By Beckett Mufson
Joss Whedon, beloved writer/director of cult hits “Firefly,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and most recently “The Avengers,” is joining forces this summer with the most prolific cult author of all time: William Shakespeare. Whedon directed a strict adaptation of the classic Shakespeare rom-com “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Whedon used all of the Elizabethan dialogue that Shakespeare wrote back in the 1590’s, à la Baz Luhrman’s “Romeo + Juliet.” It’s a tall order, but fear not — he called in the big guns for this ambitious sixteenth-century throwback. Whedon has assembled a loyal team of actors, kind of like the Avengers, over the last couple decades, and each of their origin stories is almost as awesome as that time the Hulk punched that Leviathan in the face.
Throughout his acting career, Canadian-born actor Nathan Fillion has carved himself a place among the manliest charmers in history; if there was a Mount Rushmore for ladies’ men, it would include Cassanova, Don Juan, Ron Burgundy, and Nathan Fillion. This reputation was turned on its head by Fillion’s first collaboration with Joss Whedon in “Buffy,” when he played the woman-hating, demonic yet seductive priest called Caleb. Since Caleb, Whedon has shown time and time again that he knows how to perfectly use Fillion’s amicable acting style, and his role as the comedic Constable Dogberry in “Much Ado” should be no different.
Another “Buffy” alum, Alexis Denisof first acted for Whedon as Wesley Windom Pryce, a pretentious, snooty man who could barely shoot a crossbow (a surprisingly necessary skill in “Buffy”). Luckily, he moved away from that when he migrated to Buffy spin-off series “Angel,” where he became a leather-coated, gunslinging new Wesley. Denisof also landed a manly gig as Will Ferrell-esque anchorman Sandy Rivers in the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” His role as Benedick, the woman-wooing wordsmith in “Much Ado,” represents the apex of this testosterone-loaded journey.
Benedick’s quick tongued romantic adversary, Beatrice, is played by one of Whedon’s trademark power females, Amy Acker. Acker first appeared among the Whedonites in “Angel” as the mousy Winifred “Fred” Burkle, one of many girls rescued by the morally confused vampire and his crew. Fred joins Angel and friends much in the same way she joined Whedon’s stock cast, becoming a key character in “Angel” and major player in his tragically cancelled mindbender, “Dollhouse.” Much like Denisof, her journey with Whedon has brought her from being timid, bookish to the strong woman we’ll see grace the silver screen this June.
The first time Whedon worked with him, Sean Maher played “Firefly'”s Dr. Simon Tam, a young genius intent on protecting his younger, geniusier sister, River. His growth throughout the series, as he’s forced to take more drastic measures to ensure River’s safety, leads smoothly into his role in “Much Ado” as the villainous Don John.
Clark Gregg is a newcomer to the Whedon family, but he’s hit the ground running. Within a year of his work with Whedon as Agent Phil Coulson in “The Avengers” last year, Gregg has already landed the role of Governor Leonato in “Much Ado” and a reprisal of his role as Agent Coulson in Whedon’s “S.H.I.E.L.D.” pilot later this year. Gregg’s performance as the cheerful, duty-bound S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is a far cry from the jovial, yet dangerous, governor of Messina, but if Gregg plays the part well we may see a new addition to Whedon’s enclave of troubadors.