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There were some absolutely huge films released in 2012, from Skyfall to The Dark Knight Rises to The Hunger Games, but none were bigger than The Avengers. The movie became the third biggest hit of all time, and was the biggest mainstream hit of Joss Whedon’s career. So how does the beloved filmmaker follow-up his incredibly successful comic book movie? With a black-and-white Shakespeare adaptation, of course.
After spending time on the festival circuit, playing both last year’s Toronto International Film Festival last year and at SXSW earlier this month, Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing has arrived at the Anaheim Convention Center for WonderCon, where the writer/director and his cast will both be showing off footage from the movie and talking about it in depth. And you can read my minute-by-minute updates below!
11:03: Joss Whedon on stage to make a quick announcement. Sadly Nathan Fillion won’t be here, and they’re terrified because he usually does most of the talking.
11:04: And now we watch the trailer to kick things off!
11:06: The rest of the cast and crew arrive on stage, with all of the Whedon regulars getting the biggest applause.
11:07: Joss says he has a problem where it’s hard to stop working, and even though Much Ado didn’t fit in his schedule, he was able to do it because he was surrounded by people who could do it.
11:08: Riki Lindhome plays Conrade, and she’s excited that she got to kiss Sean Maher in the movie. Nick Kocher, who plays Watchman #1 (sort of the lead of the film, the moral backbone of the film he jokes), says that he must have had blackmailable information on Joss in order to get the email from the director about being in the movie.
11:10:Clark Gregg says that he plays Agent Leonato (he just puts that in the front of everything now. He got the call for Much Ado knowing that Joss was still editing Avengers and figured the director was having a mental breakdown. Tom Lenk, who plays Verges in the movie (sidekick to Nathan Fillion, “a very difficult job to do”) says that he got the email from Joss and had a panic attack because he got a C in his Shakespeare class in school, but took it on anyway.
11:14: Spencer Treat Clark, plays Borachio - who is normally played by an “older, larger gentlemen” – and even though he was working on another project he immediately took the call for Joss. Sean Maher, who plays Don John, “the devious bastard villain,” says he was out of town when he got the call and Joss needed someone to play a “sexy villain,” which only pet his ego. Jillian Morgese, who plays Hero, met Joss as a background actress on Avengers and did a Skype audition with the director doing a Shakespeare monologue and immediately got the part – which caused her to sweat and panic profusely.
11:18: Jay Hunter, the cinematographer, says that he met Joss working on Dollhouse and hadn’t seen him in a while, but he was on-board immediately after being asked – it was only a bonus that it ended up being a black-and-white Shakespeare adaptation. Romy Rosemont, who plays The Sexton, says she met Joss at a Glee party and a year later got a text and even though Joss thought she may have been over qualified she was quick to say yes. Brian McElhaney, the second watchmen, notes that he and Nick do sketch comedy in New York and Joss was just a fan of their work and got the call in.
11:23: And now it’s time for the first clip from the movie!
11:23 From Act II, Scene III of the play, originally set in Leonato’s orchard, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Leonato (Clark Gregg) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) are standing by a window and discussing how in love Beatrice (Amy Acker) is with Benedict (Alexis Denisof). From behind them we can see Benedict pop his head out, trying desperately to hear every word that they say. Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio then move through the house to a set of glass doors and continue their conversation, and we see Benedict do a military roll behind them, still trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. When one of the men talking thinks he sees something behind him, Benedict picks up a leafy branch and hides behind it.
The scene then cuts and we see Benedict out in a field as Beatrice comes over to call him to dinner. Benedict is clearly desperate to show off, and strikes constant ridiculous poses, eventually even going as far as to do sets of push-ups and sit-ups. Beatrice, of course, couldn’t care less about it. The scene is incredibly funny any played very well in the arena.
11:26: Why Much Ado? Joss says it’s a very modern and accessible play, but it wasn’t until his wife noted that they had all the pieces in place that it was time to actually make the movie. Then he looked at the play again and said, “Oh, this is dark and full of pain!” which gets a huge laugh from the crowd. He was interested in the motivations of every single character, and felt that he had really important things to say about all of them – which allowed him to bring everyone together. The movie has a lot of commentary on romantic love and how we’re pushed in certain directions and made to think certain things when we’re in love – and then tears it all down. And then he threw some sex in! Apparently he wanted to put more sex in The Avengers, but Scarlett Johannson just told him he was embarrassing himself.
11:29: Now it’s time for another clip, featuring Nathan Fillion!
11:30: Originally from Act IV Scene II and set in a prison, we see Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk) interrogating Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark), who have been accused of calling Don John (Sean Maher) a villain. They call in the Watchmen (Nick Kocher, Brian McElhaney), who read the charges against the two, which eventually leads Conrade to be outraged. The Sexton (Romy Rosemont) calls for them to be taken away, but before they can be, Conrade approaches Dogberry and calls him an “ass.” Even after the room has emptied and it’s only Dogberry and Verges left, Dogberry is still very clearly hurt by the name-calling, and gets completely flustered to comedic effect. The scene ends as Dogberry tries to put on his jacket, but doesn’t notice that he is trying to wear Verges’, which is far, far too small for him.
11:33: Is there a difference between Joss directing Much Ado and Joss making The Avengers? Clark says no risk of giant green rage monsters, and he was going to be difficult to get killed off, but was just amazed to have the opportunity to work with him again after the death of Agent Coulson.
11:35: Joss says that he wouldn’t want to work with these people again, but would be happy to do a project like this again by the seat of his pants. He wants to do Hamlet, though it may not be next. He wants to take this exact cast and do something completely different. He had so many new experiences on this one, but wants to keep doing new and different things. As long as it is with the cast, though, he doesn’t care what it is
11:36: Fan Q&A time! Are there similarities between the words of Shakespeare and the words of Whedon? Whedon says neither make sense and you have to look a lot of stuff up, so they are just like Shakespeare.
11:37: What was the biggest difficult thing about modernizing the story? Tom Lenk says that he didn’t always understand what he was saying, and it was like speaking in Swedish. He went to Joss for translation – and then Joss went to Alexis. Tom says that it makes sense in the original text, but it also makes sense in the modern context as well.
11:39: What kind of advice does Joss have for young filmmakers? Joss says that part of how it all came together was because he saw stuff online that really impressed him. It would seem just getting stuff out there is what’s important. It’s about becoming every kind of producer and surrounding yourself with people you trust. Nick Kocher says that if you just wait around Joss Whedon will cast you in something
11:46: Joss says it wasn’t a huge struggle to bring the old and the new together. Joss says that the first adaptation he ever saw was set during World War I. It translates and always does. There were certain decisions that had to be made, like guns instead of swords, and cell phones and cars. They wanted to modernize it, but also create a distance between it and create a “noir comedy thing.” Whedon hopes that at some point you just forget that it’s Elizabethan funny talk.
11:48: How did Joss decide to put hints on color in the black-and-white? Apparently that’s only an element in the trailer, not in the actual film. One scene in the film was filmed in Joss’ daughter’s room, which is bright pink, and they would have loved to include it but couldn’t because of budget issues.
11:50: Joss says that the key thing for every project is whether or not he has something to say. With Avengers he debated a long time, but was connected to the story of characters who are brought together when they just want to be alone – which he totally got. With Much Ado it was his chance to be his version of what Shakespeare says.
11:51: Memorable on-set experiences? Jillian Morgese says that many of the party scenes were basically just party scenes, and many of them just turned into fun dance parties. Even on the bus down to SXSW they had dance parties. Brian McElhaney says that they were encouraged to just get drunk on set – Joss’ house – and just pass out. Romy Rosemont says that she took the opportunity to go through Joss’ drawers. Nick Kocher says it’s memorable that when you’re playing a character that doesn’t have a name you don’t normally get to sit on a panel, so the entire experience has been amazing. Joss checks with his cast to make sure everyone was sober while they were working..
11:53: Question about Joss scoring the movie: Joss says it went very slowly because he doesn’t play an instrument and doesn’t know how to use ProLogic, but had just as much fun doing it as shooting the film. He notes that it’s a very bipolar text, so knowing he would get to go in and out and find something evocative and original was great. He said that his baseline was the score for The Grifters, which sounds nothing like this, but was an inspiration.
11:58: Any hijinks or pranks on set? Joss says they had a lot of fun on set, but had to really focus on the work because of the pressure of the set up. All of the hijinks are really in the film, not around the kraft services panel.
12:00: Last question! James Marsters and Juliet Laundau as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? Joss says they started the Shakespeare readings because James wanted to read Macbeth. Any part James got he just played Macbeth.
12:02: And that’s a wrap on the Much Ado About Nothing panel!
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