This month’s film (November 2013) is directed by Joss Whedon, probably best known for The Avengers. Here are extracts from an interview he did, with Newsweek’s Marlow Stern, where he speaks of the heroines in his films…
On a recent Thursday, a gaggle of teenagers wielding cameras and pens are huddled in front of the Trump SoHo hotel in downtown Manhattan. The target of their affection isn’t some movie star, but a genial, follicly challenged 48-year-old wearing sneakers and baggy jeans.
After years as a cult-TV nerd-god, creating shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, Joss Whedon has become one of the most successful film directors in Hollywood, thanks to having helmed Marvel’s The Avengers, a superhero extravaganza that took in $1.5 billion worldwide, making it the third-highest-grossing film of all time.
His latest film is a passion project. Much Ado About Nothing is a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s classic play. The black-and-white movie was shot in just 12 days at Whedon’s home in Santa Monica, California, with a cast of his best friends from past shows, including Angel’s Amy Acker as Beatrice, Buffy’s Alexis Denisof as Benedick, and Firefly’s Nathan Fillion as Dogberry.
What’s so appealing about Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing?
It’s probably the most crowd-pleasing play because it’s so funny and so modern. It’s a story that we keep retelling over and over: “They hate each other. No they love each other.” I saw a production of Much Ado at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park [London] when I was in high school, and I couldn’t tell you who was in it but it stunned me. It was so funny.
You have a reputation for strong female protagonists, and Beatrice in Much Ado is one of the greatest heroines in Shakespeare’s canon.
Until I committed myself to filming it, I never focused on how ballsy and wonderful it was that Shakespeare felt the need to put this out there. I didn’t go into it thinking Beatrice is a great feminist icon, just that she’s a great character. It was only later that I realized how powerful and in my wheelhouse it was.
Where does your fondness for heroines come from?
I was raised by a hard-core feminist. I was also much smaller than my brothers and bullied a lot, so I identify with the feeling of helplessness.
Why do you think there’s a lack of female superheroes in film?
Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible super-heroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can’t be done. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift. It’s frustrating to me that I don’t see anybody developing one of these movies. It actually pisses me off. My daughter watched The Avengers and was like, “My favourite characters were the Black Widow and Maria Hill,” and I thought, Yeah, of course they were. I read a beautiful thing Junot Diaz wrote: “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a cult hit.
You jumped into Much Ado right after you finished principal photography and before going into post-production on The Avengers. Was that difficult to juggle?
It was my 20th wedding anniversary and we were going to go to Venice, and my wife said to me, “You need to go make this movie instead.” She had a crew in place and we had talked about filming something at the house since we moved in a few years ago. She surprised me and said, “You know, Venice isn’t sinking that fast.” She knew that it was my way to reconnect with the house, my family of friends and thespians, and to realize a dream I had for years.