice League’s Cyborg Ray Fisher, whom Whedon called “a bad actor in both senses,” to his ex-wife, whom he indirectly blames for the Snyder cut snafu, a lot of people have been caught in his dragnet.
Whedon said his family of “admirable monsters” gave him complex post-traumatic-stress disorder.
In his heyday, Whedon regularly cited his mother, Lee Stearns, as inspiration for the stories about strong women he used to be lauded for. Though he referred to her as “extraordinary” and “sexy” in 2006, he told New York recently that Stearns could also be “capricious and withholding.” Whedon’s parents gave him “no structure” and “no safety,” he said, failing to teach him to swim even after a boy he’d played with as a young child drowned at his family’s second home. His brothers, “admirable monsters” in his words, also “bullied the shit” out of him, so much so that he spent long mornings pacing, “plotting elaborate revenges” on them.
That family dynamic, in his estimation, turned him into a “hideous little homunculus who managed to annoy everyone,” as he put it to a biographer. “People like Joss offset their trauma on other people in exchange for their energy,” one of Whedon’s ex-partners told New York, “and take their energy to keep going—to keep themselves alive, almost. That’s why he’s so good at the vampire narrative.”
Whedon made out with a Buffy actress on the floor of a colleague’s office—while she was trying to work at her desk.
It’s been well-documented that, in the workplaces he controlled, Whedon regularly mocked writers for what he considered subpar work until they cried. He subjected one woman, in front of the rest of the writing staff, to “basically 90 minutes of vicious mockery,” she told New York. But his alleged disrespect to those he worked with extended even further than previously reported.
One anonymous and “high-level” Buffy production team member recalled an incident where Whedon and a young actress on the show came into her office as she was working. Without ceremony, she heard a noise and turned around to see the pair making out on her floor. “They would bang into my chair,” she said. “How can you concentrate? It was gross.” After this happened more than once, the production member left Buffy without waiting for another job to materialize.
When New York raised the subject to Whedon, he replied, “That seems false. I don’t understand that story even a little bit.” He then excused himself to go to the bathroom.
Whedon denied Gal Gadot’s allegation that he “threatened” to make her career “miserable,” blaming her inability to understand English.
Whedon allegedly made his threat after Gadot raised “multiple concerns” about his revised Justice League script. “I don’t threaten people. Who does that?” he asked New York. Instead, he said, it had been miscommunication: “English is not her first language, and I tend to be annoyingly flowery in my speech.”
He explained that one argument over a scene she wanted cut had led to a similar misunderstanding. Whedon joked, he said, that if Gadot wanted the scene cut, she would have to tie him to a railroad track—over his dead body would the scene be cut. “Then I was told that I had said something about her dead body and tying her to the railroad track,” he said. Gadot responded in an email to New York that she had “understood [Whedon] perfectly” during the heated exchange.)
Whedon called Justice League actor Ray Fisher “a malevolent force” in response to Fisher’s allegations of his on-set misconduct.
Fisher, who played Cyborg, accused Whedon of abusing his power on the film’s set. The director also cut crucial scenes out of Justice League, Fisher said, reducing his part to a series of stereotypes. Whedon pushed back on the actor’s allegations, saying Cyborg’s storyline “logically made no sense.” The filmmaker insisted he’d spent time respectfully discussing the revisions with Fisher. He was stunned by the actor’s claims when they surfaced in 2020. “We’re talking about a malevolent force,” Whedon said by way of explanation. “We’re talking about a bad actor in both senses.”
Whedon said he now considers the decision to help out with rewrites and reshoots on Justice League one of the biggest regrets of his life. Snyder fans attacked him viciously online, particularly for being a bad feminist. Whedon dismissed the controversy as a product of Kai Cole’s defamation of him. “They don’t give a fuck about feminism,” he said of Snyder’s fans. “I was made a target by my ex-wife, and people exploited that cynically.”
Whedon broke up with a girlfriend by reenacting the previous worst breakup of her life “just to show” he could.
Whedon and sex educator Arden Leigh met in 2012, after she picked him up at a club. She and Whedon embarked on a consensual “owner and doll” relationship, which Leigh said she found gratifying. Three years later, Whedon broke up with Leigh by reenacting a horrible memory she’d written about in her book about being a female pickup artist, The New Rules of Attraction. A boyfriend, she recounted in the epilogue, had ended things on her birthday. Leigh said that she and Whedon had talked about this scene before.
Just hours before she was due to celebrate her birthday in 2015, Leigh told New York, Whedon went to her house and put an end to their relationship. “If he was like, What could I do to Arden that would be her worst nightmare?, that would have been it,” Leigh explained. “Joss destroyed a beautiful thing just to show he had the power to. That’s literally everything you need to know about him.” Whedon told New York he didn’t want to discuss his previous relationships with women in detail.