During the melee otherwise known as Comic-Con, the talented cast and director of the soon-to-be-released Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made their way to San Diego to spread the word about their quirky little film.Taking a bite out of theaters on February 5, 2016, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is based on the hit novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. In the novel, this new version of Austen’s classic satire of romance from different social classes in 19th century England gets an update in the form of a zombie attack. Directed by Burr Steers, most of the novel (and film) follows the original Pride and Prejudice,albeit with a few differences: Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) lives with her four sisters, who were trained by their father in the martial arts and taking down zombies. However, Mrs. Bennet is determined to marry her daughters off to wealthy suitors. She finds one by the name of Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), who her daughter Jane (Bella Heathcote) takes a shine too. During a spectacular ball in which the girls take down some zombies, Elizabeth clashes with zombie hunter Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley).
There are a few changes to some of the primary characters (specifically Mr. Collins -- played by Matt Smith -- and Mr. Wickham-- played by Jack Huston -- who aren’t quite as villainous as they are in the original Pride and Prejudice),as well as the fact that there is a zombie apocalypse. I chatted with the cast and the director about the differences, the challenges of the film, and how they would handle a zombie attack in real-life:
MATT SMITH & JACK HUSTON
YH: What has it been like on set of Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies?
JH: It was a lot of fun. It was a fun cast that pulled it altogether. You realize that you are making a zombie movie but it is Jane Austen, so it is easy to realize the comedic value of it, but you play up the realism as much as you can. I think that Matt is hilarious in the film. He does it for the rest of us.
MS: [chuckles] But I didn’t get to fight any zombies, while these guys all got some classic fights.
JH: The girls are pretty kickass in this movie. The girls outdo the guys in this film. Sam is pretty badass; he plays Darcy. There is a good swordfight between me and Sam, so that was quite good.
MS: That’s my favorite fight in the movie, actually.
JH: Is it? Thanks!
YH: If your characters (Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham) were to come to Comic-Con, who do you think they would cosplay as?
JH: Wow that’s a good question. Collins, who would he cosplay as?
MS: He would come as Princess Leia in the gold bikini, I think. Or someone obtuse and camp... Maybe Jabba the Hut.
JH: Who would Wickham come as?
MS: I think he would come as himself, because he’s so up his own ass.
JH: Wickham would be a good Batman. Maybe come as Lego Batman.
YH: Could you tell us a bit about the physicality of this film?
JH: I think my favorite scene is of Matt dancing. It’s just the best. It’s this jump that Matt does. The dancing is normally what you get in a Jane Austen movie, and it’s usually quite stiff. But it’s so nice to see something different, and that happens in this film. That dance scene is one of the funniest and most brilliant scenes in the film. It makes you laugh out loud. I think you killed it on that one.
MS: I think that the fight scenes are really fantastic. The fact that it’s the girls that are totally the empowered characters is a wonderful thing. The girls really get to swish and kick and look sexy.
JH: It’s not like the girls are sacrificed. They are really good. They really went for it. The girls do a lot more than we did, and it really shows.
YH: Are there any stories, classic or otherwise, that you would like to see zombified?
MS: What about Catcher in the Rye?That would be great because he [Holden Caufield] would be a great zombie killer. He would just hate everything. He would be really witty when fighting zombies.
JH: I think The Three Musketeers could work really well too.
MS: That probably will happen!
YH; How would you two personally handle a zombie attack?
MS: I would invite them for tea and tell them to stop being naughty. I would tell them, “Stop being naughty zombies. Stop eating everyone else. Let’s just watch ‘Game of Thrones’ together and we can calm down.” I don’t know. I would just get high up and get a rifle and pick them off one by one.
JH: I would go and live on a mountain, or on a yacht. I would take a few people I like and commandeer a yacht. I would go really far out in the ocean with some lovely people and have a great time.
LILY JAMES & SAM RILEY
YH: What was it like to be in a period piece yet has the added element of zombies?
SR: It was great. To begin with, the zombies didn’t arrive for the first couple of weeks, so it felt like we were doing Pride and Prejudice for a while, but with samurai swords. It never seemed ridiculous; it just all seemed to fit.
LJ: That’s a testament to the script, and to Burr [Steers]. The world we were in was really clear right from the start, and it feels like Pride and Prejudice was always missing zombies.
YH: Since you are playing really iconic characters in literature, did the throwing in of the zombies help you to extricate yourself from the other versions of Pride and Prejudice?
SR:I suppose it did. I think that Mr. Darcy has been played so well by other actors that I wouldn’t have ever wanted to do it straight. That was the appeal of this -- to be able to play an iconic character that is so well loved, but be confident that nobody would have ever done it the way that I am about to do it. Colin [Firth] didn’t have a samurai sword. Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy never had an actual physical fight.
LJ:It’s interesting because all of their longing and wanting manifests in their fighting and physicality, which is really cool.
YH: What was the coordination and training for the more physical scenes?
LJ:It was intricate. It was a lot of work, with all the fighting and the routines. One of my favorite moments is when all the five Bennet sisters storm into a ball and we walk in looking like The Powerpuff Girls, and suddenly we just turn lethal. We beat the crap out of every zombie in the room while the men sit and watch.
YH: Do you have a favorite weapon that your characters get to use?
SR:I did like the samurai sword. They promised me that they were going to send it to me, but they haven’t sent it yet.
LJ:I always had two swords, a long one and a short one, as well as a dagger. We had weapons hidden all over our bodies.
YH: If your characters were to come to Comic-Con, who do you believe they might cosplay as?
LJ:I don’t know. I think she would come as herself. She has some pretty cool outfits -- their gangster costumes with a lot of leather.
SR:I don’t think Darcy would come to Comic-Con.
YH: How did the costumes help you think in terms of your character?
SR:We have a great costume designer on this, Julian Day, and I’ve worked with him before. Right from the very first thing he puts on you, you feel yourself transforming. It helps. Anything that stops you seeing yourself when you walk out of the trailer helps. With him, you stand differently and walk differently.
LJ:We could jump and kick in our dresses. We did a lot of costume fitting in a tiny room kicking the walls, making sure that we could lunge and what not. The corsets were kind of hard because corsets are hard to do anything in, but he really made it work. The fight scenes were choreographed in a way that we could move in the corsets. He made the costumes very period, but added certain things like leather to capture the world.
YH: Are there any other stories that you would like to see zombified?
SR:Zombie Star Wars.
LJ:I think that you could stick them anywhere and it makes it better. I want a zombie “Downton Abbey”.
BELLA HEATHCOTE & DOUGLAS BOOTH
YH: What was it like working on a set that meshes old school countryside with zombies?
DB:It was awesome. I’ve done straight-up costume dramas before, so this was interesting to do something different.
BH:I had a blast. Not just because of the mash-up, but doing a film with a really young cast, which is really rare. Everyone has these great characters and great love stories. I get to have a bunch of sisters and I get to wrangle them and fight with them. It was fantastic.
DB:It was a really fun cast. Just really fun.
YH: The sisters that you mentioned get to kick some ass and seem like really awesome characters. Can you talk a little bit about those characters and that bond that they have?
BH:It was great because as soon as I met the girls, we unconsciously fell into those roles. I definitely felt like the older, responsible one, trying to make sure that everyone is going to be okay. Jane definitely feels responsible for her sisters; she feels a sense of propriety, she feels worried about them as well as for her parents. I think she sees the best in people. She also has a quiet wisdom in her. She sees what Lizzy can’t, which is the love that’s right in front of her.
YH: Jane and Bingley are such passionate characters. Do they have any qualms about killing these zombies?
DB: I think so. There’s heart in the movie. I would say definitely.
BH: I feel like Jane is almost quite religious in a way. There is a lot of reflection after she kills a zombie. She does take it seriously. She doesn’t just take a life willy-nilly. I think she does have an issue with it, but it’s a necessity, unfortunately.
YH: How do you see the differences in your characters from the original Pride and Prejudice?
DB:I didn’t go back and visit the old ones for inspiration, so I can’t tell you exactly what they changed. I went back to the original book and read Seth’s book, and there’s lots of stuff -- I highlighted key things about Bingley, like “Bingley would always be the last person around.” I tried to find who he was. I really wanted to get to know Sam [Mr. Darcy], so I hung out with Sam lots, and we had that bond. We had to have that bond in order for the plot to work. I wanted to be invested in my relationships with people.
BH:I feel like the Jane, in both this version and the original, does hold quite true. I think certain aspects of her personality have transpired in a world where the stakes are higher. She does feel responsible if it’s a life or death matter. I think that their love is even more important because of that. At the end of the day, if you are in that kind of situation, it’s the relationships -- the love -- that’s the most important.
YH: How did your martial arts training go?
BH:I loved it. I loved channeling my anxiety into something positive. I did about four months kung-fu training, and then did about a month with the other girls prior to shooting. That was great, because it was a good bonding exercise. It was fun. It’s really fun to use your body and to feel empowered.
DB: It was sick. The girls are amazing. There’s one shot of the girls at the ball where zombies have broken in and are attacking, and the girls fan out in this beautiful V-formation in these beautiful period dresses and kick open the slits in their dresses and pull out daggers and just slay the zombies. It’s pretty cool to see. And my character is there just panicking!
YH: How would you personally try to handle a zombie attack?
BH:I would hope that I could make use of my martial arts training!
DB:I would find some beautiful, lovely person and take them to go hide in some remote valley somewhere.
YH: What was it like receiving this project?
BS: It was actually something I knew was out there, because a lot of people had taken shots at trying to get it made. But I had a take on it that I was really confident would work. So I went in there and rewrote it and made it happen. I wasn’t eating bon-bons and just thought, “I think I will do this.” [laughs]
YH: How much of a challenge was it to adapt it?
BS:I approached it the way I would a play. We set up this alternate world where a zombie epidemic had taken place and everyone had grown up with that all their lives, and then set Pride and Prejudice within that world. In the way that if you were to set Richard III in Germany.
YH: How did you go about balancing the romance and the horror? What can we expect from the tone of the movie?
BS: I didn’t do horror for horror’s sake, or romance for romance’s sake. It was really about style coming out of substance and having you invested in these characters, so when they are at risk, you really are worried about them. The zombies don’t seem like just mindless zombies; they feel like a real risk.
YH: Were there any representations in film or literature that inspired your zombies?
BS: From a literary standpoint, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was a big inspiration. The idea that they are still retaining some of who they were as people and that there is a brain working there. That they are not just some walking thing waiting to get decapitated made it more formidable. They don’t view themselves as monsters; they view themselves as competing with the human race. There’s so much in I Am Legend.
YH: Were there any unique challenges to filming this story?
BS: There were the basic ones, like money and time. But shooting in England was great. The young English cast was so professional. They kept each other in check, because they’re all part of the same group. It was amazing. They would show up knowing the scenes and have ideas. They were really collaborative on making this work.
YH: Were there other adaptations of Pride and Prejudice that influenced your work?
BS: The Laurence Olivier version isn’t ultimately very good, because it was adapted for the stage and was really watered down. But the screenplay was written by Upton Sinclair, and he included a lot of clever context and lines that work on more than one level. That was something I went back to look at. The sisters do all look like they are in their 50s playing daughters, but the mom is an old Broadway performer and she’s hilarious. I had seen the other productions, but I didn’t really study anything.
Check out the first trailer for P&P&Z below!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will hit theaters on February 5, 2016!
(Photo via Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Screen Gems/AP Images)