© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Whedon Adapts 'Much Ado About Nothing' For Silver Screen


Last year, Joss Whedon put the blockbuster in summer blockbuster. He's the writer-director of "The Avengers," that crew of Marvel Comics superheroes whose story led to a super box office: one and a half billion dollars worldwide. It offered action and also repartee, like this moment of confrontation between Robert Downey, Jr.'s Iron Man and Thor.


CHRIS HEMSWORTH: (as Thor) You have no idea what you are dealing with.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR: (as Iron Man) Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?

MONTAGNE: Turns out Shakespeare is a passion of Joss Whedon's. When he was creating his first big success, the cult TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," he often had the cast come by his home for readings of the Bard, which helps explain Whedon's newest film. It's a black and white adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing." It's shot entirely in his home and backyard and using mostly actors who've appeared on his various TV series. He shot the film in two weeks, compared to the two years he'd spent making "The Avengers."

JOSS WHEDON: At the end of "Avengers," my wife and I were supposed to take a vacation, but she said, yeah, instead of taking me to Venice, why don't you make a film instead, and - which is not the thing you usually expect to hear. And she was very insistent. You need this. You need to sort of detox after what was a very arduous shoot. And so what you need to do is work more.

MONTAGNE: Was it then in a sense - maybe not vacation is the right word but a two-week break?

WHEDON: I think I'm actually going to go with vacation. You know, "Much Ado About Nothing" was also an arduous shoot in its own way. We were shooting eight pages of Elizabethan dialogue every single day.

MONTAGNE: That doesn't sound that easy.

WHEDON: No, not easy. But, you know, the sense of accomplishment and the sense of enormous just joy and fun that we all had. For me it's the most relaxing thing there is.

MONTAGNE: Let's play a little tape of the two central characters from "Much Ado About Nothing," Beatrice and Benedick. But first, from you, could we get just a small description of their relationship?

WHEDON: Well, Beatrice and Benedick are both confirmed bachelors. They disparage the opposite sex and the idea of romance completely. So of course their friends decide to convince them they're in love with each other just for sport.

MONTAGNE: So let's hear a little bit about how they relate to each other. Benedick has been trading these amusing barbs with the prince when Beatrice interrupts with a witty comment of her own.


AMY ACKER: (as Beatrice) I wonder that you would still be talking, Signior Benedick. Nobody marks you.

ALEXIS DENISOF: (as Benedick) What, my dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?

ACKER: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.

DENISOF: Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies. Only you excepted. And I would I could find it in my heart that I had not a hard heart for truly I love none.

ACKER: Dear happiness to women.

MONTAGNE: I mean, this easily could be from a 1930s comedy with Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable.

WHEDON: I really do think that, you know, "Much Ado About Nothing" is the text on which all of those romantic comedies are based. It is really the model for the modern romantic comedy. You know, you look at not just movies but TV. You look at "His Girl Friday," you look at "Moonlighting," you look at "Cheers." It's always, oh, they can't stand each other. I need them to get together. And what's fascinating about it, for me, is that Shakespeare, he's basically inventing what we understand as the modern romantic comedy. At the same time he's pulling it apart and examining it and going, I don't know that I necessarily agree with this little dance they're doing.

MONTAGNE: Now, you filmed this in your home, which, by looking at the film, it's a large, beautiful house in Santa Monica. And there's one giggle-inducing moment where the two leads, Claudio and Benedick, they're talking about being a bachelor for life - that's Benedick - as they have walked into the room that they're going to stay in, which has two twin beds, and it looks like maybe your daughter's room?

WHEDON: That is in fact my daughter's room and it's one of the few moments where the black and white makes me sad because it is pink.

MONTAGNE: And you can tell, though, it's pink.

WHEDON: Well, the great thing about shooting in your own home is location scouting means walking around with a cup of tea going, hmm. And my daughter had that big doll house with those Barbies in it. So that was a perfect place for him to sit down in resignation when he finds out that Claudio wants to get married.


DENISOF: (as Benedick) But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have you?

FRAN KRANZ: (as Claudio) I would scarce trust myself though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife.

DENISOF: Is it come to this? Shall I never see a bachelor of threescore again?

MONTAGNE: This play contains something quite classic for Shakespeare, which is these bumbling characters. Let's hear a little bit of Constable Dogberry, who is part of this group of sort of incompetent officers who have rounded up a couple of wrongdoers and he brings them to the prince.


REED DIAMOND: (as Don Pedro) Officers, what offense have these men done?

NATHAN FILLION: (as Dogberry) Marry, sir. They have committed false report. Moreover, they have spoken untruth. Secondarily, they are slanders. Sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady. Thirdly, they have verified unjust things. And, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

DIAMOND: (as Don Pedro) This learned constable is too cunning to be understood.

MONTAGNE: Too cunning to be understood.

WHEDON: Well, you know, this is one of those things that just blew me away the first time I ever saw the play, that - I mean it's so silly. I was reading it and I really fixated on the interrogation scene. I was just like, this just reads like cop show to me. You know, he says things like: I'm gonna break these guys, and then, you know, basically says you're a knave. When he says I'm not, it's like, oh, they're both in a tale. Like their stories line up, what do we do? I mean it just - it cracks me up. And I was like, this is how I want to go with this, is I think it will translate into a modern, you know, we take off our sunglasses when we say something important kind of cop show.

MONTAGNE: So far we're getting this is a romantic comedy crossed with a cop show.

WHEDON: Yeah, you know, it is - you know, Shakespeare likes to make a stew. He doesn't - he's not satisfied with just one thing.

MONTAGNE: You filmed "Much Ado About Nothing" in a break between actually shooting "Avengers" and going into the edit room, and you're at work now on "Avengers 2." What is the link between "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Avengers"? Is there one?

WHEDON: There is, there is. Because, you know, there's a link in all my work. I like to think that makes me an auteur and not a one-trick pony. But the fact is, you know, I went to "Much Ado" because it was a contrast to what I had been doing on "Avengers." And what I discovered was I'm doing the same thing. Because what I'm doing is I'm just trying to draw the life into - out of - I was going to say draw the life out of every character but that sounds like weirdly gross and vampiric. But you know, if these things aren't based in character, then it don't matter how 'splody it gets. It's not going to hold you. It's not interesting. That is the basis of everything. Some people won't see action movies because they're like, they don't believe that characters are in them; they're just an excuse for a bunch of stunts. Some people won't see Shakespeare because they don't believe there's characters in them, they think it's, you know, homework. And in both cases, you know, you want to dig down and find the beautiful, raw humanity and then just build off of that.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

WHEDON: Thank you.


MONTAGNE: Joss Whedon's adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing" opens tomorrow. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.