Only Joss Whedon would be able to make a panel for a black-and-white adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing the must-attend event of WonderCon Anaheim. Fans had been waiting in line for the Sunday panel since as early as 5 a.m., and their screams were immediate when Whedon took to the Arena stage for “one quick announcement” before the presentation began.
Unfortunately, that announcement was that Nathan Fillion wasn’t attending as originally been announced. “He has a hideous facial disease,” Whedon said. “He sent me a picture; you’re glad he’s not here. I just wanted to tell you so we can get through this today. We all feel like Matt Saracen [from Friday Night Lights], we’re going to step up.”
Even without Fillion, the panel was one big Whedon lovefest. Stars Clark Gregg, Sean Maher, Tom Lenk, Nick Kocher, Spencer Treat Clark, Jillian Morgese, Riki Lindhome, Romy Rosemont and Brian McElhaney were joined by Whedon and cinematographer Jay Hunter to present clips from Much Ado and answer fan questions. Although there were a few mentions of The Avengers and Whedon’s involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, talk primarily stuck to the movie being promoted. Fans were definitely interested in Whedon’s take on Shakespeare, and wanted to know what difficulties he had to face modernizing the classic.
“It translates. It always does,” Whedon said, adding that the first version of Much Ado he saw was set during World War I. That said, this film’s aesthetic is a ’30s and ’40s comedy noir “thing.” “We were trying to, while modernize it, create a sort of distance.”
It’s no secret that Whedon decided to make Much Ado About Nothing when he and wife Kai Cole were supposed to go on a post-Avengers vacation to Italy. The majority of the cast said Whedon reached out to them via e-mail to ask if they wanted to come on board (Rosemont received a text message), but Gregg was lucky enough to get a phone call.
“I was going through a little postpartum [after The Avengers],” the actor said. “I knew we had just thought The Avengers and that theoretically he was going to be editing it right now. … What commenced was a kind of strange Shakespeare party where this movie got filmed. The fact that we’re now here with it is sort of the cap on top of the magic.”
The audience cheered for Gregg more than anyone else, and he was clearly taken aback by the response. “OK, well, that just made my day. Thank you,” he said when he was introduced. When people kept cheering, he smiled and added, “Look, you don’t know me that well, but I’m already a little insufferable, so don’t feed the beast.” Later, when a fan screamed that she loved him, Gregg responded, “I love you, too.” But his best fan interaction came when someone he had already spoken with came up to the mic and thanked him for the hug he promised her.
It turns out the attendee’s fiancé had broken up with her at WonderCon, and Gregg had promised to give her a hug to make her feel better. “Oh, I’m gonna give you something. Maybe we can tape it for your fiancé,” he told her during the panel. In fact, he got so riled about it that she finally had to joke to him, “Patience.”
Another fan favorite was Maher, best known for his work on Whedon’s Firefly. He was pitched his role in Much Ado by Whedon via email, and apparently the message left such an impact that he had it memorized. According to Maher, Whedon asked, “I need a sexy villain, what sayeth you?” Maher appropriately responded with, “Does this mean you think I’m sexy, Joss?” to which Whedon replied, “Oh, stop fishing for compliments. Are you in or you out?” Obviously Maher was in, because he’s now the movie’s villain, Don John.
There were three clips from Much Ado shown during the panel, and all of them highlighted how funny the movie is. Alexis Denisof and Fillion both look to be scene-stealers here, but real-life comedic duo Kocher and McElhaney also were hilarious as First Watchman and Second Watchman. The modern setting of Much Ado seems to work very well, and feels very Whedon, despite the story being told in Shakespeare’s words. Whedon said that’s because they both use confusing language in their most famous works.
“I think a lot of [our words] don’t make any sense and they’re in the wrong order and you’ve got to look shit up,” Whedon said. “I’m just like Shakespeare.” Immediately after those words came out of his mouth, Whedon added, “That quote will get tweeted and everyone will hate me.” Hilariously, one fan shouted, “It’s already tweeted.” It doesn’t seem like everyone hates Whedon now, though.
The big question for Whedon is whether he’d tackle another Shakespeare film now that he’s done with Much Ado. Of course, he’s tied up with Marvel through at least 2015, but Whedon said there are two routes for him to go. Either he could direct Hamlet — one fan begged for Tom Hiddleston to play that lead role — or he could “take the same cast and do something completely different.” Both options are great in our book, but Whedon said not to expect a Macbeth film directed by him starring James Marsden and Juliet Landau any time soon, even though one attendee asked very nicely for it.
It was clear from the Much Ado About Nothing panel that Whedon adored the cast, and that it’s definitely not going to be the last we see of him with Gregg. The two had a great rapport on the stage, and the panel ended with Whedon joking to his Avengers star that he filmed a secret scene in Much Ado with a stunt double where he killed off Gregg there here as well. April Fool’s?
Much Ado About Nothing opens June 21.