When Dallas actress Amy Acker set off for Hollywood, she was smart to team up with producer and director Joss Whedon. She’s been featured in his television series Angel and Dollhouse. And now she plays the female lead in Much Ado About Nothing, Whedon’s movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy out Friday. Here’s the story of how the movie was born out of a series of backyard brunches.
KERA Radio story:
Getting into Joss Whedon’s inner circle also gets you into his house. That’s because he often invites his friends in the biz to his regular Shakespeare brunches.
Which are exactly what they sound like. Regular Whedon players – including Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg and others – come to his house. Whedon caters a nice meal. And everyone’s assigned a role in that day’s play, which is read around the table.
“It’s the kind of fun that’s fun for me,” Whedon said in Austin in March for South by Southwest. “We learn something every time from somebody’s performance or from our own. We’re talking about it afterwards. Plus, we’re just hanging out. Then when we get drunk, it’s classy.”
Dallas actress Amy Acker is also part of the group. At one of the brunches, Whedon asked her to read Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She’s the brassy female lead who battles wits with the cocky Benedick. Alexis Denisof, who starred opposite Acker on TV in Angel, played Benedick.
Watching the pair play off one another triggered something in Whedon’s mind.
“Without any attempts at favoritism, they had become the rock stars of the room – there was just no denying it,” he said. “Getting the two of them together, I needed other people to know what I knew.”
When Whedon decided he wanted to turn his table read of Much Ado About Nothing into a film, he was in the middle of editing The Avengers. The movie went on to make more than $1.5 billion worldwide. Successes like that allow a director the occasional passion project.
Still, Acker, says the whole idea seemed like a lark.
“Part of the fun of doing this movie is we had no expectations for it,” she said. “Joss called three or four weeks before we were going to shoot and said, ‘Do you want to play Beatrice? I’m going to do Much Ado About Nothing.’ And we had done the readings and stuff, so I don’t think in my mind – I didn’t have the idea that we were like making a real movie that people were going to see. I was like, ‘Oh, we’ll be there, and Joss will film it on his iPhone and it’ll be really fun and we’ll hang out. It’s only a week!’”
The film was shot in just 12 days, all at Whedon’s home. It transfers the story to a modern setting, yet its black-and-white cinematography gives it a timeless feel.
And the language, of course, is an actor’s dream.
Denisov, who’s Acker’s partner in the scene above, says she was the clear choice for the role.
“I remember the incredible scene with Beatrice – ‘Oh that I were a man.’ – that scene,” he said. “She found a gear that for me that was like, ‘Oh wow! This is really happening now. We really are these people and we’re really telling this story.’”
Acker’s actually performed the play before – it was her first paying job after graduating from SMU. She played Hero, the other main female role, in that production. And she says her experiences at SMU – and Lake Highlands High School before that – prepared her for the variety of roles she’s played in her acting career.
“The only thing they were missing, I’ve said, is I think they need a class that teaches you how to act with monsters or vampires,” she said with a laugh. “Tthat seems to be the only thing I’ve had to do a lot of that they never taught there.”
No, that she had to learn from Joss Whedon.