Now here’s a fresh take on a Jane Austen novel… Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Still set in 19th century England, Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella) and Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows) star as Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, masters of martial arts and weaponry, ready to help Mr Darcy (Sam Riley, Maleficent) in killing the zombies who, through a mysterious plague, now overrun the country.
Lily and Bella spoke with us about the movie, which opens this Friday, February 5th 2016.
Knowing you could play these roles in Pride and Prejudice, were you concerned about doing a movie that adds zombies?
Bella: Before reading it I was like, ‘Oh, come on, really?’ Then I read it and I was like, ‘This is actually quite fun.’ Somehow it works.
I feel like the zombies, which enable us to fight, heightens or brings out all the themes of Jane Austen’s original work, which is female empowerment, and the fact that these are quite forward thinking women, they’re quite independent, particularly Lizzy.
In this version we get to be the heroes and save the boys, they’re our damsels. What’s not to like?
Lily: And if you’re going to do it you might as well make it absurd.
Whenever I felt nervous about it, I could just go back to Jane Austen’s book because all the clues in how to be in that world and that time is all there.
On top of that there was this freedom and it allowed us to be brave because there are zombies, the world is different, it’s elevated, heightened and exaggerated, so as actors that gave us the license to make bigger choices and feel free.
That was really rewarding.
Did you enjoy doing the fight scenes?
Lily: We were like the Spice Girls with swords. Ninja Spice.
What was the zombie boot camp like?
Bella: I did three months of Kung Fu training in L.A. and then we did a month together in London of all the more specific skills.
Did you ever think about taking any fight training before?
Bella: I did kick-boxing and boxing in LA when I first moved out here, it was great. I do find it empowering. I always said I would do martial arts, but I was just too lazy so it was great to be forced to do it.
Lily: I get so lazy and I think it’s so important to move your body, and learning to fight was just great. I felt really empowered and it was just so fun to have a physical expression of all that strength that was within.
Bella and I actually shared a trainer when we were in London, and it was tough and we’d get really bruised and actually hit each other.
Can you talk a little about the fight scene between LIzzy and Darcy?
Lily: It was just great. I got to do everything Lizzy Bennett, in the original, is feeling inside, all that frustration and that sexual tension.
All of that came out chucking a book at his head. It is really great to express what you’re feeling, usually you are bottling it in.
Did you have stunt doubles?
Lily: Yeah, they did some of the stuff, but with regards to the kicks and the movement, that was us all the time.
I think the stunt routines were incredible. We had an incredible stunt guy, he did such a good job.
How would you both characterize your relationship with the action/horror genre and zombie movies in specific?
Bella: I like them. We were just talking about our favorite zombie films and I was saying how much I enjoyed World War Z, because it felt quite real.
It felt terrifying, like something that could actually happen, and I find those things to be the most terrifying.
Lily: I really loved Shaun of the Dead. I started watching more stuff when I got this job, because I wasn’t a big zombie person, so it was great.