Joss Whedon is successful by any measure: a critical cult darling for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a mega crowd-pleaser with The Avengers. But family can be hard to please. “There’s an argument I’ve had with my stepfather over the years,” he tells Kurt Andersen. “He’d say, ‘When are you going to make a real, grown-up picture, without the vampires and the rocket ships?’ And I’d say, ‘Never. It’s never gonna happen.”
Whedon spoke too soon. On a short break from making the gigantic spectacle The Avengers — between shooting and postproduction — he took a busman’s holiday and did another movie, this one costing less than $220 million. He invited some actors he liked over to his house in Santa Monica, opened some wine, and in 12 days they filmed Much Ado About Nothing.
“It was my wife’s idea,” Whedon says. “She knew that the best vacation I could possibly take, after a fairly grueling shoot, was to create something with my dear friends that I love very much, in a house that I love very much, with a text that I’ve loved since I was a kid.”
Whedon’s Much Ado is more Billy Wilder than Kenneth Branagh, with a modern, smart-set feel. “We referred to the house as the Kennedy compound. Everybody is incredibly elegant, but they’re drinking before noon and the party gets a little out of control.” Ardent fans of Buffy and Firefly might not be altogether surprised to see Whedon doing this kind of home-movie theater. Unlike The Avengers, those were low-budget television shows with an unusual attention to character and narrative arc. “We didn’t expect other people to take [Buffy] seriously. We thought, ‘We’ll take it seriously, but we won’t tell anyone.’”
Whedon admits that he resisted what seems to have been his calling. His grandfather and father both wrote hit TV shows. “My best friend used to taunt me, ‘You’re going to be a third-generation television writer.’ His nickname for me was ‘3GTV.’ I didn’t watch a lot of American TV growing up, I watched mostly the BBC — I lived with my mom, she was a snob. Then I was broke, and I saw things differently.”
Bonus Track: Joss Whedon's 3 for 360