Earlier this year, Joss Whedon released a little film called Marvel's The Avengers. As of this weekend it had earned one and a half billion dollars - that's "billion" with a B - at the global box office.
But he's in Toronto to launch Much Ado About Nothing, which he made during The Avengers' lengthy post-production period. A black-and-white modern-dress adaptation of Shakespeare's romantic farce populated by members of Whedon's informal repertory company - Angel's Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, Firefly's Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher, Dollhouse's Reed Diamond and Fran Kranz, The Avengers' Clark Gregg and Ashley Johnson - it's modest where the other picture was massive.
"There's nothing wrong with a big success," says the filmmaker, easing onto a big couch at the Maison Mercer the day after the movie's TIFF world premiere.
"As Jack Buchanan says in The Band Wagon, ‘There is nothing as soothing as a smash hit.' But then you have an experience like this, which, to me, is a different, personal kind of success. The entire cast flew themselves out to do this - and showed up to do it in the first place! When I look at them, I realize I have created something - I'm a part of this troupe, this family. I just feel so lucky; I feel like I did somethin' right. And I've done plenty wrong, but this is an absolute good."
To save money and make the twelve-day shoot as efficient as possible, Whedon chose to make Much Ado in his own home. He swears that's not as crazy as it sounds.
"Deciding to film in your house means you can walk around with a glass of wine and go, ‘move that!'" he laughs. "The location scout was maybe my favourite ever."
Whedon is the sort of creative force with whom actors love to work; everyone juggled their schedules to be available for the Much Ado shoot on very short notice. I ask him whether there's anything he does with actors that other writers and directors don't.
"The safety of a set is sacred to me," he says after a moment's thought. "You know, I never studied directing; I never really studied writing. I don't know some secret language; I was like, ‘I don't know the handshake! I'm not gonna be able to direct!'
"But what I understand is what an actor wants to know. ‘Why am I doing this, and how should it come out?' And ‘Will I be safe to try something strange?' And ‘Will I be asked to do more?' I don't come at it from any other standpoint than that; I come at it from, ‘How can I help you the most? I can't manipulate you, or bully you, or explain things to you in some visual, crazy way. I can only say, ‘You are sad now. But the scene has to be funny. So how are we gonna combine those things?'
"Just clarity and honesty has gotten me so far," he says. "And these extraordinary actors? I give them notes, and I guide them, but the point is they were all that good when I met them. My talent is just in knowing that."
Much Ado About Nothing screens Friday (September 14), 11 am, Visa Screenig Room (Elgin)