Austenland Interview: Stephenie Meyer and Jerusha Hess

The Lexicon participated in the NYC Austenland press day. We were able to interview Stephenie Meyer and director Jerusha Hess at a roundtable. There are relatively minor spoilers in this interview.

 

Question: Can you talk about treading that line about honoring Jane Austen fans and being affectionately funny about them too?

Stephenie Meyer: I mean when we were working on it, a lot of what we had came from the source material ( the Shannon Hale novel), but I also feel like this wasn’t just about Jane Austen fans. This is about any person who is so lost in a fandom that they want to live there. Everybody has that one thing in their life that they would probably go and do a theme park based around it if they could. It feels like we can kind of make fun of all of ourselves with that one thing we nerd out over.

Jerusha Hess: Absolutely. We always knew going into it, it was for the fans: the crazy fans, the genteel fans, but it’s also for the people who think fans are funny. We just played both sides the whole time. We had to be careful because we didn’t want to offend our biggest group of followers….(giggles jokingly) but I think the fans are going to see it because they will see anything with those empire waists.

There are some overt references to Colin Firth being Mr. Darcy. Are there other intentional shout outs to Jane Austen works other than Pride and Prejudice?

Jerusha: Anything that was there was from the Shannon Hale novel. Shannon Hale would be better to ask if she had anything specific in mind.

Stephenie: There was a little bit that didn’t make the final cut. But we did have all sort of costumes and things from other costume dramas that there were some unintentional nods.

How long ago did you come up with this idea and why? You did no wrong with me because I am a romantic. Why this project?

Jerusha: The book was out for a whole year before I even read it. When I read it I thought it was so easy, and fresh, and fun. It definitely had that romance that really sweeps you away, but it was quirky and funny as well. It was kind of a blank slate for more humor and  I was like “yes please”. Sign me on for the “com-rom” as Stephenie calls it.

It seems very faithful to the book with few exceptions. I was wondering how much leeway you gave the actors to improv and play?

Jerusha: 50% of Jennifer Coolidge’s lines are ad libbed. It was more like 90% on set but we had to scale back. She’s (Jennifer) brilliant, and amazing comedienne, but she doesn’t memorize lines very well, she’d rather do her own. Sometimes I’d say, “Can you make this funnier?” James Callis also really made some brilliant improv choices. He add all this French and wild gestures that was so funny. Georgia King she came with little things, but her physicality just brought so much to it. Brett McKenzie came up with lots of stuff.

Stephenie: Kerri Russel is 100% script except for one scene which I think might be my favorite. She nerds out when the girls. They are having their quiet time and she says “Mr. Darcy would never say that. He was a gentleman.” That was improved. It was brilliant. You could see the tension in her neck. She was taking it so seriously.

There is this wonderful idea throughout the film about fantasy vs. reality and how we actually fall in love. can you talk about that idea?

Jerusha: I think Kerri is trapped in the fantasy and it’s kind of an unhealthy place to be in, but who doesn’t want to be in that world? And she pays a lot of money to live in that fantasy world even more. She then finally gets it out of her system when she realizes the fantasy isn’t all she thought. So she does self actualize (laughs) for like 10 seconds before she gets the boyand there is part of the fantasy again. I mean films are not always real, and this is a fantasy and fairytale where we want to be swept away

Stephenie: I think one of the reasons that I was so taken with the book when Shannon sent it to me in a manuscript form is that I had seen enough of fandom at that point and people who really wanted to step in and live it. And so I had more of a connection than I might have had otherwise. Some people are this girl who would if there were a place where they could go and dress up and live these lives they would do it. It’s more prevalent than I had thought. As I read it, I connected with the idea of people who say, “I don’t want reality. Take it away. I’ll do fantasy all the time.”

On another note there has been some discussion of the Austenizing of history, where you have these novels that are very insular. They really don’t look at the history, the terrible history of England at that point. Particularly there was a lot of brutality with what was going on in England. Could you address that?

Jerusha: I’m not familiar with any of that. I’m only familiar with Jane Austen’s history. You just broke my heart.

Stephenie: I think if people consider most of the fiction that is out in America right now it would have very little reference to some of the major issues facing the government right now. A lot of people turn to their fantasy and reading for fun not to read about brutality they otherwise see on the news. So certainly we get a glorified look at England, the escape they wanted too. I think you would get that in the novels of any time period.

Jersuha: Also with the upper middle class then, they would ignore it. It was not something they dwelled on.

The character of Mr. Nobly has this line of “Did you ever consider that you are my fantasy?” It took me a little aback, and I wanted to know if you thought about how women view men’s idea of romance.

Jerusha: I think it was fulfilling to turn it on its head and have Mr. Darcy fall in love with Miss Bennett.  For him, she’s the hot chick, the handsome face, the c’mon we all want her. In our film he was equally a nerd and equally passionate about the world. We had him as a history professor who loves this world as much as she does.

Stephenie: I also think it’s kind of the ultimate fantasy to have a man who thinks you are perfect the way that you are. That is the perfect fantasy that he thinks that you are perfect. That’s the heart of every romance novel probably. You don’t have to change for him.

The music was really perfect in this. How did you pick the songs that went into this?

Stephenie: I don’t think the music really came up until midway.

Jerusha: I think when we started writing we came up with some playlists. We (Shannon Hale and I) wanted it to be girly, predominantly female vocalists. We did change our mind throughout. We just wanted it fun and poppy, all that 1980’a stuff.

What about the music over the scene of the end credits (Note: You want to stay through the end credit on this for an Easter Egg).

Jerusha: The original song was supposed to be Warren G’s Regulator. It was just something super irreverent for the to do. The actors didn’t know anything about it til that day. The night before I was like here is a song, can you all memorize it? You’re going to sing it. (all laugh) No, they knew it, they all knew it. They all hated me. Kerri specifically hated me, she’s forgotten her ways from The Mickey Mouse Club and she couldn’t memorize it to save her life. Then their voices all sounded horrible with the worst blending of sound ever.  I was actually originally thinking we would use voices instead of lip syncing. Good thing Ricky Whittle knew the whole song. We kept cutting back to him.

Stephenie: Clearly he should be a rap star. He does anything and he’s brilliant from being a professional athlete to an actor.

In the book I was torn more between the two guys. But in the movie I felt it was more obvious she would go for (spoiler).

Stephenie: I think it’s because you know from the book and then you’re looking for hints as to who she picks. We were really careful, and could have made it more obvious. We reeled back on things to make it appear that she had two solid choices. I just read someone’s reaction recently who didn’t know the ending and she was totally surprised by the choice and why.

Jerusha: We really tried to balance the scenes between the two guys. And we had to cut a bunch on both sides.

Stephenie, can you talk to your attraction to this project and is there any connection to Twilight and perhaps strange romances?

I think that I love romances. There wasn’t any real connection though. I had written Twilight well before this was conceived. When I did read it, I think it was more my love of Jane Austen. I always love a good Darcyesque charcter. It’s a fun read. it would be hard not to have  good time as you’re reading it. It’s very cinematic, it’s so visual.

 

Will this just be targeted to just women, because I’m a guy. Like I said i’m a romantic and I loved it.  The guy does find the girl who is perfect in his eyes.

Jerusha: It’s incredibly bawdy. I think we went into it as women filmmakers understanding we were going to England to chick out, but at no point did we say this is just for women. But that has been the marketing, and I think it’s pretty brilliant because it’s getting a lot of press. That said, my husband loves it. He loves historical dramas, but there’s also low brow humor: bob humor, crotch humor and also high brow witty humor. Keep telling people it’s ok for boys to see it.

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