An interview Joe Wright Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen adaptation is upon us as Pride and Prejudice is being brought back to the big screen after 65 years. In tradition of EmmaSense and Sensibility and Persuasion an Austen novel always brings an audience, and when audiences get a taste of Pride and Prejudice they will be pleasantly surprised as it has not succumb to the Hollywood treatment. While the UK and US will be getting different endings, which I will detail at the end of this interview, I am sure audiences will be happy across the board.

Recently I had a chance to sit down with director Joe Wright and discuss the film, search his motivations and talk shop. Wright’s career has been short and primarily limited to television where he was won a few BAFTA Awards and several mentions of notoriety, but none of that could have prepared him for a cast that included Judi Dench, Donald Sutherland and, of course, Keira Knightley, but as he tells us – he managed it quite well.

Question: How’s the day been treating you?

Joe: It’s been great, I like Seattle, it’s been fun. I got in last night and had a screening, had a Q&A; last night.

Question: How’d that go?

Joe: It went really well actually. It was a lovely audience, really gorgeous audience. Nice questions. Then we went out to some bars and hung out. It was great.

Question: So how many times have you been asked, “Why do we need another Jane Austen adaptation?”

Joe: Um, probably somewhere in the seventies.

Question: What do you think about that question?

Joe: I think it’s a story that deserves telling over and over. I think it’s like a fairy tale really, I think it’s something we enjoy hearing. There hasn’t been a movie based on Pride and Prejudice for 65 years now, the last version was with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson and I think it’s about time we had another one.

Question: How familiar with the story were you? Had you grown up reading it, had you seen the other versions?

Joe: Not at all, I had never read it; I had never seen any of the adaptations. So when I was sent the screenplay I was a bit reticent about reading it really. I thought this was probably something for girls and I was a bit cooler, more street than that. But out of respect for the production company I read the script and I was very moved by it and then I thought I better read the book. So I read the book and I was again incredibly moved by that, and also I felt like I had a secret, like I knew how to make it. I just felt that it was so fresh and so well observed and beautifully told and has such an energy to it, a youthful energy to it and that excited me.

Question: So how did you approach it, what was this secret?

Joe: The first decision, which seemed very obvious to me, but had never been done before was to cast the actors at the age Jane Austen wrote the characters. It’s a story about very young people falling in love for the first time, Elizabeth Bennet is like 20, Darcy is 28. This story can only be told by people of that age because it’s about falling in love for the first time and it’s about not quite recognizing the feelings you are having for someone else. Therefore, if you have a 40 year-old man as Laurence Olivier was it’s kind of like, a bit weird really, it’s like The 40 Year-Old Virgin or something. So that was my first choice to make it about the young people.

Question: Your parents founded a puppetry theatre and I heard you looked at this like a puppet show. Can you explain that?

Joe: I have two traditions in my psyche. One is puppetry; the other is British realism/filmmaking. The puppetry kind of shows itself in some of the imagery. I like the idea, for instance, five virgins living on an island in the way that the Bennet house is surrounded by a moat. My mom was making a witch puppet and she’d always dressed the witch in red and green and so that’s why Caroline Bingley wears red and green. So there’s little elements like that, it’s got a kind of energy that some of the puppet shows used to have, but, at the same time, it’s shot in a very realistic style.

Question: You are a young guy, nothing major out there, what was your initially feeling when you took on this task?

Joe: My initial thought was, “Oh God, this is too scary.” It’s very frightening, I’ve only done television before and so in television you have a crew of maybe 80 people and that’s a lot, and then suddenly to walk on set the first day of shooting Pride and Prejudice and discover I have a crew of over 300 and Judi Dench at the head of the table. It’s really scary.

Then suddenly I realized Judi Dench was more scared than I was

Question: Why was that?

Joe: Just because she’s a very nervous kind of person. So I took it upon myself to make sure she was okay and look after her and care for her and that made me feel a lot better and her feel a lot better too.

Question: I read you initially did not want to cast Keira Knightley?

Joe: I wouldn’t say that I didn’t want to cast her, I didn’t go to anyone else before Keira but I felt perhaps that she was too beautiful to play Elizabeth Bennet. So I met her anyway, and she was the right age and I was very keen to cast people that were the right age. So I met Keira very late one night in a hotel bar in Montreal and discovered this scruffy little kid who’s a tomboy really, sort of spiky knees and elbows, and suddenly it occurred to me that was perfect for Elizabeth. Elizabeth Bennet is a tomboy and she refuses to conform to the feminine ideals of the period. Then I started talking to Keira and discovered her to be incredibly bright, incredibly funny, independently spirited, very strong young woman who doesn’t say what she thinks you want to hear, but says exactly what she thinks. All of those qualities made me think that Keira was perfect for Elizabeth Bennet.

Question: I spoke with Keira at the Domino junket and she mentioned there were times she was onset practicing nun chucks in a Lizzy Bennet outfit. Did you ever see her not being able to be focused on the role?

Joe: Never, she was the most incredibly focused person of any age that I have ever met and I think that is part of her strength. She’s extraordinary, she’s almost Zen-like in that way, she’s really extraordinarily focused. She conserves her energy; she puts it all into those moments when the camera is turning. She’s incredible.

I’m glad she didn’t tell me that while she was shooting Pride and Prejudice.

Question: You didn’t see her practicing?

Joe: Nope.

Question: How about casting Judi Dench and Donald Sutherland?

Joe: Judi Dench I wrote a letter to saying, “I love it when you’re a bitch. Please come and be a bitch for me,” and she must have giggled or something and she did it.

Donald took a little bit more persuasion. Donald I asked to play the role because I had seen him for many years over in many great roles and then lastly in Cold Mountain, which I thought he was extraordinary in and showed a great tenderness and I was interested in that aspect of his nature. So I offered him the role and we entered into a very long email correspondence during which he talked to me about what I thought of the history of agricultural farming in the late 18th to early 19th century [laughing] and other such questions, and tested me quite a lot. Then when he arrived for the first day of rehearsals he walked into the rehearsal studio and there were the five Bennet daughters and Mrs. Bennet and they all stood and curtsied for him and he practically melted on the spot.

Question: He plays a very powerful role without being outwardly powerful.

Joe: He’s a powerful guy, he’s the proper alpha male and I needed someone with that strength to control those five daughters.

Question: Was he able to?

Joe: Yeah perfectly.

Question: And Matthew MacFadyen for Darcy?

Joe: First, he’s the right age. Second, he’s a big strong manly man. I didn’t want a pretty boy, boy band kind of boy, I wanted a man, and he’s an incredible actor. I’ve loved his work for many years and I think he is an astonishingly good actor. I know also he is not vain; he’s not coming to the role trying to promote himself as a fucking sex symbol. He’s coming as an actor trying to understand who his character is. He’s interested in people and I think that’s probably why he acts and so for all of those reasons he felt perfect. Also, he is just a big sexy man and when I put him opposite Keira Knightley they were just astonishing together.

Question: Without getting too personal I understand you have a relationship with Rosamund Pike who plays Jane Bennet?

Joe: Yeah I do, yeah.

Question: Did that start before or after shooting?

Joe: After the filming.

Question: And Simon Woods is cast as Mr. Bingley and is Rosamund’s ex-boyfriend?

Joe: That was an interesting little dynamic. Simon and Rosa had a relationship some years prior, they’d been split up for like two years. They hadn’t seen each other for two years, since they had broken up and on the first day of rehearsals they walked onto set and there they were playing opposite each other.

Question: When did they find out they were both in the film?

Joe: They’d only found out the night before the first day. [laughing]

Question: Was that you that held that back?

Joe: Well actually I tried hard not to cast Simon because I had cast Rosa and I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to make life difficult for anyone and I thought it might be awkward for them so I tried very hard to find another Bingley, but I had worked with Simon and I knew that he was brilliant and I knew that he was perfect for Mr. Bingley.

Question: The casting across the board is perfect for this film, another one is Jena Malone.

Joe: She was wonderful. I tell you what, I think Lydia is an incredibly difficult part to play, I think it is one of the hardest parts and we met a huge amount of actresses for that role and finally we were in LA doing some casting out there and she had driven seven hours from Lake Tahoe to come and meet us by herself and she turned up this funny little thing. I thought, “Oh God, you’re so obviously not going to be Lydia,” and then she started reading her and it was extraordinary. She kind of reminded me a little bit of Nicole Kidman in To Die For and I thought that was interesting.

Question: I have overheard people have mentioned to me differences between the Austen novel and the movie. Do differences concern you?

Joe: I think we’re fairly faithful to it. Obviously there are some cuts that have to be made, but I think we’re fairly faithful to it although there was discussion at one point of cutting one of the sisters, about cutting Mary Bennet because it just felt like there were too many bloody people, but we didn’t and I am very glad for that.

Question: Was it difficult controlling all these women on set?

Joe: Yeah, but I took it in my stride you know.

Question: I read you had dyslexia as a child. Does that play a role in your life now?

Joe: Yeah, I think it means that I am constantly trying to catch up. I feel like I missed out on a lot of learning when I was younger so I am constantly trying to catch up and also I always take projects on the basis of what I might be able to learn from them and I think that’s partly due to that whole dyslexia thing.

Question: What’s up next?

Joe: I am hoping to do a film of a book adaptation called “Atonement” by Ian McCuen. It’s an amazing novel. It’s for Working Title and hopefully we’ll shoot that next spring.

Question: What’s that one about?

Joe: It’s about happy endings in a way; it’s about the possibility of atoning for the sins of your life by creating wishful films of fiction.

Question: What would an Oscar nomination mean to you? Either for the film, for you, for Keira…

Joe: It would mean that I got more freedom on my next film and that’s what’s important. It’s the work that’s important. The deep pleasure is the making of the work. The superficial pleasure is any praise you might get afterwards.

Pride and Prejudice is getting a limited release on November 11 and will expand nationwide on November 23, click here for more info including trailers, stills and a complete cast listing.


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