"I was much happier shooting 'Much Ado' than I've ever been."
It's somehow both surprising and unsurprising to hear Joss Whedon say this about his latest film, a contemporary adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" that's so low-budget that it wasn't even filmed in color. Whedon, who earned a cult following with such groundbreaking TV series as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," is now best known as the director of "Marvel's The Avengers," which recently passed the $1.5 billion mark at the worldwide box office. This is only his third feature film as a director, and it's not exactly an obvious successor to one of the most financially successful movies of all time.
Shot entirely at Whedon's house before "Marvel's The Avengers" was finished, "Much Ado About Nothing" tells the story of Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedict (Alexis Denisof), two wiseacres who are too busy scoring points at one another's expense to realize they are actually in love. Here, Whedon explains why "Much Ado" made "The Avengers" a better film, who gets to decide if Clark Gregg returns as the superhero Vision in the latter film's sequel, and why you have forgotten that "Roseanne" (which gave Whedon his start) was a really great show.
I feel like you're having a nice year.
You know, it has its ups.
This movie has such an interesting concept. Why did you want to make it?
I think the "it's so much fun" part is about 60 percent of it.
You got to hang out with your friends.
Yeah. I'd been away for more than year, and what better way to hang out with my friends than by doing my favorite thing -- getting them to do things that they either love to do or didn't know they could.
What appeals about doing a modern adaptation of a play written 400 years ago?
I wanted to do it with "Hamlet" years ago, before the technology meant that I just could. And then I watched as other people did modern "Hamlet," modern "Romeo and Juliet." I think what appeals most is that audiences who would never see "Romeo and Juliet" went to see that film. And it was very faithful to the text. And you see, Baz [Luhrmann], don't get me wrong, it's very much his movie and I think it's one of his best. But I just watched a production of an old Globe "Richard III" that was hardcore Elizabethan -- like, no concessions made, and it all worked. It [starred the British Shakespearean actor] Mark Rylance.
Do you enjoy it when no confessions are made?
Well, that was the thing. I was like, "Will I?" And I was almost in tears. And part of that has to do with Mark Rylance being the greatest living theater actor, but it also has to do with the [fact that] everybody there knew exactly how to convey what they were feeling. There wasn't a character there that was dull or enigmatic. They were all just spot-on. Every moment was conveyed, and they played with the audience the way you do -- the way you only can at the Globe [Theater in London, a recreation of the original theater where Shakespeare's plays were produced]. They were shameless about it, and it was just dazzling. In film, I have a harder time with that: The starched collars, the buckled shoes, the wigs. I feel like that's asking a bit much, and there is something lovely about saying, "This is our world. It's still our world. Nothing has changed except some of the verbs."
It took me maybe 15 minutes to realize that there are a couple different layers of comedy going on here. The original comedy and the modern-day irony of saying these words along with some accompanying facial expressions.
Well, I never want to point at Shakespeare and giggle. I think the integrity of what he's doing is what I want to convey. You don't outsmart Shakespeare. However, having said that, we went through the text with as fine-toothed a comb as we could -- and [there was] one time where we really did just point and go, "Does anybody think that this makes sense?"
Was this at all a cleansing experience with you after coming off of "The Avengers"?
Very much, very much. The only qualification I would make to that is -- because I was much happier shooting "Much Ado" than I've ever been. And with "The Avengers," I was having a good time, but I was working the problem every day. But what I want to stress is that it wasn't like I did my commercial and now I'm doing art, so it's better. What was grand about it for me was that it relaxed me and engaged me so much that I went back to "The Avengers" happier to work on that movie and make it the best it could be. Because I was just at the very beginning stages of editing ["The Avengers" at the time of the "Much Ado" shoot]. And in the very beginning stages of editing, you've got to cut out a ton of shit because you filmed way too much. And, inevitably, you're cutting out the moments that are very personal. And, so, I was like, Am I even in this movie anymore? And I shot "Much Ado" and came back and was like, "I have made peace." And realized it's not about me, it's about "The Avengers." And I'll be in there. I'll do fine. But it's about "The Avengers." And I was able to let go of the pain of that and just focus on "service the story, service the story." And so it was a good story.
Clark Gregg is in "Much Ado," too. The Internet is saying he could return in the sequel to "The Avengers" as Vision. I don't know how this works. If you wanted that to happen, could you make that happen? Do you have that power?
I have some power, you know? I think there's a level of trust. You know, Kevin Feige and I have always had mutual respect, and on the first movie he was very supportive. But there were definitely things where they were like, "Hmm, we don't see that." And I think now Kevin's in a place where it would be more like, "We don't see it, but we think you do."
Like, "We can't argue with the way the last one did"?
Yeah. And that doesn't mean they're just going to roll over and I'm going to say, "Oh, it's 'Great Lakes Avengers' and we're going to get Squirrel Girl and you're gonna love it." You know, they need to believe. But all I want to do is make the movie that they want. And so it's been great. We're having that same kind of, "What if? Oh, and what if?" And "I was thinking it would be funny ... ooh ooh ooh." There's definitely a level of earned trust, but as with any good studio head or producer, that doesn't mean a free pass.
You got your start on "Roseanne." And I've seen people say things like, "Well, you have to start somewhere." I think people forget how great a show that was.
You know, "Roseanne" -- the story of Roseanne destroyed the story of "Roseanne" the show.
That's a really interesting observation.
Yeah, it sort of killed its own legacy. And it was so groundbreaking and so important. And the only sitcom about people, real people, that worked on a level that no family drama was hitting. And talking about a class of people that nobody was bothering to talk about. And "All in the Family" had done something similar way back when. But I was watching "Roseanne," I was like, "It's the only show, and it's better than I am." To get on that was a huge privilege. And it was chaos. But, at the end of the day, what we were trying to do and what they were able to do, it was so important. And yeah, people have forgotten that. I guess I wrote five scripts? Six scripts? As a staff writer -- four of which they got rewritten heavily. And I had a bad time in many ways, but I really got my sea legs.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.