The Inside Story of the Joss Whedon Story
Journalist Lila Shapiro reveals the 2.5-year pursuit behind her bombshell profile, why she thinks he did an interview, and his description of himself as a "villain"
This edition is a subscriber bonus, a text excerpt from a not-yet-posted episode of The Ankler Hot Seat podcast. The show features reporter Lila Shapiro, who recently interviewed exiled director Joss Whedon in a buzzy, everyone-has-an-opinion profile for Vulture. Below, in conversation yesterday with hosts Janice Min, Richard Rushfield and Tatiana Siegel, Shapiro reveals the behind-the-scenes drama of the interview, her long pursuit, why he did it, and whether he feels accountability, and if he will work again. To be alerted when the podcast posts, please follow The Ankler on Twitter or at Apple Podcasts here.
Until recently, investigative reporter Lila Shapiro largely covered mysteries from the publishing world in her job at Vulture, writing stories, as she describes them, that “revolved around Twitter controversies that turned out to be more complicated than they initially seemed to be.” One of them was a profile of Kate Elizabeth Russell, author of the book My Dark Vanessa. Russell had been accused of plagiarism on Twitter when her book came out. Her accuser, or at least insinuator, was another woman who had written a memoir about her affair with her high school English teacher. “I read both books and [in the story] kind of say, plainly, there was no plagiarism,” says Shapiro. “And ultimately, I talked to the person who sort of first insinuated that and she was like, ‘I actually never read the book.’”
That counter-narrative approach, in addition to her Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom, led Shapiro to take an interest in 2019 in Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and writer and director of two Avengers movies, long before the Justice League controversies. In 2017, his ex-wife, Kai Cole, bylined a scathing piece accusing him of emotional abuse, infidelity and of being a hypocrite around feminist ideals. And “then (HBO’s) The Nevers was announced,” recalls Shapiro. “So it just struck me. Ok, well, he's coming back to TV. He's trying to do superhero women again.” One of Hollywood’s top directors, it turned out, was about to enter the crosshairs.
She first had reached out to his team for a general profile. Eventually, as events in Whedon’s life began to spiral, with accusations coming in from actors Ray Fisher and Charisma Carpenter, she expanded her scope and reached out to people who'd worked on Buffy, and with Whedon, on other projects. The conversation begins here, and is condensed for space and clarity.
How it Began
Shapiro: I told the [PR people in early 2021], ‘I'm a serious investigative reporter. I'm not coming to this with a preconceived idea. And what I'm going to do is just try to talk to as many people as I can and write what I find. And maybe it's possible that he's been unfairly treated on Twitter. I mean, it happens.’
Ankler: But they blew you off.
Shapiro: They basically said, ‘You know, let's circle back during The Nevers.’ So they just, yeah, it was neither a…