By Jeffrey Hodgson
TORONTO (Reuters) - Joss Whedon's blockbuster comic book smash "The Avengers" would seem to have little in common with William Shakespeare.
The writer and director, however, also known for creating the cult TV hit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," calls the legendary playwright a major influence, visible in much of his work from the banter of his superheroes to the structure of his stories.
Such is his admiration, that in the wake of delivering "The Avengers" - the biggest movie hit of 2012 - Whedon has adapted "Much Ado About Nothing," a low-budget black-and-white labor of love devoted to the Bard that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.
"I find myself aping his rhythms and occasionally stealing his phrases, without even realizing it most of the time," Whedon told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
"Shakespeare's not afraid to go from high drama to low comedy in a heartbeat, and to ping-pong back and forth between them in a scene, which is something else that I took from him in my own work."
FILMED IN DIRECTOR'S HOME
Shot over 12 days in Whedon's own house in Santa Monica, California, during a break from his work on "The Avengers," "Much Ado About Nothing" features performers from Whedon's past television series including "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly."
The movie originated from readings of Shakespeare Whedon and spouse Kai Cole would host at their home while his TV shows were still in production.
But it was Cole, also a producer on the film, who encouraged Whedon to use his time off from "The Avengers" to do a smaller project shot in black and white on digital cameras.
"There was times when I was, like, 'This is a terrible idea. I've gone mad,' but it's always been the way with me ... apparently that's what I do for fun," he said.
"I have a condition called workaholism that is very deadly, and useful," he added.
While the film sticks closely to the text of the play, the characters wear modern clothes, drive cars and talk on cell phones. Scenes are shot in a child's bedroom and a swimming pool, lending the project a do-it-yourself quality.
"People who are (Shakespeare fans) are going to see a pretty specific and occasionally radical take on it. But I hope everybody will realize it comes from a great love of a great text," said Whedon.
The movie's sight gags generated laughter at its debut screening in Toronto. And an early review in Variety called it "an inspired example of Shakespeare-on-a-shoestring."
"It really is the classic romantic comedy. It's the romantic comedy off of which all modern romantic comedy is built. So there is an in for people. I do not expect it to make $1.5 billion dollars," he said, referring to the worldwide box office of "The Avengers."
'AVENGERS' SEQUEL IN WORKS
Whedon, 48, has agreed to write and direct an "Avengers" sequel for Walt Disney Co, expected to appear in May 2015. But the filmmaker said he could disclose few details about the highly anticipated movie.
"It's still in the story stage. But I've been working on it pretty much from about an hour before I said, 'Let's make a deal.' It just caught fire with me," he said.
"We're hard at work. We would like to be not as rushed as we were with the first one."
The New York-born founder of his own production company, he might also direct the pilot for a TV series based on Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. espionage agency.
Other projects at various stages of development include a sequel to Internet musical "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and a web series called "Wastelanders" he is writing with comics author Warren Ellis.
"Basically I have too much to do, but I can work with too much. Too much is O.K.," he said.
(Editing by Christine Kearney and M.D. Golan)