Following a record-breaking release in the US last weekend, Joss Whedon’s masterful adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing arrives on our shores today. And if you’re heading out to the cinema over the weekend, make sure you see this film, because it is a true work of art.
The film reunites Whedon with a lot of his past collaborators, with Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof leading the cast as Beatrice and Benedick; Fran Kranz as Hero opposite Jillian Morgese as Hero; Clark Gregg as Leonardo; Sean Maher as the villainous Don John; and Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion as the comedy duo of Verges and Dogberry.
I was fortunate enough to be at the film’s world premiere out at the Toronto International Film Festival last year – you can read our five-star review here – and was even more lucky enough to sit down with Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof this week to talk about the film ahead of its release.
You’ve both done Shakespeare before. Alexis, you were a fight director?
Alexis Denisof: A little bit, yeah. My first professional theatre job was a production of Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company with Mark Rylance in the role of Hamlet. I had this tiny part as Fortinbras and I understudied Laertes, and I choreographed the duel at the end. So I got the chance to watch Mark in rehearsal and on stage, and that was an amazing experience.
And you were Hero in a production of Much Ado?
Amy Acker: I was. That was my first job out of college, doing that play in rep with a few other plays in a theatre in Wisconsin.
Was it a completely different experience doing it on stage to shooting the film?
AA: That was very traditional. We had big poofy skirts and corsets. It’s a great play, so I love that I’ve gotten to explore it in different ways.
Did knowing it was going to be in black and white change how you approached it?
AD: It more just placed us in a feel of a time period that was modern and contemporary, but still had a little bit of mid-century film-noir. The Golden Age of cinema. We tried to speak it naturally, but keep it moving quickly. Have the banter be real, but also acknowledge that this is the first romantic-comedy. All of those things that followed – Hepburn and Tracy, Moonlighting, take your pick. All these sparring couples that have followed. We tried to find our version.
You’ve worked with Joss before, playing star-crossed lovers. Fred died in Wesley’s arms, and Wesley in Illyria’s [in Angel]. Was it nice to have the happy ending this time?
AD: We weren’t really thinking about that at the time. We love the story.
AA: It is nice to watch a movie with Joss that ends, ‘And all is well.’ We didn’t come into it knowing this is going to be Fred and Wesley’s happy ending. We actually, strangely enough, didn’t even think about it until after the fact. I think it’s great that we didn’t, because it just is what it is. I think you see what you want to see.
The added scene, the back-story between Beatrice and Benedick that isn’t in the text, but of course you interpret the play in that way. Was that always going to be there? And was it always going to be without dialogue?
AD: Well it has to be without dialogue, because as you say, strictly speaking, it’s not in the play. And Shakespeare doesn’t give stage directions for the most part. There was not a lot of discussion about it, because it’s how all of us saw the relationship. I think we wanted a more modern approach, that they had had a history, and not exactly a happy history. And that’s an undercurrent for all of the ‘merry war’ that’s going on between them. That it’s not all merry, that there’s an edge to it. So to us it made perfect sense.
AA: We talked about it from the beginning, but [Joss] didn’t know exactly where it was going to fall.
AD: Yeah, that’s right. He knew it would be in the movie.
AA: We shot this scene, and he wasn’t sure if it was going to be a flashback or an introduction, or what.
AD: And there’s some stuff in the text that supports it. You have to make a decision. Any actors who have ever done this play have to make a decision for themselves about what their history is. What’s their relationship before the play starts? So for us that was the decision that we wanted to make.
I’ve read that you do Shakespeare readings at Joss’ house. Have there been any memorable ones that jump out as favourits?
AA: When Joss played Hamlet in a reading. That was really fun.
AD: That was cool. He’s a much better actor than he gives himself credit for. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is always fun, because that’s just such a crowd-pleaser. We did Romeo and Juliet, and Amy’s reading of Lady Capulet actually triggered the plot device of Fred becoming Illyria, because Joss saw such an extraordinary other quality that he wasn’t at that time aware of, that she could bring as an actress. So there’ve been a lot of things that come out of the readings that you don’t think about, but now looking back, quite a few things can be traced back to the readings.
I think, most importantly though, as far as this film is concerned, the relaxed fun that we were having at Joss’ house is what this was in a very glorified way. It was relaxed fun at Joss’ house. But we knew the lines, and it was almost as if we stood up out of a reading and he started filming.
The twelve-day shoot must have been really tight, but it didn’t feel like that on set then?
AA: We had a small luxury of getting to rehearse for a few weeks before. In our normal situations with Joss, you’re given a script the night before, and shooting a TV show in eight days. So we were all used to working at a quick pace, and I think the fact that we all know each other and have a short-hand with Joss and trust Joss, and trust each other, it made it feel easier than it was.
You’ve worked with each other often in the past. Do you know if or when you two will be working together again?
AD: I wish I did. I would tomorrow if it were up to me.
AA: If you see Joss in the hall…
Have either of you seen the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot?
AA: I’ve heard that J. August Richards is awesome.
AD: Yeah, which is no surprise. I’ve heard it’s awesome, which is no surprise. Everybody connected to it is fantastic. I’m excited.
Given that you’ve worked with one of the best writer-directors of all time, do you have any ideas about wanting to write or direct in the future?
AA: He sort of intimidates you, doesn’t he?
AD: I wouldn’t want to think about him, because those are very big boots to fill. He’s inspiring. He tackles things with courage and intelligence and sensitivity, and he always pours himself into whatever he’s working on, whether it’s something he’s writing, something he’s directing, something he’s composing. He is the definition of an artist. In his work, in his creativity, is where he is expressing his experience of life, relationships. We’re lucky that he does that with his friends. And part of how he enjoys his friendships is through creativity with his friends, and part of why we’d love to be around him.
I would love to see something you’ve written or directed.
AA: I want to see that. I would like to be in something Alexis directs.
AD: We should do that.
The film has definitely earned a spot on my Top 10 Films of the Year list. And though it’s still early days yet, I have a very good feeling that it’s going to be my favourite film of the year, having instantly become one of my favourite films of all time when I saw it debut last September.
Much Ado About Nothing begins its release in the UK today, 14th June. It will continue to open wider across the country in the coming weeks, and you can find the full list of cinemas playing the film on the official site to track down your closest screening.