Directly after the premiere of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing at SXSW this weekend, Whedon and 14 members of the cast took to the stage with moderator Adam Vary of Buzzfeed to discuss the film and answer questions from the audience. Though the entire cast (including Whedon regulars Fran Kanz, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker and Tom Lenk) was charming as hell, panel pros Whedon and Nathan Fillion (who plays Dogberry in the film) were next level charismatic. They fielded a volley of “Firefly” questions and uber fan meltdowns with an equal mix of dry wit and sincere apprectiation for their rabid fanbase. Here are our spoiler-free highlights.
As Dan mentioned in his review , Whedon’s wry, modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy of sex, jealousy and skirmishes of wit was shot over two weeks and at his own home. The sprawling house, designed by Whedon’s wife Kai Cole, was the real inspiration for the film. Whedon remarked, “I regret that I didn’t have a steady cam to capture the flow of the rooms. I really feel like I let the house down.”
One of the more delightful performances in the film belongs to Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson of Avengers fame) who plays Don Leonato, father of the bride and host of Much Ado’s sprawling party. Gregg confessed that his loose-limbed, booze-soaked performance was likely so refreshingly energetic because he was cast last minute and only had two days on set. (“I peed a little,” Fillion said about being cast. “I peed a lot,” Gregg added.) And when asked why there is so much alcohol in the film (and there is, I wouldn’t recommend playing the “drink when they drink” game when watching this version of Much Ado), Joss explained that a near-constant state of inebriation was the best explanation for the amount of “deception and idiocy” that rages through Shakespeare’s plot.
When asked about Much Ado’s most problematic character, the romantic and temperamental Claudio, actor Fran Kranz (“Dollhouse,” Cabin In The Woods) said Whedon directed him to be more of an “angry jock” than the “wet” Claudio we’re used to seeing, saying “I felt a real commitment to being a dick.” Whedon also addressed a few of the film’s unusual interpretations of the text. I won’t delve too much into that (can one spoil a 390 year old play?), but his decision to open the film by showing Beatrice and Benedict as lovers long before the action of the film begins is only one of several sex scenes in the movie. Whedon calls Much Ado About Nothing “the sexiest thing I’ve ever done, and that includes having sex.”’
Sex was a hot topic during the decision because, of course, the plot of Much Ado hinges on the question of one young woman’s virginity. When asked how he could reconcile that archaic issue with the slick, modern setting of Much Ado, Whedon joked “we stress the human not the hymen.” He went on to explain that his heroine’s “crime” is one of infidelity, and that’s a timeless issue.
Much Ado has many joys, but chief among them is a swinging rendition of the play’s song “Sigh No More” performed by Whedon’s brother Jeff and his partner Maurissa Tancharoen. When a very young fan asked who wrote the song, Whedon joked that he wrote the music but that some guy named Shakespeare had been in charge of the lyrics. Whedon also dropped the bomb that he had never watched “Lost.” He said “Either you make TV, or you watch TV.” If that ever so slightly snobbish comment leaves a bad taste in your mouth, wash it out with one of Joss’s perennially vague promises that he would like to do something more with the “Firefly” universe. “I’m just waiting for Fox or Universal to ask.”