Joss Whedon has done a reverse-Branagh, as a character in Buffy The Vampire Slayer might have phrased it.
Having directed one of the biggest movies of all time – Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (other titles may apply) how does he decide to follow it up? A Serenity sequel? Another superhero smackdown? A new movie about an empowered, kick-ass heroine of some sort?
Nah. He’s doing a reverse-Branagh. Because while Kenny went from directing Shakespeare to Thor , Whedon has gone from Thor and pals to Shakespeare. And he’s called on some familiar mates to help him.
Whedon’s monochrome, modern-day version of Much Ado About Nothing (he describes it to SFX as a “noir comedy”) is a stylish combination of Shakespeare, The Tudors and a Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn screwball caper. And it’s packed with Whedonverse regulars, including:
• Amy Acker ( Angel , Dollhouse , The Cabin In The Wood s) as Beatrice
• Alexis Denisof ( Buffy The Vampire Slayer , Angel , Dollhouse , Avengers Assemble) as Benedick
• Nathan Fillion ( Buffy The Vampire Slayer , Firefly , Serenity , Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog ) as Dogberry
• Fran Kranz ( Dollhouse , The Cabin In The Woods ) as Claudio
• Clark Gregg ( Avengers Assemble , Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD ) as Leonato
• Sean Maher ( Firefly , Serenity ) as Don John
• Tom Lenk ( Buffy The Vampire Slayer , Angel , The Cabin In The Woods ) as Verges
This isn’t just some sudden whim, though. It’s not Whedon just thinking, “I want to prove I can be a serious director, darling!” with a cynical eye to Cannes and Academy Awards acceptance.
In fact, Whedon is a lifelong Shakepeare fan and this film has been decades in making. Kind of.
“I’ve been studying Shakespeare and watching it since I was a child,” he tells SFX , going on to explain that in adult life this developed into semi-regular Shakespeare readings around his house with the various Whedon show cast members.
“They started as parties, because we were all terrified, all very nervous, so there may have been some Dutch courage involved in that. But when we started inviting Michelle Trachtenberg we stopped drinking as much because she was, like, 14. So this was the next logical step. It was something I wanted to do for decades. Suddenly there’s the technology, the opportunity, and I definitely had the cast. I just needed to see if I had a take on the material. Once I realised I did, there was no reason not to.
“I can’t do anything and not think about filming it.”
So last summer, Much Ado About Nothing was filmed in Whedon’s home in Santa Monica over a 12-day period. Whedon produced the film through his newly created Bellwether Pictures company, and even composed the music. “I wrote the score myself because then I don’t have to pay me,” he says.
The film is cleverly-pitched to appeal both to the Shakespeare-literate and to those newbies intrigued to see what Mal from Firefly and Fred from Angel sound like wrapping their tongues around Shakespearean prose.
One of the Bard’s most accessible offerings, the play centres on a witty war of words between two would-be lovers, set against a backdrop of Machiavellian scheming. Slick, witty and intense – even at times screwball – it’s almost as if Shakespeare wrote it for Whedon.
So, after Avengers 2 , will Whedon turn his attention to any more Shakespeare adaptations? “I’m hoping Avengers 2 will be my next Shakespeare film!” he laughs.
At least we think he’s joking. Avengers 2B or not 2B?
• Much Ado About Nothing opens in the UK on 14 June 2013, and SFX ’s sister magazine Total Film is offering you the chance to see the film at a special screening in London on 6 June 2013.
For a chance to win a pair of tickets, head on over NOW to the competition page HERE . Competition closes 2 June 2013.