By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
Unlike Branagh, Whedon is no actor. His sole Shakespearean stage experience was in college, where he performed both parts in a scene between Othello’s Rodrigo and Iago. (He was supposed to have a partner, but claims he was too young and shy to make friends.) Later, Whedon hosted casual readings at his house, so when he called up his old buddies after his homecoming party and asked if they’d come by for a bit of Much Ado, a few didn’t realize they’d agreed to a movie until they arrived. As for the friends he didn’t call, a few called him. “They were like, ‘What up?’ and I was like, ‘Well, the leads were already cast, and you’re too big to play Second Watchman.’”
Alas, they missed an extended party that won’t stop until Much Ado is released on June 7. The film was shot with mostly natural lighting, so when the sun set, Whedon called wrap. The cast would pour drinks, jump in the pool, and even start dancing if the morning’s call time wasn’t too crazy. His home became a Hollywood summer camp. Some nights, he’d sit down to a quiet dinner with his wife and two kids, and a camera operator would walk through the room. “We had no idea they were still in the house,” he shrugs.
When Much Ado got accepted to South by Southwest, Whedon kept the good times going. Some of the cast couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Austin, so he rented a tour bus, christened it “Bus Ado About Nothing,” and invited everyone to pile in for the 20-hour drive. They spent it mooning cars, watching Cabin in the Woods, and shooting six-second Vines of themselves dancing the Harlem Shake-speare. “It was a lot more fun than doing press for Avengers,” says Whedon. So why not rent a tour bus to take the superstars of Avengers 2 on their 2015 publicity tour? “They’re lovely people,” he laughs, “but I don’t think that’s going to fly.”
Like a man suddenly remembering what’s paying for the mortgage on his Much Ado set—rumor has it his next Marvel payday is $100 million, which he denies—Whedon doubles back with a smile. “Right now, I’ve got my secret passion project, and it’s Avengers. Well, it’s a secret that it’s my passion project,” he insists. “People go, ‘But what are you really interested in?’ like that’s my day job. But they don’t understand that I have the world’s greatest day job.”
Whedon comes off as frank about his success. He’s a third-generation Hollywood writer—his father wrote for The Golden Girls, and his grandfather for The Donna Reed Show. A creative career was as natural as taking over the family grocery store. Still, for humility’s sake, he laments that he “feels like a failure” because he can’t play an instrument, throw a ball, or draw.
(He also won’t take the bait when asked if his Much Ado can make Shakespeare “cool.” “Yeah, yeah, and can you make Beethoven melodic, you arrogant prick?”)
Year by year, Whedon is reclaiming one of art’s dirtiest words: populism. “I find it personally interesting that all of my favorite artists, almost without exception, were popular in their lifetimes: Shakespeare, Dickens, John Sargent, Sondheim,” says Whedon. If Shakespeare were writing today, he wouldn’t be suffering Off-Off-Off-Broadway—he’d be on HBO. “He’d be making something sexy and strange,” speculates Whedon, “and he’d be seeing it through.”
In turn, Whedon hopes his own work will live on as Shakespeare’s has. Not that he fantasizes about an auteur in 2413 discovering new subtexts in Firefly. He’d be happy being one voice among many declaring their dreams for mankind. “To have created something that may not be remembered, but pushed the boulder of human decency forward just a tiny bit,” beams Whedon, “that would mean more to me than somebody on a rocket ship circling Saturn staging episode three of Buffy.”
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