Exclusive: Preview the new 'Much Ado' book

05:00 AM, Oct 08, 2013

The cast and crew of Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing' poses for a pic. Elsa Guillet-Chapuis/


Written By by Whitney Matheson, USA TODAY

As you may have noticed in today’s DVD roundup, the Joss Whedon-directed version of Much Ado About Nothing is now available. Also on sale today is a special book about the production that features photos, the full screenplay and an introduction by Whedon.

Today I have your first look at Much Ado About Nothing: A Film by Joss Whedon (Titan Books). Below you can get a first peek at several photos and read an exclusive excerpt from the book’s interview with Whedon. Enjoy!

Excerpt from the book’s Whedon interview:

When you were watching Amy Acker play Beatrice and Alexis Denisof play Benedick in the Much Ado readings at your home, did you immediately think, ‘Must film them doing this at some point,’ or did you just think, ‘If I ever do film this, I want them’?

Whedon: Yeah. I’m very big with the, ‘Hey! Let’s all do this thing that I totally think I have time to do ‘cause I’m drunk.’ The pasts of my friends are littered with promises that I wasn’t able to keep. But I knew I wanted to film [Acker and Denisof] doing that – I thought that would be great. I didn’t really pursue it, though, because every time I thought about it, which was a lot, I kept bumping up against my lack of understanding of the text. And all that it took for me to fix that was for me to look at the damn thing. But in my head, I had one idea in mind, and it had probably been formed from that first production [seen in Regent’s Park], which was, the ‘about nothing’ of it, that it was just a charming romp. Which for me to think that, to be stuck in that, is appalling. Because I’d studied the [Shakespearean] Comedies as well. Not that one, but it was very clear to me that they were very important works, and that he [Shakespeare] didn’t just throw in meaning when he had a tragedy. That’s an easy mistake to make, but as far as Much Ado, I just didn’t really see what it was. And I think another sort of tumbler in that lock was, I saw a production of it at the Kirk Douglas [a live stage theatre in the Los Angeles area] the year before and Dakin Matthews played Leonato. And he was a very sort of bumbling Leonato. The performance was just hilarious and riveting and your heart just broke during the wedding scene when he’s yelling at his daughter, because the weight of the thing is all on him. And it’s a very different interpretation than Clark and I went for, but it sort of made me go, ‘Wait a minute, this whole play’s about Leonato.’ And that made me want to go back in: ‘Now wait a minute. Let me look more carefully at not just the text, but all of these characters, because clearly there’s meat there that I wasn’t seeing.’

Were there any other readings where you thought, ‘I’d really like to use this cast on film?’

There was a bunch. I mean, we’re talking about a swell bunch of thesps and there were definitely some that I was just like [admiringly], ‘Oh …’ But I don’t think there was one that I had as strong a feeling about as Much Ado, because Amy and Alexis, they displayed just such versatility and charisma in every reading, it blew everybody away. We tried very hard to have an egalitarian troupe, but they really turned out to be rock stars. And so, besides the fact that I love them dearly, pairing the two of them, which has been a habit of mine [laughs], just made something work for me that nothing else captured.

Denisof and Acker played, respectively, Wesley and Fred for you on Angel; the characters wound up as star-crossed tragic lovers. Did you have any thoughts about how Wesley/Fred fans would react on seeing the two actors like this in Much Ado?

Not until literally screening it. And not even the first time. It was a couple of months ago, screening it, I suddenly went, ‘Oh, my God! Wesley and Fred went to Heaven and they got this! They’re kissing and neither of them is dying! This is delightful.’ There’s a reason why I throw those two actors into each other’s arms every chance I get.

Why did you decide to show that Beatrice and Benedick had been lovers previous to the main events in the film?

The idea that Beatrice and Benedick have slept together before the action of the play is a modern one, I think, but it seems entirely valid — it doesn’t undermine the text. Amy and Alexis and I all agreed we wanted to play this version that way because it puts heat into their animosity, and fits the sort of debauched hothouse intensity of this particular production. The idea wasn’t just that they’d had a one night stand, but that something really meaningful, really open, had happened and they’d both clammed up right away — afraid of it. And then each resenting the other for it.

That’s the only bit not shot at the house — it was shot at my office bungalow nearby, and we did paint the walls a dark plum to make it different from Leonato’s. Then I liked the color and kept it.

Was there anything besides casting Denisof and Acker that you took from the Much Ado house readings that has turned up in the film, or anything you learned from the readings that you said, ‘Must not do this in the film’?

Cast myself [laughs]. And the songs. I had written the songs — or the tunes — for that reading, and we sort of surprised everybody with them. I had cast our singer friend Angie Hart as Balthasar and when it came time for Balthasar to sing, her husband whipped out a guitar, my brother Sam whipped out his mandolin, and off to the races, which was really fun, because we brought it up a notch with that. And those are the tunes that we use in the film, but there were a couple of things, just attitudes and pauses and little things that I know Alexis did that I said, ‘Oh, that’s funnier than it was when I read it in my head.’ But there weren’t a lot of dos and don’ts. That was a sort of Branagh-like experience [a reference to Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film version of Much Ado About Nothing], in that we were out in the back and there were sun-dappled vines and a general air of joy and kind of sunny good times and when I looked at the movie as a movie, I realized that that wasn’t the sort of overriding emotion that I was trying to evoke.

How much of this Much Ado was pre-cast and how much was, ‘Who would be good in this?’ and how much was, ‘I’m going to use people I haven’t really worked with before’?

You know, two parts [Beatrice and Benedick] were pre-cast [laughs]. And the next thing on my list was, ‘Oh, I really want Nathan [Fillion] to play Dogberry.’ Pompous and clueless — Nathan, I think his first time reading Shakespeare was at the house. And he read Bottom. And the naturalism that he brought to that guy was just gut-bustingly funny, but also a little dazzling, so I was like, ‘Okay, that’s the next thing I’m going for.’ And then I made a list, I wrote it on the cast list — ‘This person I asked, they’re working, well, what about this person? What about this person? What about this person?’ And then I came home and started feeling people out. I always had more than one option, because you never knew who was going to be available, but I really didn’t ever have to settle. And I had a strong feeling about Jillian [who was an extra in Avengers] — after a couple of weeks back in L.A. I auditioned her on Skype and said, ‘Okay, that’s how it’s going to be.’ And then some people like Riki I knew just a little bit, but was a fan of, and Nick [Kocher as First Watchman] and Brian McElhaney as Second Watchman — Kocher and McElhaney are a comedy duo I didn’t know at all but was a fan of, just reached out to them, thought, ‘Maybe …’ But I kept it fairly fluid. I came home and I had a coming-home party, because I’d been away in Albuquerque shooting Avengers for the better part of a year. At the party, I just sort of said to everybody [very casual tone of voice], ‘So, what you doin’? So, what you up to? On what dates? Okay, yeah …’ I mean, I was not so subtle [laughs], but it was a way of feeling everybody out, because what I didn’t want to do was suddenly end up with, ‘Oh, good, I have five people that I’ve found out are available for this part. Oh, wait a minute, four of them are going to hate me.’ So I just sort of got a sense of who was available. And we also had to work around people’s schedules, because most people were working anyway.

Nathan Fillion has said he had gotten so scared of doing Shakespeare that he tried to get out of the project …

Yeah, he was very nervous about it, whether he could pull this off. And he was working crazy Castle hours, because Castle is built on the shoulders of him. He tried to plead overwork, and I said, ‘Okay, look, I’ll take you out of the first scene where I put you in and you have no lines, and I can do some trims on the other stuff so we can get it into your schedule, but dude, you’re coming. You’re not saying no.’

Much Ado About Nothing: A Film by Joss Whedon copyright © 2013 Bellwether Pictures. All rights reserved. Interview copyright © Abbie Bernstein.