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Originally published Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 5:11 AM

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Joss Whedon: ‘Much Ado,’ a soothing switch from ‘Avengers’

An interview with Joss Whedon, whose minimalist, black-and-white take on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” is a drastic change of pace from “The Avengers.”

Seattle Times movie critic

Much ado about Joss Whedon

A few quick answers from the filmmaker, about upcoming and past projects. (Some of the questions were provided by readers of Popcorn & Prejudice, my movie blog.)

‘The Avengers 2’

Production will begin in early 2014, with a release date of May 1, 2015. “I’m writing, and we’re just starting some preliminary prep and some casting ... I really love the Avengers. I’m having an amazing time. People ask: ‘What’s your dream project?’ I say, this is it, ‘Avengers 2.’ This isn’t the one I’m making so I can make something else. It’s going to be amazing.”

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

This Marvel Comics television series, starring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, will premiere this fall on Tuesday nights on ABC; Whedon co-wrote and directed the pilot and, as an executive producer, will oversee the series. “My brother Jad and his wife, Maurissa, [Tancharoen] and Jeff Bell will be running it from day to day, and I will be occasionally poking my head in and saying, ‘Here’s a brilliant idea.’”

A movie musical, someday

Whedon (who famously created a musical episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as well as the Web musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) says he thinks about making a movie musical “all the time.” He loves “West Side Story” — “it’s so startling and perfect” — and says he’d love to make a film with dance. “At some point, I would love to focus on that.”

Why’d he finally join Twitter (@JossActual)?

“I joined for entirely mercenary reasons,” said Whedon. “I wanted to drive traffic to the ‘Much Ado’ site and get people’s awareness up. Because I have no illusions about what this film is: It’s a black and white Shakespeare film. And, that means of course that it will be the biggest film of the summer and spawn countless sequels.”

What should a Whedon newbie watch first?

Whedon pondered this one for a minute. “I would say probably the first episode of ‘Firefly,’ or my run on ‘Astonishing X-Men,’” he said, noting that “Firefly” was the only show he ever made “that was what it was, the moment it began. ‘Firefly’ came fully formed, and that’s rare.”

What was the inspiration for ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’?

“I love horror movies,” said Whedon. “But I also love nice vulnerable blond girls who don’t think that they ought to die all the time. I love characters who appear to be powerless taking power.”

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times movie critic

Movie interview

‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Opens Friday at several theaters, including Harvard Exit, Thornton Place and Lincoln Square. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use.

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It was the fall of 2011, and writer/director Joss Whedon had just finished shooting “The Avengers.” He had a bit of time off, in honor of his 20th wedding anniversary, and thought perhaps he’d take his wife and children on a little trip. Then another idea came to him. And ... here’s how actor Alexis Denisof explained it.

“He got back to Los Angeles and called me and said, ‘I need to talk to you about something. Are you at home and available?’ ” remembered Denisof, a Seattle native who’s had roles in a number of Whedon projects including “The Avengers.” “I said yes to both. I hung up and told my wife that Joss had a very strange tone in his voice, and I think I’m going to be cut from ‘The Avengers’ and recast and reshot, and he wants to tell me in person.”

But Whedon had a surprise in store. “He said, ‘instead of going on vacation with my family, I’m thinking of shooting “Much Ado About Nothing” at my house in a couple of weeks. We have 12 days. Are you in?’ I said, ‘yes’ before he even finished the sentence.”

Whedon, known for creating the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly,” and for his work in feature films, has long had a little-known hobby: For years, he’s invited groups of actors and friends to his Los Angeles home to read Shakespeare — and, for years, has talked about turning one of those readings into a movie. Now he’s finally done it: Whedon, Denisof and other cast members came to Seattle last month to see “Much Ado About Nothing” open the Seattle International Film Festival to a sold-out house. The film opens in theaters Friday.

Interviewed during his Seattle visit, Whedon gave much of the credit for the project to his wife, Kai Cole, with whom he has a production company. It was she who convinced him to shoot the movie he’d long talked about, rather than take a vacation — and to shoot it in their airy Spanish-style house, which she designed. “She’s the architect of this film, in every way, more literally than usual,” he said.

By necessity, “Much Ado” came together quickly. Whedon made some phone calls and pinned down the cast (some of whom, he said, “didn’t really understand that it was an actual production”), scouted locations by strolling through his home, and spent “about three days” trimming Shakespeare’s play down to feature-film length. Not only was that “awesome fun,” said Whedon, “but to have a script that’s already written and cannot be changed, not so much as a comma — it’s exciting.”

And he made the decision, with Cole, to film in black and white. “I had thought of it really as a noir comedy, like ‘The Apartment’ or ‘Unfaithfully Yours.’ [Black and white] also evoked a classicism, a sort of ’30s whip-smart, talk-fast, ‘His Girl Friday,’ him-vs.-her delightful comedy, and it also gives a timelessness that frankly we didn’t have the budget to get any way else.”

Once the film was shot, with Denisof and Amy Acker playing the sparring lovers Benedick and Beatrice, Whedon returned to work on “The Avengers” — while editing “Much Ado About Nothing” in his spare time. “Editing ‘Avengers’ was a really difficult chore that required a ton of people and was very loud,” he said. “And then I would come home and I would sit in my office and edit people talking, in black and white, and it was very soothing.”

Now Whedon’s back to making loud movies (“The Avengers 2,” scheduled for a May 2015 release, is next up), but he hopes that his usual audience will follow him on his foray into Shakespeare. “My favorite thing is when someone says, ‘I’m not a comic book person but “The Avengers” worked,’ or ‘I’m not really a Shakespeare person but I loved “Much Ado.”’ Every time you get a person who’s resistant to the genre, it means you hit something bigger than that. That’s supposed to be why we’re here.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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