Of all of the special guests that visited Dublin during the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival back in February, the one with the most fervent fan base has got to be Joss Whedon. The creator of the shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, as well as having written the screenplays for Toy Story, Cabin In The Woods and Alien: Resurrection, Whedon was in town to discuss his third time out as director, after Serenity and Marvel's Avengers Assemble.
During some downtime following one of the biggest films of the 2012, Whedon decided to take on a Shakespeare adaptation, namely Much Ado About Nothing. Shot in black and white, in his own house, over twelve days with a group of his (famous) friends, it is the exact polar opposite of a huge explosive film filled with superheroes. So, first things first...
Entertainment.ie: The obvious question to all of your fans, especially fans of The Avengers, why did you decide to direct a black-and-white version of a Shakespeare movie?
Joss Whedon: Well, ye know, I wanted to do something down and dirty with my friends that I felt very passionately about, because no matter how passionately I feel about The Avengers, after 93 days of shooting it, I desperately wanted to do anything else. It had been something that had been brewing for a long time, and it seemed like the right time to do it.
E.I.: A lot of the "classic literature" current updates, like Clueless or Ten Things I Hate About You or Easy A, used modern language. Were you ever tempted not to use Shakespeare and write your own script?
JW: No, Shakespeare IS the language. A lot of the themes are recycled, and quite frankly, particularly Much Ado, which is really the birth of the modern rom-com, but it's about the language, the humanity, everything that we love about it comes through the language. I could not imagine doing it without the language.
E.I.: Your original intention was to do Hamlet, is that correct?
JW: No, that was just something that I would love to do.
E.I.: Could you ever see that on the horizon?
JW: You can't really see Hamlet coming, because you've got to look so far out, and you've got to find your Hamlet, and by the time you get to the point you can film it, your Hamlet has become your Claudius because he's too old. Also, it's something that would require a lot of care and feeding, it's not something that can be done as lightly - not that we didn't work really hard on Much Ado. But there is a lightness of spirit within the film that was something that we took with us to set.
E.I.: Hamlet would be quite different, as Much Ado is more of a romp, and Hamlet, if it were modernized, would be a fantastic psychological thriller.
JW: (nods, smiling) Uh-hmm...
E.I.: So how was it turning your own home - which is a beautiful home, by the way - into a set? Your wife was an architect and she designed it?
JW: Yes, she is. It was the best. It was wonderful for me, because first of all, it was really easy to prep. I just get to walk around the whole house going "We could go in here" or "We can go out here", which was fun. And the flow of the place is so extraordinary, something that I would've captured more if I'd been able to afford a Steadicam. (laughs) But the way the spaces connect, and the way they arranged - I love space. I love physical space and I love architecture, and it was just a joy.
E.I.: Because it was [shot] in black and white, you could hide or camouflage the fact that you could use the same set up from different angles, where if it were in colour you couldn't. Did you use black and white to your advantage in that way?
JW: Well, we had to use black and white for those reasons because our wardrobe budget was non-existent, we would have to use daylight with artificial light, whatever light sources we could get, because we had a very small lighting package, and rather than worry about matching colour temperatures, in black and white they all look the same. And with the kind of schedule we were - I did it for aesthetic reasons, but it turned out be practically [great], I can't imagine not having done it.
E.I.: It worked out to your advantage, as it turned out to be a beautiful film. So, Kenneth Branagh -
JW: I'm not aware of him.
E.I.: -he's kind of the unofficial King of Shakespeare Adaptations, and obviously he directed Thor, which is [another] link in to you. Did you talk to him at all about Shakespeare adaptations?
JW: I didn't, no. I had seen his Much Ado several times when it came out, and I sort of banned myself from going back to it, because I didn't want to ape it. I felt ultimately that what I found in the text that I found worth filming was very different from what he found, although I felt his Beatrice and Benedict so delightful, I felt I had a darker version of the story to tell. So you can't be unaware of what has come before, but you try to make the film not an imitation, and not just a reaction against. You still enjoy the [same] things.
E.I.: It's still basically Shakespeare.
JW: Yes, the jokes are still the same jokes.
E.I.: One of the highlights of the movie was the comic pratfalls, the physical humour of people tumbling around as their listening to conversations. Did you have to rein them in at all, or ask them to push it a bit further?
JW: No, I did not have to push anybody. My friends are idiots. All of the Dogberry Verges shtick was Nathan [Fillion] and Tom [Lenk], and Alexis [Denisof] is not a vain man (laughs), he is not afraid to make an ass of himself. No, they were all just completely game for it. Occasionally I just went "Are we really gonna go that low?", and then of course it's my favourite thing in the film.
E.I.: One of the favourites is when [Amy Acker] is walking towards the stairs, and falls straight down the staircase.
JW: That was one that was very carefully arranged beforehand. I didn't lose my actress to that gag.
E.I.: Just to go way, way back; your first entry on IMDb is for Roseanne. What are your memories on writing for that?
JW: It was pure chaos. It was the second season, and the chaos had already been established from the first season. It was a mostly brand new staff, and it was the same year after, and the year after that. Roseanne [Barr] was extremely intelligent, but not very happy, and I got to see the best and the worst in a lot of people. I quit because I wasn't working enough; I wrote a bunch of scripts in the first half of the year, and they got shut-down, and I got sort of bored. I worked on my Buffy The Vampire Slayer spec, and I came into work late, and said that I didn't want to be paid to do nothing.
E.I.: As an Irish link, as well as a link to the obvious questions that are about to come, what was it like working with Seamus McGarvey (Irish-born cinematographer)?
JW: Seamus McGarvey is a god. He is the nicest - he is too nice, he has a nice problem. Couldn't be sweeter, couldn't be more collaborative, his work speaks for itself. Ye know, on Anna Karenina, it shouts for itself, its extraordinary. I wanted to go up to him after I saw that film and just apologise to him for having him work on The Avengers, because it was such a rich palette. He is a treasure, and he is now an international treasure.
E.I.: Aside from Jon Favreau (director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2), you're the only director to come to direct a sequel within the Marvel Universe. Have you found any new pressures?
JW: The pressure is the same. Try to make it good. "Try not to suck, would you?" That's really the extent of it. I can't possibly try to match the success of the first one, I can try to make a better film.
E.I.: We won't ask too many detail-y questions about The Avengers 2, because it's obviously in [information] lockdown-
JW: All you're going to hear are crickets.
E.I.: - but we have Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 and Captain America 2 coming. Do you have any say in their script writing, or are you just going to work with what they have left for you [for The Avengers 2] once those other films have come out?
JW: I am consulting for Marvel on everything, so I do actually have a little bit of say. Kevin Feige (President of Production for Marvel Studios) is running things brilliantly; he knows exactly what he wants to do. But I do get to sort of come in say "What if we...?" and "Can we do...?" and every now and then I say "Can we protect MY film, please?" But usually he's got his eye on the ball, and I respect them, and I think they all tee up well for what it is that I have coming. And not by design, really more coincidence.
E.I.: That's lucky!
JW: Yes! (laughs)
E.I.: 2012 was a fantastic year for you between The Avengers and Cabin In The Woods, this year you have Much Ado About Nothing, and you're working on S.H.I.E.L.D. (TV show based on The Avengers) and The Avengers 2. But aside from Iron Man 3 and Thor 2, which blockbuster this summer are you looking forward to seeing?
JW: Star Trek [Into Darkness]. I loved the first one, and... I don't really know what else is coming out...
E.I.: Benedict Cumberbatch looks like he'll be a good villain.
JW: Yes, I was SHOCKED to find out he was playing a human! (laughs)
E.I.: Just checking on your IMDb, there's a film on their called In Your Eyes that you've written, but it was a surprise, almost in the same way that Much Ado was.
JW: Well, In Your Eyes came about when my wife and I started our own little micro-studio, Bellweather, and In Your Eyes is something she developed from a script of mine that is twenty years old, by a writer that shows great promise (laughs). She was developing while I was working on that while I was working on The Avengers, and that's how she got the bug. The crew is the same crew we did Much Ado with, and she put it in my head. She said "I think we need to Much Ado, and we should do it during our vacation time, our one week vacation, and do it then". And so after Much Ado finished, In Your Eyes went up, and is now in post. It was directed by Brin Hill, but unfortunately because of Much Ado and various other things - and they were filming a lot of it in New Hampshire - I wasn't able to be there, and be that hands on with it, but I think it came out rather beautifully. But we're still not entirely sure how that's going to roll out.
E.I.: Final question; after everything you've done, everyone would probably still best know you for your fantastic writing. Do you have any advice for any budding writers out there?
JW: Uhm ... (pause) ... steal. I mean, ape your betters. I also say just watch the writer/directors, because then you know you're getting something un-distilled. You know, The Coen Brothers, Billy Wilder, James L Brooks, people whose stuff is indelible. It can be daunting, but you can also learn your mechanics so easily that way, just to see people get it right. (laughs)