What did you do on your vacation? Joss Whedon adapted Shakespeare.
At South by Southwest 2012 (SXSW) Joss Whedon explained that he found a new way to unwind from the total immersion of making a movie like The Avengers — make another movie. In 2011, after principal photography on The Avengers was completed, Whedon was contractually obligated to take 12 days off before beginning post-production work on the director’s cut. Instead of taking his wife with him on the next flight to Tahiti, Whedon threw a party for his friends and talked them into doing Shakespeare. (It helps to have really talented actors for friends.) His wife Kai Cole produced.
The actors, mostly alumni of Whedon’s previous work (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly) included Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion and Fran Kranz. The filming of Much Ado About Nothing was done in and around Whedon’s home. (Isn’t it supposed to take place in a palace? Well, Whedon is a successful director and lives in Malibu.) It worked.
The performances were exceptional. When one actor is good in a film, they get the props. When they all are great, you have to give credit to the director.
Seeing Shakespeare is like going to the symphony. You know the music. You’ve listed to it countless times. You go because of the conductor and the musicians. Whedon conducted his musicians with true virtuoso flare.
The subtle smiles, the looks, the laughter and the pratfalls (it is a comedy) all added to the story in a way even old Will couldn’t have seen. (At least he didn’t write it down.) One would think moving Elizabethan English to modern day Malibu would be too incongruous and anachronistic to work. It more than worked — it was moving.
One actress does deserve special mention. Jillian Morgese, playing Hero, one of the two female leads, excelled in this, her first major role in a feature film. She previously worked with Whedon on The Avengers, where she was an extra. You’ll see her again.
So, did this Whedoned-up version of the Bard succeed? Well, when I sat down in the Real-D screening room, I was tired, cranky, expecting to be bored (I’ve seen Much Ado at multiple Renaissance Faires) and stressed by 50 miles of LA traffic. When I left, I felt good about the world and was smiling. What more could you ask from a rom-com, Shakespearian, Whedonesque or otherwise?
Much Ado About Nothing opens in theaters June 7, 2013.