SXSW Q&A: Joss Whedon and His Cast Make 'Much Ado About Nothing'

One of the most anticipated events of all of SXSW was undoubtedly the US premiere of Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing", the screening of which was immediately followed by an hour-long Q&A with the entire cast save for Sean Maher, Riki Lindhome, and Reed Diamond. The line for the screening was the festival's longest (at least until "Spring Breakers" blew the roof off of the Paramount Theatre last night), and chairs had to be brought in to line the sides of the auditorium, accommodating as many audience members as possible. And it was all worth it: The movie is fantastic, perhaps the most accessible Shakespeare I've ever seen - and this ain't my first Shakesprodeo (see what I did there?). The panel that followed was lively and filled with little nuggets of wit and wisdom. Below, we've shared our 10 favorite things that we learned from Whedon and his friends.

1. You Don't Say No To Joss Whedon

Both Alexis Denisof and Nathan Fillion were nervous about tackling Shakespeare, but they both subscribe to the belief that if Joss Whedon asks you do something, you do it. Fillion even came close to dropping out completely until Whedon's wise words kept him attached. When Whedon reached out to Nick Kocher and Brian McElhaney to inquire as to whether they would fly themselves out to work on his movie for very little pay, they didn't even hesitate. As Kocher put it, "Of course we came out - what do you think we do all day?!"

2. Wanna Work With Joss Whedon? It Could Happen

Over and over, situations came up where Joss discovered someone and incorporated them into the Whedonverse. Danny Kaminsky was hired as Joss' assistant for "The Avengers", and they worked so well together that Danny ended up becoming the editor and co-producer of "Much Ado", thus "winning the best lottery of all time" (Kaminsky's words, though I share the sentiment). Similarly, Jillian Morgese, who makes her feature debut in the film, was discovered by Joss after working on "The Avengers" in a minor PA/Extra role. He was taken by her as she "ran around looking scared", and found her particular brand of ingenue to be exactly right for Hero, so he asked her to audition. Kocher and McElhaney were cast because Whedon is a huge fan of their sketch comedy group BriTanicK. Now, with their foot in the door, all of these people are here to stay. Moregese even went so far as to say that they had all become like family, something none of them would have thought possible just a couple years ago. The cherry on top? Rather than have any old extras, Whedon specifically brought in film students to fill out the main party scene.

3. Skype Auditions Are Really A Thing!

Whedon's hunch about Morgese was proved correct when she auditioned for him over Skype and immediately got the role, no in-person callback required.

4. The House That Kai Built

It's been widely discussed that the film was shot in Whedon's house over 12 days. What hasn't been circulating as much is the fact that his wife Kai, also a producer on the film,  is an architect by trade, and actually designed their entire home from the ground up. As soon as it was completed, they thought to themselves, "Okay, what are we going to shoot here?" Though their dream finally came true with "Much Ado," Whedon wishes they had used even more rooms and incorporated a steady cam to fully capture the flow of the space and do it justice. Spoiler alert: Joss Whedon lives in a really nice house.

Also check out: Our review of "Much Ado About Nothing"

5. The Kenneth Brannagh Much Ado About Nothing Did Play A Tiny Tiny Role

Though Whedon is a huge fan of the Brannagh version of "Much Ado", he purposefully did not rewatch it before starting work so as to avoid either emulating or running away from it. But he did keep thinking about Patrick Doyle's memorable score from the film, so much so that during Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker's first filmed kiss -- the moment their lips touched -- the climax of Doyle's score immediately filled Whedon's head, confirming for him that this was working.

6. Joss Whedon Has Never Seen Lost

He noted, "You either make TV or watch TV."

7. Even With Shakespeare, There's Room For Improv

Although the text itself was immoveable, Whedon encouraged his actors to follow their instincts and improv physically, resulting in fantastic bit after fantastic bit. Especially keep an eye out for Nathan Fillion, Tom Lenk and a gag involving car keys.

8. The Sexiest Thing Whedon Has Ever Done

"Including having sex!" exclaimed Whedon after moderator Adam B. Vary offered his two cents on the sexuality present in the film. While "Much Ado" features multiple sex scenes that are obviously not present in the text, they don't feel the least bit gratuitous, and in fact do a great deal to contribute to the darker tone Whedon imbued in this adaptation. He found that so many of the developments in "Much Ado" are actually kind of creepy - a guy really thinks of a plan to deceive someone based on the fact that he is confident he could get a girl to dress up in some other chick's clothes IN this other chick's bedroom and sleep with him?! That's messed up. So Whedon embraced the play's subtext and in doing so, takes the play to exciting new places.

9. Nathan Fillion Has Found The Perfect Way To Describe Shakespearean Text

"It's just flowery and a little bit like yoda!" Correct.

10. You Don't Need Professional Shakespeare Experience To Rock Shakespeare

You wouldn't know it from watching the movie, but only two or three members of the large cast have actually performed Shakespeare professionally. For the most part, Whedon approached the film from an angle of "Why can't we do this too?", rather than being so reverent with breath marks and original meaning that it wouldn't translate to today's audience. Many moments almost subvert the text, but in a way that actually enhances and proves the timelessness of Shakespeare's work, rather than demeans it. Whedon truly proves that Shakespeare can still be brilliant through a wholly modern lens.

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