Director Joss Whedon’s blockbuster comic book adaptation, The Avengers, would seem to have little in common with William Shakespeare. But the writer and director, — also known for creating the cult TV hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer — calls the legendary playwright a major influence, visible in much of his work from the banter of his superheroes to the structure of his stories.
Such is his admiration, that in the wake of delivering The Avengers, Whedon has adapted Much Ado About Nothing, a low-budget black-and-white labour of love devoted to the Bard that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“I find myself aping his rhythms and occasionally stealing his phrases, without even realising it most of the time,” he says, adding: “Shakespeare’s not afraid to go from high drama to low comedy in a heartbeat, and to ping-pong back and forth between them in a scene, which is something else that I took from him in my own work.”
Shot over 12 days in Whedon’s own house in Santa Monica, California, during a break from his work on The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing features performers from Whedon’s past TV series including Buffy, Angel and Firefly. “There were times when I was, like, ‘This is a terrible idea. I’ve gone mad,’ but it’s always been the way with me... apparently that’s what I do for fun,” he said, adding, “I have a condition called workaholism that is very deadly, and useful.”
While the film sticks closely to the text of the play, the characters wear modern clothes, drive cars and talk on cell phones. Scenes are shot in a child’s bedroom and a swimming pool, lending the project a do-it-yourself quality. “Shakespeare fans are going to see a specific and occasionally radical take on it. But I hope everybody will realise it comes from a great love of a great text,” said Whedon. “It really is the classic romantic comedy. It’s the romantic comedy off of which all modern romantic comedy is built. I do not expect it to make $1.5 billion dollars,” he said, referring to the worldwide box office of The Avengers.