Joss Whedon shoots Shakespeare home movie
After a 95-day shoot on his Marvel superhero blockbuster, The Avengers, Joss Whedon was contractually obliged to take a break.
Instead of going off on holiday, Whedon chose to make a black and white version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing - in his house in Santa Monica, California.
Shot in 12 days, and staying faithful to the original text, Whedon's home movie features actors from his huge back catalogue - such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods.
Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof lead the cast as the bickering couple Beatrice and Benedick, while Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese play lovers Claudio and Hero.
The idea for the film emerged from Shakespeare readings that Whedon and his architect wife, Kai Cole, hosted at home for many years.
Whedon, who also composed Much Ado's musical score, edited the film on a laptop during lunch breaks while The Avengers was in post-production.
The Avengers went on to become the third highest-grossing film of all time - after Avatar and Titanic - and Whedon is working on the sequel.
But, as he explains below, he also has plans for a far darker return to Shakespeare.
Why not just take a holiday after shooting Avengers?
I've never taken a better vacation, I've never been happier, I've never been more relaxed or come back to work more refreshed.
What made you choose Much Ado?
It's a fascinating text. I'd always known what a charming comedy it was, but when I started looking to see if there was a film in there for me I saw something darker.
Was it a worry turning your house into a film set?
Not so much - we'd had friends put a play on there that about 110 people came to see.
My wife designed the house to be a place for the arts. I knew that I would film it the moment I set foot in it. She is the architect who was there from the studs up, so if somebody accidently pokes a hole in the wall she knows how to fix it.
A house is the scars it gets from being lived in.
Who on the cast was the most accomplished Shakespearean actor?
Amy and Alexis, Fran Kranz and Reed Diamond (Don Pedro) were all hardcore Shakespeare thesps - but Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher (Dogberry and Don John) had never done it. I defy anyone to pick out them out [as those who hadn't].
Was it always your intention to have so much drinking in the story? The characters are rarely without a glass in hand.
There are two weddings and a big party in the show - and it made sense to me that these privileged people were living this life where they could just do what they want.
They could be drinking first thing in the morning. They could change the lives of the people around them just for sport.
That kind of behaviour comes from the sort of people who are used to getting whatever they want and not dealing with the consequences - and some of the ideas just don't make any sense unless you're drunk.
Having just finished filming a massive project like the The Avengers - did it it feel like a huge leap to make Much Ado? Or are many of the concerns as a director the same?
In the important ways they are the same - am I getting the most emotion out of this? Is this funny enough? Am I getting enough bang for my buck? Have I given this actor enough to do?
It was very different in all other respects, and it was a lovely way to reconnect after being in the thick of a very intense shoot.
What do you think you will take from your Much Ado experience to Avengers 2?
I feel that I might be a little braver, but I could get on set and discover that I'm not. Shakespeare knows what he's doing, and I do feel like I learned some things about how to approach a narrative as a film-maker that I didn't know before.
Sir Kenneth Branagh directed Thor, and you are making Shakespeare films. Is there a lot to be said for directors crossing genres?
We're all trying to stretch and challenge ourselves. Very few people are just one thing. I love comic books, I love Shakespeare. Clearly the people who made the comic books also love Shakespeare - particularly Thor - it's kings and betrayals and fathers and sons. I think the fact that Sir Kenneth did a Marvel film - it just speaks of that connection.
Shakespeare plays are often set in other times, but it's rarely seen in a science fiction setting. Why is that?
One. It's too expensive. To sell somebody on the idea of paying for a science fiction movie and saying it's all in Elizabethan dialogue - that's a recipe for not getting a green light.
Two. It would be very difficult to pull off in a way that you weren't only ever thinking, 'Why did you set it there?'
Is there another Shakespeare you'd like to tackle?
If you could choose one?
It would be Hamlet. Am I original! Hamlet I actually started adapting 15 years ago when I had no idea how I could ever fund it.
I have my own particular vision of that text - and it's not very pretty.
Much Ado About Nothing opens in the UK on 14 June