Zombies, swords and corsets are three things you can find in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This take on the classic story gives the Bennett sisters swords along with their gowns, and it’s the perfect combination.
Lily James plays a fierce Liz Bennett, Douglas Booth is as charming as ever as Mr. Bingley and Matt Smith brings the ultimate quirk to Parson Collins. Together, they told us about their experience making the movie, what’s next for them after defeating zombies and more! When you’re done, read up our bloody review, and get ready to see a reimagined classic.
What drew you all to this role? How did you get involved?
Douglas Booth: Well, I mean, when you’re an actor, you get sent scripts through your agent. It’s normally the same process, you get an email, and then this title came up. Some of us were quite confused [laughs]. I’d actually heard of the book before because it was a New York Times best-seller, and quite a lot of my American friends talked about it. I saw it had been written by—well the original draft was written by David O. Russell—and I was like ‘well, he’s pretty great.’ So I read it, and it was brilliant. It was really good fun. Wasn’t it?
Lily James: Mmhmm
Booth: Really good fun. So that was how I got involved. We’re actually all really good friends too, have been for a while. We were all just on holiday together over Christmas and New Years. So we all kind of got attached and it was great fun making it. How about you guys? [laughs]
James: I actually have to admit, when I saw that title… [Drops water bottle]
Matt Smith: That’s the Cuban coffee. [laughs]
James: That and a red bull [laughs]. So I thought the title sounded ludicrous, but I was very intrigued/mortified, and then I read it and it’s one of those rare times when you read a script and you actually really want to do and be a part of it. I thought the script was just brilliant. I think that Pride & Prejudice has always needed a few zombies [laughs]. And I was so excited after I read it and the director became attached.
Smith: I just heard all my friends were doing it, so I took the chance to do a movie with all of them. [laughs]
James: I was like, “Go on, Matt. Please do it.” [laughs]
Smith: And here we are now, talking about it.
So how did you go about approaching these roles? Did you view them as their Pride & Prejudice characters first and foremost and then incorporate all the other elements afterwards?
Booth: Yeah, I think it was always important for [director] Burr that we exist in that world as our characters with zombies just being a circumstance that would then affect them. So that was fun—to explore how these characters that you know and love, see these interpretations of them, and how they would react to the circumstances. Also seeing how the scenes from the original novel would actually then translate and change. Like how does the proposal scene then turn out? You know, all those things that are pent up inside come out in a physical way.
James: Yeah, like I felt that my Liz Bennett was very angry because that internal conflict within her and how sort of unsatisfied she is with life and having to marry and be a woman. But suddenly, everything is life and death, and she gets to physically express herself in a way that’s sort of cathartic, sort of processed when she gets to really beat up things. And that sexual frustration…that really comes out in a physical way [laughs]. The stakes are so much higher, and it’s so insane that Mrs. Bennett is still focused on finding her daughter’s husband when any minute they can all be gone. I think that’s where the humor comes in and that’s what is really clever about combining these worlds.
Smith: It’s weird, isn’t it? Because when you actually consider it—I’ve never really thought about it like that—but when you consider it, you could sort of put them in any story. Do you know what I mean?
James: Yeah, and see what happens.
Smith: And suddenly go ‘what happens?’ What happens to the nature of the drama if you stick a different apocalypse in there? Imagine Jaws with zombies. [laughs]
James: Sharks and zombies!
Smith: It’s like ‘I can’t go anywhere. I’ll just live on a tree.’ [laughs]
James: Can zombies climb?
Smith: Yeah. The ones I know.
How hard or easy was it training for the fight scenes?
Smith: Well, I didn’t do any fight scenes. I’ll pass it over to the ninja chick.
James: It was really hard, but fun. I was very unfit. I hadn’t done any exercise in any way, shape or form for a long time, so first, I just had to get strong and then I did boxing. In the park where I live in South London, I’d be with the pads on and the gloves. I did weird things, like my trainer would bring around a baseball bat and a huge punch bag, and I’d be waking up the whole apartment block at six in the morning by just smashing this punch bag. [laughs]. Beyond that, the Bennett sisters started training together and we felt like this sort of weird, deadly version of the Spice Girls. We became really close and bonded, and I did meet some of the coolest girls I’ve ever met. It was great to be a part of this sort of girl gang all focused on beating the crap out of anyone that crossed us [laughs].
As a role model for young girls, going from characters like Cinderella to a heroine in this film, what kind of message do you want to get out there to young girls in making sure that they become strong, independent woman as they get older?
James: Cinderella and Liz Bennett are so different, but both characters, I hope, are equally strong. Their strength comes from different places and that’s important. There are so many different ways you can be in control of your destiny and be comfortable with who you are. With Liz Bennett, because she’s such a strong character anyway in Jane Austen—she was so forward thinking, so brave, and challenged the way things were done— but with this story, it’s taken even further because she can fight. Being a part of this gang of girls that pushed men aside and took down the zombies themselves was just so brilliant and just how it should be. I hope that when I mention that we’re a bit like the Spice Girls it’s like ‘Girl Power,’ and I hope that’s a big message of the movie. That’s really important.
Who in the cast is more like their character in the film?
James: [Points at Matt Smith] He’s exactly like Parson Collins. There’s absolutely no acting required. [laughs]
Booth: I think you’re a strong, independent female woman.
James: I’m a female woman! [laughs]
Booth: I’m sorry I meant…yeah.
Smith: I wouldn’t want to be in a room with Lily and a sword.
Booth: But no, I think the cast is full of strong, independent women.
Smith: Like me.
James: And in real life, Doug is a horrible, mean, closed-hearted man.
Booth: So yeah, it was a real stretch for me to be…
Smith: Nice and warm and kind!
James: And charming! [laughs]
So how would you sell this movie to a Jane Austen enthusiast, someone who might be skeptical about the zombies?
James: That the story remains completely true, and I think at the center of it, is this love story. And why not? It’s enjoyable to watch classic works be reimagined and turned on their heads and set in different worlds, and I think it only brings out certain parts of the story and highlights them. I also think character traits that we know and love from Jane Austen are really exaggerated and sort of heightened in this new setting.
Booth: And I think if you really love a story, if you really are an enthusiast of that story, how fun is this? You would’ve seen it done on the BBC version, you would’ve seen it done here and there.
James: And it’s been done so well.
Booth: Yeah, so you’ve done that. You’ve seen that. How cool is it to see a completely different take on it? And we respect the story, we love the story and there’s no disrespect to Austen at all. We revere her and I think that comes across here. And we play it true and hopefully do the characters justice. It’s just a way for them to see it in a different light. It’s the kind of thing [these characters] would go to sleep and dream of.
James: Like a weird, trippy nightmare. [laughs]
Booth: Yeah! Like ‘omg, there are zombies in there!’ It’s cool to see that in reality.
Smith: And I think it’s a testament to the universality and the timelessness of the story. The whole that it stands up to a zombie apocalypse. I think Sam [Riley] and Lily have really good chemistry and by the end, you’re still going, ‘Oh please, get together please get together! And don’t get killed.’ [laughs].
What’s next for you guys?
Booth: I’m playing Percy Shelley in a film about the love affair between Shelley and Mary Shelley.
James: With an incredible director.
Booth: Yeah, it’s the relationship between Shelley and Mary Shelley, who’s played by Elle Fanning, and their tumultuous love affair which results in her writing Frankenstein. It’s directed by an amazing female director called Haiffa Al-Mansour, who directed the first ever film that got made in Saudi Arabia.
James: By a woman.
Booth: By a woman. She’s really incredible. Women can’t be seen working there, so she had to direct it from a van and a walkie-talkie, but she was determined to make this movie and she’s extremely talented. She made a movie called Wadjda which was received extremely well so she’s the perfect woman to tell Mary’s tale. Again, it’s all in the same themes. It’s cool to be in these movies about fierce, independent women and it’s exciting that they’re being done now. It’s about time.
James: And I’m doing a film called Baby Driver in which I do not wear a corset. [laughs] I’m playing an American waitress. It’s a great film.
Smith: I don’t know what I’m doing. [laughs]
James: You’re still doing something!
Smith: Yeah, I’m still doing something. I finish that next month and then I don’t know.
Booth: He’s playing Prince Philiip in the big new Netflix series called The Crown about the royal family. It’s a big big show, and I’m excited to see it.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in theaters now.