A few hours after the Oscars finished broadcasting at 5am this year, journalists are cured of fatigue by the slightly awe-inspiring presence of one Joss Whedon, in town early to promote his passion project Much Ado About Nothing, out in cinemas 14th June. Normal media cynicism is out the door, hushed reverence is in, as the softly-spoken, dry-humoured hero to geeks and feminists alike welcomes us into a London hotel room.
Jet-lagged but friendly, Whedon jokingly pre-empts questions about why exactly he decided to shoot a black and white adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy in the twelve days between filming The Avengers and heading into the editing room. ‘I am a fan of the dumbest things to be fans of - wow, I love Shakespeare! I love Dickens! How obscure,’ he laughs. ‘It’s just something that excites me, and I’ve always wanted to film a play, not necessarily Much Ado. When Amy [Acker] and Alexis [Denisof] read it in my home, I thought, well, it’s now Much Ado! Finally, my wife said, ‘What if you stopped talking about it? It’s time. You’ve just come off a 93-day shoot, and what you need is a vacation, i.e. work, and something that is just yours, i.e. someone else’s.”
Whedon’s take on Much Ado About Nothing is faithful, but highly accessible. Did he adapt it the way he wanted to, or was he aware of his audience? ‘I have the same problem when I go to do Avengers - for people who absolutely love that sort of thing, and people who would never approach it. It’s all about making it emotionally accessible. I was just talking to someone who said he enjoyed the film, but he didn’t understand half of what they were saying. But he knew what they were going through. I’d love to think of it as a gateway drug. I had a few people saying they didn’t usually like Shakespeare, but this got them. That’s the best you can ask for. At the same time, we want someone who’s really studied it and cared about it to know you have a legitimate take on it. Somebody said, when they heard that I had done it, ‘Ah, Joss Whedon. He’s fond of boxing above his weight class.’ I don’t think they meant it as a compliment, but I think it’s the best one I’ve gotten.’
Alongside Whedon regulars Acker, Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg and more is newcomer Jillian Morgese as Much Ado’s young bride Hero. And when we say newcomer, we mean it - the fashion merchandising graduate’s previous experience was as an extra on The Avengers (you’ll see her as a waitress when New York is under attack). I ask about her casting, as it’s a fairy tale come true. ‘It kind of is, and I’m not unaware of that. I noticed her when I was forming the idea, and she actually introduced herself in the Marvel office when they were casting for extras. She’s not unmemorable, but she was just one of the waitresses, and Ashley Johnson who plays Margaret was another. I just kept throwing more and more stuff at her, but a lot of the waitress stuff got cut. She ended up doing well on The Avengers, getting a stunt bump because we kept blowing up things around her- she could really bring it. She has extraordinary poise - I felt like she, more than anyone else, would be Amy Acker’s cousin. They both have this regal strength, and they’re both tall, gorgeous brunettes with great noses. People underestimate the importance of a good nose. I auditioned her on Skype - I asked her to prepare something from Romeo and Juliet. I was like, ‘Yep, I’m right - you’re coming out to LA!’ I wanted Hero to have strength. I don’t like the sort of, ‘Ooh what’s happening to me?’ version of Hero. I think there’s more there. Jillian was the right girl for that.’
Did the fact that the cast consists of Whedon’s friends, and was filmed at Whedon’s own home, make for some serious corpsing during shooting? ‘It happened once. It was a terrible day sound-wise, and I have as little ADR as possible, so I was tearing my hair out. It was the scene where Borachio confesses on the front lawn, and then I’m shooting and we’re finishing and everyone is just laughing their asses off. I’m like, guys? What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re killing me here!Nathan [Fillion] and Tom [Lenk] were doing the ‘we lost our keys’ bit, which they had just come up with, which I didn’t know anything about. They’re all looking that way and absolutely losing it. I was like, ‘Well, I’m really pissed at you guys - and we have to put it in the movie!”
Does Whedon have time for more passion projects, especially with The Avengers 2 coming up? ‘Especially since the S.H.I.E.L.D. show, I do have in the contract that I have certain outs for smaller projects, such as the Bellwether home brews. With S.H.I.E.L.D., doing a pilot was all-consuming, so I’m not positive I’ll get another one up before I shoot The Avengers. Also I’m passionately interested in the Avengers, and I can’t wait to get back in - so I don’t want to dilute that. I’m not going to do Shakespeare at quite that breakneck speed again. I’d like to do something more elaborate. Much Ado is a weird weekend party. That, we captured!’
Bolstered by the champagne consumed during Argo’s Oscar win in the small hours, I shake Whedon’s hand and personally thank him for the great ‘mewling quim’ moment in The Avengers. ‘I can’t believe we got that by the UK censors,’ he laughs, adding: ‘I want to get quim back in the vernacular - in a nice way, of course!’
Watch Filmbeat’s report from last night’s gala screening, with Whedon and stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof.