With Much Ado About Nothing releasing on DVD and Blu-ray this Monday, 7 October, Angel and Buffy fans can rejoice as we spoke with Alexis Denisof/Wesley Wyndham-Price who told us all about his latest collaboration with Joss Whedon. The film was put together in the brief breathing space between shooting and post-production of The Avengers which Alexis also had a small part in, but don’t blink or you’ll miss him, unfortunately. He spoke about working with his favourite director and great friend Joss Whedon, Shakespeare and getting the chance to exorcise his demons whilst avoiding a slap to the face. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did…
Joss Whedon modernised this film and adapted it with notable changes in names and even characters, such as Joshua Zar’s Leonato’s Aide which is a combination of three. Are there any other notable changes to the plot or even your own character, Benedick?
We were true to the script. Where there was a change in gender casting, a he might’ve been switched to a she just for things to make sense. Otherwise there were no changes to the script. I mean, oh Lord, why on earth would you want to alter Shakespeare’s play? There were cuts to bring it to the right length and keep the pacing just right. And there was, I think, Conrad who is probably traditionally male but played by a hot female – Riki Lindholme.
I’m not sure why but I assumed there were a few other changes to it.
There are certainly other modernisations if you mean in terms of making it more contemporary but if you mean altering the actual story or the dialogue then no, that all went untouched. It would be sacrilege otherwise. But we are wearing cool suits and it’s shot in a contemporary setting in Joss Whedon’s Santa Monica home. There are cell phones and cupcakes, limousines rather than horses and carriages and ruffled shirts and swords and bucklers. The guys in this are carrying guns.
You’ve obviously known Joss for a really long time and I think you’ve worked with him on pretty much everything he’s done except for Firefly/Serenity, appearing in over a hundred episodes of Angel etc. What attracts you to working with him?
He’s an extraordinary artist, not just as a screenwriter but a phenomenal director, a musician; he’s a true creator. Any time I have the chance to work with Joss it’s usually my greatest creative experience. He brings so many fresh ideas and he has such a unique voice. He’s courageous, he finds things in you as an actor that you may not have known yourself existed, he helps you to challenge yourself but he also protects you. I always know with Joss that, even if he’s urging me to go a place in a scene that I’m not sure about, I trust him, that he knows what’s best – not just for my character but the whole of the piece. Whatever ideas or inventions I want to bring he’s always happy to entertain them! If they work, they go in; if they don’t, he tells me ‘no, let’s try something else.’ I trust him and he makes me feel safe and free.
Whenever you get a call from Joss regarding a project, are you ever sceptical or do you just dedicate yourself instantly to his project?
I have usually said yes before he’s finished the sentence. In fact I said yes before says ‘No, this isn’t a question’ [laughs] ‘I’m not asking you to do something’ and I’m already saying ‘Yes! I want in! I want in! I want to do it, I want to do it!’ Of course, I would do anything for Joss. I owe him so much. Really the best of my career is all down to Joss Whedon and I met my wife on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, thanks to him casting us both in that show. He’s my dear, dear friend and I enjoy him at work, I enjoy him away from work, he’s a great friend; my gratitude knows no bounds.
It’s wonderful to see that the film industry forges such genuine friendships which make collaborations thrive. Joss brings out the best in people and can make anything light-hearted when he wants it to because of the witty script. Has there even been a line that you’ve loved that you had to read or do you ever improvise?
Well he writes such wonderful, wonderful dialogue. I have to say the way my memory works once I’ve shot a scene I tend to press delete. I’ve got to make space for the next one. I’m not great at digging out old gems. The work we do can involve difficult, long hours. You have to surrender a lot of other things in life to do this. So to do it with somebody who makes you laugh and helps you to learn; this is ultimately what we all hope for in our day jobs. With Joss we’re lucky enough to have all those things combined.
You are heavily experienced in Shakespeare yourself because you’ve studied it extensively. Would you like to do more Shakespeare?
I studied in London at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, LAMDA, and my first professional theatre job was a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet with Mark Rylance. I had the great fortune of watching him rehearse and play that role every night. I was awestruck at the mastery of Mark. I have ever since had a deep respect and fondness for the plays of Shakespeare. Any chance I get to read them or to have some part to play in them I’m always grateful. After that I did appear in a few other productions around Britain – either on stage or on film. In LA, they do come along every so often. We would gather at Joss’s house and read Shakespeare from time to time for fun. A few actors, writers, friends, family, just casual readings on a Sunday afternoon. Really out of that is where this film came. Joss enjoyed those readings immensely and planted a seed in his mind of how, if and when, he could shoot a play of Shakespeare’s. Eventually – as time and technology went on – the ability to film quickly and film beautifully arrived with these digital cameras. Also the ability to deliver it to an audience advanced over the years so the Shakespeare readings have come alive in a way in this film.
Considering it was in Joss’s back garden and house, it must have been the most bizarre, yet most fun, work you’ve ever done on a film. Everyone seems to have nothing but happy things to say about it.
Yeah this was unique. To be in someone’s home is unusual enough because a lot of films are shot on a set and there are conveniences about moving sets and moving lights that make it more appropriate to shoot on a stage. Occasionally you do get to shoot in a real house and I always find that reassuring. To be in my friend’s house – a house I’ve been in many times – and to be with my friends doing it gave it a very special quality. The fun we’re having with each other is captured in this film. I think it’s what’s partly made this so appealing to audiences. That, and the relaxed approach we take to it. This is not a lecture on Shakespeare; this is characters brought to life in an organic and natural way and a story that is being enjoyed by those people rather than some Shakespeare productions that become diluted into an academic exercise.
When I last saw The Avengers, I didn’t recognise it was you as The Other in that scene with Tom Hiddleston and I was wondering, if you don’t mind my asking, are roles where you’re completely unrecognisable as an actor a bit of a thankless task?
It’s difficult but I got a specific kind of enjoyment from it. At first I found the prosthetics hugely challenging. It’s suffocating; it was hard to hear; it was hard to see; it was difficult to be able to speak; I had false teeth in; I was covered head to toe in rubber or heavy leather and a lot of costumes. It was a lot to have on. I realised immediately that moving was going to be challenging and expressing myself physically would be difficult. Just walking was difficult, not to mention trying to go to the bathroom as you can imagine. In a way, that’s how I found the voice. I realised that I was going to be hard pressed to do much with my body so I needed to find this character entirely through his voice. That’s how I would portray this peculiar alien. I did work quite a lot to get this kind of scratchy, odd feel about his voice as if speaking at all was not at all how this creature evolved. So once I got thinking about it and I saw where I could apply myself I began to enjoy it. It was a hot day in that outfit and the prosthetics are… I don’t think anyone would ever tell you they’re comfortable because they’re not. I still enjoyed it as an acting experience. Tom is a wonderful partner. He was so supportive and so present in the scene and he had such a lot to do in that movie and I felt very cared for by him in the little moments that I was doing my stuff. I was very appreciative of Tom. Yes it’s a strange experience but it was a really enjoyable one.
If you were asked to return in the second one, would you do it?
Would I do it? Oh I’ll have to think about that. How did the first one turn out?
Not too bad, not too bad. It made a couple of dollars I think.
[Laughs] Yeah, let me check my schedule and get back to you on that. Are you kidding me? My god would I do it! I would do it in a shot.
I’m sure you could convince Joss to write you in.
[Laughs] I don’t know, I may have used up all my credit with him. I dare not ask. I should be so lucky is all I can say on that.
I was watching How I Met Your Mother the other day on Netflix and you popped up as Sandy Rivers with some outrageous lines. How on earth did you become such a detestable yet loveable character? How did you get involved in the series and was it good fun?
I love that character! This character made me laugh the minute I read him and thought about him. I saw him with the heavily made up, slightly orange skin, the absurd bouffant hair, two white teeth. It was liberating to play a man with just no censor and who is a libertine. I admit I kind of love him. I almost wish I could be as outrageous as he is. I know full well it’s completely wrong but that’s sometimes the fun of my job – I get to spend a few minutes in somebody else’s skin exorcising my demons and in this I get to do it in an hilarious way.
Definitely. I wish I could get away with half of the stuff he’s said.
Right? Can you imagine? If you and I said that we’d get a slap across the face. Except I don’t think he’d care. He’s the guy who’s been slapped and says ‘thank you very much that felt good.’
There’s the man himself being as kind and as genuine as you would expect. He spoke with deliberation, avoiding excess and extremely friendly. We can’t recommend enough that you see him as the lead, Benedick, in Much Ado About Nothing which is out on DVD and Blu-ray this Monday, 7 October. It’s a brilliant modernisation of Shakespeare executed by a group of friends and that dynamic certainly shines through.
We’ll leave you with an illustration which showcases where Joss Whedon has used the cast in a number of his other projects: