WonderCon 2013 began its final day this morning with a panel celebrating Joss Whedon’s indie Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing, which is set to hit theaters June 7 from Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Joining Whedon himself on the stage were stars Riki Lindhome, Tom Lenk, Spencer Treat Clark, Sean Maher, Nick Kocher, Clark Gregg, Jillian Morgese, Romy Rosemont and Brian McElhaney, along with cinematographer Jay Hunter.
Two key scenes from the production were shown, beginning with the play’s Act II, Scene III in Leonato’s (Clark Gregg) orchard. The characters are discussing Beatrice’s (Amy Acker) wedding plans, but noting that she’s secretly in love with Benedick (Alexis Denisof). Benedick, meanwhile, is hiding in the bushes just outside the window and listening in (which is very comically delivered with lots of pantomime as Denisof hides behind small objects to listen as closely as he can).
Picking up the scene a bit later on, Beatrice approached Benedick who, now knowing her secret, goes out of his way to impress her, posing and doing push-ups throughout the conversation.
The next scene jumps to Act IV, Scene II in a prison. Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk) are two police officers and Whedon has them comically matched. Verges flies off the handle at the slightest provocation and Dogberry, not the brightest of the brightest of the bunch, gets genuinely offended and sorrowful when Conrade (Lindhorne) calls him an ass.
Whedon explained the origins of the project began with a series of Shakespeare readings he would do with his actor friends. Even though he’s not in Much Ado, one of the people that got the ball rolling was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star James Marsters and his desire to play “Macbeth.”
“Every part he played, he was playing Macbeth,” said Whedon. “ ’I don’t think Feste the jester sees Banquo’s ghost,’ [I'd say] ‘Yes, he does!’”
Because the play is largely in one location, Whedon used his own home as a set and encouraged actors to just hang out and enjoy the fun even when they weren’t shooting.
“There is a party in the movie where some of the extras were actually partying on the other side of the house,” Whedon continued. “I think most of the people were sober while actually acting in the movie.”
“Because it was at Joss’ house, I went through his drawers,” Rosemont jokes.
The biggest motivation for the project was a question that Whedon asks himself about all his projects.
“Do I have something to say?” he explained, adding that he asked himself the same question on Marvel’s The Avengers. “ Do I have something to say about a bunch of weird alienated people who are forced to come together when they would rather be alone. And then then I went oh!”
Shot in 12 days in black in white (the color shots are something that were added just for the trailer), Whedon assembled his cast from people he had met in all walks of life.
“If you wait long enough,” said Kocher of breaking into the entertainment industry, “Joss Whedon e-mails you and casts you in a movie.”
In the end, Whedon says that the strength of his cast was the only thing that made the project possible.
“When I really, really looked at the material I went, ‘Oh! This is dark and full of pain! How did I miss that?!’” he explained. “ There’s a chance to examine the dark underbelly while still having some fun It has a lot of commentary about romantic love and how we’re pushed in certain ways and behave in certain ways and think certain things when we’re in love While it’s tearing it all down, it’s still very romantic.”
Will there be more projects like this in the future after he tackles Marvel’s The Avengers 2? Yes and no. Whedon said that, while he’d like to keep the same cast, he’s not sure another Shakespeare play is right and would love to try a similar experiment with something very different. That being said, he’s not wholly against a return to Shakespeare at some point in the future.
“A lot of words don’t make any sense and they’re in the wrong order and you have to look things up,” he says of his own talent matching the Bard. “I’m just like Shakespeare.”
Much Ado About Nothing hits theaters in a limited release June 7.