The Whedonverse is expanding. After tackling fantasy teen television ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), a sci fi-cowboy western hybrid ("Firefly") and a blockbuster comic book film ("The Avengers"), television producer and filmmaker Joss Whedon has moved to William Shakespeare with his film adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing."
It's a delightful, glorious film, mashing up the Bard's original language (don't worry, catching onto Elizabethan English is easy), the peculiarities of modernity (think iPod playlists and wedding cakes made of cupcakes) and a slinky, black-and-white veneer.
Not only was the film a pleasure to watch, but so too was the process by which it came together, as described by Amy Acker, who plays Beatrice."One of my favorite parts of the movie is that watching it feels the way it felt making it," she says of the film's raucous party sequence. Whedon, who provided his Santa Monica house for the shoot, invited his own friends – many of them alumni of his other works – to serve as extras. "They were the ones drinking, so the party moved to the front of the house and you had filming happening in the back. It was all really fun," Acker says.
The idea for "Much Ado About Nothing" emerged from a number of readings Whedon hosted in which close members of his circle would come over and perform Shakespeare. "You would just go over on a Sunday in flip flops and a t-shirt and read the plays, and there was something really relaxing and special about it," Acker says. "We had talked about doing something to share these readings, he's always said 'Wouldn't it be fun if we could film these somehow?'"
Once Whedon decided to adapt the play for the big screen, Acker says it was about two and a half weeks between landing the role of Beatrice and the start of production – a shoot that only lasted 12 days itself. "[Until] about a week before we started shooting, I thought it was just going to be Joss on his iPhone. No one expected that it was going to be in theaters," she says.
Acker's relationship with Whedon started when she auditioned for "Angel," the TV spin-off of "Buffy." She read a scene based on another Shakespeare work, "A Midsummer's Night Dream," with Alexis Denisof, who plays Benedick in "Much Ado About Nothing." Since her role on "Angel," Acker has appeared in both Whedon's shows ("Dollhouse") and films ("The Cabin in the Woods"). A number of other cast members in "Much Ado" have also been in multiple Whedon works: Jillian Morgese had a very brief role in "The Avengers" before he decided to cast her as Hero, the other female lead in "Much Ado About Nothing."
The movie stays true to Shakespeare's text – the story of the marriage of two young lovers (Morgese and Fran Kranz) and a plot to make two adversaries (Acker and Denisof) fall in love. But Whedon enriches it with a contemporary setting – the male characters look more like bankers than Shakespeare's soldiers – and some physical comedy, much of which was developed on set (A scene in which two characters hilariously lock themselves out of their car was a result of the actors actually locking themselves out of their car).
"The best thing about working with Joss is that, maybe he had the idea before, but he really makes you feel like you've come up with them and it's a big collaboration," Acker says. "I think that's why he cast so many people that he had worked with before, because it was a sure-hand way for him being able to throw out ideas and everyone feeling comfortable to bring their own stuff."