Joss Whedon goes from Avengers to Shakespeare with ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Joss Whedon went from superheroes to Shakespeare with "Much Ado About Nothing." Credit: Getty Images
Joss Whedon went from superheroes to Shakespeare with “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Credit: Getty Images

Joss Whedon admits that when he told some people about his long-held desire to make a film version of one of Shakespeare’s plays, there was a fair amount of head-scratching. For his rapidly produced labor of love — filmed over 12 days at the director’s home just after he’d wrapped “The Avengers” — Whedon went with the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” discovering quickly that it wasn’t all a laughing matter.

How long have you been sitting on this one?
I’ve wanted to do something like this for decades — God, it’s sad that I’m so old I can say that. I’d always thought this would be the one to shoot. But I never had a take on it. I never felt like I had something to say about the text. And then at some point right at the end of “The Avengers,” that changed. It sort of opened itself to me and I went, “Oh, wait a minute. I know exactly what I have to say about this and how I would want to make this.” I had a week of vacation coming up, and I was like, “OK…”

What was that one thing?
I gave myself up to the darkness of the piece. There’s a huge amount of deception and drama, and the stakes are actually pretty dire for a lot of the characters; and at the same time there’s absurdly broad comedy. Looking at it as a whole and realizing how much of it is invested in all of the characters and unlocking the motivations of even the smaller characters, it started to make sense, and a lot of it was kind of unlovely — the idea of two people who are tricked into being in love, two people who are tricked into not being in love.

And almost as importantly, it all takes place in one place. And in addition to always wanting to film that text, I’d always wanted to film that place, which was my house. That lent itself very well to filmmaking because it’s a beautifully designed house.

Is there a sense of showing off in using your own house as the set?
Well, you know, it’s not this palatial place. It was designed by my wife, who’s an architect, and it just has an idiosyncrasy and a flow and a grace that is very comfortable. It’s not like a giant, pillared house. We wanted to feel at home; at the same time we wanted to feel like these guys were living the life.

Why did you decide to shoot it in black and white?
Part of it was to give it almost a ’60s feel. We referred to Leonato’s estate as the Kennedy Compound — everybody was drunk the entire time. Some of the decision-making in this play could only be attributed to being very drunk. So we wanted to give a little bit of an old-fashioned feel. It also meant that we could shoot after it got dark with artificial light and not worry about it looking different. But at the very beginning it just came from the fact that my take on it was very noir. It very much was a noir comedy.


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