With all of the shows that are on TV and the various movies that have been produced on the subject, are we coming dangerously close to zombie fatigue? Not if Lionsgate has anything to say about it. The latest film in the zombie/horror sub-genre is slated for release by Lionsgate on Friday February 5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a fresh new twist on Jane Austen’s widely celebrated novel. A zombie outbreak has fallen upon the land in this re-imagining of Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England.
A mysterious plague has fallen upon 19th century Great Britain, the land is overrun with the undead. Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) is a master of martial arts and weaponry and the handsome Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) is a staunchly fierce zombie killer and the epitome of upper class prejudice. Putting aside personal pride and social prejudices, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy must unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to rid the country of the zombie menace and discover their true love for one another; all the while conquering the undead once and for all.
We sat down with the stars of the film Lily James and Bella Heathcote at The London West Hollywood in West Hollywood, CA to find out what this interesting new mash-up of genres is all about.
Examiner: Can you first talk about your character, what you saw in her and what you liked about her?
Lily James: I love a lot about her. I also get frustrated a lot by her. I think that Ms. Bennet is just the most wonderful, independent, forward thinking character anyway. And having her in this world where she can fight and beat up Darcy was really liberating and fun. What’s amazing about her is that I love her for her flaws. Not being able to understand her feelings and not being able to connect with Darcy. All those things are really lovable.
Bella Heathcote: I like Jane. I think she’s the most level headed of all the sisters. I think she bares a burden of responsibility for the family, for the behavior of her younger sisters, and I think she also sees the best in people. I think she is painfully shy which doesn’t do her any favors. And I think Lizzy is the only person who even knows her, or knows that she even has a sense of humor, or anything going on prior to really developing a relationship with someone. In this film, I liked that she seems to feel a real burden about killing as well. She doesn’t take it lightly. I think she’s a sweetheart that sees the best in people
E: Tell us about your training, your action training, the most important burden of the
LJ: We all trained really hard. I did a lot of fitness, trying to get really strong, and get my stamina up. And then I did boxing and started focusing on martial arts when we were all together as sisters. And a lot of practice with swords. It took a really long time to get because it had to look convincing like we really could take care of ourselves and kill the zombies.
BH: I’d done boxing. When I moved to LA I started doing boxing because I was so dis-empowered when I first got here. It was great to feel empowered when you go to the gym and beat the crap out of something. [laughs] So, I’d been doing it on and off for years. And then I got really into Kung-Fu about three months before this film started shooting. Then a month before I came out to London training with the sisters, which was great. It was more specific choreography and also learning how to use the weapons and all the other bits and pieces.
E: Coming off of watching the movie I was thinking, “Oh. Maybe more classic material could use a modern twist. Zombies, Vampires.” Like a “War and Peace and Zombies”. Do you think that’s a way to introduce classic material to younger audiences?
BH: That’s funny. We were talking about that yesterday. I totally think that could be because the thing is it’s difficult to say to people, these women are really modern because maybe they speak differently or wear different clothes and people think that’s old fashioned, but it’s not. It is quite modern and zombies are just sugarcoating it. Like the icing on the cake, or “here comes the airplane”. So, I think it’s great. I think zombies should be added to everything, so we all get into the classics.
LJ: And it’s so interesting that when you do turn something on its head, and add zombies to Jane Austen it’s funny how the themes and ideas are even brought to life even more. The strength of these young girls. You find little hidden gems in it. It’s like Shakespeare. It’s so amazing to go to the theater and see it set in completely wild and wonderful settings. I think it should be the same for everything.
E: How did you feel because you save the guys all the time. It’s not the other way around. How was that because it’s probably not very common for an action movie for an actress? And also, how do you see the whole conversation about women’s roles and women’s power.
BH: That’s funny. I was saying that earlier, or at least thinking about it. But to have a film where there’s not one female protagonist, but many, and to all be able to fight. All be action heroines or feel that way, and to be able to save the guys is not just one rarity, but a unicorn film. [laughs] So, I’m hoping there will be another unicorn in the future because you’re right, it is rare. It’s fantastic. It’s so fun to actually be able to save the guy, and not be the damsel or the girl next door.
LJ: Or watching from the sideline.
E: Can you talk about the guys? Especially the Sam Riley and Jack Huston. What was it like to play opposite them?
BH: Terrible. [laughs] No. They were wonderful. With my character, I got to interact with all the different men and they’re all so different. And again having the freedom to be very bold with the scenes, finding the comedy or the sexual frustration or whatever it might be. They’re such wonderful actors. We all are really good friends. The boys were loving it when we were doing the fighting. They were super supportive.
LJ: Yeah. They were into it.
BH: They were so into it. Actually that slow motion bit where us five girls were walking forward is one of my proudest moments because I watch it and think, “Yeah. Come on.”
LJ: And the guys are also on the sidelines cheering us on. I loved the boys. I’d worked with Jack before in another film. And Douglas (Booth) was great because when I first met him I was so in awe of his looks that I was just like, “He can’t be a serious actor. He’s too good looking.” [laughs] And then he’s actually really good. He really takes it seriously. He puts the work in. He was great to play opposite.
BH: I love Doug in this film. I think he was so effervescent and charming
LJ: Because Bingley has to be sweet and charming and a little bit
BH: Damsely. Yeah. We were so lucky with this cast. I think we were pretty early on. I think when I said “Yes” I already knew you were doing it. It was just us two right at the start. And then as it built up it was like, “Wow. Wow. Wow. Such wicked young actors and then Sally Phillips and Charles Dance.” We felt so invigorated by it.
E: I mean Sam Riley, he’s not here today, but Darcy’s not an easy role to play. Big shoes to fill. What can you say about him?
LJ: I went on for ages now going, “He’s so deep and vulnerable and arrogant and Bella was just like–“
BH: And sexy. [laughs]
LJ: And I’m like, “Yeah. Okay.” I think he’s such a great Darcy. I had so much fun working with him. Also, what’s unexpected about Sam, is I didn’t realize he’d be that good at fighting. He was so good and really kind when I really punched him.[laughs].
E: Can you talk about filming process? Was there any injury? And did the training experience help you bond as sisters?
LJ: it definitely formed a bond.
BH: Definitely. We got thrown into this quite intense, quite intimate circumstance early on before we’d even shot anything. So, it was nice to have that to bond over. Particularly for me because I felt like some of the girls already knew each other and I felt like a bit of an outsider from the start so it was nice to have that. And I didn’t have any injuries.
LJ: No. Not anything too damaging. I was pretty bruised and stuff. We got quite bruised on our arms. And funny stories? I had some issues with extras sometimes. I accidentally stamped on someone’s head. I thought it was a dummy. And it was a real person, so that was really bad.
BH: It was amazing. He didn’t even react until afterwards.
LJ: He stayed in character. And also there’s a bit where I’m up on the hill and they’re all running towards me. They just didn’t run out the way of the horse and I thought I was going to literally trample them. It was all so brilliant and dark. There was a hill. I think you can see in the shot I’m going, “Jesus Christ!” I was so scared I was going to trample someone alive on set.
E: How was working with Lena. She’s such a strong character. A very powerful woman.
LJ: Brilliant. We had such a great time. She just came in for a short time to shoot her stuff.
BH: It’s funny. She came on set and it was just like everyone came in that day saying, “I love Lena. I love Lena.” Guys and girls. Everyone was in love with her that day.
LJ: She’s a real legend. What an incredible woman and so fun. I loved how brilliant she was as Catherine with an eye patch. [laughs]
E: Can you talk about the costuming. Because it’s period costuming with a twist, of course. And also, does doing period pieces inform your fashion style somehow?
LJ: I think they did an incredible job at keeping that feel of Jane Austen
BH: With amendments. There were strategic slits so that we could do that kicking and places for us to holster our weapons. I loved the Chinese fighting pajamas. I would wear those.
LJ: He got that eastern kind of feel in the costumes, and also that leather, and that military war feel and I couldn’t believe it when I got to wear black, skin tight trousers. I was like, “This is crazy.”
E: And how was Burr Steers as a director?
BH: He was great because— I knew him prior to this project. He is like a walking encyclopedia. You can ask him a question about anything and he’ll have an answer. So, it was really nice having him as a reference point for the period any concerns you might have about what’s believable or not for the style or the genre. And he was very specific about the tone of the film. And that was my greatest concern going into it because if that tone is mishandled the whole film is going to be a disaster and he was very specific about what he wanted. We all had to play is straight. Any comedy was a byproduct of that. The comedy came out of the circumstances. It’s not out of us trying to wink at the camera. Plus he as a very good sense of humor.
LJ: He’s so funny. So, it was a very relaxed set. And like Bella said, he was very clear about his vision. He’d done the final write up of the script, so he was so control of all of it.
E: Was there any particular scene you find hard or challenging to do?
LJ: There were loads of different challenges along the way. Sometimes it was the acting. Sometimes it was the fighting. Sometimes it was trying to blend the two. Sometimes I found it really difficult. I wanted to keep those traits to Liz Bennet that are so remarkable. I have to really keep that. Sometimes it was hard given the life and death circumstances. Those were my challenges really.
BH: I think some of the fight scenes–I wanted them to be believable so bad. Especially the blacksmith one. That guy walked on set and I was like, “Oh my god.” So, until I found my feet a bit the first half of that day was a bit scary.
LJ: Because when you start training with them you’re like—because I had that with a dude as well at the end—you’re like, “Really?” Because if he mishandles the pressure of the strength or if he throws you a litte hard— you’re really in their hands. You have to trust who you’re fighting with.
E: Did you watch Kung Fu moves before hand?
LJ: I should have.
BH: I really love Stephen Chow films.
E: If Jane Austen could come back as a zombie and watched the movie do you think she’d like it?
BH: I think she would. I honestly think she would. I think she’d be flattered. Basically all the themes that are really prominent in her novel are just heightened in this
LJ: And you can bet that Jane Austen would be a fighter. If there was a zombie apocalypse she’d be talking them down. She’d be proud that her protagonist women are for front and saving the day.
The Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opens on February 5, 2016.
For more information visit the official site and Imdb.
Additional reporting by Izumi Hasegawa