After wrapping production on Marvel Studios’ gargantuan summer tent-pole The Avengers, writer-director Joss Whedon was supposed to go on a monthlong vacation with his wife, Kai Cole. Instead, Whedon tells EW exclusively that his wife suggested he finally make the feature film version of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing he’d been ruminating over for years.
And so he did — adapting the script, casting the film with Whedonverse alums like Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker (Angel), Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel), and Sean Maher (Firefly), and shooting the self-funded, black-and-white indie in secret over 12 days at his Santa Monica, Calif., home. (Production wrapped on Sunday, and Whedon says it will be ready for spring 2012 film festivals.) How did Whedon pull all this off? What was it about this particular Shakespeare comedy that drew him in? And what did stars Sean Maher — who plays the fiendish villain Don John — and Amy Acker — who co-stars with Denisof as the sarcastic, talky couple at the center of the play — make of all of this ado about Much Ado? Check out EW’s exclusive Q&As with Whedon, Maher, and Acker below, as well as exclusive shots of Maher, Denisof and Acker from the film:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This announcement took people by surprise to say the least. How did this all come together?
JOSS WHEDON: Well, it’s not a bit secret that I’ve done these [Shakespeare] readings before, and I always had a vague notion of shooting Much Ado. But I didn’t really have a take on it. And then, for some reason, I kinda sorta did. As we were finishing The Avengers in New York, my wife and I were planning our vacation for our 20th anniversary. And she said, “Let’s not take the vacation. Make a movie instead.” I was like, “I’m not even sure if I can adapt the script, cast the movie, and prep it in a month.” And she was like, “Well, that’s your vacation time, so you do it.” And so I did.
So how did you get the ability to bend time and space to your will to be able to pull this off? It’s not like you don’t have a bunch of other things going on.
[Chuckles] You know, I am busy. But you know, if you want something done, ask the busy man; nobody else has time. There is an element of “I have a serious problem” — that’s one thing. And then there’s an element of this is the best vacation I’ve ever taken. I mean, yes, it was super hard, it was a ton of work, and there were moments where I went, “What’s wrong with me? What am I thinking about? I need to rest!” But I’ve never been so well rested and so well fed as I have on this movie. You know, you make the time, because no one’s going to make it for you. There’s never going to be a good time to do it. You make the time and you make it work if you really, really want it. And I really did.
You shot this at your home, I understand?
Yes. One of the advantages of Much Ado is it all takes place on Leonato’s estate. It’s all one location. I don’t have an estate. I have a nice house.
Like Dr. Horrible, did you bankroll this yourself?
I did. My wife and I started a micro studio, Bellwether Pictures, in order to do things like this, creator-controlled small fare.
What is it about Shakespeare that you love so much, especially this play? My understanding is one of the strange things about Much Ado is it’s one of his few plays that’s predominantly in prose, and not poetry.
I didn’t even notice that until Alexis pointed it out. But that actually proved useful for is. It wasn’t why I chose it, but I do think it’s one of the reasons why I love it. It’s very modern. The language, the jokes, and the attitudes translate really, really easily. [The actors] do say the words as they’re written [in the play], but they connect to a modern audience in a way that portions of the other comedies don’t necessarily.
Was this one of the plays you’d done readings of at your home?
Yeah, we’d done a reading of it starring Amy and Alexis years ago, and that’s when I knew that if I could ever do it, I would do it with them.
You said earlier that you hadn’t had a take on it until you were in the middle of shooting Avengers. What is your take on this? What did you end up wanting to do with this film?
I had trouble at first, because it had the words “About Nothing” in the title. So I was like, “I don’t have anything to say about nothing.” But really when I started pouring over it, I got a very strong sense of how a little bit dark and twisted it is. The movie’s in black-and-white partially because it’s kind of a noir comedy. I realized that everybody in it behaves like such a dolt — an articulate dolt, but a dolt. I fixated on this notion that our ideas of romantic love are created for us by the society around us, and then escape from that is grown-up love, is marriage, is mature love, to escape the ideals of love that we’re supposed to follow. So that clicked for me when I realized, oh, I get why it matters everybody goes through the weird machinations we go through.
Have there been any nibbles of interest in distribution today?
I haven’t heard anything yet. I’ve just been enjoying the Internet response. We’re feeling our way on this one, just like Dr. Horrible. I do mean it to be in theaters. But we haven’t gotten any real plan except [going to] film festivals because it sounded like it would be festive.
Finally, how did you keep this a secret? A lot of your cast are Twitter addicts, especially Nathan, and you’re not Mr. Low Profile right now.
Well, I asked the cast specifically and everybody involved not to say anything until we wrapped. And, you know, it all happened very, very fast. That’s how you know. When it’s something that fast, you actually have a shot. When something’s rolling around for three years, it’s harder. This film was a month from inception to production, and then 12 days to shoot. Even Nathan did not tweet for that long.