Seven things I learned at Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (video)

The writer-director sounded off at BAM about Shakespeare, ballet and his Ph.D. in Annoyingness.

Joss Whedon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

Joss Whedon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Photograph: Jenna Scherer

What better way to take a break from the monumental task of shooting a movie than by…shooting a movie? If you’re writer-director–geek icon Joss Whedon, that kind of insane troll logic makes sense. (And if you’re a Whedon fan, the expression insane troll logic makes sense.) In between filming and postproduction for The Avengers, which he wrote and helmed, the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Cabin in the Woods and more shot a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing…over the course of 12 days…in his own house. Last night, BAM screened the flick, followed by a Q&A with Whedon. Here’s what we picked up:

1. He has been wanting to film Much Ado for about a decade, ever since he started holding informal play readings at his house with cast members of the TV shows he was working on at the time. As soon as he heard Angel actors Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof perform Beatrice and Benedick, the feuding would-be lovers at the center of Much Ado, he knew he wanted to do it.

2. For those who may be skeptical about a guy who’s known for penning stories about vampires, space cowboys and mad scientists taking on the Bard, his explanation for why he loves Much Ado should allay your fears: “I just went into the text and really looked at it with fresh eyes, and saw a lot of darkness and pain and manipulation and cynicism, and thought, This’ll be great! I found that the rest of the play, which is so often just a backdrop for a two-hander, is in fact very much integral and a part of the same text, and the jolly manipulations of Don Pedro are exactly the same as the tragic manipulations of Don John, and what everybody’s doing is corrupting the idea and deconstructing the idea of romantic behavior. So [Shakespeare] is pulling apart the idea of the rom-com, which he is basically inventing.”

2. Whedon shot the movie in his own house and backyard in L.A. His wife, Kai Cole (who produced), designed the space with that in mind. “She built the place for people to create art in it,” he explained. “We always knew we were going to film it. The counter is weirdly far away from the back of the kitchen so that we can fit a camera in there.”

3. Turns out, genre TV actors are really good at Shakespeare. Whedon’s cast is an assemblage of performers who he’s worked with in the past: Acker and Denisof from Angel, Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher from Firefly, Fran Kranz from Dollhouse, and Clark Gregg from The Avengers and the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. They toss off iambic pentameter with a naturalism that will win over anyone who thinks the Bard is over their heads.

4. They don’t make enough black and white movies these days. Much Ado is filmed in shades of gray, and it lends a glamorous old-school sheen to the often slapstick proceedings. Whedon describes the story as a “noir comedy,” and said he was inspired by the styles of midcentury directing greats like Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot) and Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany’s).

5. Whedon’s next dream project? A stage ballet about a library. “Dance for me is the most sublime thing that there is, and free action kind of replaced dance in American cinema,” he said. “We used to have Fred Astaire, and now we have guys flying through plate-glass windows, trying to jump moving cars. And it’s all very good because it’s all movement, it’s all exciting; but for me, that’s my single favorite thing.”

6. Not to worry, Whedon diehards—he talked about his nerdier pursuits as well. Some tidbits:

- If he could choose another superhero to do a movie about, it would be Batman. “I don’t think anyone’s worried it’s gonna happen,” he added. “I’m not going to make a Batman movie in my house. …Wait a minute.”

- He feels okay about bringing the character of Agent Coulson back from the dead (he bit it in The Avengers) for his upcoming TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., because he’ll never turn down a chance to work with Clark Gregg.

- Parts of Firefly were shot on the same soundstage as Alien: Resurrection, a 1997 flop that Whedon wrote—and deeply regrets.

7. And finally, unlike the titular antihero of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Whedon does not have a Ph.D. in Horribleness: “It’s actually in Annoyingness,” he joked, when asked by an audience member. “I sort of washed out of Horribleness. I didn’t finish. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Check out a video of Whedon chatting with moderator Choire Sicha postscreening below.