After wrapping principal production on "The Avengers," you'd think the tireless Joss Whedon would take a much deserved break. Instead (with a push from his wife, Kai Cole), the writer-director-producer invited a group of friends over to his sprawling home to make a modern day film adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
The black and white film, which world premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival and has subsequently been picked up by Lionsgate, marks the first film completed by Bellwether Pictures, the micro-budget studio formed by Whedon and his other half. Their company's next project, "In Your Eyes," a sci-fi/romance starring Zoe Kazan, is currently in post-production.
On top of his Bellwether duties, Whedon is at work penning "The Avengers 2," the sequel to his colossal hit (currently ranking as the third highest grossing film of all time under "Avatar" and "Titanic"), and prepping for his big return to television with a pilot for "S.H.I.E.L.D.," a live-action project based on the secret military law-enforcement and espionage agency within the Marvel universe that made an appearance in "The Avengers."
Indiewire sat down with Whedon in Toronto to discuss his milestone year, and his reasons for tackling the Bard on the big screen.
Your fan base, which has grown exponentially this year thanks to "The Avengers," is completely gaga for you. You could really feel the love in the room at the premiere of "Much Ado."
Yeah. Mine are the best. Other fans can suck it. [laughs] Uh, no. I really do feel like they're not given enough credit. I've had a lot of interviews and meetings with people like, "I think this will appeal to your fan base and people that like Shakespeare." I'm like, you know, there's some cross-over there, you know? Basically it's like, "Your fans and intelligent people might like it too!" I'm just like, somebody's missing the point here.
Has their glowing reaction to the film in Toronto been overwhelming? The standing ovation lasted for a good long while -- you got visibly choked up.
Yes. Overwhelming is the word. It's hard to explain. I'm sure that other people have had this before but we so did it ourselves, and we did it as a family. And we believed in it, but we also were ready for nobody else to believe in it. We weren't sure how it was going to be received. And nobody had seen it except us. And then for the entire cast to come out -- so once again, we were that unit -- and then to all be looking at each other like, "Is this really happening?" The greatest joy I've had is making this movie. It was amazing.
Why did you choose "Much Ado" as the film to kickstart Bellwether?
It wasn't actually the first film that we started, because Kai was already producing "In Your Eyes," which is now being finished in post-production. But that wasn't going just yet. So she put "Much Ado" in my ear. We had this vacation coming up, and we wanted to do a micro-budget thing. It just seemed like kind of a perfect storm, and when I looked at the text, we just went, oh yeah, this absolutely lends itself and I understand the text in a way that, for some reason, I never did before. So it seemed perfect for our maiden voyage because we knew we could do exactly what Bellwether is designed to do, which was show off the talents of our friends, and make things that other people weren't going to pay us to make.
Why "Much Ado" over some of the Bard's other works?
It was good in our minds, because it's very contained, it's very modern, it's very accessible. It requires no special effects and only one location. And when I looked at the text again, I realized how passionately I wanted to use that to express something. It was kind of a no-brainer. I also feel like "Much Ado," it didn't matter. If I was doing "Hamlet," which is like such a sacred text for me, I'd be very obsessive about it. "Much Ado," I could just let be a production of "Much Ado," and even though I feel passionately about the film and our take on it, I could do it without stressing over whether or not it was definitive.
The cast is mainly made up of folks you've collaborated with before, along with a handful of new additions to the Whedon club. What does it take for an actor to spike your interest and make you a fan of theirs?
Well, there's an ineffable something that they bring to the screen. And then there are people that I go to again and again because we're just very simpatico. Amy [Acker, who plays Beatrice] and Alexis [Denisof, who plays Benedict] are among our best friends. And even Clark [Gregg, from the "The Avengers"] is another Santa Monica dad. We're all in each other's lives, and this project in particular was about finding people you know that can do it because you can't really take any chances.
Jillian [Morgese, who plays Hero] had never done anything. That was taking a chance, but she has a quality that is undeniable. With the people I wasn't familiar with, I suspected that we'd become "bestest friendses." Which we kinda did, so that worked out. So I had complete confidence in everybody -- you need that when you only have 12 days.