Alexis Denisof: I'd Lay Down My Life For Joss
Quite often an actor will say a single audition changed their life. But Alexis Denisof shudders to think about what his life would be had he not landed the role of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1999. That guest spot led to several professional highlights in the Whedonverse (Angel, Dollhouse, The Avengers) and three massive personal highlights: he met wife Alyson Hannigan in Sunnydale and they now have two daughters together.
Starting this Friday, you can see Denisoff's latest collaboration with Joss Whedon as Much Ado About Nothing hits theaters, and features the single greatest assemblage of Whedonverse acolytes in history: Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher and Tom Lenk co-star.
I caught up with Denisof to talk about bringing this unique vision of Shakespeare to the big screen, what it was like to reunite with his one-time TV love and how it feels to be on Joss Whedon's speedial.
ETonline: Joss has been staging informal readings of Shakespeare plays in his home for a while, right?
Alexis Denisof: Yeah. It's been so much fun over the years reading these plays and goofing off with them; there are no rules, you just show up, have a light brunch and read this play. If you want to do a silly accent, that's OK -- there's no failing. And I think that sense of freedom infused itself into making this film. It gave all of us a relaxation with the material and the group. That, and, we had so little time to actually make this movie, so it was liberating in many ways because you basically had to move on quickly to the next scene; you couldn't nitpick or be precious about what you'd just done.
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ETonline: How comfortable with Shakespearean prose were you aside from that?
Denisof: I studied at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, so I was exposed to Shakespeare on his doorstep, as it were. And my first professional theater job was a production of Hamlet at The Royal Shakespeare Company. So it's safe to say I had an experience and a familiarity and a comfort. But on the other hand, I had a feeling of responsibility. Classical theater is, in some corridors of Britain, a burden of responsibility to do right by the masters. So those readings also freed me of that and allowed me to go back and have fun playing with the material. I think we came up with our own voice; both as individuals and a collection of actors. There were things I wanted to do and try with my Benedick that I hadn't necessarily seen before, but felt that, because of the readings, it could be pulled off.
ETonline: This incarnation of Much Ado did feel different than any other I can recall. For one thing, it's incredibly funny.
Denisof: I agree. As I watch it, I see the fun and the looseness that was happening on set. I see that captured on film and it makes me smile. I think the approach makes Shakespeare less intimidating and more approachable. Maybe somebody with a P.H.D. in classical theater, who wants a perfect rendition that is true to what we speculate as Elizabethan theater might take issue with what we've done, but Shakespeare is such a phenomenal writer, he shines through in this production more than any of the actors -- and maybe even more than Joss. It's not that I think Joss Whedon is the Shakespeare of our time, I think Shakespeare was the Joss Whedon of his time. He goes to the heights of comedy and the depths of tragedy; he's not afraid to mix light and dark at the same time. This movie has all of that and it has its own style and it's confident and courageous and very easy to enjoy. It's not intimidating but it's stylish and artistic without being snobby. I'm proud of it. I really am.
TRAILER: Much Ado About Nothing
ETonline: It was also so wonderful seeing you and Amy reprising your lovers roles. What was it like to reunite on-screen with her?
Denisof: It was such a joy. Amy and Joss and I have a special chemistry when we work together. When the three of us are in a room rehearsing, something magical takes place. I'm so lucky to be working with them and it's a special pleasure to work on any material with those two. And, of course, for the fans of Wesley & Fred's relationship, this movie is a special treat because we get a happy ending [laughs]. I mean, I'm a fan of the blue hair, but it was a sweet byproduct. And incidentally, my first introduction to Amy was in the context of a Shakespeare scene.
ETonline: How so?
Denisof: Joss wrote an audition scene, in iambic pentameter, for Amy's network screentest, which Amy, J. August and I shot the first day I ever met her. It was based loosely on the characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where J. August and myself fought over the affections of this new character, which ended up becoming a major storyline in the series. Although at that time, we did it in the Elizabethan poetry of Joss Whedon. So it's a nice full-circle that the three of us have come back to Shakespeare.
ETOnline: Do you feel that full circle sentiment in regards to working with Joss as well?
Denisof: I do. It's quite extraordinary and honestly, it's difficult to put the gratitude I have for that man into words. The experience of learning from him and collaborating with him and becoming friends and sharing our work lives and our social lives really amazes me. I can't imagine my life or career without Joss. But of course when I auditioned for Wesley, I had no idea what journey was ahead for me. I mean, there are quite a few of us who've benefited from Joss being alive, but perhaps no one more than me. He's a special person, a special talent; I would lay down my life for Joss Whedon.
Much Ado About Nothing opens June 7.