Bella Heathcote and Lily James star in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Jay Maidment/Screen Gems)
Janeites are fans of Jane Austen. Zombiephiles are fans of, well, you know. These fan bases usually run around in totally different circles in the pop culture spectrum and, as Rudyard Kipling would say, “never the twain shall meet.” Until now. These two completely disparate fan bases are uniting for the new film, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, based on the popular Seth Grahame-Smith novel. PPZ asks the age old question: Which is scarier, trying to find true love or trying to survive a zombie apocalypse? While none of us will hopefully have to deal with the zombie part, all of us can relate to the horrors of the dating world.
Two of the stars of PPZ, Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet) and Lily James (Elizabeth Bennet), give us a glimpse into the collision of these two worlds.
James appreciates her character and the story.
“It was actually quite fun, and it works. I feel that the zombies just allow us to heighten the themes of Jane Austen’s work of female empowerment. They’re quite forward-thinking women. They’re independent women. In this version, we get to be the heroes. We get to save the boys. We’re not damsels in distress.”
Heathcote is a little more succinct.
“We were like the Spice Girls with swords.”
Though they had fun, there was some anxiety.
James explains, “Whenever I felt nervous, I would go back and reference the Jane Austen book to immerse myself in that world. There was this freedom that allowed us to be brave because there are zombies. As an actor, that allowed us to make artistic choices.”
Unlike a typical Jane Austen adaptation, the actors had to endure rigorous training for their parts. James “did about three months of kung fu training in L.A., and then we worked together for about a month in London on the other, more specific skills,” while Heathcote “did lots of boxing. I can get lazy, but I think it’s so important to move your body. Learning to fight was just great. I felt so empowered, and it was so great to have that physical strength. There was also a choreography aspect to it, so it took me a while to feel like I was at the right level.”
Though zombies are scary creatures, the “horror” in PPZ is more along the lines of Shaun of the Dead, which happens to be Heathcote’s favorite zombie movie.
“I love Shaun of the Dead. I started watching a lot when I got the part because I wasn’t a big zombie fan. I think that’s why zombie movies are so terrifying because it’s something that could happen.”
James adds, “I like [zombie movies]. We were talking about our favorite zombie films earlier, and I was saying how much I enjoyed World War Z. It felt quite real. It felt quite terrifying, like something that could actually happen.”
As James mentioned before, the actresses were thrilled to not just be the damsels in distress.
Heathcote explains, “It’s weird being in a film with not just one female protagonist, but a bunch of them. And they’re action stars. And they’re the heroes. And they get to play with boys. If I can do one more film like that, I’ll be pretty happy.”
While on the set, the actresses referenced Angelina Jolie’s role in Salt often, but Jolie wasn’t their only inspiration.
James “loved Linda Hamilton in Terminator [2: Judgment Day]; her and Sigourney Weaver [in Aliens]. [Sigourney’s] unbelievable.”
Heathcote was more recent in her action heroine inspiration.
“I loved Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. She’s not only incredibly strong where she can save the world, but you also desperately want her to be OK.”
Though the cast was a family on set, as with every family, there are always rivalries, especially with all of the physicality.
James explains, “That competitive edge bled through everything – even with the kiss at the end. It’s like ours must be bigger. It’s like, ‘Did [Bella] use tongue for her kiss?’”
So no matter what horrors might be going on around us, getting a kiss just right might be the most nerve-wracking part of your day.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is now in theaters.