Much Ado About Nothing - Joss Whedon interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
JOSS Whedon talks about some of the challenges and pleasures of making his passion project, Much Ado About Nothing, at his own home in 12 days while ‘on holiday’ from his Marvel duties with The Avengers and SHIELD.
He also discusses what else interests him as a filmmaker, why he remains passionate about The Avengers despite finding time for other projects is now at a premium, and why he made a dream come true for Jillian Morgese, who went from being an extra on The Avengers to one of his ensemble players in Much Ado.
Q. Why Shakespeare?
Joss Whedon: Well you know, I am fond of him. I thought it’s time people got to know this particular writer [laughs]. I’m a fan of the dumbest things to be fans of. It’s something that excites me to no end and I’ve wanted to film a play. It wasn’t necessarily Much Ado [About Nothing], although after Amy [Acker] and Alexis [Denisof] read it in my home, I thought now it’s Much Ado! Finally my wife said to me: “What if you stopped talking about that? It’s time. This is what you need. You’ve just come off a 93-day shoot [Avengers] and what you need is a vacation, ie work – and something that is just yours, ie, something that is someone else’s [laughs]…
Q. Did you adapt this the way you always wanted to? Or were you aware that it was maybe going to an audience who were unfamiliar with Shakespeare?
Joss Whedon: I have the same problem with everything I do. With The Avengers, you have to make it for people who absolutely love that sort of thing and for people who would never approach it. It’s the same thing with this. It’s all about making it emotionally accessible. I was just talking to somebody who said he enjoyed the film even though he did not understand about half of what they were saying. I said: “But you knew what they were going through?” And he said “yeah, that wasn’t a problem”. I love to think of it as a gateway drug. I’ve had a few people say to me: “Well, I don’t usually like Shakespeare but this one really got me!” That’s the best you can ask for. But at the same time, you want somebody who has really studied it and really cares about it to know that you have a legitimate take on it. Somebody else said when they heard I had done it: “Oh Joss Whedon is fond of boxing above his weight class!” I don’t think they meant it as a compliment but I actually think it’s the best one I’ve got.
Q. Casting Jillian Morgese as Hero was a bit of a fairytale thing for her, wasn’t it?
Joss Whedon: I’m not unaware of that! But what happened was Jillian was in the last couple of days [of Avengers, playing woman in restaurant], right when I was forming the idea [of Much Ado], as an extra. And I noticed her. She actually introduced herself. She’s not unmemorable. She was one of the waitresses and Ashley [Johnson] who plays Margaret was the other. But I kept sort of throwing more and more stuff at her. I’d go: “OK, now you’re terrified, now you’re running over here.” She ended up having a stunt double on The Avengers because I kept blowing things up around her. And she could really bring it. She has extraordinary poise and this was her first real job. But I felt like that she could really be Amy Acker’s cousin – they both have this regal strength and they’re both tall, gorgeous brunettes with great noses. People under-estimate the importance of a great nose!
So, I thought I should investigate this and asked Disney to read her. But they wouldn’t get around to it. I don’t think they realised how fast my schedule was. So, I auditioned her on Skype. I asked her to prepare something from Romeo & Juliet and said “in two days, we’re going to Skype”. And when we did, I thought: “yeah, I’m right, you’re coming out to LA!” Which is fun. I wanted Hero to have strength. I don’t like the sort of ‘blah’ version of Hero. There’s more there and I thought Jillian was right.
Q. How was shooting the film in just 12 days?
Joss Whedon: You know, it was great because one of the things I wanted to capture was a feeling of live performance and every scene was accomplished, with one exception, in a day. So, you’ve got the full experience of going through it with as many cameras rolling as we could manage – three whenever we could do three, two at least, so that scenes like ‘oh, that I were a man’, that’s all one take. It’s a couple of different cameras but it’s all one take. I wanted that energy. I wanted to cheat as little as possible while still making a cinematic experience. It’s also murder, don’t get me wrong [laughs]! That’s why I make friends with people who are great actors because I know they can bring it. But until you roll sound in your own home, you have no idea how noisy your neighbours are! And that was stressful. Apart from that, it was fun.
Q. How were you about having your home being invaded by actors?
Joss Whedon: Well, your home is being invaded but it’s being invaded by a film crew and the crew, some of whom I’ve worked with, but most I hadn’t… it felt like we’d always known each other. Everybody sort of sucked into the ethos of this in a way that is very rare. Basically, if we weren’t shooting the next day, everybody stayed all night!
Q. Was it easy getting everyone for those 12 days?
Joss Whedon: No. It was schedules. The first assistant director, Maileen Williams, who just did SHIELD with me – and I think is kind of a genius – it was exactly like Avengers… everybody had another job that they had to get to at such and such a time. So, it scheduling wise it was tricky. But it worked out rather well. Some people were very gracious about when they were being filmed. But in general we had to work around Nathan [Fillian, Dogberry] being in Castle. But that’s just part of it. When you’re paying them as much as I was you’re just glad they showed up [laughs].
Q. Would you like to do more of these types of movies?
Joss Whedon: This puts me on a double track. On the one hand, I’d love to do more Shakespeare but on the other hand I’d love to do something that I’ve never done before and Shakespeare is no longer in that category. But each play is its own animal. I could do plenty of plays with that exact troupe of actors but every piece cinematically is completely different and so it wouldn’t be… it would have to be a really new enterprise every time.
Q. So, will you be looking out for a project like this in your next gap from Avengers?
Joss Whedon: I might. I might. But that gap’s not going to come for quite some time.
Q. Is there another Shakespeare you have your eye on?
Joss Whedon: I love Hamlet as much as everybody else. I also love Twelfth Night. They’d probably be the two front-runners.
Q. As the cast know each other so well, is there ever any risk of corpsing?
Joss Whedon: It happened once! And it was a terrible day, sound-wise. We really had to walk between the raindrops to get production sound because I have as little ADR as possible in the film. So, I was a bit tearing my hair out. And there was a scene where Borachio [Spencer Treat Clark] confesses and they’re on the front lawn and then I’m shooting and we’re finishing and everybody is just laughing their asses off. I was like: “Guys, what the f**k is wrong with you? You’re killing me here!” And then what it turned out to be, unbeknownst to me, Nathan [Fillion] and Tom [Lenk] were doing the ‘we’ve lost our keys bit’, which they had just come up with and I didn’t know anything about. And so they were all looking this way and absolutely losing it. So, I was like: “I’m really pissed with you guys, but we have to put that in the movie!”
Q. How much does being such an integral part of the Marvel universe compromise your ability to make passion projects such as this?
Joss Whedon: Entirely [laughs] – especially since the SHIELD show. I do have, in the contract, certain outs for smaller projects. But unfortunately with doing the SHIELD pilot that was rather all-consuming as well. So, I’m not positive that I’ll get another one out before I shoot The Avengers 2. Also, I’m passionately interested about The Avengers and I’m really excited to go back in. So, I don’t want to dilute that. But hopefully very soon after it’s done or possibly before I’ll be able to do something. I’m not going to do Shakespeare at quite that breakneck speed again. If I was to tackle it again, I think I’d do a slightly more elaborate version or something. But Much Ado is really this weird sort of weekend party and that we captured … the other ones not so much. I had stuff like Wastelanders and Doctor Horrible 2 that are still in my heart but not on my schedule.
Q. How is In Your Eyes coming along, which sees you working with Zoe Kazan [as writer]? How was working with her?
Joss Whedon: She really is lovely. That’s in post-production right now. She’s great. They did a lovely job with it. It sort of happened while I was doing The Avengers. It’s interesting. It’s not a conventional movie either. I’ll be interested to see how people react to it. But I think the director [Brin Hill] did a lovely job and the actors did a lovely job and the script-writer shows promise [smiles].
Q. Do you have any other unfinished projects or ideas that you’re desperate to get away?
Joss Whedon: Right now, I’m more intrigued by things that I haven’t really conceived of yet. I’m sort of… now I have the luxury of being able to think: “I’ve never done a ballet or an animated film myself.” There are certain things that I feel I’d love to… I just want to keep trying new things and seeing if I’m any good at them… and if I’m not, then at least learning that. So, rather than sort of, “oh, I’m never going to get to make that thing”… those waves crest and then they’re gone… not totally. But I definitely think I’m more interested in what medium I can explore right now than any specific story.
Much Ado About Nothing is released in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14, 2013