Uncut Interview - Joss Whedon on Shakespeare and Superheroes


  • Uncut Interview - Joss Whedon on Shakespeare and Superheroes
  • Joss Whedon
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Much Ado About Nothing

Talking up Much Ado About Nothing, The Avengers, SHIELD and Firefly
Buffy, Firefly and Angel creator Joss Whedon may have become a household name after the massive success of The Avengers in 2012 but that doesn’t mean he’s surrendered entirely to blockbusters.

His latest film is about as indie as you can get – a black and white Shakespeare adaptation made on a miniscule budget and shot over a week in his own home in California with his friends. It’s a somewhat noir take on Much Ado About Nothing and is utterly delightful.

We got the chance to catch up with Joss when he was in town to promote Much Ado earlier in the year. Here’s what he had to say about working with some familiar faces, taking on Shakespeare, prepping for SHIELD and devoting a chunk of his life to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

[This interview was conducted in February 2013 in Dublin]

CLICK: Given the amount of press you had to do for The Avengers is it nice to be able to come here to talk about a homemade, black and white Shakespeare adaptation?
Yes it is. Well it’s also a film like Much Ado everybody has different questions. With The Avengers not so much…

CLICK: So why Shakespeare and why this play?
Um Shakespeare is… I think he’s really talented. And I'm hoping to expose him to people so he can get some more work! I find that almost all of my favourite artists were very successful when they were alive and continue to be. Dickens, John Sargent, Gainsborough. With very few exceptions. And I think that there’s a kind of humanism and populism in what they’re doing that is really exciting and why they have remained exciting. But it is not terribly original to be a fan of Shakespeare, yet I am! And this text, I had seen Amy [Acker] and Alexis [Denisof] do it at my house, we had a reading. But for years I never really had a take on the play besides ‘oh it’s delightful, what fun’ [claps hands]. I never really sat down with it and studied it. And two days of doing that made me realise there was a very particular film that I wished to make starring these two people and it is somewhat darker than I expected it to be. But hopefully still ridiculously silly!

CLICK: You shot on a break while editing The Avengers, was it a good way to cleanse your brain?
You know it was a palate cleanser. And it was also really useful for me in the editing process. Because it was a month in, I had a week off. A month into the editing process. And it was the part at which you must remove many things that you love because your movie is too long! Which is a painful process. And I was thinking it was when I was being taken out of the movie. So then I did Much Ado and I came back and realised that’s just how it works. It’s not about me; I must be taken out of the movie because when it’s over it will still be very much in its DNA my movie. And I found that with Much Ado as well. Even though it was shot quickly and I'm capturing great performances and not really rethinking the text – I’m not trying to outsmart Shakespeare I’m just trying to put up what I find in the words. It still feels very much like, ‘oh yea this is one of mine’. And so that’s kind of exciting for me.

Joss on the set, love the hand made title on the script
Joss on the set, love the hand made title on the scriptEnlarge Enlarge

CLICK: You’re known for creating unique and interesting dialogue, was it strange working with someone else words?
Well in one case it’s a relief. But it’s also like John Wayne reading something from Hamlet and he’s like ‘I didn’t write this crap.’ It’s fun because as a script doctor and a show runner, part of your job is to solve a puzzle that’s already been built wrong. And it’s like what do I have and how do I make it work? With Shakespeare, there are moves which would be considered counterintuitive if someone was developing the story. Changes in tone, in pace, in what a character is doing from moment to moment, that you have to go into and go ok well how do I justify this because you can’t change it! You can’t tell him what to do! But that’s exciting because it’s all laid out before you. It’s like editing, there’s no bluffing. It’s just what have I got and how does it work? And that for me is a joy.

CLICK: Why did you decide to shoot it in black and white? Partly to make life a bit easier?
Well it did make life easier, in terms of the lighting and the wardrobe. But also that turned out just to be a lucky chance because the decision was made because I was trying to make a noir comedy. You know I wanted something that had not just a darker feel but oddly enough an old fashioned feel. Even though we have iPhones and whatnot I wanted it to have a certain kind of timelessness. And evoke a sort of 60s Kennedy era drunken elegance. So even though its modern day I try not to make it aggressively modern day. I try not to turn that into a pony – [does a voice] ‘look at the pony do its trick!’

CLICK: You mentioned that you stage readings in your home, was this just another one of them? Did you really want an audience to see it?
Well you know you don’t make a film and hope people won’t! But we did have the luxury of making it not having the slightest idea where it would end up. I felt like I had a good relationship with iTunes based on Dr. Horrible and I could just put it up there. But I wanted people to see it in a theatre. With other people. I wanted it to be a communal experience. Because part of the joy of Shakespeare is that it is theatre. And when you make a film, especially a comedy, you want to get that room. And besides, we wanted to go to festivals! But had everybody said ‘hey wow, we hate this!’ we knew we always had that backup. Nobody made it because they were like ‘this is a good career move!’

Nathan Fillion has a marvellous turn as the comically inept Dogberry
Nathan Fillion has a marvellous turn as the comically inept DogberryEnlarge Enlarge

CLICK: And it was a good opportunity to work with some of your recurring cast. Did you do any regular casting or was it just people you knew who were around?
When I got home because it was at the very tail end of The Avengers when Kai [his wife of 20 years] first suggested that I do this. I had a party, a coming back party because I’d been in Albuquerque. For almost a year. And at the party I kept asking people ‘so what are you doing? How are your weekends? Do you have lot going on?’ I didn’t actually tell anybody why because I was still feeling them out. And then I dropped the bomb on them about three weeks before filming. And it was difficult to work out around people’s schedules but no more difficult than The Avengers was!

CLICK: I wanted to talk briefly about Firefly – do you ever get fed up being asked questions about it?
For Firefly? No. I mean you know when people are like what happened people don’t really ask that so much. If that narrative is still living with people enough that they want to talk about it then score because so do I!

CLICK: Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where it been gone too long to be resurrected?
Maybe, I don’t know. Everybody’s still pretty!

CLICK: They are!
And obviously if there was ever a chance to do it again, or another movie with the cast and everybody was able to make themselves available – they would be older. It’s one of the things where that was an early mandate on Buffy – they’re not going to live in high school for 10 years. People age, it’s ok! Yes I’m talking to you Los Angeles!

Much Ado is filmed in Black and White
Much Ado is filmed in Black and WhiteEnlarge Enlarge

CLICK: And you’re back to TV now with Agents of SHIELD. Your last couple of TV shows were maybe not as successful as you might have hoped…
JW: [weepy voice] I don’t know what you’re talking about! I have something in my eye…

CLICK: Did you have any reticence about going back to TV?
No. I mean obviously I’ll be working on The Avengers so I'm not going to have a ton of time. but building the show was delightful and I’ve got the people I have in place, Jed [Whedon] and Marissa [Tancharoen] and Jeffrey Bell I’ve worked with all of them and they’ve worked with each other before and it’s a really great unit. So I’ve put as many good people in place as I can and then I run like a bunny. That definitely ate up a bunch of time but I had a blast making it and I think we’ve got a really amazing new ensemble so I think it’s going to be fun.

CLICK: And on The Avengers 2 was it a big decision to give over five years of your life to Marvel?
Yea it was. For a long time I didn’t think I was going to do it. I didn’t even consider it. And then finally when I sat down and said if I was going to do this and I went into a fugue state and when I looked up I had written an entire note books worth of notes and I went ‘ok this is going to happen!’

CLICK: Now that you’ve done Much Ado and The Avengers will you always want to mix big and small projects?
Always, always. And then people will say ‘he can’t do medium sized!’ I can I swear you just gotta give me a chance!

The Hulk will smash again in 2015
The Hulk will smash again in 2015Enlarge Enlarge

CLICK: Would you like to do a series of these Shakespeare adaptations whenever you have the time?
It would be fun. We used to talk about whether we wanted to film these readings and we decided no they’re an ephemeral theatrical and low pressure situation and that’s what they should be. But there are definitely other plays that I would love to film but one of the great things about doing this is that it’s something I had never done before. And it’s no longer something I’ve never done before. So the next thing I do will probably be very different.

CLICK: And what play would be next?

CLICK: No question.

CLICK: It’s been a long road for you to this level of success and fame to a degree. What got you through those years when you had cancelled TV shows and some negative Hollywood experiences?
Well you know sometimes I’m like ‘I was fine!’ And then I'm like ‘remember that identity crisis you had for like seven months?!’ The fact is when I was doing those my children were newly born, I was writing comic books, I was developing movies I thought were going to be made. I took some hits but I also saved my first pay check very specifically for the reason that I’d never take a job because I had to. And I’ve been able to stay true to that which I feel very grateful for. So if the industry is done with me I hope that I will have the grace to notice. And I’ll just go write books!

Joss on the red carpet in Dublin for Much Ado
Joss on the red carpet in Dublin for Much AdoEnlarge Enlarge

CLICK: Finally, after The Avengers 2 if you could do any movie at all what would it be? Would you go back to Goners [a script he’s been working on since 2005]? Or maybe even Star Wars?!
Star Wars has been taken and I think is in very good hands.

CLICK: There will be more Star Wars though…
That’s true. I think it would be lovely to do something that was not only not derivative of somebody else’s work or of anything I’ve done before but is even not developed in the way I traditionally develop things. So I'm sort of investigating an area that interests me that I have no idea the medium, or the structure or any of it. I'm trying to come up with something in a purely pure fashion to see if I can create that way. And if I turns out I can’t, that I need the genre tropes all to be in place beforehand, or lightsabres, then I’ll do that!

Much Ado About Nothing is in cinemas from the 14th of June. Agents of SHIELD will begin airing in September 2013 and The Avengers 2 is set for a May 2015 release. Check out our video interview with him below.

Uncut Interview - Joss Whedon on Shakespeare and Superheroes on ClickOnline.com
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