We talk to the man behind Avengers 2, S.H.I.E.L.D, Buffy, Firefly and new Shakespeare film ‘Much Ado About Nothing’…
For those of us deeply immersed in geekdom, Joss Whedon has been our hero for many a year. Joss was thrown into public consciousness last year when he directed MARVEL’S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE and wrote CABIN IN THE WOODS. Whedon has now turned to a personal obsession – William Shakespeare – and his adaptation of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING hits Irish cinemas this month. Movies.ie caught up with him on a visit to Dublin earlier this year…
‘Much Ado About Nothing’ feels a little different than your previous film, where did the project come from?
Joss Whedon: Well, there is a joke in Avengers about Shakespeare in the park… I am a huge fan, and always have been. The way I write, and the way I think about drama and dialogue comes from Shakespeare. People who know me are not surprised; it does seem like a bit of an about face to go from The Avengers to Much Ado, but that is sort of the point. After dinner, you have dessert; not another dinner.
You made ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ while you were still working on ‘Marvel’s Avengers Assemble’. Are you insane?
JW: Oh yes. I have mental issues that are not cute. It was my wife, Kai’s idea. We had talked about it but I had never really pursued it. We had a vacation coming up of one week – hard fought from Marvel and the post-production schedule, one month after we filmed – and she said ‘I think you should take this week and shoot a film of Much Ado About Nothing’, and I said ‘You’re out of your mind!… OK’. It was the best vacation I have ever taken!
You filmed ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in your own home, and I felt this gave the film a feeling of intimacy, was this part of your reason for going this?
JW: Well, my wife – apart from being a great producer – is a great architect and she designed the house. It is a magical place. We had actually had a play reading in there; we staged the whole thing in the living room and we thought ‘This is a really good space’ and I want to film everything that I like so I got everyone that I like, and a text that I love and I stuck them in a house that I adore.
I felt, and correct me if I am wrong, that you may have made this film in black and white to distance it from Baz Luhrmann’s technicolour spectacular; ‘Romeo + Juliet’. Is that the case or were there other considerations?
JW: Not just the Bazmeister, but Brannagh with his sun dappled Italian version… You had to be careful not to ape that. I have seen it many times and I think some stuff in that is so good. Beatrice and Benedick are the gold standard, but at the same time you don’t want the film to be a reaction against that. I had a darker take on the text and it felt to me very much like a noir comedy. There were also practical considerations in terms of how much light we had and the colour scheme of the house that we couldn’t necessarily paint [laughs] and people’s wardrobes and things. It also lent it an elegance; it gave it a slight timelessness, even though it is in modern dress, everybody’s all fancy and we have iPads and iPhones going about but not in a sort of ‘HAHAH! Look at me!’, just as much as possible – besides those things – we tried to keep it in a sort of nether era.
You wrote the music for the Buffy episode, ‘Once More With Feeling’, and now you have written the score for Much Ado About Nothing. Did this feel like a natural progression for you?
JW: No, it felt like terror and a different kind of terror. I think it’s the job of every director to secretly want everyone else’s job and I couldn’t afford a composer for Much Ado [laughs] and I thought ‘This is it, this is my chance to give up that one minute of free time I was going to have this year’! It was very daunting and I had a great editor and a great arranger to help me through it, but it was also one of the best experiences of my life because it’s another way of talking, it’s another way of expressing besides the visual and I was in heaven.
Audiences love your writing and you were Oscar nominated for your work on ‘Toy Story’. Apart from taking on the Avengers, which was an already existing universe, this is perhaps the first time you have taken on someone else’s text. How challenging was this?
JW: It was really fun because… For one thing, it’s Shakespeare, which means you can cut, but you can’t cheat. I did change two words… Yes I did! That’s right! Additional dialogue by Joss Whedon! [laughs] Benedick’s line, ‘If I do not love her, I am a Jew’, I thought ‘You know what!? Let’s just not!’ [laughs] ‘How’s about we don’t?’ You have this text which is somewhat sacrosanct and you are just interpreting it. You don’t have to worry about ‘Can we get the writer to do this…?” No! This is what it is. Obviously we made deep cuts – it’s a very long play – and we even removed some characters and combined some characters, but always in the service of what I felt the play was about.
Do you feel you have more freedom now to do the passion projects that you love after the success of ‘Marvel’s Avengers Assemble’?
JW: Well I did until I signed up to do ‘Avengers 2′ and now I don’t have any freedom at all! Whatever freedom I had, I traded to do the ‘S.H.I.E.L.D’ pilot… There is something very wrong with me! It’s not OK. Yes, the next couple of years are pretty much booked up but after that… ‘Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog’ was one of the biggest successes I ever had and my brothers and sister-in-law and I… We did all of that ourselves with some very needed help from Felicia Day and her Internet expertise. It continues to make a profit even now; five years later. It’s very gratifying to be able to buck the system a little bit. You pick and choose; with ‘Much Ado’, we did it completely under the radar, nobody even knew that we were doing it. We decided to take it to festivals and not just go an Internet route, it’s a theatre piece in, hopefully, the good ways; not in the sense of being stagey, but we were really trying to capture performances that should be experienced in a theatre with other people. Plus, we wanted to do the festival circuit because we thought they might be festive!
I know you can’t tell me anything about ‘Avengers 2′ or the ‘S.H.I.E.L.D’ pilot, but what’s next? Do you have other passion projects on the go?
JW: I have so many passion projects; I am a passion fruit tree. Wait, where does passion fruit grow? Is it trees? [laughs] It’s terrible. Luckily for me, the thing that I am most passionate about right now is the Avengers. This has happened to me before, where I think ‘Oh I can do my own side project where I am not answerable to anybody’ and then I do ‘Oh wait, this thing that I have to do might be the most important thing that I can do’. I am really excited to make a film in a different way than I ever have; where I have more than 12 days [laughs]. At the end of the first movie we were just ahead of the giant Indiana Jones boulder the whole time because I had come to the process kind of late. That’s not the case now, although it will be very soon if I don’t finish this draft! I am really excited; it’s the feeling I had right before I started writing the Buffy episode ‘The Body’ where I was in a position to start doing other side projects and it suddenly occurred to me; this episode of TV that I am doing might be the most important thing that I do; it mattered to me.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is at Irish cinemas from June 14th
Words: Brogen Hayes