At Least There's No James Marsters... Yet

Summer Glau will have a recurring role on season 2 of Dollhouse as someone who “shares a past” with Eliza Dushku’s character. Many people have argued that Glau would have been a better choice for the part, and that she might even have gotten it if she hadn’t been on the same network’s (now-defunct) Sarah Connor Chronicles at the time. I’m not sure about this. Dushku has limited range, but so does Glau. So do most of Whedon’s favourite actors. Even the ones who can actually act, like Alexis Denisof — who, of course, will also be appearing in season 2 of Dollhouse — seem like rather limited personalities, at least when they work with him. And of course he’s been known to fall head over heels for actors with very little personality, like Amy “also on Dollhouse” Acker.

Some showrunners try to build their stock companies out of craggy, average-looking actors with lots of personality and fight with their networks over the casting of people who don’t look perfect. Whedon is like the opposite; he absolutely loves to cast every part with the kind of pretty-looking, slightly bland people that networks also love. He fights to cast the people that other producers have forced on them by network executives. David Milch fell in love with people like Dennis Franz; Joss Whedon’s ideal actor appears to be Nathan Fillion, a cute, non-threatening actor with a limited emotional range. That’s why Dollhouse is the ultimate Whedon show, about pretty people who literally have no personalities at all.

I’m not attacking him for this; people cast the actors they’re comfortable with for the shows they do, and Whedon’s type of show — pitched halfway between dead-seriousness and silliness, and aimed at a young audience — probably requires the kind of beautiful, uncomplicated people who populate the movies/shows in most of the genres he’s riffing on. But I think he got lucky, in Buffy, by casting Sarah Michelle Gellar, who, though cute, had more spunk and more of a prickly, interesting onscreen personality than most of his actors. (She was also good at crying convincingly, which helps give the impression of at least a two-dimensional actor.) He was also lucky in getting Alyson Hannigan as a last-minute replacement; she’s also a more distinctive personality than his usual actor. Even Angel got a little lucky because David Boreanaz grew out of his initial pretty-boy status and became almost tough. Anything resembling genuine toughness has been hard to find in a Whedon character since then; it’s always a bunch of stone-faced ballerinas and Krasinkis playing at being action heroes, entire shows cast with people who could play assistant D.A.s on Law and Order or supporting roles on a late ’90s NBC sitcom.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.