Buffy creator Joss Whedon answered my questions at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival; ahead of the UK premiere of his latest big-screen endeavour: an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. In addition to the release of Much Ado, Whedon is currently working on Avengers 2 and its forthcoming spin-off TV show, S.H.I.E.L.D.
Much Ado About Nothing departs from the Whedon canon, as unlike fan favourites such as Firefly and The Avengers, it is not science fiction (however – with the film’s script making use of original Shakespearean dialogue – it could be said that this also functions as a form of fantasy). Whedon notes the alterations in filming a much smaller scale production this time around than with The Avengers, saying: “It’s quite different. Ultimately what you’re looking for on the set is that camaraderie, where everybody’s pulling in the same direction. When you’re doing Avengers – and this is something that I’m hoping to rectify – you didn’t really have the same, everybody working on a huge movie, coming off another huge movie (with people much bigger than you are), and going off to do another huge movie with someone much bigger than you are; and their just sort of jobbing. When we did Buffy, people would come up and go ‘Oh, this is my favourite script’, they understood why they were doing everything. When we were shooting Avengers, a crew came up to me on the Helicarrier and said to me ‘Are we in space?’…and I realised oh they haven’t been allowed to read the film, because Marvel is so secret. Also cause there’s so many people and you’ve got to spend so much time blowing stuff up and this that and the other. With this film, I’m at my house, with my best friends, and every day we’re completing at least one – if not more – really thick, meaty delightful scenes. So we go away every day going ‘God we just accomplished all this as opposed to ‘we shot a tenth of that explosion and tomorrow…’. It’s a very different feeling. Ultimately, you try and get to the same thing. The camaraderie on set, of the Avengers themselves, was absolutely terrific. The only problem of them was that they would not. Stop. Talking. They were having so much fun…’Guys we have to shoot a film…will you please shut up’…That didn’t happen on Much Ado because we had twenty minutes to make the film.”
Whedon praises his actors – most of whom he has worked with on previous projects – for their ability to handle the source material so well. He states, “A lot of them were classically trained, Alexis and Amy and Reed had theatre experience; and those who weren’t, I just had confidence in, particularly Nathan, who had no confidence in himself; which is an amazing thing to say about Nathan Fillion. He was very worried about it, and he tried to duck out of it. I was like ‘I’ll trim the part, I’ll take you out of that one scene where you don’t talk, but I don’t care how busy you are on Castle, you’re gonna do this!’ He closes the book on Dogberry. I can’t imagine a better version. But for some people it was a little bit new, and tricky; for some who hadn’t it came very naturally. Sean had also never done any Shakespeare and you would never know from the film. He’d also never played a bad guy, I was like ‘Whaaat’… you’re far too pretty not to have played a bad guy.” Fortunately, the filmmaker was lucky enough to get his perfect cast, stating: “You know, yeah I got pretty much everyone I wanted to. I had this idea of Claudio as a jock, as a warrior, and not as a huge wet. I forgot that Fran, when he played the nerd on Dollhouse or the stoner on Cabin, we had to layer tons of clothing on him to hide the fact that he’s incredibly buff. And he’s got such a gentle face and demeanour, you would never think of him as this kind of guy, but I couldn’t have been happier, I think he was absolutely the right guy for it. His commitment, to being a dick, was so great. And Clark I wanted for Leonato, he had fallen out and Tony Head was gonna do it, then he fell out, then Bradley Whitford fell out, everyone’s schedule kept not working. Then finally I called Clark again and said ‘so is that thing that you were doing still happening, in this month?’…he was like ‘You’re fucking kidding right?’ Those were his exact words. He said ‘Don’t you start shooting in three days?’ I was like ‘You can come over now!’ So yeah, I really got exactly who I wanted, even down to the first and second watchmen who I had never met but was just a fan of.”
Undoubtedly, helming the largest grossing film of all time was a slight change of pace for Whedon. “At the very beginning of Avengers I had a little moment, and thought ‘Oh my God it’s bad…I have a lot of money…’ And, my wife said, ‘It’s just a story’, and the moment she said that I was done with worrying, and I never have since. The flip side of never worrying, is that when it blows up huge, you don’t really get to go ‘Yay’, because you think ‘That was the point. Wasn’t that what we were trying to do?’ And it did, more than I could have hoped. But, that’s because I didn’t hope. I couldn’t afford to think about numbers, because that would hamper my storytelling. All I can say is the first three weeks of doing The Avengers this was more like doing an internet musical than anything I’ve ever worked on: nothing was ready, the actors weren’t available; everything was being juggled at the last minute. Yep, here we are, it’s an internet musical. So you’re always one step ahead of the reaper, or the giant Indiana Jones ball. No matter what you’re working on. Any schedule will give you just not enough time.” Now having a little experience behind his belt, Whedon has been able to engage more fully with the entirety of the creative process second time around: “When I came in on Avengers the first time, the script had to just be thrown out. And so we were under the gun, with storyboarding sequences that I hadn’t even written yet. Which was frustrating, because you cannot let the ball overtake you. As talented as these people are – being some of the best in the business – your job is to be the storyteller, and you’re gonna get something generic if you don’t stay in front of it. Now, I feel like I have an opportunity to design scenes and set-pieces. Not that I didn’t design the ones that are in the first film, but now in a much more relaxed and holistic, and even possibly artistic way.”
As Avengers 2 will not hit cinemas until 2015, it is too early to think about what other projects he will take on in the future. Despite being an avid fan, don’t count on another Shakespeare adaptation. “For years I wanted to do a film of Hamlet, until everybody else was, and so I tabled it. It would be delightful to do another film, with this exact cast, in that exact style; but I feel like part of the attraction of it was that it was something I had never done. It is no longer something I have never done and so my heart sort of goes more towards things that are untested, because one wants to challenge oneself, as one realises that one’s life is dwindling.”
Finally, I asked Joss: If you could live the life of one of your characters for 24 hours, who would it be? To which he responded: “Well…Benedick gets to make out with Beatrice a lot…Gosh. I think I would probably go with Tony. His life doesn’t suck. I’m already as messed up as he is, so I may as well have a cool flying little suit.”
Joss Whedon‘s version of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is released in UK&Irish cinemas from Friday 14th June.