SXSW Film: Much Ado About Nothing Q&A


Managing Editor

LeakyNews was live today after the SXSW premier screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. BuzzFeed’s Adam Vary lead the Q&A with the cast.

If any of you have been following the social media for the film, you’ll know that the cast arrived here on a bus overnight from LA. How was that?

Joss: There was absolutely no drinking or partying of any kind.

There’s a Harlem Shake video, I heard. 

Joss: I don’t know what you’re talking about (audience laughter). I mean, the reason to make this movie was to work with all these people.

Why this play?

Joss: It’s a very cynically romantic text about love, and how we behave, and how we’re expected to behave. It’s a party, but there’s something darker there as well. To have those two things together play against each other quite nicely is col.

Beatrice is something of a modern woman. 

Joss: I’m amazed every time I watch Amy perform as Beatrice. It’s amazing.

A week after The Avengers wrapped, you decided to make Much Ado About Nothing at your own house instead of going on vacation to Italy. When you got the call to make a movie at Joss’s house, how did you respond?

Amy Acker: It was fun. And weird.

Joss: There were rooms [in the house] we didn’t use, and I regret every single one.

How do you prepare yourself for a quick turnaround like this?

Alexis Denisof: When Joss asks, you say yes! Says it was a labor of love, but also a lot of labor. That was part of the fun about it. It was a constant hive of activity.

How did you go about getting into the text and learning your lines?

Alexis: We would get together in groups in different combinations either in the room we were shooting or elsewhere. We’d do work on our own as well.

Nathan, I heard you were hesitant. You haven’t done Shakespeare before.

Nathan Fillion: I was intimidated, terrified, frightening… I peed a little.

I might have peed a lot.

Actually, I signed on right away and tried to chicken out afterward. Joss talked him off the ledge… “I don’t have a replacement so you have to do it.”

Clark, compare Avengers Joss to this Joss.

Clark Gregg: The last time I’d seen him, I was dead. It was nice to see him not dead. Everything was so massively prepared in The Avengers.  There were people there with iPads showing you what you were going to actually see when this guy turned into a big rage monster. Ado was very, very not like that. I wasn’t originally available when he called. Then the other guy had to back out, and Joss called me back, and said “Are you sure you’re not available?” And I said, “Actually, my other thing fell through, too.” I said yes and asked when we started, and he said “Tomorrow.” In a way, it was a lot like doing Midsummer, because it was a bit like fairy magic with things appearing our of nowhere and the magic of discovering how the lines would come out was great.

Joss, you said this was therapeutic post-Avengers.

Joss: Yeah, it was with people I love, and it was compressed and you walked away every day feeling fulfilled. Only one scene was shot over two days because we had to get the light, but everything else was done in a day. It was different from The Avengers when you’re shooting a new explosion every week. There just weren’t as many explosions with Much Ado. 

You were able to work with a lot of people you’ve worked with before. When you’re used to working in the “Whedonverse,” and have to hire people who haven’t been in it, how do you find those people?

Joss: I asked around to some people I knew, and there were a few I just thought would be great and wanted to work with. Others were a shot in the dark.

Brian McElheny: We’re still not sure this isn’t a joke.

You sort of discovered Jillian as Hero. 

Joss: She was there for the final days of The Avengers and she was running around looking scared about explosions, but there was something there that really clicked for me as Amy’s cousin. But we couldn’t really connect to talk about it, so we auditioned over Skype, did some Romeo and Juliet, and it was great.

Jillian, what was the Whedon experience like?

Jillian: It was the first experience I’ve had, so I have nothing to compare it to. I knew that it was something special while I was doing it. That this doesn’t happen all the time. And I love them, now. They’re my family.

Last year you were here with Cabin in the Woods. Fran – how did you prepare for this romantic character after being the stoner in Cabin in the Woods?

Fran Kranz: It’s like Alexis said, you just say yes and worry about it later. I like being able to play different characters,  characters with range. Joss said he wanted me to play it like a temperamental jock. I like the opportunity to be different and a change and was great. I loved the opportunity. It’s a pleasure to be an actor.

Tom, you got to do comedy with Nathan. What was that like? Who came up with the car keys gag?

Tom Lenk: Nathan has so much charm and charisma that I’ll never have, and I just tried to soak it up through his tiny jacket. What was the question?

Nathan It takes a big man to fill your tiny jacket.

Tom: Well…I’ll be seeing you later, then.

Nathan: I actually asked if you had the keys.

Tom: And in the spirit of improvisation I went with it.

Joss, this is a very sexy movie. It may be one of the sexiest things you’ve ever done.

Joss: Including having sex!

How did you decide to bring all the sexuality?

Joss: This is going to go downhill so fast. It was the worst for Riki [Lindhome] coming in to record one line… and sex moans. It was about showing it because it’s a visual medium. You can say it or you can show it, so we wanted to show that they (Beatrice and Benedick) had been romantic once. There’s an element to it, of debauchery, that was fun for a time but then it was just sort of dark. I mean, the way he goes about it, Borachio has to be in love with Hero.  And Margaret has to know that. I wanted everything to be running at a very high temperature. I think the Bard himself would have approved.

Before we open up for questions, I have to ask you about S.H.I.E.L.D. You’ve shot the pilot. How do you feel about it?

Joss: It sucks. There’s something wrong with it. I dunno.

No really it’s great, I love it, but I can’t talk about it.

Is there something you can tell us that we don’t know?

Joss: Not really. I’m excited about it, I love Marvel Comics. The idea was exciting because I’m very interested in the people underfoot who didn’t win the lottery and aren’t superheroes  Agents having to deal with the fallout was really cool for me and I loved being able to explore that.

Audience Q&A begins!

On behalf of all high school English teachers, thank you! We know that Shakespeare’s stage directions are sparse. How much just happened on screen, improvised versus how much was planned?

Joss: A lot of it was mapped out. Apparently you can’t just throw any actor down the stairs. A lot came out of the actors. In the Barachio confession scene, every dog in the neighborhood started barking. Crows were squawking, and everyone was breaking up. I turn around and they’re doing the thing with the car keys. And then Sean with the cupcake. You need both – you need to be professional and planned to work at that speed, but you also have to give them the room. Everyone here is so inventive and it’s good to use that energy.

Editor’s note: The second question was asked by the most adorable little girl ever. 

I really liked the songs from Firefly. Did you write any of this music?

Joss: I did, I got to write the music. Shakespeare wrote the lyrics and he asked me to write the music. But no, if you watch the Branagh version, it’s very different  But the lyrics fit into a different style of music beautifully.

How present was the Branagh movie while you did it?

Joss: I’d seen it, but I stayed away from it while shooting. I didn’t want to ape it or run away from it.

Need your help to settle a bet between me and my roommates. What are your thoughts on the show Lost?

Joss: Settle in, people. I’ve never seen it. You either make TV or you watch it. I heard it’s really good, and then it’s confusing.

What do you think Shakespeare is trying to say with an otherwise good character like Claudio who is so quick to fly off the handle and believe a lie?

Joss: No person is only a hero. Except maybe Hero. Everyone is all of these things. The thing that made Shakespeare break the mold is that he’d take a standard plot and say, you know it doesn’t work like that. He very deliberately took a character who should be noble and true and a great warrior, and turned him into Fran – who’s commitment to being a dick was unwavering.

Fran: I was such a dick. You had to stop me a few times. Like, “People have to like you.” I was trying to be as a big a dick as I could. He’s more simple than Benedick and it’s not stupidity, but simplicity. And he runs with that.  I think there’s a stupidity or a thickness to him. I’m either hurt or I’m not.

Joss: Everybody gets to show more colors on TV because you’re with them for so long. It’s why I like TV, because you don’t have to have the big villain being a big villain in front of a plate glass window that surely no one can shoot him through. You take time and bend the character. And I think Shakespeare did that by taking these tropes and turning them on their heads.

For the actors who hasn’t done Shakespeare before, was it difficult to get into the verse?

Brian: It helps not to have man lines.

Tom: I got a C+ in my Shakespeare class at UCLA. I got in trouble for setting Midsummer at a prom. The professor yelled, and was like, “It has to be this way, it has to be traditional.” So this was vindicating, I’m gratified Joss did what I got in trouble for.

Nathan: Once you get a grip on the lines, they start to make sense after a while. It’s just flowery. And like Yoda.

Clark: As an American actor, you don’t feel entitled to it. Unless you have like, a Shakespeare card in your wallet. I only had two days and was so busy with the lines that it wasn’t until we started filming that I revered I didn’t know how to do Shakespeare. But under the language is such a human world.

How do you reconcile this sexy Much Ado with the plot point of Hero’s virtue? And how do you go from low budget to high budget projects?

Joss: They’re not that different. Ultimately you’re just trying to convey something. This helped because I had the set. That helped a lot. But I need a reason for everyone to be here. I need to know who they are and what they’re doing, their through line.

To the first question, I like to say, “We stress the human not the hymen.” Claudio believes he’s being cuckolded and that jealousy and pain doesn’t go away. That’s the real heart of the pain, not whether or not she’s in tact.

Nathan – I love Castle, I only watch it because of you. And I’ve loved Dr. Horrible and Firefly. So my question is, how did you get to be so awesome?

Nathan: That’s a good question. First of all, you sir have excellent taste. I have made a career of riding coattails. The secret to being awesome is picking the right coattails. I enjoy acting and I love telling stories, but until I met Joss I wasn’t good at it.

Joss: I didn’t teach you anything. The coattail thing works not both ways, but every way. It’s a circle. I’m only as good as they are, and vice versa. That also applies to the crew. Especially on a project like this where there’s no margin of error. You have to be with people you trust to get it done. Or that you can cut out of it later. My only regret is that we didn’t have a steadicam so you could experience the flow of the house. It’s a beautiful house, and I feel like I let it down. I didn’t use its best takes.

Why all the booze and how much real drunkenness was there?

It really is this extended really big party. We wanted to expose something ab out people who are so privileged and secluded from everyone else. We felt there was so much deception and idiocy that it made sense. It just felt right. I’ll woo her for you… there’s no sober logic where that makes sense. There may have been a little drunkenness with the extras at the party. We knew all of them or they were film students but for the speaking roles there was delicious colored water. Unless I just dispelled a myth. Yes, they were tanked the whole time.

Your writing and voice are so unique, and so very you. What’s it like to have a sacred script? How do you get your voice across? 

It was nice to be able to be precious with a script again. No, you can’t change it, because that’s not how it’s written. But it makes sense to interpret the words. What do I want to layer over this to help convey it? The language seems very natural to me. We’ve performed it a bunch of us together. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to a second language.

About Firefly – any plans revisiting anything Firefly related?

Joss: I’m just waiting for someone from Fox or Universal to ask, and they haven’t.

And that’s it! Be sure to check out our Chuck Lorre/Neil Gaiman coverage!

  • http://www.facebook.com/GermanicLady Kathrin ‘Lily’ Franke

    Andrew, I love Kenneth and Emma too and I agree partly with your criticism of modernised versions. Partly because there’s an absolutely brilliant version with David Tennant and Catherine Tate on Digital Theatre (the only major change in that one, as far as I could see, was that Leonato had a wife instead of a brother). But yes, they can fail quite badly. Apart from that though the themes are still relevant to today so I have no problem with modern dress/ setting – as long as they don’t mess with the plot too much or use modern language.
    Besides you shouldn’t compare stage and screen – they’re two different things entirely. Or different actors who play the same role, which is really very difficult once you’re ‘in love’ with particular actors who played the part. But I’m willing to give them a chance. And I agree about the Trailer too, that was jumping around too much.

    • http://twitter.com/JoshWatchinTV Joshuay

      To be clear, these aren’t our opinions. This is a very loose transcript of the Q&A with the cast. :D

      • http://www.facebook.com/GermanicLady Kathrin ‘Lily’ Franke

        That’s ok. I wanted to reply to one of the comments on the right side of the screen but I took the wrong option. Found it in the rgiht place though too.

  • irastev

    Thank you for transcribing this!

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