Happy Birthday, Joss Whedon: Celebrating With Those Who Know Him Best

by Tami Katzoff

On Saturday (June 23), Joss Whedon turns 48 years young. In this column, where we sing his praises on a weekly basis, we’ll sing even louder in celebration of his birthday.

Actually, let’s leave the singing to the folks who know him better. Writer/producer Tim Minear started working with Whedon back in the “Angel” days and then followed him to “Firefly” and “Dollhouse.” From the beginning, Minear noticed a difference in the way Whedon interacted with his staff.

“I’ve worked for a lot of these marquee [showrunner] names, and they often have to make sure they get all the credit for everything,” Minear says. “Joss is so the opposite."

Minear also felt the contagious excitement that Whedon brought to each project. “There’s never a sense of, you’re just churning out the junk food,” he says. “There’s never a sense of, oh I’m just a hack who’s doing it for the paycheck or I’m just phoning it in.”

Minear knew that “The Avengers” would be the perfect fit for Whedon. “Anyone else would have probably flamed out, but first of all – The Avengers, comic books – he knows that world,” he says. And Minear was confident in Whedon’s ability to manage a group of strong characters, like he did with the Scooby Gang and the crew of Serenity. “Nobody’s better at orchestrating an ensemble than Joss. He’s just magnificent at it.”

As Simon Tam on "Firefly," actor Sean Maher was a part of one of those ensembles. He’ll next appear alongside many Whedon alums in his modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Not having done any Shakespeare previously, and never having played a bad guy on screen, Maher was terrified about taking on the role of the story’s villain, Don John. But it turned out to be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. “When we would finish a take I had goose bumps,” Maher says. “There’s a lot of love for [Whedon] and I think the movie is just a perfect example, for me, of what can be born from that.”

And why all the love? “I hate to sound like a cliché, but he’s such a genius. And everything that comes out of his mouth I just marvel at,” Maher says. “He just has such a clear vision as to what he wants... It’s wonderful to be around and it’s also incredibly inspiring.”

The word “vision” comes up a lot when people talk about Joss Whedon. Tim Minear is currently working with Ryan Murphy on “American Horror Story” and says that though the two showrunners have very different methods, what they have in common is that “there’s absolutely nothing generic about their approach.”

“If you have a creator who really has a vision, a very specific vision, and if you can kind of do their act, it’s great,” Minear says. “All you have to do is get into the slipstream of what it is they’re doing, and you’re safe as houses.”

MTV News producer Tami Katzoff presents The Weekly Whedon, a column exploring all corners of the Whedonverse from "Marvel's The Avengers" to "Buffy" and beyond. Assemble your reactions in the comments section!