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Back in 2011, between shooting and editing The Avengers, Joss Whedon was supposed to take his wife, producer Kai Cole, on a dream Italian vacation to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Sensing an oncoming crisis of faith in filmmaking — perhaps one reason they’ve been able to achieve 20 years of marriage in an industry that seemingly grinds up and spits out unions just for kicks — she had another idea.

She suggested he finally shoot his dream project, a new black-and-white contemporary spin on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing using the original text with his friends/constant collaborators like Nathan Fillion, Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker and set in his Santa Monica house, during his 12 days off.

“Pretty much making Much Ado was my anniversary present from my wife. It wasn’t so much that she said she’d let me make the movie. She said she was going to make me make the movie,” Whedon explained exclusively to EW at Wednesday night’s Oscars Outdoors screening and Q&A in Hollywood. “We were supposed to go to Venice, [but] she said, ‘I think the best thing for you would be to do Much Ado. We’re ready. We have our micro-budget studio set up. You have a crew. You have a cast. The location is really cheap. And you have a palpable need to reconnect with why you love your job. And Venice isn’t sinking that fast.’ So, yeah, she performed an act of extraordinary sacrifice, and on the first day of shooting, she asked me, ‘Are you happy?’ I smiled so hard that my face broke.”

And her plan did the trick. Whedon went into editing his big-budget superhero comic-book special-effects extravaganza refreshed, and the final product went on to earn $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office. “It was getting back to the nitty-gritty in terms of my life as a storyteller,” Whedon continued. “I was right at the beginning of editing Avengers, and that’s where you are lost in the woods. It’s a rough time, and to do something so pure as Much Ado with people so talented and who accomplished so much so fast, I went back to Avengers excited, and I was like, ‘I know what I need to do now.’ And I had both the energy and the understanding to do it. So yeah, in a way it was a reboot.”

Given that Whedon is currently writing the script for the sequel, he just might find himself in a similar situation as soon as Avengers 2 starts filming. So we asked him and his merry band of players what book or author/playwright Whedon should tackle next if he needs another pre-post-production palate cleanser. Here are their suggestions:

Alexis Denisof: “[Charles] Dickens would be fun, because [Whedon is] wonderful with a whole ensemble of characters and he follows a storyline woven in and out of large communities beautifully, and that certain would apply to Charles Dickens. There’s also nothing Joss can’t turn his hand to and illuminate if he has the desire, if he has something to say about it. He wouldn’t do it for the sake of it. He’s not a show-off.”

Amy Acker: “I can only think of the one book I just finished reading — The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake [by Aimee Bender]. I loved it. It’s about a little girl who can taste emotions so she knows her mom is having an affair from eating cake. I think he’s good at everything and I just want him to direct anything I ever do and I really want to play the mom.”

Clark Gregg: “There are a couple of other Shakespeare plays that I’d like to see him do that are similarly kind of accessible and sexy. Twelfth Night is one I love. The Tempest I also love, and it’s kinda weird. And also I’m a huge [Anton] Chekhov fan and I would love to see that, but I don’t want to talk about that one more, because that is one I actually really want to do with him.”

Nathan Fillion: “Joss can do anything, and as I have established with my career so far, I would be willing to follow him down that rabbit hole. As a rule, I say yes to anything Joss asks of me.”

Tom Lenk: “If he was going to tackle another classic, maybe it should be something like Our Town, which deals with death and other human experiences that Joss is so good at portraying on screen.”

Riki Lindhome: “Maybe John Irving. A Prayer for Owen Meany or a new take on The World According to Garp. I read that book like three times. I think he’d be amazing at making adaptations that finally do the books justice. Most Irving movies are nowhere near as good as the books, the Robin Williams one [Garp] being the big exception.”

Reed Diamond: “My personal fantasy is that we do the entire Shakespeare canon and we’re all invited back. We become the Joss Whedon Shakespeare players and we just run through them. In one you’re a lead, and in another you are second watchman, third henchman or whatever.”

Fran Kranz: “Thomas Pynchon. I’d like to see a Joss Whedon take on Gravity’s Rainbow. Wouldn’t that be f—ed up? I want to also see him do more Shakespeare, since this was such a great experience. Or maybe even do one of the ancient Greeks, like Euripides or Sophocles.”

Joshua Zar: “I was going to say [Eugene] O’Neill. I spent a lot of time in theater so he’s a soft spot for me, and the writing is fantastic. But there’s a lot of stuff that would work well under Joss. [Harold] Pinter even.”

Emma Bates: “Chekhov, for sure. He would be genius. Three Sisters is the one I think he should do. But Uncle Vanya would be great, Cherry Orchard, any of them. I try to convince him to do Three Sisters all the time, and his line is, ‘The only problem is that no one ever wants to play Masha.’ But everyone wants to be Masha. That’s the joke. The fact that he even knows it well enough to make that joke is proof to me that he should do it.”

Ashley Johnson: “I can’t think of something specifically, but I want him to do one that is set in space or on another planet. I really want to see him do another space movie like Firefly and Serenity because that’s my favorite genre of his. I am a huge sci-fi fan, and I think he is really good at telling sci-fi stories in an un-cheesy way. I want Joss to go to space!”

Joss Whedon: “I am a huge Dickens fan, but my problem is that his stuff is so sprawling and I hate those movies where three people have to play the same person. They never work. There’s always one. Like ‘I liked it, but he was kinda weak in his teens.’ The worst is when the kid actor is so amazing and then the person who has to play them as a teenager comes in and is like, ‘Thanks. You left me hanging.’ But I guess I’d still stick with Dickens, because the stories are just so good.”

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Much Ado About Nothing
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