For more than 200 years, the Bennet sisters of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice have remained among the greatest literary characters of all time, but when you combine them with the reanimated, flesh-eating dead — as Seth Grahame-Smith did in his wildly popular revision of the original book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — it gives Ms. Austen’s beloved and still relevant tale an entirely new spin and meaning.
Now after years of development, director and screenwriter Burr Steers has brought this story of upper class manners and gory mayhem to the screen with Lily James (Cinderella) as Elizabeth Bennet and Bella Heathcote as her sister Jane (Dark Shadows) as they wrestle with the issues of marriage, independence, loyalty and the best way to decapitate a shambling corpse. Screen Rant sat down recently with the two British actresses to learn more.
Zombies aside, is it every actress’ dream to play one of the Bennet sisters?
Lily James: Yeah, they’re pretty cool girls, right, and their relationships with each other and stuff are a real joy.
Bella Heathcote: I’ve got to say though, if it weren’t for the zombies I would have been too intimidated, because I loved the original novel so much and I feel like the BBC version was just perfect.
James: Was it Rosamund in the BBC?
Heathcote: No. So I feel like the zombies actually enabled me to, like, get into it.
Were you aware of this book or did you just get the script and see the title and say, “Okay…”?
Heathcote: (laughs) That was my reaction. I wasn’t aware of the book somehow.
James: I hadn’t heard of the book, which was stupid because it was a New York Times best seller. But once I read the script, I couldn’t wait to read the book, and then I read the book and I was just like, “I’m in.” I don’t know how it works so well, and it’s so fun and it actually seems to highlight and bring out some of the central themes of the book in a way that’s really exciting and cool.
Zombies are always a metaphor for something in zombie movies. What do you see them as being a metaphor of in this version?
Heathcote: Probably the classes, because it does to be like an uprising against the aristocracy…oh, God, that sounds very earnest.
James: No, but it’s true, I remember talking to Burr about that. Our director’s amazing, he’s like a walking encyclopedia and he had so many ideas about what the zombies stood for. There’s actually a sort of undercurrent, I think.
Is it fun to wear these kinds of period costumes with the corsets and all that, but at the same time you’re strapping knives and guns to your thighs?
James: It feels like the only way to do it now. There’s no return (laughs).
Heathcote: Yeah, the next period film I’ll be like, “What do you mean I don’t have a gun holster? What is this?”
So you’re going to insist on that from now on…
Heathcote: Yeah, whether or not it makes sense. And zombies, we’re going to insist on zombies.
James: Exactly. I think even further than that, from now on. Like, I’m doing Romeo and Juliet this summer and I’m going to insist on zombies.
Talk a bit about the training you did to make all this look good.
Heathcote: We did…I think we both…all the girls did their own separate training. I did about three months of kung fu in L.A. and then came to London and did a month with all the girls, which was great ‘cause we worked on more specific choreography and skills and weapons and all that stuff, which was excellent.
James: Yeah, I think we all worked really hard because we wanted to be believable and really look kick-ass, so yeah, that was a part of it. And in fact that was sort of a part of creating our characters, I think. For Liz Bennet, that was key.
What is another great literary character that you would each like to play, with or without zombies?
James: Another great literary character…(pointing at Heathcote) you talked about Franny and Zooey and Zombies, by J.D. Salinger. That would be amazing.
Heathcote: Yep, I reckon that could work.
James: I don’t know, God…Gone with the Wind with Zombies?
Heathcote: I was going to say Romeo and Juliet and Zombies.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opens in theaters February 5, 2016.