Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Talking to Lily James, Sam Riley, and more
Our visit to the set of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES came at the perfect juncture in filming as we were present thirty-three days into the forty day shoot. Several of the cast including Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Charles Dance, and Matt Smith were not present for filming, but we were able to watch the filming of scenes prominently placed in the trailers for the film, including the scenes before and during a zombie battle at a banquet. The scenes featured not only some dramatic interaction between characters living and undead but also the swift eradication of quite a number of zombies. I can say with certainty that this was a bloody epic fight scene and one that will definitely look awesome on the big screen.
In between shooting, we were given access to the main cast, including all of the Bennet sisters as well as Sam Riley, Douglas Booth, and writer/director Burr Steers. They shared quite a bit of insight into what makes PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES more than an adaptation of a popular parody and more of an inspired take on classic literature.
Suki Waterhouse, Bella Heathcote, Millie Brady, and Ellie Bamber are Girls Who Kick Some Undead Butt
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES centers on the Bennet family. While Lily James' Elizabeth may take the forefront, the rest of the sisters have their unique traits and help the family work as a team to defeat the undead uprising. We got to speak with each of the sisters about their take on their iconic roles and how it differs in this alternate Regency period.
Millie Brady may not be instantly recognizable, but with roles in LEGEND and Guy Ritchie’s upcoming KNIGHTS OF THE ROUNDTABLE: KING ARTHUR, she is on her way. Her character, Mary Bennet, is still the same bookworm from the Austen novel, but Brady says she now has more “pizang” about her. It allows her to be the Mary everyone knows from the original book but gives her another dimension. She is known in the book as the sister who doesn’t get to shine, but now she is comfortable with who she is and it gives her an air of confidence. She praised the unique costumes as well.
“When we are standing you can’t tell, but when the action scenes kick in, they sling back and the fight slits in the dress do their thing.”
DARK SHADOWS actress Bella Heathcote talked about the weapons they got to use such as daggers and swords. Heathcote mentioned a scene where her character, Jane Bennet, gets to snap off a candlestick and use it to bash a zombie over the head.
Ellie Bamber plays Lydia Bennet, the cheeky little sister who is saucy. Bamber keeps her character as flirtatious and desiring marriage before her sisters. Despite killing zombies, there is still plenty of time in their lives to attend balls and dances and explore the romantic side of their lives. It becomes difficult, according to Waterhouse, because the men are threatened by their ferocity and forwardness.
Suki Waterhouse portrays Kitty, the quiet and “ugly” sister. Giggly normal girls by day but then turn into talented fighters by night. They become fiery. They have been born into this lifestyle, so they take it in stride. Kitty uses a sword over daggers. They also praised the costumes, calling them iconic. They have frilly, girly clothing, but it looks cool, something not often mentioned in the same sentence as period drama.
Douglas Booth Doesn't Fight Zombies, But He Has A Good Heart
Booth’s most high profile roles to date have been lead roles in 2013’s ROMEO & JULIET and supporting turns in Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH and The Wachowskis’ JUPITER ASCENDING. No stranger to period drama, Booth appears in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES as Mr. Bingley. According to the actor, Bingley is not the best fighter, but his wife is as is his best friend, Mr. Darcy. Booth describes Bingley as having an amazing heart and is a good person, but that blinds him to the zombie carnage going on around him.
While not a fan of zombie films, Douglas Booth counts horror films like THE SHINING and SHAUN OF THE DEAD amongst his favorites. He prefers his horror to be psychological rather than gory or violent but the balance of those with the drama in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is what drew him to the role of Bingley.
“I really do think that these emotional beats really stand up. Burr has come in and cast people like Lily James, one of the most sought after actresses out there. Sam Riley…really talented actors who can take the source material and really make it work. You have seen zombie movies before, but not like this. I can’t wait to see it myself.”
Booth played Darcy in a school production of the Austen novel but at 22 years old is a bit young for the role being tackled by Sam Riley in this film. He avoided watching prior adaptations of Pride and Prejudice to avoid other performances from influencing his portrayal. But, like many of the cast, Booth revisted the source novel for inspiration. He also referenced that director Burr Steers pulled his screenplay not just from the Austen novel but the author’s letters and other historical records. This is not just a zombie film, but is truly Pride and Prejudice.
“It is going to be fresh, new, and different because you have a very different and talented group…especially with the zombies.”
Tone is the most important thing according to Booth. While he questioned where this film could have gone before he joined, the finished product will speak for itself. He also praised the badass women in the cast. While some characters, like Bingley’s sisters, disapprove of the Bennet girls fighting like men, it helps address the class and social issues inherent in Austen’s original book.
Best known for his breakout role in CONTROL and ON THE ROAD, Riley’s biggest exposure Stateside has been as Diaval in MALEFICENT. Now,Riley gets to bring a twist to a classic character from literature while also playing an action hero role. When asked about his version of the character played previously by Laurence Olivier, Peter Cushing, Colin Firth, and Matthew MacFayden, Riley says his Darcy has “exactly the same pride and repression as the Jane Austin character, but he is also a zombie killing expert.” He is particularly resolute in his hatred and wanting to wipe out the zombies due to the death of his father. He is not popular, but he is rich.
Riley never read earlier versions of the script, but he did read the Austen novel. He told us that he read the first fifteen pages and knew he wanted the role. The romance is still there and played dramatically even if zombies are added into the scene. This version is slightly more militant than the novel. Riley’s mother loves the book and when he asked which version he should use to anchor his performance and she said the only version worth seeing is the BBC version. When asked what inspired his take on the role, Riley said
Colin Firth, Alex from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Sean Connery from DR. NO, and the voice of James Mason.
Sam Riley had training in horse riding, swordplay, martial arts, speech and more. This is a lower budget film, so there were not the luxuries of a big studio film, meaning it was more of a crash course in preparing for the role beyond what you would do for a traditional literary adaptation. This way, Riley gets to play an iconic character and an action hero at the same time. Riley hopes that the mix of drama, romance, and action could widen the audience for the Austen story.
“It could end up that a lot of boys who would never watch Pride and Prejudice find themselves watching it and enjoying while watching young lovelies tearing it up.”
The class structure of Regency England is still a major factor in the story with the zombies existing as a new class. The layers of society still inform the story (training in “lowly” China versus “classy” Japan). The film could be written off by many as a joke, but they are trying to avoid it from being campy while still feeling the romantic elements and persuading the viewer into believing this is a realistic era in British history.
Riley finished up the interview by telling us if it was a fight between his Mr. Darcy and Colin Firth’s benchmark portrayal, Riley feels he would win but would still get his ass kicked by Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James). And, in the event of a real zombie apocalypse, Riley would follow his British roots by getting drunk and hoping the undead would think he was one of them.
Lily James On Going From Downton Abbey and CINDERELLA To Fighting Zombies
The biggest star in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is easily Lily James. While James may not have the name recognition of some of her Doctor Who or Game of Thrones co-stars, the Downton Abbey actress broke out in 2015 thanks to her lead role in Kenneth Branagh's live action adaptation of Disney's CINDERELLA. Unlike any of her previous projects, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is a departure for the young star and a welcome change of pace from what she has been appearing in for the last few years.
The three scenes we were on set for took over five hours to film. A very cold and damp night, it was not until close to midnight that we finally had our chance to speak with James. The actress was just as radiant in person as she appears on screen and was smiling and happy to speak with us about the role of Liz Bennet. James confessed that she had never heard of the novel before seeing the script. After she read the script, James then read the Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel while on the set of Downton Abbey. Naturally, she loved the project and the prospect of doing something very different than the films she has been associated with in her career. James told us she has been drawn to period films and aspired to follow in the footsteps of actresses like Kate Winslet, but she was ready to do something outside of her comfort zone.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES afforeded that chance. There was lots of stuntwork to prepare for, primarily with the martial arts and blades Liz Bennet employs through the movie. Lily had not endured any injuries on set, but she hurt others, including Sam Riley. While it was nothing serious, most of the cast were left with bruises throughout the production. James discussed some of the anachronistic changes in the film, such as the costumes. Traditionally more demure and confining, she talked about how the dress informs the movie.
“This is not restricting…you can see in the costumes there is a slight edge, a slight indie…a sexier, cooler edge. It feels more free.”
Lily showed us that her character has a dagger or sword on her at all times, hidden in her dress. She smiled at the fact that she is getting to let out her pent up rage in this film. Overall, James told us that this is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and just happens to have zombies. This is a film that will appeal to horror fans, romantics, anglophiles, and even teens who may not be looking for a traditional dramatic study of class and society.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES hits theaters on February 5th, 2016.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...