When I saw Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing at South by Southwest in March, I was excited. I've long been a huge fan of Whedon's work--his approach to fantasy and science fiction is always interesting and unique, he has a great sense of humor and has written some of my all-time favorite female characters. So, I was curious to see how he would adapt Shakespeare.
And I wasn't disappointed.
Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is a modern take on the classic Shakespeare play about two pairs of lovers, Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker, who have vastly different ideas of what romance is. And this doesn't even touch upon the scheming (comprised of a cast of Whedon's regulars) to keep these pairs together or apart.
The film was shot in just 12 days in Whedon's home and the result is a sexy, funny and decidedly modern take (and much drunker) on the original. Acker and Denisof have incredible chemistry and banter (much to the continued delight of Angel fans everywhere). It's the perfect antidote to the summer blockbuster: a gorgeously shot (in black & white) intelligent yet lighthearted film. And as always with Whedon's work, he has wonderfully real and developed female characters.
Women and Hollywood got the chance to speak with Kai Cole, producer of Much Ado About Nothing (and Whedon's wife) about how the pair made the film a reality, shooting in their own home and collaborating with their friends.
Women and Hollywood: What was the inspiration for you and Joss to make this adaptation?
Kai Cole: I wanted to check things off our To Do list. For years we had this long list of project ideas that Joss had in his head and I wanted to get as many made as possible. I wanted to produce them ourselves, pay for them ourselves, make all the decisions ourselves. My fantasy was to start a micro-studio where we could create our own content, free from the constraints of the existing Hollywood system and I felt we were in a unique position to do this.
Since his early days of Buffy, Joss had a direct link to his fan base, dedicated writers and talented actors who would do anything for him. It was so frustrating over the years to find that he was still waiting around for a bunch of faceless executives to decide his fate. I felt there were so many unexplored ways to create content and then get that content directly to the people. Dr. Horrible, Cabin in the Woods, these were the beginning of the vision. I didn't necessarily see myself in a producing role, it was more that I just wanted to get things done.
At the end of filming The Avengers, Joss and I were in NY discussing his two week break between shooting and post production. It suddenly hit me that maybe we could squeeze in a project during that time. Frankly I didn't care what it was, I just wanted us to make something. So when Joss suggested having a Shakespeare reading at the house, it hit me that this was my chance to sneak in a project. Instead of a reading of Much Ado, we could film the movie. I had to convince Joss that this was a good idea, he was exhausted and more than a little skeptical.
Women and Hollywood: Why this specific Shakespeare play?
KC: Many years ago we had a reading at our house of Much Ado, with Amy and Alexis in the leads. It was one of the best plays we ever did. Joss put 'Hey Nonny Nonny' to music, his brother played the mandolin, my friend Angie Hart sang it…it was just lovely. I think that was the play where I staged a tea party on the back lawn with quilts and finger sandwiches and we all wore summer dresses. Not sure. But it was amazing to listen to Amy and Alexis masterfully read that play. I felt spoiled. We should share this experience with the world. I had a fantasy that we could film these readings and put them on our own little cable channel and call them 'Sundays with Shakespeare'. Anyway, filming this play with Amy and Alexis was on my To Do list.
WaH: Why did you decide to shoot in your own home?
KC: Money and time. There was no other way that we could pull this off. And Joss had been talking for years about wanting to film something in one of the houses I've designed. When he talked about filming Much Ado there, he said it could be a "love letter to the house". It was also a great way to finally get me to clean the basement. I had been putting that off for a year and we used it for Dogberry and Verges' interrogation room.
WaH: I've read that you designed your home [Cole is an architect]. Was the possibility of filming in your home in the future on your mind during that process?
KC: No and yes. No, I was not designing the house as a set. But yes, I was thinking of the house as a place to make and enjoy art. We had been having Shakespeare readings at our old home for years; I knew this was something we would continue. I took everything into consideration when I was planning how the spaces would be used, and where we would have readings definitely influenced some design decisions.
The stone amphitheater was built with performances in mind. I had a unique landscaping problem, there was about a seven foot elevation change in the back yard where we had pushed out and added a retaining wall. I fell in love with the old fashioned stone amphitheater idea, where we could have readings, everyone sitting on the stone steps. After the house was completed we had our first play there. I didn't have a part (usually a big no-no, everyone must have at least a tiny part) so I could just fully absorb the experience of my fantasy coming to life. I was smiling constantly as I bustled back and forth to the kitchen, bringing people drinks and food. It was pure heaven.
WaH: What got you into producing?
KC: While Joss was filming The Avengers I decided I would get my feet wet in producing, so when he finished we could hit the ground running and we wouldn't have lost any time starting Bellwether Pictures. I was trying to option a short story and the rep asked me what other films I had produced. I answered, "I haven't made any movies, but I have produced houses and I don't really see a big difference." You have a vision, gather the best creative team you can, give them guidance and the freedom to do what they do best and voila! A Movie!" They weren't as optimistic as I was, so they didn't option it to me. But truly, I don't see the difference between producing movies and building houses.
WaH: Did you have any input into the casting process or the script?
KC: None at all (well, we knew Amy and Alexis were givens as long as their schedules worked). Joss stayed in NY to finish shooting The Avengers and he was in charge of adapting the script, and casting. I went back to LA to put together the production team and take care of everything else involved in producing the movie. From our talk in the NY hotel bar until we wrapped filming, it was about six weeks total.
WaH: I thought the film was so beautiful and just so much fun to watch--was the filming process representative of that?
KC: It really was. While we filmed I wandered around the house like a ghost, absorbing the experience (it was really rather surreal for me and watching the finished product even more so). I regret now not having a camera in my hands to capture what I saw. It was quite beautiful, like Santa's workshop come to life; Shawna down in the music room quickly sewing changes to a dress, Jessyca and Jenna doing hair and makeup in the gym, people pacing back and forth practicing their lines, folks tucked away in little nooks eating their lunch. I noticed every detail and appreciated every moment of that experience. Of course, it was also my job to keep it all running smoothly and we were doing it in secret, so it was stressful and peaceful at the same time.
WaH: The project was very much a DIY collaboration between you and Joss and your friends--would you do something like this again?
KC: Absolutely. Everything should be made this way.
WaH: What projects are next for you?
KC: Bellwether is in post for In Your Eyes [a paranormal romance written by Whedon and starring Zoe Kazan] and I really need to finish a remodel for my sister before she fires me.
WaH: On Women and Hollywood, we talk a lot about the opportunities for women within Hollywood. Do you have women you look up to or female mentors that have helped you in your career?
KC: I don't really think of myself as having a career in Hollywood, I don't even watch TV. I produce things- houses, movies, children, small knitted objects. I am surrounded daily by amazing women who are constantly striving to achieve more and do things better, and I am inspired by every single one of them.
Much Ado About Nothing is currently in theatres.