The Carroll News participated in a conference call interview with Lily James, Matt Smith; Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth, the cast of the comedy horror film “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” based on the 2009 novel by Seth Grahame-Smith that parodies “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.
Q: How surprised were you when you heard the title for the film?
Matt Smith: I was very surprised, actually. It’s quite interesting if you add zombies to any story, but somehow it makes the stakes more dynamic. I picked up the script and I read it and I thought it was an interesting spin on a classic tale.
Lily James: Yes, I was pretty surprised. I thought it sounded terrible and then I read it and thought it was wonderful. And I loved the film as well, so all’s well that ends well. It’s bizarre how it works and it’s rare that you get a script that you sort of love that much. It was pretty exciting.
Q: What were some of the lines and moments that were not in the script that were improvised?
Smith: Well, there were a few moments, actually. There was some stuff about muffins, and just generally sort of playing around and I went back to the book, which was the original book, as a source material to try and sort of make things up in an attempt to build up my part. Burr Steers, the director was really good. He allowed a platform and an environment where you could take risks and sort of throw things out there that weren’t in the script so it was, it was an enjoyable experience for that for me.
Q: “Pride and Prejudice” is, for many people, Jane Austen’s magnum opus, and a lot of people will go see a movie if it has the words “Pride & Prejudice.” How do you sell the concept of zombies to those Austen purists?
James: I think it’s always interesting, especially if you love something to see it done in a different way. What we all found that was kind of crazy was that putting something so surreal and strange as zombies in “Pride & Prejudice” somehow made some of the scenes and relationships in the book become heightened and become really clear. Like Liz Bennet gets to beat the crap out of Darcy which is really a sort of a physical expression of all her sexual frustration and, I mean, that’s a very basic analysis, but it was just interesting how the zombies kind of contributed.
Bella Heathcote: Jane Austen’s all about female empowerment and this film is too. It just has a cynical expression because we get to beat the crap out of zombies, so there you go.
CN: What are you hoping that audiences, mainly students that are fans of Jane Austen, will take away from such a modern twist on a very classic story?
James: The zombies—what’s cool is that you get both. You get Jane Austen and you get “Pride & Prejudice” and that story, especially the love story between Liz and Darcy and Jane and Bingley, really remains the heart of the story. It’s a romance, it’s a drama, but then throw in that every time you’re maybe getting a bit bored, a big zombie attack happens, so it really just makes it very exciting and quite scary and funny and, I don’t know, somehow it just all holds together.
Q: This novel has had kind of a long, slow road to the screen and had gone through a number of different directors and writers. I was wondering if any of you had any trepidations about this prior to shooting the film. Did you have any fears and, once things got started, were they soothed?
James: Well, to make a film happen, I’ve learned is such a long journey. Films are in development for like 13 years. I think “The Danish Girl” this year was in development for 13 years, so that didn’t worry me that this script had been around for so long. In fact, it really drew me into the project because I think at one point, Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson were going to do it and another point it was Anne Hathaway. These are people that I would really respect, so I think there’s obviously something special about it. And we hoped that sort of an alchemy came together this time. There’s no rhyme or reason to why things happen when they do but we’re really happy that it did with this lovely cast.
Q: What classic tale would you like to see turned into a supernatural/action tale?
Smith: I think “Macbeth & Zombies” would be interesting.
James: “Romeo & Juliet & Zombies.” I actually think that you can put zombies into any story and it would just be better. Everything’s life and death and that adds a sense of excitement and danger.
Heathcote: Arguably, anything that’s a romance is great with zombies because when the stakes are high and the love’s there as well, you want them to end up together.
Q: Was there anything that you specifically put in to subvert your characters or our expectations of them or that you just thought was a particularly interesting twist that is provided by this kind of project?
James: I played Liz Bennet. I didn’t purposely try and subvert her because so much was just done anyway in the story, in the plot and the circumstance, but because of that I think my Liz Bennet is much angrier, much more spirited. She manifests what she feels more, she can’t hide it. And because it’s a period genre and because it was zombies it meant that we could be free. We had knives hidden in our knickers, so we could do anything we wanted.
Smith: I think because there are zombies in the film, that allows you to make bold choices because the laws of the universe are slightly heightened and the characters that exist in it can therefore be slightly heightened. You’ve got to bring something new to the table which everyone did, I thought.
Q: Why did you choose to take on these roles and how does this film compare to your other projects? Matt, many people know you from “Doctor Who,” and Lily, from the 2015 remake of “Cinderella,” so what was different or similar from other projects that you all have done in the past?
Douglas Booth: A lot of us who knew each other before. I had worked with Matt before, I had known Lily through drama school and we’re really good friends and made really great new friends. So it’s not that the other jobs are not fun but this is particularly a really cool, young, and fun cast.
Heathcote: I usually get casted like the girl next door wallflower so it was nice to have a physical role and actually get to beat the crap out of someone and get to rescue the boy for once.
James: Yes. And especially for me because I had done Cinderella and her strength came from within but was very peaceful. So it was fun to scream and scratch and bite and kick and beat— being strong in a different way.
Q: What was it like to act among fantasy-like creatures and what kind of training did you guys have to go through to fight off all those zombies in the movie?
Heathcote: The girls went through quite a bit of training; I know because I trained with them. I did about three months by myself in L.A. and got really into Kung Fu and then came to London and met up with all the other girls and we did lots of different skill training with weapons and choreography and got very into it and I liked being on set with the zombies even when they scared me.
James: Yes. I did like boxing and swung a bat against a punching bag for months. I was very unfit and very lazy prior to shooting so I had to do a lot to get into shape and I loved it. We had such a fun time just beating the crap out of zombies who were very frightening on set, especially when you’re trying to eat your lunch and next to you a person’s face is melting into their meal.