Getting the opportunity to visit any set is a treat, but as a big fan of Seth Grahame-Smith’s unique spin on the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice, I was especially excited to hit the set of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in England back in November 2014.
Similar to the Jane Austen original, the film focuses on the Bennet sisters – Jane (Bella Heathcote), Elizabeth (Lily James), Mary (Millie Brady), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) and Lydia (Ellie Bamber). They all feel the pressure to find an eligible bachelor and get married, but in this version of the story there’s another major concern – a zombie outbreak. Fortunately their father (Charles Dance) made a point of sending them to China to train so now when they’re not dressing up and attending balls, they’ve got no problem beheading some “unmentionables” themselves.
During my time on set I got the chance to participate in roundtable interviews with James, Heathcote, Brady, Waterhouse, Bamber, Sam Riley (Mr. Darcy), Douglas Booth (Mr. Bingley), director Burr Steers, and producers Allison Shearmur and Sean McKittrick. You can check out the list of “things to know” from those interviews below as well as a recap of the scene they were working on that evening and my thoughts on the footage shown.
In this case, judging a book by its cover turned out to be a good thing. McKittrick began by breaking down how he wound up scoring the rights to the book. “The true story is, an agent called me and said, ‘We just submitted this book to the studios and I thought you in particular would like it.’” About three or four months before the book was published, this agent e-mailed McKittrick a copy of it. “I just saw the cover of it that we all know now and I immediately called my attorney and said, ‘Just prepare an offer for the morning,’ and I hadn’t read it.” He added, “I literally judged a book by its cover. I mean, he gave me the little agent pitch on it but I saw the cover, Natalie Portman was involved and it just made complete sense and I read the book that night and we sent the offer in the morning.”
Regardless of McKittrick’s enthusiasm, it still took a while to get the movie off the ground. When asked why they finally scored a green light now, Shearmur explained, “It was just the confluence of the right script, the right filmmaker, the right actors.” She continued, “I’m glad it sat on a shelf for a really long time and I’m really glad we didn’t get a call from Marc Butan at Panorama until we did because a lot of things changed in the meantime, and the biggest thing that changed is another movie franchise I’ve been involved with called The Hunger Games. So having young females at the center of an action movie in a kind of boy context is something that people believe. And then there was Divergent, and then there was Lucy, so no longer are we trying to convince people to make a movie about five girls that kick ass.”
It’s satirical, it’s an action movie, it’s romantic – so what exactly is the tone of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Shearmur began, “The biggest thing with this movie was always gonna be the tone. I really enjoyed the book and I think Burr [Steers] did a phenomenal job with the screenplay and the screenplay seems to integrate an emotional story that follows the classic beats of Pride and Prejudice but there are zombies.” Steers noted that reinserting the original Pride and Prejudice into the story was key when writing the screenplay. “I think that always works as a template, Pride and Prejudice. The other versions were really broad. And sort of my mantra on it was the big wink of the movie was not to wink, was to play it straight, which is what I’ve tried to do with it.” He also added, “The idea was to create this sort of alternate world where this pandemic has taken place and then to stage Pride and Prejudice in it. That doesn’t sound very funny, but it is because ultimately it’s absurd but you play it straight. No one’s playing it hitting punchlines and things like that.”