Joss Whedon and his friends started doing readings of William Shakespeare’s plays at his house (Whedon’s, not Shakespeare’s) as long as 10 years ago, and while the idea of making a movie was bandied about it only became a reality during the busiest and most high profile time in his life. And yet he was able to adapt Much Ado About Nothing without seemingly anyone outside of the movie knowing about it.
Even more surprising? It just may be the best damn thing Whedon’s ever directed.
The film (and the original play) is a mix of romantic comedy and drama, and Whedon and his cast infuse it with more of both. Smart visual cues and charismatic performances fill the screen alongside the Bard’s original words, and the result is a film that should leave you smiling for days. Now, thanks to Whedon’s commentary track, we’ve learned a lot more about Much Ado About Nothing.
Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
Commentator: Joss Whedon (director/writer/producer/editor/composer)
1. One of the challenges he embraced during production was “making a film that has the energy of a play in the language of a film.” He wanted to maintain the fun atmosphere from his home readings while pairing it with the aesthetic of a film. Part of that was placing the opening credits over the opening “throwaway” scene to give viewers time to ease in to the language before the real story starts.
2. The initial photograph taken as the visitors first arrive in the limo was meant as a blatant introduction to the motif of powerful people living lives under scrutiny. It’s about perception, and “everybody’s perception is warped.”
3. Whedon chose a modern interpretation in taking Beatrice’s (Amy Acker) line, “I know you of old,” as knowing in the biblical sense between her and Benedick (Alexis Denisof).
4. He seldom regretted shooting the film in black and white, but one of the times he did is the scene where Benedick and Claudio (Fran Kranz) enter their guest room. It’s Whedon’s daughters’ room, and the walls are bright pink. They considered making certain scenes and/or items in color, but they eventually decided it was too complicated and expensive.
5. One of the draws for him in making the film was “because of the darkness, because of the lying, because of the manipulation, because of the pain.” He appreciates Shakespeare’s “meanness of spirit combined with this extreme romanticism” and how it reminded him of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and Preston Sturges’ Unfaithfully Yours.
6. Whedon says the the decision to make Conrade (Riki Lindhome) a woman was simple and evidenced in the scene where Don John (Sean Maher) and Conrad converse on the bed. “This scene is way better that way.” He also likes to have more room in his cast, and since Conrade was always a “throwaway character” it felt like the right choice.
7. He notes how much of the cast is drinking constantly throughout the film and acknowledges half the fun was deciding what exactly they should be drinking. For the villains, it was decided that they should be drinking something exotic. “Ooh, we have a sake set!”
8. Whedon didn’t realize until after production that Clark Gregg has directed films as well. He should have caught on during a scene that had Whedon stumped in regard to angles, blocking, etc. before being rescued by Gregg’s suggestions. There’s also the fact that Choke is a pretty great movie.
9. The shot of Claudio in the pool with the scuba mask and martini was a strong motivator for making the movie. “It makes me as happy as anything ever,” in part because he loves watching Lindhome swim out of frame. “She looks like a Pekingese.”
10. Whedon justifies a flashback showing Benedick and Beatrice as coming from “the school of ‘If you’re talking about it, you might as well show it.'” He wanted to clarify that their past relationship was more than just a simple one night stand.
11. He credits the architecture of the house as being so perfect for the film’s themes as “there was always a way for somebody to be watching somebody else.”
12. Whedon says he chose whiteout fades, as opposed to traditional fade outs, because it just felt appropriate. Fade outs dissipate energy, and he wanted the opposite of that.
13. The scene where Benedick starts doing push-ups in front of Beatrice gave Whedon real pause. “I confess that as a director, I wasn’t sure. Alexis didn’t rehearse this with me… he didn’t tell anybody what he was going to do.” Whedon questioned if they could go that far in Benedick’s buffoonery, but he acknowledges now that it earns one of the film’s biggest laughs from audiences.
14. Maher told Whedon that making the film was an immense amount of fun, in part because he had never played a villain before. “I found that incomprehensible because he is far too handsome to be a good person.” Maher had also never performed Shakespeare before.
15. For the pairing of Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk), Whedon knew he wanted to play it as a cop show. “We wanted SVU.” He also knew that Fillion would kill it the role of a dim-witted cop who believes he’s brilliant. “Nobody can sell that kind of pompous like Nathan.”
16. Filming of the initial wedding scene was interrupted by police responding to complaints from Whedon’s neighbors about the parking situation out front. The cops also told them they needed a permit to film and would have to stop, but while Whedon acknowledges that they had grown lax regarding parking he felt they didn’t need a permit for filming on his own property and continued immediately after the authorities left.
17. Jillian Morgese, who plays Hero, was an extra on The Avengers, and Whedon cast her for this over a Skype session. It’s her first feature film role.
18. Whedon notes that the actors contributed a few things towards their various scenes, but none was as important as Maher’s last minute grab of a baked good after his evil plan comes to a head at the wedding. “Oh yes, you’ve just destroyed the family, you deserve a cupcake. That made me so happy.”
19. For the interrogation scene where Dogberry attempts to break down Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) and Conrade, Whedon told the actors to pretend they’re being interrogated by Christopher Meloni from Law & Order: SVU. Clark replied “I’ve been interrogated by Chris Meloni on SVU, twice.” He starred on two different episodes of the show.
20. Similar to #13 above, Whedon hesitated during Dogberry’s “I am an ass!” rant when Fillion pulled the big man in a tiny jacket gag. And once again, his fears were overridden by overwhelmingly positive and riotous audience reactions.
21. Dogberry and Verges’ exit where they realize they’ve locked the keys in the car was not scripted. The duo did it off camera while the scene continued without them. Whedon noticed the laughter of his cast in the scene being filmed, and when he discovered why he had Fillion and Lenk recreate it.
22. Producer Daniel Kaminsky is to blame for the film’s biggest flub. Originally the balcony scene between Beatrice and Benedick came after the funeral procession, but Kaminsky suggested the two be swapped. It’s an issue as the relevant players would of course have already heard the truth by the time of the funeral, so seeing them be told on the balcony is ridiculous. To be clear, Whedon doesn’t see this as a flub, but he’s wrong.
23. Whedon sees two accidents, one happy and one unhappy, in the scene where Claudio meets the reborn Hero. The happy one, first noticed in editing, is the appearance of angel wings behind her back, fitting as she’s returned from the dead, but they’re just the two other girls in veils. The unhappy accident is the perception by a large portion of the audience that Claudio actually believes this is a second Hero.
Best in Commentary
- “It is literally a home movie since this was all shot in mine and Kai [Cole’s] house.”
- “The idea was, okay silly hat aside, to evoke a film noir kind of look.”
- “That line was originally ‘If I do not love her, I am a Jew.’ I don’t usually re-write Shakespeare, but in this case I thought I’d go ahead.”
- “For me it’s like the bridge scene in Sorcerer. Once you get one truck across the bridge do you really need to show another one? Well, if you do you’d better make things worse.”
- “Reed [Diamond] is a world-class fop.”
- “Did you notice the camera moving? That happens three times in the movie.”
No matter your thoughts on Joss Whedon’s films and TV work, the man gives good commentary. He’s funny, knowledgeable, and a true fan of film and filmmakers. Here he points out the issues that give many readers and viewers pause with Shakespeare’s play including how both Claudio and Benedick can be so easily swayed by something they overhear. He acknowledges the difficulty he had in coming to terms with why exactly they would believe such clearly false comments, but he smartly points out that context is king. Similarly, he explains how he deals with the inexplicable inaction of Benedick and Beatrice when Claudio emotionally destroys young Hero during their initial wedding. All that, plus laughs!