Joss Whedon is a happy guy.
Photo by Ben Horton/WireImage
And no wonder: After the mega-success of "The Avengers," he now holds the title of superstar director, and his new (much, much smaller) passion project, "Much Ado About Nothing," is getting plenty of love at the box office.
On June 7, the same day that "Much Ado" was released in a small number of theaters, Moviefone got the chance to chat with a gleeful Whedon about the intimate process of producing and filming the Shakespeare play, how his approach to "The Avengers 2" will be different, and why he "giggled like a schoolgirl" when James Gunn was mentioned for "Guardians of the Galaxy."
Moviefone: You filmed "Much Ado About Nothing" between principle photography and post-production on "The Avengers." Why not just take a vacation?
Joss Whedon: My wife. We were going to go to Venice for our 20th [anniversary] and, right before I finished production, we were in New York, and she said, "Yeah, you need to make a movie of 'Much Ado About Nothing' instead." And I was like, "I don't think I can adapt then cast and prep the play in a month." And she said, "Yes, you can." She knew better than I did that the vacation I needed wasn't traveling around and pointing at things; it was creating something, you know, very pure and very sudden, with the people that I love.
And I talked about and around "Much Ado" for so many years, and because we had started Bellwether, our micro-budget studio, she had everything in place. She had the crew, she understood the low-budget filmmaking that we'd been interested in doing in a way that I didn't. She was like, "It's go time. All you need to do is show up and we can figure this out." And I've never taken a better vacation.
Do you think that working on "Much Ado" between principle photograpy and post-production made "The Avengers" a better movie?
Yes, it really did. We were in post-production about half-way through "Avengers." We actually had to deliver every single shot with The Hulk in it a month before we finished filming. So, there was never a point when I wasn't in post. And then, you know, for that month, I was in fairly hard post on the thing, but it was the beginning of that process. And I really was at the worst part of making a movie, which is the part early in editing where you're just cutting out the thing you love, and then thinking, "Oh, this is an anonymous film. I'm a hack, and it means nothing." Then I came back from "Much Ado" going "Oh yeah. No, that's right. That's the point. You take yourself out of it, and then you realize that you're all over it."
You shot this movie in your own home in Santa Monica. Do you have any misgivings or regrets about filming there? You've said you were a little creeped out by it.
Somebody said, "It's like the fans are walking through your house." And I was like, "Ahhh, it's weird when you say it like that!" But, you know, Kai designed the house. She has designed the last three houses we've lived in, and we had a house in Cape Cod for a while, where she's from, and it was on a house tour. And, you know, it's not like people are going through your sock drawer as they walk through and admire it. I was very proud of her work. With this house, I knew I was going to film it from the moment it was done. It was just a question of what. "Much Ado," apart from being a text I love and starring Amy [Acker] and Alexis [Denisof], who are the stars of my sphere, it does all take place in one house.
If you could go back and choose someone else's house, like a friend's, to film it in, whose would it be?
There's no house that I've ever seen that I like as well as this one, and particularly for this text. Because it's intimately grand, it's practically haphazard, the flow is extraordinary, it's both open and yet somehow concealing; everything connects. For a movie that's about perception and misunderstanding and everybody watching everybody else and not really seeing them, you could not ask for a better space. Sorry, all my friends.
Is there anything in works for the same time period for "Avengers 2"?
There is not right now. I enter upon "Avengers 2" with a different mindset than I did the first one. I feel like I know so well what it is that I want to accomplish, and like "Much Ado," I now have a real sense of the troop I'm working with and the strictures and the opportunities. My little passion, sidebar project comes out May 1, 2015.
Are there things you learned from making "The Avengers" that you're taking into the second one? Things you'd do differently?
There are a couple of things having to do with leadership that I feel like it's about time I've learned. Honestly, "Much Ado" unlocked something very pure in me that I'd cut myself off from, of just enjoying every moment of the process. There are fewer moments of the process than there are for something like "Avengers," but I give everything I have, as much as I can, to my work. And yet, somehow, I feel like I haven't quite been able to let go and just go, "Okay, I'm on a location scout. That's good. It's fine." Everything that wasn't writing or directing used to make me insane. And there's a ton of "hurry up and wait," especially on a production like that. And I felt guilt, and I felt weird and very unhappy about all of those moments, and now, I sort of have this understanding of "No, you know what? You need sleep. You need winter. You need the things in between. And you have to honor them and enjoy them because, well, this is what you do."
So I just feel much more serene about the experience. Now, that doesn't mean I won't be a frightening mess who yells at people, but I'll be yelling at them from love. I'll be yelling at them about the right thing.
Last year, before "Avengers" came out, we asked you what non-Avengers character you'd make a movie about, if you could. You said Kitty Pryde. Has that changed?
Kitty Pryde is still a heroine I adore, with a power that would be very filmic. Obviously, legally, it's not in the house. But if I were King of the Forest, it's still Kitty Pryde. Now, I recently said Batman. But I don't see why they can't team up -- because I'm the King of the Forest now, so they can team up... with Scott Pilgrim. The three of them will fight crime. Batman will always be like, "Why does he always get change when he wins a fight?! I never get change!"
Of course, there's a lot of buzz about "Guardians of the Galaxy" right now, and you're still involved with Marvel as an advisor. Have you given any recent advice to Marvel, or any advice to director James Gunn?
I've talked to them about the story from the beginning, and the different drafts. One of the questions they asked me was "What do you think of James Gunn?" And I giggled like a school girl because I was like, "Oh, this movie is going to work." It's weird, because I feel like maybe there are people who do -- and maybe you could -- but people ask, "Did you talk to Kenneth Branagh about adapting Shakespeare?" Of course not! [joking] "Hi, sir. I'm making one, too. Just like you! What should I do?"
It feels intrusive and, also, you sort of feel like, "No, I've got this." James is very assured. We had a great talk after we had both done our first movies, where -- it was probably some time a year after or less -- and we discovered that both us could not write. We realized the director in us had killed the writer. Because, for the first time ever, all the compromise, all the throwing out of the stuff you love, was done by you. And then to go back to the blank page and know that you're not even safe from yourself had crippled us for a while. And then we got past it, and that was a great bonding thing.
When it comes to this, for me, my only piece of advice has been: I want to hear more of James. Let's pull out the formula. Give me more James. Make it weirder. The only way to achieve that "Star Wars" vibe is not to chase it -- is to try to be an original universe and have all the fun and do all the stuff. And James is... he's perfect for that because even I said, "A raccoon?" And James's thing was, "Here's the deal. It's about the raccoon. This is why I love it: because of the raccoon and the tree." And I'm like, "Okay, that's the guy you need."
Let's talk about another Marvel project getting a lot of buzz: "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Are you nervous about managing fans' expectations?
There's always the struggle between spectacle and a TV budget. What attracted me to "S.H.I.E.L.D." were the gadgets. But after the gadgets was humanity: The idea that there is an underside, a darker side, a more human context. Phil Coulson always represented the everyman, the schlemiel in the world of the fabulous or the mighty, gods and billionaires and legends. And that's what the show is for, it's for those people who, as remarkable as they may be, are not the supers, are not A-list.
What are the rest of us worth when there are people that are so extraordinary? That's a human story. We hired actors that I am so excited to welcome into our universe, and they're extraordinary, and they're going to bring so much to it. That's what I'm giving people every week; those actors, their stories, and the stories that they encounter. I know that we all share the same sensibility in terms of what makes it Marvel, what makes it that universe. I never worry about what the fanboys think because the fanboy is thinking it up.
Anything you can tease about "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."?
I can show you a little ankle.
Last question. Are you going to Comic-Con?
I'm not aware of that event. What is it?
It's just a group of about 15 fans or so that gathers in San Diego every year.
Maybe I'll check it out.
"Much Ado About Nothing" is in limited release now.