The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0264 Monday, 3 June 2013
Date: June 1, 2013 8:10:03 PM EDT
Subject: New York Times Article on Ado
[Editor’s Note: I had intended to include information about this NYTimes article about Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing film, but since Wednesday I have been laid out after a procedure and had forgotten about the article until I received a message from Mike Jensen that reminded me of my intention. Thanks for that Mike. –Hardy]
What follows is from a Wednesday, May 24, 2013, an article in the New York Times by Dave Itzkoff.
Image from Joss Whedon’s Much Ado Poster:
How Shakespeare Saved ‘Avengers’
By Dave Itzkoff
May 24, 2013
“Honestly, if you’re not a workaholic,” Joss Whedon said recently, “this is hard to explain.”
Mr. Whedon, the prolific writer, producer and director, was speaking by phone from Los Angeles as he discussed an unusual moment in his life, in fall 2011, when he had just finished principal photography on the soon-to-be comic-book blockbuster “The Avengers.”
With some well-earned time off before he started postproduction on that movie — a $200 million behemoth that was easily the biggest project Mr. Whedon had taken on — he canceled an anniversary trip he had planned to take with his wife, Kai Cole.
Instead, Mr. Whedon used his break from a movie to make another movie: a black-and-white adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” shot in 12 days at his home in Santa Monica and starring actors he’d worked with on his TV shows, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dollhouse,” as well as on “The Avengers.”
Though Mr. Whedon had no idea at the time what he would do with this film (which he and Ms. Cole produced through their Bellwether Pictures company), it will be released theatrically by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions on June 7.
With some distance from the creation of “Much Ado,” Mr. Whedon has a better understanding of why he needed to make it when he did, and how he benefited by taking on another project instead of taking a vacation.
As he recalled, Ms. Cole told him: “You need to do this more than you need to travel. It will connect you with what you are, where you are and all of your friends.”
“The argument that sealed it,” he added, “was her saying, ‘Look, Venice isn’t sinking that fast.’ ”
Dating to at least 2000, Mr. Whedon has recognized his preference for a state of constant motion, back when he was simultaneously producing “Buffy” and its spinoff “Angel,” and inviting cast members to his home for after-hours readings of Shakespeare plays like “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “Othello.”
Though these impromptu performances were done for fun, “I still had to cast them and make all the cuts and let everybody know what their parts were, plus provide food,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my break from producing is producing.’”
For performers like Amy Acker — who by day was playing an investigator of supernatural activity on “Angel,” and by night was portraying Beatrice in “Much Ado” opposite her TV co-star Alexis Denisof — there was the realization that work on one of Mr. Whedon’s series was “not your normal show.”
“Everybody’s idea of a fun time,” Ms. Acker said, “was to go over to Joss’s house and he’d assign people parts of a Shakespeare play and you’d drink wine and sit outside.”
But the readings helped Mr. Whedon learn about the untapped potential of his actors. After seeing Ms. Acker as Lady Capulet in “Romeo and Juliet,” he decided to kill off her “Angel” character and turn her into a merciless demon. He recalled: “I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen her be frightening. I think the world should see that, too.’ ”
But a decade later, Mr. Whedon’s Shakespeare sessions had been on a long hiatus and the director was second-guessing himself as he grappled with “The Avengers.”
“There’s a moment in editing on any film,” he said, “where you go, ‘Oh, God, everything’s being taken away from me.’ And it’s very painful.”
When she visited him on an “Avengers” shoot in New York, Ms. Cole said she could tell her husband was in a funk, and she was similarly feeling his absence.
“When you’re doing a huge movie like that, it wasn’t just nine months of shooting,” she said. “It’s two years that he is disconnected and gone. In that time, I was in Los Angeles, and it was lonely, not having him.”
And so, for perhaps the first time in history, a team of superheroes was saved by Shakespeare. Rereading “Much Ado” on the set of “The Avengers,” Mr. Whedon said he was struck by the intertwining tales of Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero and Claudio, as they fall in love and fight and reunite, and reminded of the screwball romances of directors like Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges.
“I went, ‘Oh, it’s been staring at me for years,’ ” he said. “‘This is a very dark, very complex deconstruction of a romantic comedy, and I’m so in.”
After filming of “The Avengers” finished in September 2011, Mr. Whedon and Ms. Cole began hiring the cast for “Much Ado,” to start filming in a month. They recruited Ms. Acker and Mr. Denisof to return as Beatrice and Benedick; and Fran Kranz (of “Dollhouse” and “The Cabin in the Woods”) and Jillian Morgese (an extra on “The Avengers”) to play Claudio and Hero.
And except for Mr. Whedon’s studio superiors on “The Avengers,” the Hollywood film industry was largely kept in the dark.
“If we had told anybody about what we were doing,” Ms. Cole said, “there would be a lot of people telling us: ‘It can’t work. It’s not going to happen. This is a crazy idea.’ ”
But, she added, “You cut that out, and suddenly you’ve got a product that is exactly how we wanted it to be.”
Instead, Mr. Whedon whipped the Internet into a frenzy when he revealed the existence of his “Much Ado” (and the completion of shooting) in late October 2011. The movie has received positive notices on the festival circuit, where The Hollywood Reporter, which reviewed “Much Ado” at the Toronto International Film Festival, wrote that “even viewers not enlisted in Whedon’s Browncoat cult will find much to like here.”
Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Coulson in “The Avengers,” said he had not performed much Shakespeare before taking the role of Leonato in “Much Ado.”
“It does feel like there’s a kind of Shakespeare mafia, and I was not a made man,” said Mr. Gregg, a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company. “I feel like they’re going to stop me in the middle of a soliloquy and go, ‘Hey, not you.’ ”
But the speed at which “Much Ado” was made did not allow for such self-consciousness, he said: “I walked onto the stage — Joss’s kitchen — for the first scene, and I was holding up an iPhone and I thought, ‘This might be a Shakespearean world I can inhabit.’ ”
The rapid pace also left Mr. Whedon little time to worry about crises, as when he and Ms. Cole learned that a house next door was being demolished, just as filming was about to start.
“He was like, ‘Kai, I know you can do a lot of things, but you can’t control this,’ ” Ms. Cole recalled. “And I just looked at him and I was like, ‘Yes, I can.’ ” (The neighbors ultimately worked out a system to avoid interfering with each other’s work.)
Mr. Whedon found that when he returned to postproduction work on “The Avengers,” he was far less conflicted about cutting down that film, and no longer felt like he was losing control of the project.
“I came back from ‘Much Ado’ going, ‘That’s the point,’ ” he said. “ ‘The film is not called “Joss.” It’s called “The Avengers,” and when I’m done editing it, it will still be a film by me.’ ”
As he prepares for an “Avengers” sequel (scheduled for a 2015 release), Mr. Whedon could not say whether he’d need another extracurricular activity to help him finish the new movie, or what kinds of projects he’d like to make after his superhero adventures.
“People are like, ‘When’s your next Shakespeare?’ ” he said. “The next thing I want to do, like Shakespeare, is something I’ve never done before.”
But what he’d learned from both kinds of filmmaking, Mr. Whedon said, is that one is no less real or important than the other, and that “The Avengers” was no less a passion project than “Much Ado About Nothing,”
“I would also describe ‘Avengers 2’ as a passion project,” he said. “I don’t take any project for which I have no passion. Why would you do that?”
[Editor’s Note: As I have previously written, I saw the Joss Whedon Much Ado at the SAA in Toronto and enjoyed it, getting about as many of the “hip” references as anyone over 40 can get. I do plan to take my two daughters and son-in-law to see it again on June 7 when it opens in theaters in the US. Then I will be able to ask them about any others I might have. –Hardy]