Joss Whedon on his secret film of 'Much Ado About Nothing': 'This is the best vacation I've ever taken' -- EXCLUSIVE

Joss-Whedon-Much-Ado_510.jpg

Image Credit: Elsa Guillet-Chapuis

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 (BuffyAngel), 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.

NEXT PAGE: Exclusive shot of Sean Maher as Don John from the film. PLUS, Maher on keeping the film a secret: “Joss was like, ‘Don’t you dare tweet that! Not yet!'”

Comments (129 total) Add your comment
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  • Best. Idea. Ever.

    I would love to see Josh Whedon’s vision on the big screen!

    • Will

      EW, stop trying Whedon to happen. It won’t. he’s a hack whose shows on major networks are always canceled due to tepid ratings, and whose only film flopped miserably in theatres.

      • Anthony

        The only reason Firefly and Dollhouse “flopped” as you put it is because Fox kept bouncing around what night they aired and didn’t promote them very well. And when it came to Firefly what made it worse was the fact that Fox didn’t even show the episodes in order. But I’ll agree with you on the Buffy movie. It stunk.

      • TheDude

        wow dude, u have just proven that your opinion is so stupid every on is a little dumber now for reading it.

      • Rev

        Buffy: 7 years
        Angel: 5 years
        Dollhouse: 2 years
        Firefly: 1 year

        Gee, I wish I could have a 15 year failure of a career.

      • tarc

        Or he’s a compete genius that’s already (more than) arrived, Will, and you are an idiot. I like my version much better.

      • Jerri

        Haters gonna hate…. I guess Will would rather watch The Situation’s antics…

      • @Rev

        You forgot the epic Dr Horrible shot during the writers’ strike. Pure genius. and Joss did a musical episode of a TV show a lot better than Glee does it now. Buffy’s Once More With Feeling not only had original music but it actually moved the plot forward. and who could forget Hush and The Body?

      • Jackson

        i don’t get the hate. Whedon makes low budget stuff that’s a lot of fun. i think everything he’s done, except Dollhouse maybe, has made money in the long run. it’s not like he’s sinking James Cameron type money into any of his projects to warrant a high level of expectation or vitriol. i don’t get it.

      • Jackson

        low budget stuff pre-Avengers that is.

      • Meg

        Damn, and here I thought Firefly and Serenity both flopped because the audience never showed up. Silly me. LOL!

      • Jackson

        Firefly and Serenity both eventually made back their money.

      • Dave

        Not to mention: Toy. Story.

      • tad

        Nope, no Buffy movie.

      • snsetblaze

        Adding to the Buffy and Angel success – both still exist in comic book and graphic novel form and sell pretty well (otherwise the lines would be cancelled). Dollhouse recently started.

        Dr. Horrible also did very well in sales.
        Firefly has a cult following – it did very well on DVD so it made its money back.

      • Jennie

        Toy Story flopped? That’s interesting.

      • Steph

        Will, Whedon DID happen. He IS currently happening. There is no try.

      • K.

        Again just like all your other favorites EW, everything this guy does is rammed our throats!..Ryan Gosling, Footlose, Lady GaGa, and Darren Criss/Glee are your others ..there are other people and things in the entertainment buisness, stop pushing your agenda!

      • Nathan C.

        I will not feed the troll… I will not feed the troll…

      • JohnnyW

        Buggy wasn’t cancelled, the lead actress quit. Angel was only cancelled because Whedon put pressure on the network to renew before they were ready. It’s ratings were actually up on the previous year.

        Firefly needed to be a hit for it to be economically viable. Dollhouse… Yeah, it had its problems. I’ll give you that. Fox’s interference didn’t help (“Make it darker”… Yawn).

        Serenity did ok. But it also had its problems. The ending wasn’t something that would resonate with a new audience.

      • JohnnyW

        Buffy… Damn autocorrect.

    • Rachel

      I would like to see this in film or better yet, on my computer. please! more internet content!!

      oh and Will, I personally think that every time EW has a twilight cover, it should be replaced with a picture of Joss Whedon. And an article.

      • Jerri

        Agreed! EW should at least do a Joss Whedon special approaching The Avengers release date.

    • I_Captain Blanco

      GAH!

      JOSS not JOSH
      JOSS not JOSH
      JOSS not JOSH
      JOSS not JOSH
      JOSS not JOSH
      JOSS not JOSH

      Why do so many people (even people who claim to be Whedon’s fans) insist on making this mistake?

      • Ace

        Autocorrect?

  • lupr

    I LOVE JOSS WHEDON!!!

  • CatBoreal

    I CAN’T WAIT!

  • Jennifer A.

    Okay, I love Joss Whedon, but I don’t think you can improve upon Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson’s version.

    • pinko

      You’re right, people should just stop doing Shakespeare altogether.

      • Kelly

        Love this comment. When people get uppity about “the best” of this and that, it’s so close-minded. At least give them a chance to improve.

      • Matt

        It is, it’s almost as closeminded as dismissing other people as close minded.

    • Channing

      True, but having one masterful interpretation of a particular piece of art (a play, a song, a book) doesn’t mean others can’t put their own spin on it if they think they can bring something new to it. Lewis Milestone made a quite good adaptation of the play ‘The Front Page’ in 1931. That didn’t mean Howard Hawks couldn’t do the story as well nearly 15 years later. Even Kenneth Branagh would agree, otherwise he wouldn’t have made ‘Henry V’ after Olivier had made the role his own.

      • Jennifer A.

        And I agree. I’ll still totally see it (Much Ado is one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies). I just think Branagh and Thompson are so sparkling and perfect.

      • Pankaj

        I only saw the pilot and it look pretty bad. It seems too geirenc and practical of its genre. It reminds me on one of the show Fox had when it was the dead last network. And by putting it on Friday nights, where most of the show’s targeted audience will not be home, it’s going to die probably 6 episodes in. Terminator might probably die as well two by being on Friday nights now. Maybe Whedon should just save his efforts to revive Firefly.

    • Ace

      Branagh’s version was good, but not perfect. Anyway, do you really think that every single adaptation of Shakespeare’s works can be compared to the one before it? I doubt very much that Joss is trying to “improve upon” anything, just tell the story from his point of view. A point of view I’m dying to see, for the record.

    • Edward

      Ugh. Why not use actual Spaniards for the main Spanish roles in this film? Sean Maher as Don John?
      Seriously? Who will play Don Pedro, Donny Osmond? And most of the characters are Italian, why not use actual Italian actors, instead of the usual Waspish Whedon crew? Ugh

      • tarc

        Or a better question is, why would anyone care about the national origin of the casting of the work of the most widely acclaimed universal storyteller in history? Then I’d ask if you read the article – Whedon asked his friends at the vest last second, on a whim (and probably for free or a percentage). I’ve seen Much Ado several dozen times now, including once in Staratford – and I doubt there was ever a Psaniard among the lot. Why would there be?

      • @tarc

        People should care because producers always hide behind that whole “BUT HE IS UNIVERSAL” argument to avoid casting multiculturally. If he is so universal, then there should not be any problem casting a Spaniard to play Don Pedro, right? I mean, would audiences be upset if GASP someone not of anglo origin played a character of Spanish descent in Shakespeare?. If they never cast anyone but a white man to play Hamlet, a Danish prince, why not cast a Spaniard to play DOn Pedro, a Spanish prince?

      • The Mexican Staring Frog Of Southern Sri Lanka

        Yes all true but Americans are usually the 1st to rant & whine when a non-American is cast in an important role. (most recently Henry Cavill) What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

      • Diane

        @Tarc. People play with race all the time in Shakespeares plus. I once saw an oriental Hamlet in a live production and he was wonderful

      • Ivana

        Yes, it’s such an affront to Shakespeare, who was known for casting actual Italians in Italian roles, actual Danes in Danish roles, actual black people in the roles of Othello or Aaron the Moor, and actual women in the roles of women. Not to mention his great geographical and historical accuracy.

      • Ace

        I think the point goes to Ivana on this one. Honestly, though, the reason Whedon didn’t use “actual Spaniards” for this (and really, did you complain about Baz Luhrmann not using Italians?) is because he shot it (a) in secret, (b) on the fly, (c) with people who were already on his speed dial. And he set it in modern day California.

    • Emily

      You can always improve on Shakespeare if Keanu Reeves has been involved. I watched Much Ado with my Shakespeare class and not one person could take him seriously. The rest of the cast was fantastic though.

      • Queequeg

        The very best line ever spoken by Keanu was in that film, though, “I’m not a man of many words”. Brilliant. The monotone delivery, the dead-eyed expression–he had it all.

      • poogie

        I have to agree with Jennifer A’s statement that Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh are sparkling and perfect.
        However, Emily is right that you can improve upon Keanu’s “performance”. It was terrible and it makes me cringe but I think I’ll need to go home and watch the movie again, despite Keanu!

      • snsetblaze

        OMG – I remember that and am now picturing Keanu in that scene. I can’t get it out of my mind’s eye.

    • Chris

      Yes, it cannot HELP but be better. 2 reasons: Denzel Washington & Keanu Reeves. Seriously?

      • Cas

        I’ll give you Keanu, but Denzel pulled it off brilliantly I thought. This play has always been a sentimental fave of mine, and I adore the Branagh movie. But I figure much like a party at Leonato’s place, the more the merrier, so bring it, Joss.

  • Tara

    I am crying. All of my dreams have come true. I cannot believe this is really happening. Amy and Alexis and Sean and Fran and Nathan and AL;DKJFA;LDSFKJAD;SFLJADS;FLJKADSF;LJKADSF;LADSJKF;ADSLFJKADS;LFJKSADL;FKJA

    I don’t know what my feelings are doing right now

    • Brett

      This can’t be serious.

  • bhm1304

    Taking the chemistry Denisoff and Acker have on screen together making a movie in secret. I’ll never make it to London to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s take on this wonderful material so this will have to be the next best thing. Joss, you are too awesome. I may now have to forgive all the traffic confusion you caused in downtown Cleveland shooting “Avengers”.

    • LMB

      Exactly. Not going to make it for Tennant and Tate, but will definitely find a way to see this. Based on Whedon’s history, he will make it readily available for his masses!

  • Gabe

    Oh my god! I can’t even breathe anymore! This is such an excellent cast and sounds so amazing and it’s Joss FREAKING Whedon! Seriously, if this doesn’t get picked up to be distributed, I will be soooo disappointed!

  • Vivian Volkoff

    Alexis and Amy always had the greatest chemistry. I’m just hoping and praying that this movie gets picked up for wide release (or at least a DVD release) so I can see it. This is about the only reason I’d be willing to read Shakespeare again.

    • amble63

      +++1 on Alexis and Amy. Wesley and Fred/Ilyria was one of my favourite storylines on Angel.

  • BG

    you’re all crazy and pathetic

    • soz

      Yes. Yes we are.

      • Ebit

        I agree with you completely, and tollaty 100 percent support you. I don’t know what I would have done as a child, if I hadn’t discovered the wonderful secret world that lay in books. I didn’t have many friends, and got teased a lot, so my escape was reading. I especially loved fantasy books, because in them, I could be the heroine leading an exciting life, not the skinny kid getting made fun of. Forgive my rambling, but I get passionate about what children are missing out on in this fast-paced computer drive society. Most parents use electronic babysitters. It’s a shame, really. Hand a child a good book, and it will open many amazing doors for him.

    • Annie

      If you don’t have something you are willing to be crazy and pathetic for then what is the point in living. I am proud of my love for all things Joss Whedon. As pathetic and crazy as that may make me. I am damn proud to be a part of it. P.S. Firefly was cancelled too soon! Should have been 6 seasons and a movie not a half season and a movie!

    • Fairportfan

      And you’re a nekulturny jerk. So?

      • Anas

        Agreed on all counts. I liked Dr. Horrible for the first two acts – quite a lot acllatuy – but part 3 was quite disappointing (the “everyone’s a hero, but especially me” song notwithstanding). First, because it was just depressing. But second, because it was depressing in a very unsatisfying way. Penny’s character turned out to be totally useless. She was thoroughly uninteresting, existed only to be fought over by the two men, and died solely to push the plot along. I enjoyed the idea that this was a parody of the superhero genre, but it ended up just being very traditional in most respects. It definitely would have been cool for Penny to turn out to be Bad Horse, but even without that, it would have at least been interesting for her to just decide that they’re both jerks and that she wants no part of either of them.At the very very least, why not have her sing a self-aware song about how she’s just a plot device who has to die in order to have an effect on Dr. Horrible.

    • tarc

      LOL! Or maybe you are BG. Either way, no one cares.

      • Gboy

        I finally saw Serenity last night (had to wait until we got the Joss-fan crew togtheer to see it). It did not disappoint.I’m also looking forward to Wallace and Gromit and Corpse Bride, of those that are currently playing in town. I may go see In Her Shoes because I love Toni Colette so much.

  • Diego Sierra

    Joss Whedon is my master.

  • Carrie

    Joss Whedon + Shakespeare + Alexis Denisof + Amy Acker= AWESOME

    • snsetblaze

      And throw in Nation Fillion – SuperAwesome.

      • ash

        Nation of Fillions? I could get behind this idea..
        When do we start?

  • lexi

    The cast sounds great loved Buffy, Angel and Firefly

    • Imre

      Thanks for your comments everoyne.Can’t say I disagree too much with any of you except I think Stephanie is too hard on “OMWF” particularly since “Rest in Peace” is probably my least favourite song. ‘Walk Through the Fire” is one of the greatest ensemble songs with the best tailored line ever: “I think this line is mostly filler”.

  • RJM

    So excited for this, but Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado will always be my favorite, most perfect adaptation, whether of stage or screen. Perfection.

    • Cara

      I, too, love that version, RJM, and I agree there are wonderful performances in it, particularly Emma Thompson’s amazing Beatrice. But…not picking a fight here at all, but just curious…do you find Keanu Reeves to be perfect in it?

      • Diane

        I was so enchanted by Ken and Emma, Denzel and Kate that KR never bothered me. I just played evil musc in my head when he was speaking

      • Cara

        Your comment made me laugh, Diane! And I do love that version. Imelda Staunton, Kate Beckinsale, Brian Blessed — and to me, Emma Thompson topping them all.

    • ladyhelix

      I loved Kenneth Branagh’s production – but knowing this is shot in modern day, black & white, noir – I don’t think they will reference each other in tone. If Joss had something he needed to say (with this) I’m sure it’s never been said this way before. Can’t wait!!

  • Lisa

    idc if it’s not the best version to be honest. seeing my favorite actors together makes it all good.

  • Jenna V

    Joss, I worship at your feet. you’re a jerk for killing fred and wesley, but you have alexis and amy doing a movie together so i love you. *bows down*

    • Dash

      Yea but I have to admit that as much as I loved Fred I loved Illyria about 100 times more. “I wish to do more violence.” Amy Acker made such a flawless transition from Gee Golly Texas girl to power tripping god king.

      • Singe

        “A true ruler is as moral as a hurricane, empty but for the force of his gale.”

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