Most filmmakers would opt for a vacation after wrapping a big budget blockbuster, but not Joss Whedon. After he finished 2012’s The Avengers, the director decided to turn his attention to a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Shot in black and white over the course of 12 days at Whedon’s home—and using the original text, which Whedon adapted into a screenplay—Much Ado features Whedon regulars Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse), Alexis Denisof (Angel), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods), Clark Gregg (The Avengers), Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly). After Much Ado screened at SXSW this week, Whedon and his cast sat down for a panel to discuss the challenges, joys, and collaborative process of making the film.
Shooting Much Ado, Whedon said, was therapeutic because he was with people he loves, “doing work not just that I love, but doing it in that sort of compressed, we only have this much time, kind of hot house. You walked away every day [with an] enormous sense of accomplishment. As opposed to The Avengers, where you’re shooting one-tenth of a second of an explosion over the course of a week. [Much Ado] felt enough like theater to give you that high all the time, yet it felt like we were creating something truly cinematic. You don’t usually get both.”
Although Much Ado has been done before, Whedon saw the play differently than many others who have turned it into a film. “It’s a very cynically romantic text about love—how we behave in love and how much we’re manipulated, and that was an in I hadn’t seen in any of the productions,” he said. “It’s always very joyful and fun, but there’s something darker at the heart of it as well. And to have those two things to play with at once began to fascinate me.”
Only a few of the actors had ever performed Shakespeare professionally, so there was a big learning curve there. Fillion, who signed up right away and then tried to chicken out, summed it up as “intimidating. Frightening. I peed a little.” (To which Gregg, who officially joined just a day before shooting began, responded, “I peed a lot.”) The key, Fillion said, was knowing that Shakespeare “is flowery, and a little like Yoda. Lock that in, and you’re golden.”
But Denisof said that when Whedon calls, you really don’t ever say no. “You always say yes, and then worry about it afterward,” Denisof said. “Honestly, there wasn’t that much time to worry about it, because he said ‘Oh by the way, we’re doing it in a couple of weeks.’ From then on, it was just starting to work on it.” Whedon would often put the actors in groups to work through scenes, or the actors would work on their own.
Though Whedon did use Shakespeare’s text, he put his own spin on it. For one, the film takes place in the present day. For another, it’s pretty sexy. In Whedon’s interpretation, Beatrice (Acker) and Benedick (Denisof) have been lovers before—a choice the actors made with Whedon. “It felt right,” he said. The director didn’t storyboard to make up for the Bard’s sparse stage directions, but he did map out the action very specifically. “Apparently you can’t just throw Amy Acker down the stairs, you have to have a pad there. I don’t get that rule!” Whedon joked. “A lot of it came from the actors, [too]. You need both. You need a lot of what’s mapped out, especially when you’re working at that kind of speed, but you also want to give them the room, because everyone here is so inventive, and they understood their characters better than I ever could, that’s just how it works.”
Much Ado About Nothing will hit theaters June 21, 2013.
Fred Rogers—who was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1928—remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of what would have been his 90th birthday, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.” (Bonus fact: he's getting the Funko treatment!)
1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.
According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.
2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.
Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:
“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.
Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.
“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."
According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.
4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.
It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.
5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.
Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.
6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.
Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers toldPittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."
7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.
A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.
8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.
If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.
9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.
Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:
Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.
He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.
Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?
"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.
10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.
According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.
11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.
Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.
12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.
It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.
“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”
13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.
In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.
14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.
Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.
15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.
William Penn Adair Rogers ranks among the finest performers, comedians, and social commentators in American history. So today, let’s all find an excuse to recite some of his best remarks.
1. ON HUMOR
“Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.”
2. ON LEARNING
“Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years we will have the smartest people on earth.”
3. ON POLITICS
"I was born on November 4, which is election day ... my birthday has made more men and sent more back to honest work than any other days in the year."
4. ON SPELLING
“When I first started out to write and misspelled a few words, people said I was plain ignorant. But when I got all the words wrong, they declared I was a humorist.”
5. ON SHAME
“Live in such a way that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”
6. ON VETERINARIANS
“Best doctor in the world is a veterinarian. He can’t ask his patients what’s the matter. He’s just got to know.”
7. ON BEING HUMAN
“It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”
8. ON EINSTEIN
"This Einstein has proven a great comfort to us that always knew we didn’t know much. He has shown us that the fellows that we thought was smart is just as dumb as we are."
9. ON RIGHTING WRONGS
“There is nothing as easy as denouncing ... It don’t take much to see that something is wrong but it does take some eyesight to see what will put it right again.”
10. ON FANATICS
“A fanatic is always the fellow that is on the opposite side.”
11. ON AGE
"Eventually you reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it."
12. ON COMEDIANS VERSUS POLITICIANS
"Everything is changing in America. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke."
13. ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD
“This would be a great world to dance in if we didn’t have to pay the fiddler.”
14. ON LAUGHTER
“[Get] a few laughs and do the best you can… Live your life so that whenever you lose, you’re ahead.”
15. ON QUESTION MARKS
"I was born on election day but never was able to get elected to anything. I am going to jump out some day and be indefinite enough about everything that they will call me a politician, then run on a platform of question marks, and be elected unanimously."
16. ON TAXES
"Finding things to tax is becoming quite a problem. You see when taxes first started (who started 'em anyhow?), Noah must have taken into the ark two taxes, one male and one female, and did they multiply bountifully! Next to guinea pigs, taxes must have been the most prolific of animals."
17. ON UNIVERSAL IGNORANCE
"Everybody is ignorant only on different subjects."
18. ON DESIRE
"We don’t know what we want, but we’re ready to bite somebody to get it."
BONUS: ONE THING WILL ROGERS DIDN'T SAY
“I never met a man I didn’t like.”
Ironically, for somebody who came up with so much Grade A material, most people associate Rogers with a long-lived misquote. In actuality, the full, unaltered line was: “I joked about every prominent man in my lifetime, but I never met one I didn’t like.” A few years before his death in 1935, Rogers proposed it as an epitaph for his tombstone. However, the shortened version does appear chiseled upon his final resting place in Claremore, Oklahoma.