It was a fitting tribute to Shakespeare himself on Wednesday, as movie lovers gathered on the lawn of the Academy’s Oscars Outdoors venue for the Los Angeles premiere of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Much of the cast was in attendance, along with Whedon himself, who told The Hollywood Reporter that filming and editing the project in conjunction with Marvel’s big budget Avengers actually helped to preserve his sanity.
“They were breathing space from each other,” he said of the vastly different films. “The pressure of The Avengers was a particular thing, but at the same time I had dozens of people working for me. Much Ado was a much more freeing experience… One would fulfill me in one way, and one in the other. Instead of being more exhausting, it was less.”
The adaptation of Shakespeare’s beloved classic was filmed in Whedon’s Santa Monica home in just 12 days, while the filmmaker was on a required break from Avengers. Working with editor Daniel S. Kaminsky, Whedon plugged away on the black and white film on lunch breaks and late nights during Avengers postproduction.
During a Q&A following the screening, Whedon admitted that filming in his home -- while enjoyable -- also came with challenges. Among them: an unhappy neighbor that called the police while the cast filmed a party scene. While the cop instructed Whedon to shut down production at the time, citing a lack of permits, the party obviously continued.
The film’s casting has proven to delight fans of Whedon’s diverse body of work, as the filmmaker enlisted the help of many former collaborators, including Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond and, surprisingly, newcomer Jillian Morgese, whose only credit prior to Much Ado is as an extra in Avengers.
Whedon, famous for collecting actors from various projects and enlisting them for future works, said he looks for “talent,” “training” and “work ethic” when inviting artists to be a part of his Whedonverse.
“People who’ve worked in soaps, on stage, in sitcoms, they know they have to change all the time and they have to learn it all,” Whedon tells THR. “They all have a joy about them. They love what they do, they’re grateful to be doing it and I’m grateful to be doing it with them.”
Gregg, who has also been cast in forthcoming Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series at ABC, was surprised to be working with Whedon again after his Agent Phil Coulson was killed off in Avengers. “I thought he killed me off and I wasn’t gonna see him for a while,” Gregg confessed to THR. Asked whether he would ever say “no” to a project pitched by the filmmaker, Gregg said he’d be “hard pressed” to turn him down. “What I learned in [Much Ado About Nothing], even though it seemed chaotic and there wasn’t a possible way to pull it off, I feel like he knocked it out of the park. I would think twice before questioning why he’s doing something, because he seems to have really thought through reasons.”
Fillion, who appeared in Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, nearly turned down the opportunity to appear in Much Ado About Nothing.
“I tried to chicken out of this one,” he told THR. “I was so terrified to do Shakespeare. Thank God [Whedon] is brilliant and he’s a good friend. He talked me off the roof and convinced me that it’s OK, and I haven’t been challenged like I was in this project in a long time -- probably since the last time I worked with him.”
The actors reveled in the parallels between New York’s famed Shakespeare in the Park tradition and the open-air premiere of their film. It helped that for many, Los Angeles is now the city they call home.
“How much more poetic can this get?” Diamond declared, adding with a laugh: “And everyone can drink, which is important. We want you to be drinking while watching this movie, because we were drinking while we made it.”
Said Whedon, “Although I have been to a bunch of festivals, this is something different and for it to be at Oscars Outdoors, it couldn’t be more appropriate for the spirit of the thing – the delight we all feel.” Another perk? While introducing the film, the director joked that it would be his only opportunity to say that famous line: "I'd like to thank the Academy..."
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci