A lovely interview with Amy & Alexis Denisof that took place during a press day for Much Ado About Nothing after the San Francisco International Film Festival.
On a brief hiatus from production on last year’s superhero team-up, THE AVENGERS, Joss Whedon (BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FIREFLY/SERENITY, and DOLLHOUSE) gathered some of his closest friends and collaborators from his decade-and-a-half run on network television to his spacious Santa Monica home for twelve days to shoot MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, a modern-day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy of manners. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING maps the romantic entanglements of Italian aristocrats and their servants at an Italian villa over the course of several eventful days. Rife with comic misunderstandings, miscommunications, and manipulations, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING has, contrary to the title, much to say about romantic love then and now (it’s not so different). Whedon’s troupe makes Shakespeare’s verse feel modern, fresh, and more importantly, alive. As one-time lovers-turned antagonists, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof turn their respective characters’ “merry war” of words into moments filled with emotional longing and prideful arrogance. As the young lovers at the center of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese give Shakespeare’s words expressive resonance and contemporary relevance. Fan-favorite Nathan Fillion (FIREFLY) makes a late, but by no means unwelcome, appearance as a well-meaning, malapropism-prone constable whose unwitting actions helps to ensure MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING ends not as a tragedy, but as a comedy.
I sat down with co-stars Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker when they stopped in for a press day to coincide with a screening of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the recently concluded San Francisco International Film Festival.
VA: Thanks for taking the time out of your day to talk to me.
Not to sound like a super-fan, but I was and am a big fan of work together on Joss Whedon’s ANGEL series. It was some of the best television during that time period. At the time I felt – and still do – that your [Alexis Denisof’s] character on ANGEL, Wesley Wyndham Pryce, had one of the most compelling story arcs, especially for a five-season character arcs, where your character began and where he ended. It was really remarkable. It felt honest and true to the character.
Alexis Denisof (AD): It was organic, but still extreme.
VA: He went from comic foil to super badass in five seasons.
AD: You find yourself in the later seasons looking back and you can’t believe where he began.
VA: We were rooting for your characters to get together, but of course, Joss Whedon being Joss Whedon, it didn’t happen as viewers expected.
AD: The sweet heartbreak that is Joss…
VA: The interplay between your characters reminded me so much of your characters from ANGEL. I couldn’t help but wonder if the chemistry you two shared on ANGEL was why Joss chose you for the central characters in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
AD: Angel is sort of the reason why this happened in a way because we got to work together, we got to collaborate with Joss. That same chemistry and collaboration applied to this film. It wasn’t a case of, “Oh gosh, I have to finish the Wesley-Fred [story] thread that began so long ago.” It didn’t get its just desserts. It really wasn’t that. I think that for the people who loved the Wes-Fred relationship will get a special treat when they go to this film because they get to see not exactly those characters, but they get to see those actors working together again, exploring different elements of themselves with each other. It’s true that if you watched ANGEL, you get a little extra treat out of it, but it’s not designed solely for those people. It doesn’t restrict others who haven’t watched ANGEL.
Amy Acker (AA): I think that we, Alexis and I, love working, love acting together and having Joss as the third point of that triangle.
AD: It’s definitely a trinity.
AA: After “A Hole in the World” [ANGEL’s series finale], Joss always says that the end of THE AVENGERS – the schwarma scene – is based on how we felt at the end of that day when we were all just sitting together. I think there was something so special about the stuff he wrote. He wrote really great stuff for our characters. He would come in and direct it and make it even better than we imagined. The [idea of] working together … every time we saw each other we said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could work together again?”
VA: How did you two get involved in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?
AD: Joss had just finished principal photography on THE AVENGERS. It was a long, painstaking, exhausting shoot in which incidentally I had a small role midway through principal photography. He just got home, straight from the airport, called, and said, “Hey, there’s something I want to talk to you about.” He said, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m at home.” He said, “I’ll just come by now if that’s okay.” I put down the phone and was convinced that he was going to come over to tell me that THE AVENGERS footage I had given him was terrible and that they were going to have to cut it from the movie and recast and reshoot. He just had a strange tone of voice because he was in the grip of this idea. He had a script in his pocket when he arrived. So instead of going on vacation with my family, Kai, his wife, thinks I should make the Shakespeare movie I’ve always wanted to make. “It’s this one. It’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. It’s you and Amy. What do you think?” I didn’t think at all. I said yes.
VA: How much time was there between that discussion and the start of shooting?
AD: That was just a few weeks, a couple of weeks, nothing like what you’d hope for. The last thing he said when he left was, “By the way, make sure you know your lines. We only have 12 days to shoot. It’s going to be fast. It’s going to be one or two takes and we move on.” We really didn’t have time to freak out, didn’t we? You can tell your story, but we got on the phone right away and said, “F*ck, we gotta do this thing. What are we gonna do?” So we started to get together – Amy and I – talking it through, reading it, and Joss would come in when he could. We’d see him and just break down the scenes and talk about them, maybe block them out in his house if we could. Luckily, the set was built by an amazing architect his wife Kai called. This movie is in many respects a love letter to this house and to her incredible artistry. Amy said it herself that the house is like a character in the film.
AA: I think the whole thing was about five weeks from the time we first heard the idea and we wrapped.
AD: We had total trust in Joss. I trust him implicitly. I didn’t know this was going to be the outcome. I didn’t know we were shooting something that would be what it ended up being. I think everybody was excited to work with old friends, dear friends, excited to work on this play, and do one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, because everyone involved loved Shakespeare. It was a chance to take a risk with no harm. What was the worst that could happen? I guess Joss and Kai would be out a little bit of money, maybe some pieces of furniture would be broken or burned. We managed to keep the kids up at night. Meanwhile they were trying to have a family life. The point I’m trying to make is that there was low expectation and high anticipation.
VA: Did you have any Shakespearean training or background?
AA: My first job out of college was at a theater in Wisconsin, the American Player’s Theatre, and I did this play. Actually, I met Emma Bates, the actress who plays Ursula in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, at that theatre company. I played Hero. It was a long time ago. I’d done Shakespeare in college too. Alexis was the real expert, so everyone would go to him and say, “Please help me.”
AD: That’s probably exaggerating, but I too have had experience and quite a few of the other actors had. Not everybody did. My first theatre job out of college was a production of HAMLET with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I studied in London, so I’ve always had a passion for Shakespeare. I was lucky enough to have it realized over there and I’ve been subsequently in a few of his plays. It’s not done much here as it is in England and it certainly isn’t committed to film very often. This was a real passion project for me. Nation [Fillion] had never done any Shakespeare at all. He said yes before he had really thought it through. Like everyone, you’d be crazy to say no to Joss, but then he got very cold feet, didn’t he? He tried to pull out of it, but Joss wouldn’t let him.
VA: And his dialogue has that looping, loopy character …
AD: He just nailed it.
VA: The non-sequitars that run through his character’s dialogue…
AD: He had a great comment, didn’t he?
AA: He said that when he was reading it that he didn’t know how he’d understand it, but then he had an epiphany that if you just talk like Yoda with reverse word order…
AD: Joss has a good mix of people who are comfortable with Shakespeare and people who bring a freshness to it regardless of their experience. His overall take on the play and the world he’s creating is very loose and fast and fun and approachable. While having the experience Amy and I have helped us in our process, we didn’t feel we had to cater to some sophisticated, academic interpretation. We were just trying to bring it to life in an approachable, accessible, and easy way. We’ve watched a couple of screenings now. When I watch it I feel that if you’ve never seen Shakespeare before, after two minutes of this movie, you’re going to forget you’re watching Shakespeare and you’ll just enjoy the story and the characters. At the end, you’ll remember it’s Shakespeare and you’ll give yourself a big pat on the back that you just had an enjoyable night watching a Shakespeare play. And if you’ve seen 100 Shakespeare productions, you’ll be glad you’ve seen this new, fresh interpretation because it won’t be like anything else you’ve seen. We’re hoping people will go out to see it and make up their own minds about it.
VA: If the two of you could work together again on another Shakespeare play, which one would it be?
AD: That’s a good question.
AA: We should have come up with an answer…
AD: We should know by now, right?
VA: Hamlet, Ophelia, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Antony, Cleopatra…
AA: Yes, yes, yes.
AD: I’d do them all. If Amy’s in them, I’ll do. I don’t care what it is.
AA: We’d have to get Joss to do more readings and do another one.
VA: I know he’s slightly busy with all the Marvel stuff right now.
AD: Just a little… I don’t know. He really enjoyed this, so…
VA: It’d be great if every other year we’d get another Shakespeare adaptation.
AD: It’s a great idea and this is a special group. It’d be fun if we could do another one.
Source: Very Aware