Since joining Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its third season in 1999, Alexis Denisof has worked as a beloved supporting character in many of Joss Whedon’s subsequent television and film productions. Now, he’s at the center of the Whedonverse.
Denisof starred as the Benedick, the leading man in Whedon’s scrappy, black and white adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which was filmed in the director’s backyard and soared to $183,500 in receipts at five theaters in its opening weekend. It was a great victory for what was a quickly-made passion project, as well as for the 47-year old actor, who is married to another Whedonverse member, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and How I Met Your Mother’s Alyson Hannigan.
Denisof spoke with BuzzFeed shortly before Much Ado was released, in a conversation that covered that film, his role on Angel and other projects.
There was a Lincoln Center screening in New York and it sold out within minutes. It’s a black and white, straight up Shakespeare adaptation shot in someone’s house. Did you ever think there’d be so much anticipation for a movie with those three defining elements?
Alexis Denisof: I can’t believe it. If you’d have told me this a year ago, I’d have said you’re out of your mind, there’s no way people are going to get excited over a Shakespeare movie in black and white with, let’s be honest, people they probably hadn’t heard of, other than maybe Nathan and Clark, but unless you’re fans of Joss Whedon, none of the others in it. I can’t believe it, and we’re all happily astonished at how this is being picked up by people and the excitement that is starting to generate around this movie.
The film is set in his house, and I thought, wow, it’s brave for someone with such a national profile to basically give the world an intimate tour of his home. I remember thinking, “His kids have a lot of stuffed animals,” and it’s almost weird to know that.
AD: At first you sort of think, is this really a good idea? First of all, can you shoot a Shakespeare movie in twelve days, and do you want to do it at your house? It sounds crazy. But Joss is just the right kind of crazy. And he pulled it off in a short amount of time. He had a clear idea of what this movie was and he put together a group of people who love working with each other and know each other and get up to speed quick and there was no pressure because a studio hadn’t put up hundreds of millions of dollars that had to be made back. So everyone who’s there wants to be there, and I think that’s part of what’s on screen, that we’re having a really good time.
Sometimes when movies are put together very quickly, there ends up being a good bit of improv. But obviously, that’s not something you did. Was it difficult to memorize all that intricate Shakespearean dialogue in such a short period of time?
AD: It is a lot of lines for Beatrice and Benedick and some of the other characters, and you don’t want to get them wrong for everyone to see and read, so we didn’t feel that we could or should improvise with the dialogue. But in a way, it leaves you free in so many other ways, because once you get the words and you know what you’re saying and you know what they mean, then that’s locked in. Joss doesn’t have to do re-writes, we don’t have to wonder if there’s a problem in the writing. The writing is magnificent, so if a scene isn’t working, then we’re the ones having the problem, not the writer.
You’ve worked with Joss for quite a while, from back in the days when his work had mostly a cult audience. Now ABC is promoting a Joss Whedon show as its top newcomer, making a big deal of him. Was it weird to see that, him being so heralded by a network?
AD: For sure. We back in the day felt like the underdog. We were hanging on for dear life and when Angel got canceled, it was a great disappointment because we had quite a few years of story left to tell. But in those days, genre was a dirty word, and boy times have changed. I think it’s a good thing, there’s room out there for everybody, and it’s taken networks a long time to realize just how big that audience is, and to realize that Joss is more than just a genre writer-director. That while Buffy and Angel might have seemed a little bit cult-like, what he really is is a fantastic mainstream blockbuster movie maker. And I think Avengers really changed the perception of him in the industry.
They keep bringing old shows back, like Arrested Development. Would you be open to that for Angel or is it best to let it be?
AD: I think if it’d been 12 or 18 months you may have been able to resurrect that show, but I think now there’s too much water under the bridge to try to bring Angel back. For people that know Angel and love it, whatever you did now, it couldn’t and wouldn’t be what it was. And if you don’t know Angel, there are a bunch of shows that are out there now that are direct descendants of Angel and owe a great deal to Buffy and Angel and they are already here and they’ve already got a lot of eyeballs on them. I just don’t know if there would be a need for it. At the time Buffy and Angel were being made, they were pretty off on their own in a wilderness that we all knew and love and people who knew and loved were turned onto it, but it wasn’t what TV networks were greenlighting. It was only because Joss was so damn good at it that they just had to put it on TV and because the fans were so passionate and so loyal, it just couldn’t be denied. It’s hard to imagine now. It would have to be a complete reboot if you brought Angel back, and it would have a whole different look and I think it would have different actors and a different purpose and style, and I don’t know that it would be a successful decision.
Would you watch that?
AD: I’d probably check it out, sure. And if only for the novelty and then I’d probably get hooked on it and then be kicking myself that they didn’t ask me to be in it.
Who do you think should play you in it, who would you cast as Wesley?
AD: That’s such a hard question, to ask me to recast myself! I don’t know if I can give you an answer on that one. I can tell you that over the course of those five seasons, the journey of that character was so extraordinary and extreme that maybe you hire three or five actors to play it, one for each season or season and a half. He really went through it a lot.
You now have a small role in the Marvel Universe, which has a similarly devoted fanbase. Everyone’s always speculating about what’s going to happen in it, and I imagine even some participants don’t know. Do you just get a phone call one day and they tell you to come down to set?
AD: Well it’s a little longer than one day before, and I wouldn’t be allowed to say anything, but I don’t know anything is the real truth, and I would be the last one to find out if I was involved. The Marvel Universe is a big universe and it’s expanding rapidly and they have a lot of options on the table. It’s exciting.
Well you do have your web-series, H+, and those are becoming more and more prominent. Do you worry about the format going into it, since it’s still pretty new, or do you just dive right into it?
AD: Well I just follow the writing, and they sent me the script that I got 20 pages into it and I got completely hooked. And I couldn’t imagine how they would shoot it, for the web or anything else, because it seemed impossible, but it made me want to meet these guys and once I met them, I thought like, god, maybe they could do it. There was a degree of risk, I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out, but I had this strong feeling that I wanted to be a part of it because I was attracted to its script. Web programming is still in its early days even now, although more ad money is coming in and when ad money comes in, higher quality content follows.
H+ is extremely high quality, I think it holds its own against television and film and its look and feel, and I’m happy about that because not all web programming does. But that’s okay, not all web programming does; what’s great about the web is that it’s whatever you make of it, and if people like it and watch it, great. And if they don’t, it doesn’t really matter, there’s nothing at stake yet. It’s not a TV network, if no one is watching the shows it’ll go away, and movie studios are spending a huge amount of money and if no one goes watch their movies, they’re going to go bust. But the web doesn’t operate like that and I think it’s great that there is still a place where you can bring any kind of content you want and hopefully they’ll find it.
H+ is in the works for a second series and I’m definitely excited and looking forward to hearing what happens to series two.
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