Nathan Fillion
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To hear Nathan Fillion  tell it, when Joss Whedon  recruited him to play Dogberry  in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,”  Fillion was expecting a much more … modest production.

It was a reasonable expectation.

After all, the plan was to shoot the movie digitally over 12 days at Whedon’s house, while Whedon was on a two-week break in the middle of directing “The Avengers.”  And the idea grew out of a series of low-key “Shakespeare brunches” Whedon held at his house, where his actor friends would come over and read aloud from the Bard’s plays. Fillion had attended a couple of them.

“I was around when Joss said, ‘I think we should film one of these,'” recalls the “Castle”  star. “And, being the stupid guy that I am, I thought he meant…. film us  reading it.

“But,” he says, deadpan, “I was wrong about that.

“When we got there,” recalls Fillion, “the shock for a lot of people, and myself, was that he’d said, ‘Oh, we’re gonna film it in my backyard’ — but it was a production by anyone’s gauge. You’ve got three cameras rolling, and lights … and the catering was some of the better I’ve seen in my career. Joss said, ‘Yeah, I can’t do anything small.'”

Whedon’s “Much Ado” opens in Portland this Friday (June 21) at Cinema 21.  It’s an exceedingly charming black-and-white confection that gathers a team of all-stars from Whedon’s various TV shows and movies (including Amy Acker,  Alexis Denisof,  Clark Gregg,  Fran Kranz,  Sean Maher  and Fillion) to interpret the play in modern dress. Its unforced confidence is slightly astonishing, given that the production was squeezed into Whedon’s house on a microbudget during the two weeks he wasn’t making one of the biggest blockbusters in movie history.

One of the film’s highlights is Fillion, who plays “Much Ado”‘s clown, the idiot constable Dogberry, as a straight-faced wannabe cop who can’t conduct a linear interrogation to save his life. Fillion’s deadpan, Caruso-esque  approach (more on this in a second) is hilarious, and the polar opposite of Michael Keaton’s  barn-broad, Python-inspired  interpretation of the character in Kenneth Branagh’s  much-loved 1993 version.

The Oregonian talked with Fillion about “Much Ado”; how he learned to like the Bard; how he’s dealt with fans in a long TV career that includes “One Live to Live,”  Whedon’s sci-fi cult fave “Firefly”  and the smash hit “Castle”; and the advantages of Twitter, where at last count his followers at @NathanFillion numbered nearly 1,800,000. An edited transcript follows.

There are a million ways to play Shakespearean clowns — back in ’93, Keaton went in a big, totally insane direction, and audiences loved it. You played it as this really dumb but officious cop who’s quietly insane, and audiences are loving that, too. What led your approach?

A. Well, first of all, I made sure not to watch anyone else’s Dogberry. I didn’t want it to be tainted by anything else.

But you have a guy who’s stupid but doesn’t know it. Which is, I think, true for stupid people: Stupid people don’t know  that they’re stupid — they think they’re the smartest guy in the room. So number one: Play it smart.

Number two: This is a guy who probably couldn’t become a cop, so he’s a security guard instead — but probably loves to play cop. So I made sure to put in some heavy overtones of “C.S.I. Miami”  David Caruso. [Read the full interview]

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