If man is indeed a giddy thing — as William Shakespeare suggests in Much Ado About Nothing, insinuating we are impulsive beyond all reason — then Joss Whedon may be the giddiest man of all. After all, he’s the director who decided to make a quick movie in his down time between shooting his first big-budget film and editing it; the screenwriter who dared to adapt a play from the greatest wordsmith in the English language; the optimist who thought: Hey, yeah, let’s shoot a Shakespearean comedy at my house; it’ll be fun.
And fun it was. But Whedon, whose inspired contemporary version of Much Ado About Nothing opens Friday in South Florida, says making the movie served another purpose, too.
“It made editing The Avengers much easier,” says Whedon, creator of the cult hits Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. “It took me through the most difficult phase of editing, when you’re pulling out all the things you love very much. I was thinking, ‘I’ve lost control of the movie I want to make!’ Shooting Much Ado made me remember you have to remove parts of yourself because the movie isn’t about you. You have to strip away the self-indulgent bits. ... It sort of gave me perspective.”
Whatever cuts he made to the superhero epic seem to have worked out just fine: The Avengers went on to become a blockbuster last summer, earning a whopping $1.5 billion worldwide and becoming the No. 3 top-grossing movie of all time, behind Avatar and Titanic.
But on a more modest arthouse scale, Much Ado About Nothing — which Whedon frames as a romantic screwball comedy taking place over a weekend in which everybody drinks a little too much and “everything is running at fever temperature” — has been packing a powerful punch all its own. The critically praised film opened in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and took in an impressive $171,941 on its opening weekend, with a $34,388 per-screen average, according to the website Box Office Mojo.
The film, co-produced by Whedon’s wife Kai Cole and shot at their Santa Monica home over 12 days, is packed with Whedon veterans including Amy Acker ( Angel, Dollhouse and the Whedon penned- and produced horror satire The Cabin in the Woods) and Alexis Denisoff ( Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, The Avengers) as the sparring, would-be lovers Beatrice and Benedick as well as Nathan Fillion ( Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible) as the malaprop-spouting constable Dogberry. The film also features Fran Kranz ( Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods), Reed Diamond ( Dollhouse) and Tom Lenk ( Buffy, Angel, Cabin in the Woods).
“It was very much an all-star Whedon cast,” says Clark Gregg, who plays party host Leonato in Much Ado and Agent Coulson in The Avengers and the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. “I was very much the new guy. I think there are just people Joss gravitates to who are like-minded. He loves the work . ... There’s so much trust and support and a kind of safety that it gives him room to try things. And he makes people keep coming back. He gives people opportunities that others don’t. Nobody else would have taken Agent Coulson and put him at the center of the story.”