‘Much Ado’ at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

March 11, 2013 | 7:34 a.m.
joss whedon Much Ado at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

Joss Whedon traveled to the Toronto Film Festival in September 2012 to premiere his film "Much Ado About Nothing." The film played over the weekend in Austin at SXSW 2013. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

firefly Much Ado at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

Nathan Fillion, foreground, gained a massive fan following with his turn in Joss Whedon's "Firefly." He plays Dogberry in "Much Ado About Nothing." (Science Channel)

amy acker grimm Much Ado at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

Amy Acker, whose latest is Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," has career roots in sci-fi and fantasy. Here she is looking wicked in the "Tarantella" episode of NBC's "Grimm." (Scott Green/NBC)

sean maher copy Much Ado at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

Sean Maher played Simon Tam, a doctor, fugitive and devoted brother, in Joss Whedon's short-lived TV series "Firefly" and its movie sequel "Serenity." (Fox)

alexis denisof in angel Much Ado at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

Alexis Denisof as Wesley, center, with David Boreanaz, left, and James Marsters in "Angel." (Justin Lubin / The WB)

agent phil coulson Much Ado at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)

alyson hannigan alexis denisof Much Ado at SXSW: Shakespeare sparks a Whedonverse reunion

Alexis Denisof is married to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" original Alyson Hannigan. (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Joss Whedon — the man behind TV’s sci-fi western series “Firefly, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spinoff “Angel,” as well as the big-screen mega-hit “The Avengers” –  is notorious for his loyalty to his actors, who pop up again and again in his projects.

His latest, “Much Ado About Nothing,” which played Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival over the weekend after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, is hardly an exception.

For his take on the Shakespearean romantic romp, Whedon turned to veterans such as Clark Gregg and Nathan Fillion to appear (as Leonato and Dogberry, respectively). Fran Kranz plays Claudio, while Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof play Beatrice and Benedick. Sean Maher is Don John.

There’s also a smattering of newcomers, including Jillian Morgese as Hero.

At a panel at SXSW over the weekend, Whedon and cast members talked about the new film, which was shot in black and white at Whedon’s Santa Monica home over the course of 12 busy days. The movie keeps Shakespeare’s original language, but in a modern world of iPods, cars, cupcake towers and marijuana.

“Much Ado” came during a two-week break in the making of Marvel’s “The Avengers,” and was a respite from the meticulously planned big-budget Marvel production, Whedon said.

“Doing work in that compressed, let’s-put-on-a-show hothouse was … therapeutic,” Whedon told Rebecca Keegan, who was in Austin covering the event for our sister blog Movies Now..

The film is the first feature from the micro-studio Bellwether, created by Whedon and his wife, Kai Cole, and since it won’t be released in theaters until June 7, this seemed like an opportune moment to revisit a few key scenes from Whedon’s past projects with some of the members of the “Much Ado” cast.

Here’s Acker as Winifred “Fred” Burkle on “Angel” — the actress was, of course, also a recurring character on Whedon’s “Dollhouse” TV series.

She also spent time on camera with Denisof’s Wesley Wyndam-Price. Here they are together in a memorable scene from “Angel.”

Fans will recall Kranz as “Dollhouse’s” Topher Brink, though he also turned up in “The Cabin in the Woods,” the horror-movie satire Whedon co-wrote with Drew Goddard, who directed the film.

Gregg is a newer addition to the Whedon family, having memorably portrayed Agent Phil Coulson in “Avengers.” The character will live again in Marvel’s “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” however; the comics powerhouse announced at New York’s Comic-Con last October that Gregg would be featured in the upcoming ABC pilot, co-written by Whedon.

Below, Gregg talks “Avengers”:

And then there’s Fillion, who plays the blundering constable Dogberry.

The actor played Caleb on the final season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a key early moment in his collaboration with Whedon, but it was Fillion’s turn as Malcolm Reynolds  in the star-crossed sci-fi western series “Firefly” and its feature-film sequel, “Serenity,” in 2005, that won him the eternal love of a legion of loyal Browncoats.

Here’s a little “Firefly” tribute, courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel:

– Amy Hubbard

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