As Joss Whedon Likes It

Shakespeare, comic books—for the Avengers auteur, it's all the same thing

Alas, they missed an extended party that won't stop until Much Ado is released on Friday. The film was shot with mostly natural lighting, so when the sun set, Whedon called wrap. The cast would pour drinks, jump in the pool, even start dancing if the morning's call time wasn't too crazy. His home became a Hollywood summer camp. Some nights, he'd sit down to a quiet dinner with his wife and two kids, and a camera operator would walk through the room. "We had no idea they were still in the house," he says and shrugs.

When Much Ado got accepted to South By Southwest, Whedon kept the good times going. Some of the cast couldn't afford a plane ticket to Austin, so he rented a tour bus, christened it "Bus Ado About Nothing" and invited everyone to pile in for the 20-hour drive. They spent it mooning cars, watching Cabin In the Woods and shooting six-second Vines of themselves dancing the Harlem Shake-speare. "It was a lot more fun than doing press for Avengers," says Whedon. So why not rent a tour bus to take the superstars of Avengers 2 on their 2015 publicity tour? "They're lovely people," he says, laughing, "but I don't think that's going to fly."

Like a man suddenly remembering what's paying for the mortgage on his Much Ado set—rumor has it his next Marvel payday is $100 million, which he denies—Whedon doubles back with a smile. "Right now, I've got my secret passion project, and it's Avengers. Well, it's a secret that it's my passion project," he insists. "People go, 'But what are you really interested in?' like that's my day job. But they don't understand that I have the world's greatest day job."

Whedon comes off just as frank about his success. He's a third-generation Hollywood writer—his father wrote for The Golden Girls and his grandfather for The Donna Reed Show. A creative career was as natural as taking over the family grocery store. Still, for humility's sake, he laments he "feels like a failure" because he can't play an instrument, throw a ball or draw.

(He also won't take the bait when asked if his Much Ado can make Shakespeare "cool." "Yeah, yeah, and can you make Beethoven melodic, you arrogant prick?")

Year by year, Whedon is reclaiming one of art's dirtiest words: populism. "I find it personally interesting that all of my favorite artists, almost without exception, were popular in their lifetimes: Shakespeare, Dickens, John Singer Sargent, Sondheim," says Whedon. If Shakespeare were writing today, he wouldn't be suffering off-off-off-Broadway—he'd be on HBO. "He'd be making something sexy and strange," speculates Whedon, "and he'd be seeing it through."

In turn, Whedon hopes his own work will live on as Shakespeare's has. Not that he fantasizes about an auteur in 2413 discovering new subtexts in Firefly. He'd be happy being one voice among many declaring their dreams for mankind. "To have created something that may not be remembered, but pushed the boulder of human decency forward just a tiny bit," beams Whedon, "that would mean more to me than somebody on a rocket ship circling Saturn staging episode three of Buffy."

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