Whedon makes much of Shakespeare's 'Nothing'
05:00 AM, Mar 10, 2013
AUSTIN In Joss Whedon’s hands, Much Ado About Nothing has become something very contemporary.
Best known for creating pop-culture touchstones Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly and delivering a record-breaking big-screen translation of The Avengers Whedon has a longtime devotion to the Bard.
Many of the cast of the film, which had its U.S. premiere here Saturday afternoon at the South By Southwest Film Festival, participated in readings of Shakespeare’s plays over the years at Whedon’s home. When the filmmaker found himself with some time off in 2011 after shooting wrapped on The Avengers, he decided to adapt the classic comedy. “I had thought about it practically and Amy (Acker, who plays Beatrice) and Alexis (Denisof, who plays Benedick) had read it, and I was dying to put them on film,” Whedon said in an interview before the screening.
Whedon and wife Kai Cole, who produced the film, created their own production company and though the play is set in Italy filmed the movie over 12 days at their Santa Monica home. “She said, ‘You’ve been talking about Much Ado. Let’s do it.’ I went back and looked at the text and then, for the first time ever, I saw the film,” Whedon said.
“Sometimes the most obvious things are right in front of you,” he said. “I looked at it and went, ‘Oh, this isn’t about nothing. This is about everything.’ This is about us and about love and ritual and romance and pain and lies and a lot of very dark stuff and a lot of very beautiful stuff. Suddenly it wasn’t just ‘Let’s film a play.’ This was the next film.”
Whedon set the tale of love’s labors in the modern day. The actors wear current clothing, have smartphones and speak in modern dialects but stay true to the Bard’s prose. Shot in black and white, the soundtrack sports jazz and rock music.
The bumbling constable Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) gets locked out of his car. A wedding photographer stalks the expected nuptials of Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) and villain Don John (Sean Maher) snags that most modern of confectionary bliss, a cupcake, when he leaves, having foiled the ceremony.
“It’s very approachable,” said Denisof, whose résumé includes Whedon-verse roles in Angel, Buffy and The Avengers as well as in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet. “My guess is that most people, after the first couple minutes, will forget that they are hearing Shakespeare,” he said. “They will just be in the world and the characters and the relationships. I think (Whedon) achieved an ease with this movie that will make it appealing.”
Moviegoers will see the predecessors of modern-day comedic couples in sharp-tongued lovers Beatrice and Benedick. “They are special roles in the catalog of romantic comedy,” Denisof says. “They are kind of the template for everything that follows, Hepburn and Tracy and Moonlighting. I think it all starts with this couple.”
When the actors convened for the filming, “we had done (the readings) for so many years,” said Acker, whose regional theater career included Much Ado About Nothing. “It had that same sort of playfulness and no one was really as scared of it as we probably should have been.”
Fillion (Castle) got plenty of laughs from the screening crowd for his portrayal of Dogberry. While he admitted that tackling Shakespeare was intimidating, Fillion found his mind-set in Matt LeBlanc’s performance of Joey on Friends. “I played Dogberry like he feels he is the smartest guy in the room and he feels he is the star of the show,” he says. “I literally stole that from Matt LeBlanc, but the concept I learned from Joss.”
Young viewers may learn to love Shakespeare, too, from Whedon’s adaptation. During the cast and crew’s post-screening question-and-answer session, moviegoer Catherine Amos thanked the filmmaker on behalf of “all the high school teachers.”
A former teacher with 20 years in the classroom and 12 as a high school teacher herself Amos could see the film playing in classrooms “and the kids would get everything out of it,” she says.
For those contemplating buying a ticket when Much Ado About Nothing arrives in theaters June 7, Amos said, “Anyone not particularly familiar with the story would be able to come in, sit down and get everything that was intended. They got it right.”