On February 5th, manners will meet the macabre in Screen Gems' Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the upcoming film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's novel of the same name. At Comic-Con last week, Daily Dead participated in roundtable interviews with the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies director and cast, who discussed the film's physicality, investable characters, formidable zombies, and much more.
Writer/director Burr Steers on his vision for the film:
Burr Steers: It was actually something I knew was out there because a lot of people had taken shots at trying to get it made. I looked at it and had a take on it that I was really confident would work. I went in there and rewrote it, and made it happen.
I saw it in my mind the way you'd approach a play. We'd set up this alternate world where there's a zombie pandemic that had taken place about 70 years earlier, and everyone had grown up with that element in their lives. Create that world and then stage Pride and Prejudice in that world. In the way that if you were doing Richard III, you might set it up in Germany, to bring something new out of it.
It really was about style coming out of substance and to have you invested in these characters so that when they're at risk, you really are worried about them. The risk seems real and it's not cheesy—zombies are dangerous.
Steers on the influence of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend:
Burr Steers: From a literary standpoint, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend was a big template for me, and the idea that they [the zombies] were still retaining some of who they were as people, that there's a brain working there. It's not just some mindless thing walking around waiting to get decapitated. They're more formidable. Also, now they're getting to the point where they can pass, and they don't view themselves as monsters. They view themselves as a competing race with the human race, that was more interesting to me. There is so much in I Am Legend. For all the film versions of it, I don't think it's ever been filmed.
Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth on playing Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, respectively:
Bella Heathcote: As soon as I met the girls, we unconsciously fell into those roles. I definitely felt like the old, responsible one trying to wrangle and make sure everyone's going to be okay, and that translates into the film. Jane is that. She definitely feels responsible for her sisters, she feels a sense of propriety that exists more than they do. She feels worried about them and worried for her parents. She sees the best in people and she's optimistic, but she also has a quiet wisdom about her because she can see what Lizzy can't, which is the love that's right in front of her.
Douglas Booth: Yeah, I did go and visit the old ones for inspiration. I went to back to the original source material and then I read Seth's [Grahame-Smith's] book. I've been highlighting stuff about him [Mr. Bingley]. Bingley would be the last person at the bar, always handing out drinks, which isn't hard to me. I found who he was and I really wanted to get to know [Mr. Darcy, Sam Riley's character], so I hung out with Sam a lot, so we had that bond. I felt that was really important, that me and Sam—me and Darcy—felt really close.
It has to work, it has to feel like for him trying to persuade me to not be with Jane at the beginning of the story—it has to be genuine.
Heathcote on the similarities between Jane Bennet in the film and Jane from Austen's Pride and Prejudice:
Bella Heathcote: The Jane in both this version and the original holds quite true. Those aspects of her personality—her sense of responsibility, her quiet wisdom, wanting to see the best in people—all those qualities have transpired into a world where the stakes are higher. She does feel responsible, but it's a life and death matter and maybe their love is even more important because of that, because at the end of the day, if you're in that kind of situation it's the relationships, it's love that's most important, not all the other stuff of the times.
Heathcote on the physicality of the film:
Bella Heathcote: I loved it. I love channeling my anxiety into something positive, so I got really into it. I did about four months of kung fu training and then came and did about a month in London with all the other girls, which is great because it's also a good bonding exercise. It's really fun to use your body and to feel empowered in that way, and to have different weapons and things to play with.
Jack Huston and Matt Smith on acting in a period piece with zombies:
Jack Huston: It was a lot of fun. Instantly you're realizing you're making a zombie movie, but it is Jane Austen, so it's very easy to turn the comedic element of it. But you play the realism as much as you can.
Matt Smith: But I didn't get to fight any zombies, you see, whereas these guys all got some classic fights.
It's [Pride and Prejudice] one of those things that's embedded in the fabric of the nation, therefore there's a familiarity to it. But with this movie it's important that that love story and that central Pride and Prejudice-ness is really there, but also we have zombies, which is an added element.
Jack Huston: It's not sacrificing anything of the original novel from Jane Austen. It keeps up with everything. All of the same elements, all of the same journey, all the characters. Yet it has this wonderful added element of the undead. So you're getting a bit more, in a way. I hate to say that because it's quite hard to sort of up Jane Austen.
Huston on his favorite dance scene from the film:
Jack Huston: Matt's my favorite when you're talking about dancing. I think that might be one of my favorite scenes is you [Matt] dancing. It's just the best. And after it, it's the jump that you do. That dance scene—it's one of the funniest and the most brilliant in the movie. It is actually something that makes you laugh out loud. It's really, really well done. It's hard to do those things, to do something unique and original. I think you [Matt] killed that one.
Smith on the film's fight scenes:
Matt Smith: With anything, you have to go one better. And I think with this, the fight scenes are hopefully really fantastic. The fact that it's the girls that are totally the empowered characters is a wonderful thing. They really get to sort of swish and kick and it's sexy.
Sam Riley and Lily James on the seamless nature of the film:
Sam Riley: The zombies didn't arrive for the first couple of weeks, so it almost felt like we were doing Pride and Prejudice for awhile... with samurai swords. And then they arrived. It never seemed ridiculous. It just seemed to fit.
Lily James: Yeah. That's really a testament to this script and to Burr as well. The world we were in was really clear right from the start. It feels like Pride and Prejudice was always missing zombies.
Sam Riley: Yes, it was. Mr. Darcy has been played so well by other actors, and I wouldn't really have ever wanted to do it straight.
James on the weapon-wielding Bennet sisters:
Lily James: It was intricate. It was a lot of work—all the fighting and the routines. One of my favorite moments is when the five Bennet sisters storm into the dance hall and we walk in in this triangle. Basically, we look like The Powerpuff Girls. And we beat the crap out of every single zombie in the room and it was brilliant, while the men sit and watch.
I like the samurai sword. They promised me they were going to send it to me. I don't know where Michael stuck it. It's quite the thing to mail. I always had two swords, a long one and a short one—a dagger. We had weapons hidden everywhere over our bodies.
Riley on how the film retains the classic story's genuine central romance:
Sam Riley: The love story between Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet—it remains believable and true, and as romantic as it is in the other versions. But then, as Lily says, there's this heightened level when having the zombies there that everything's more a matter of life and death.