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by Madeline Raynor
August 14, 2013 10:27 AM
1 Comment
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Jerusha Hess on 'Austenland,' When Fandom Goes Too Far and Making a Movie for the Girls

Sony Pictures Classics 'Austenland'

What was the research process like for the film? Did you have your cast read any Jane Austen?

I think they all quickly watched Colin Firth's version again. Keri reread some Austen novels in pieces to just refresh her memory. And I did, of course, and I watched every adaptation known to man and [read] all the books. And that's how I got familiar with J.J. Feild, from Mr. Tilney [in "Northanger Abbey"]. We wanted to be educated enough so that we could mess it up.

Right, and that's a lot of what Jennifer's character is about. She's sort of playing the well-meaning ditz but she needs to know, as an actor, everything that's right about Regency culture to get it all wrong.

In rehearsals, we had this historian come and teach us about manners and decorum and about the history of the time and it was so dull we were like [mimics snickering] "We got it! We got it! We're ready to go!" I guess I really don't want to live in this time where it's like, all day you would sew. I'm like, oh yeah, that is the joke. That it's kind of dull.

You have a mixed cast, some from a background of period pieces, like J.J. Field, and some people you think of as more modern actors, like Jennifer Coolidge and Bret McKenzie from "Flight of the Conchords." How did you assemble this group of people?

It was a real hot mess -- it was great. It was me calling friends in the end, like, "Will you be in this?" And of course Jennifer always had to be in it. She didn't believe me that I was making this movie. Her agents would never get back to me, I think they thought it was fake, until she was like "What? You're really doing a movie? I didn't believe you." And I was like "Well, Jennifer, I've been trying for a while. I've been trying to get your people for a while."

Keri I had known, and she's just so sweet and in "Waitress" she was just so earnest and sweet and simple, she seems like she could be every girl. Even though she's gorgeous and no one is that girl, you think "I could be her." And then we had an English casting director who hooked us up with these English people who have done it. Georgia King had been in a Dickens "Little Dorrit" production. James Callis has done theater in England, and then "Battlestar Galactica," of course. He was in "Bridget Jones's Diary." So I knew he was going to be funny. You have to mix it. It's a British film. It's about a bunch of Brits and then these unknowing Americans that come to it so you sort of have to play with that.

So, you are really experienced with fan culture.

Not as much as [producer] Stephenie [Meyer].

What were you trying to say to Jane Austen fans? The movie opens with a scene in Keri's room, and it's bedecked with letters spelling Mr. Darcy on the wall, a life-size cut out of Colin Firth, and at first you see that and go "Woah!" but also you don't want to alienate someone whose room might really be like that.

You don't want to go too far. And it's not that her room was bad. But she was alienating friends and not moving on emotionally and intimately in her life with relationships. She was just stuck. She had a real case of arrested development. And that's the problem. It's not how many teacups you have shadowboxed in your house. That's fine.

I mean, I went in that room for the first time and I was like "Oh my gosh, I could live here!" It was so cute, and I was like, "Who wouldn't want that as their own little private space?" It's so sweet and beautiful. And that was just a means to get her to be like "Oh, if I change my room that means I'm changed inside." But it was just inside she needed to open herself up, move on, and have healthy relationships. So, you know, to the fans: dress up. Do whatever you want. These girls don't dress up every day. They don't go to their jobs like that. It's just what they do in their spare time.

It's their release. 

Exactly. I did it with "Battlestar." I had an arrested development party where we all dressed up as characters. It's fun. It's fun and we all need a little outlet, and I hope the fans still love it even though we are kind of saying "Tsk tsk" to the overly enthusiastic…

Don't go too far.

Exactly. And it's for every fan. It's not just the Jane Austen fans. It's for anything that goes too far.

1 Comment

  • Sheila | August 14, 2013 6:06 PMReply

    Great interview. I can't wait to see the movie.