There is perhaps no more iconic couple in post-Shakespeare British literature than Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. They’ve been through so much together over the years of on-screen adaptations, but — until Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — they’ve never faced the undead.
Here’s what film stars Lily James (Cinderella) and Sam Riley (Maleficent) had to tease about their Lizzie and Bennet…
On crossing Austen with zombies…
Though Austen and zombies might seem like a tough genre mashup to sell as an actor, Riley says the two elements actually fit quite well: “It was great. To begin with, the zombies didn’t arrive for the first couple of weeks, so it almost felt like we were doing Pride and Prejudice for a while — but with samurai swords … It never seemed ridiculous, did it? It really seemed to fit.”
“That’s probably a testament to the script, and to Burr as well,” adds James, “that the world we were in was really clear right from the start and it feels like Pride and Prejudice was always missing zombies.”
On what’s new about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…
“I think Mr. Darcy’s been played so well by other actors that I wouldn’t really have ever wanted to do it straight,” says Riley. “But that was the appeal of this: to be able to play an iconic character that’s so well done, but to be confident that no one had ever done it the way I’m about to do it because… they didn’t have a samurai sword. Lizzie Bennet and Darcy never had a fight — a physical fist fight.”
Riley is referring to a later scene in the movie, which sees Lizzie and Mr. Darcy sparring as part of an emotionally climactic scene that takes place in Mr. Collins’ house.
James says of the scene, and of the relationship in general: “It’s like all about sort of sexual frustration and all that connection, all that sort of yearning for and longing for and whatever it is that they are for… sort of manifests in their fighting and in physicality.”
On the epic-ness of the Bennet sisters.
Of course, most of the fight scenes aren’t reserved for Lizzie and Darcy together, but rather the five Bennet sisters.
James spoke of the physicality inherent in their roles and how well it paid off on film, saying: “One of my favorite moments is when the five Bennet sisters storm into the dance hall. We sort of walk in in this triangle. Basically, we look like the Powerpuff Girls … And we beat the crap out of every single zombie in the room, and it was brilliant, while the men sit and watched.”
On keeping the love story at the center of the film…
But it’s not all zombie-fighting. Pride and Prejudice and Zombiesstill maintains the love stry between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy that has been one of the best parts of Pride and Prejudicesince Jane Austen first published the novel in 1813.
“We were pretty keen, and Burr was, that the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet remains believable and as true and as romantic as it is in the other versions,” says Riley. “But then, as Lily says, there’s this heightened level then of having the zombies there. Everything’s more a matter of life-or-death. I mean, when I first read the title — I’d never read the book — I thought, ‘This is preposterous.’ But then I read it and I thought, ‘It works.’ I don’t know how it works, but it does work.”
On bringing zombies to Downton Abbey…
When asked which other stories might benefit from being zombie-fied, James mentioned the other period drama she’s best known for… (James played Lady Rose Aldridge on Downton Abbey.)
“I think you can stick [zombies] everywhere and it makes it better,” says James. “I want a zombie Downton Abbey. I think that’d be good.” Make it happen, British Hollywood.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opens in theaters February 5th.