Interview with the cast of Pride & Prejudice (Sept 2005)

Interview with the cast of Pride & Prejudice

Daily Mail

Last updated at 11:43 09 septembre 2005

The new Pride & Prejudice is finally hitting the big screen. But will it live up to the book and the much-loved BBC TV series?

We grilled the stars on your behalf about the challenges of filming a classic and how they coped with those electrifyingly tight period costumes.

Keira Knightley is the film's heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, alongside Spooks star Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy.

Dame Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike, Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn also star in the Austen adaptation, directed by Joe Wright.

How were the locations chosen for the film?

Wright: "The decision really came form Jane Austen herself. I hadn't read the book before being sent the script, and I was shocked by how acutely observed the novel was, and how much it felt like a piece of British realism.

"So the idea to shoot in real locations came from that. We wanted to create 360 degree worlds in which the characters could perform."

Do the costumes and locations affect how you act?

MacFadyen: "The costumes are great because they kind of tell you how to move, how to walk. You can't sit in britches like I'm sitting now, for instance. Well you could but it would be quite uncomfortable.

"And being in the locations themselves is great, it's less of a leap of the imagination if you're standing on the balcony at Chatsworth than if you're in an aircraft hangar somewhere."

Blethyn: "We actually had the luxury, Joe had the brilliant idea of having the Bennet family go down to Groombridge Place before we started shooting so that we would absolutely know the house inside out before starting to work. So we wouldn't have to stop and think 'which way is the kitchen' - we'd know.

"We knew every nook and cranny of that house even before we started to film there. It was great."

Don't you all have links to ?

Knightley: "Yes, we're in the Johnny Depp club. We're very lucky."

Pike: "I've been married to him."

Knightley: "I haven't, you're one up on me."

Any Depp war stories?

Knightley: "I haven't had any of his practical jokes."

Pike: "Me neither, maybe we don't know him well enough."

Knightley: "There you go, there's our link, we've had no practical jokes from Johnny."

Matthew, how did you approach the character of Darcy?

MacFadyen: "I find Darcy very sympathetic, I find it heartbreaking that he's seen as very haughty and proud - and he is those things - but he's a young man who is still grieving for his parents.

"He's from an ancient family and has this huge responsibility, but it seemed to me that he's still trying to work out who he is and how to be in the world. I found that very interesting, and I found him very sympathetic."

Were you inspired by the novel?

MacFadyen: "I hadn't read the novel before we shot the film. He is based on the script."

Joe, how do you make period pieces relevant?

Wright: "You just have to ignore the fact that it's a historical drama. We really got involved with the emotions and the realities of the characters, and that's what's important in any story whether it's set in 2005 or 1797.

"We also questioned why it is that in period dramas you always see carriages pull up beside big houses, you'd have the wide shots of the houses and big wide shots of the rooms simply because you're in a nice location. You wouldn't do that if you were filming in some semi detached house in Bromley.

"So it was really to ignore the fact that it was a period drama, and yet at the same time look at the detail of the period as much as possible. We enjoyed researching what ladies would do when they wanted to go to the toilet at a ball, when there were 500 ladies and not enough chamber pots.

"They'd take diuretics all day beforehand. And if they did need to go to the toilet they'd have to go home. It was those kind of period details that we enjoyed. It's that real life that we brought into question."

Pike: "We discovered that was why people kept fainting. Not because the corsets were too tight but because they'd dehydrated themselves so much during the day, so that when they got really hot dancing they passed out."

Is there a different opinion of characters by viewers today?</ br>

Wright: "I think that the Bennets were seen very sympathetically at the time. The book was published anonymously, and the readership were immediately clamouring to find out who the author was, all the copies were sold out and they immediately had to reprint.

"I think the Bennets were meant to be as sympathetic then as they are now."

Is Darcy seen differently?

Wright: "Maybe. I think Darcy, as Matthew touched upon, is a young man who is given this huge responsibility and that can be experienced by young men now.

"The shock of Lydia eloping with Wickham, at the age of 15, is as shocking to us now as I'm sure it was then. I don't think it's changed that much."

MacFadyen: "I think looking at it now Darcy would seem much more snobbish in our understanding of the word than he would then.

"To somebody like Darcy it would have been a big deal for him to get over this difference in their status, and to be able to say to Lizzie that he loved her.

"We would think it was incredibly snobbish and elitist, but it wasn't for him. It would have been a big admission, and he would have found it very vulgar. It's a bigger divide than it would have been then is what I'm saying."

Was there a sense of duty alien to us now but not then?

MacFadyen: "Yeah."

Are you conscious of the Darcy effect?

MacFadyen: "I don't know, I don't know what to expect."

Wright: "I think we made this film without considering previous adaptations. The television version was made ten years ago now, and the film version was made in 1946.

"We really did make the film in a little bubble of our own, and I don't think we were really thinking about anything outside of what we were doing each day. Maybe now it will start."

Did you choose to set story in 1790s, because the costumes were more flattering?

Wright: "Austen wrote the first draft of the story in 1797, and it wasn't published until 1811.

"I felt that the earlier period looked more interesting, it was a more interesting period socially and therefore those social changes were reflected in everything including costumes.

"The Empire Lines were just coming in, so high society such as Caroline Bingley, would be wearing an Empire Line dress. Whereas the Bennet girls might not be, so the waistlines could be a little lower.

"And it's true I thought the Empire Line dresses, especially when they're made of muslin, they would make you blow out like a balloon and looked quite unflattering. But really it was a decision made on the basis of the social changes at the time.

"Brenda's character, Mrs Bennet, was wearing a costume from the 1770s really. Lady Catherine, Judi's character, is wearing a costume from earlier.

"I imagined it was like now, where the Queen Mother might have looked like she was wearing clothes out of the 60s and 70s, with the younger generation a little bit more up to date with their fashions."

How did you find the corsets, Keira?</ br>

Knightley: "These corsets were fine. For me what was really important was that you got a sense that these girls could really run around in a field, walk for miles, do anything they wanted in their clothes.

"The corsets in Pride & Prejudice only came down so far, whereas the corsets for something like Pirates of the Caribbean are right the way down which means your stomach is pulled in and you really can't breathe.

"With these it was like not wearing a corset at all. It was fantastic. So a very easy corset experience for me.

How was your corset Brenda?

Blethyn: "Mine was really, really comfortable. I'm quite used to wearing them because I've done a lot of costume drama at the National Theatre. But these were so comfortable.

"Mine was a longer one that came over the stomach as well. It wasn't terribly elegant, you had to sit with your knees apart to allow the centre point to hit the chair.

"But with the big skirts you couldn't see that she was sitting in that way. So it was very, very comfortable.

"There's a scene in the film where she runs like a horse down the drive after her daughter, and it felt just like running normally.

"They were so beautifully made, the costumes all together were handmade, as they would have been by Sands in Rotherhithe. Ridiculously, beautifully made.

"And mine, because the design was from an earlier period, even had repairs in it to make it really, really authentic, with pieces of fabric that the girls would have had. It was beautifully made."

Brenda, is there a danger of Mrs Bennet being too shrill? And how was your relationship with Donald?

Blethyn: "He was very easy to work with, it was a great company atmosphere. For a couple of the girls it was their first job. To start with Joe created such a wonderful for us to work in.

"When I told people I was playing this part they'd say 'oh she's a wonderful cartoon character, you'll have great fun'.

"I said 'excuse me, no she's not. She's got a problem to be dealt with and it seems to me that she's the only one taking the problem seriously'.

"The father isn't, the daughters don't seem terribly concerned, and I would say that it's okay for the father because he's got a roof over his head all the time he's alive, it's when he goes that the problem sets in. She mentions that in one of the scenes.

"Donald and I would have a lot of fun talking about their history, their background and the way he teases her all the time. She is a pain, but you can't not let her be a pain.

"She's embarrassing, but all our mothers are embarrassing at one time or another. When they boast about their children - at the party she was in her element. Of course she's having a good time at the party."

Wright: "The performance in the way Brenda plays her is completely based on her love for her children. And I think you would forgive her anything, because it shows how much she loves her daughters."

Pike: "And also Joe said at the beginning of the filming process that this book is so adamantly through the eyes of a child, it's a child's version of her parents, therefore Mrs Bennet is embarrassing not because she is an atrociously embarrassing character but because this is your 18 year old perception of your mother.

"That's such an amazing insight into the book.

"Another funny story about Donald and Brenda's relationship, was absolutely mortified, shocked and couldn't deal with what Joe said, that Mr and Mrs Bennet would have separate bedrooms.

"This caused huge consternation to Donald who said that was absolutely outrageous, and there was no way he wouldn't sleep in the same room as his wife."

Wright: "Like he'd be knocking on the door going 'oh Mrs Bennet!'. They still fancied each other which was good.

Is there a responsibility when filming a classic?

Blethyn: "Honesty, to what's put in front of you, to the text, to it. You can't bring other productions into play if they're from a different garden. This is our garden and this is where we want to grow.

"These particular actors playing these characters bring totally different insights to other productions, other gardens, as nice as other gardens might be. This is our garden, and this is how we fertilise."

MacFadyen: "I sort of approached Darcy as I would any other part. You'd never play Hamlet, for example, if you started worrying about who's played it before you. The same with a lot of parts.

"That's the nature of it, you just get on with it. It's a wonderful part, but Brenda says it all."

Blethyn: "That's a first."

Is there a fine line with injecting some humour into a character?

MacFadyen: "I don't know. Looking back I can't remember, I can't analyse it like that.

"There is something of the ridiculous in Darcy because he thinks very deeply and seriously about things, and he takes himself very seriously. As young men tend to do I suppose.

"So there is a bit of darkness, which Lizzie punctures so cleverly. I just had a bash and hoped for the best."

Blethyn: "The only scenes I saw Darcy play were the ones that I was in with him, I didn't see the ones that I wasn't in until I saw it at the cinema quite recently.

"I thought it was wonderful the way the audience warmed to Darcy in the same way that Lizzie did.

"They awakened to him, there was something more going on there. One feels the aloofness of this man coming into that dance hall. And totally warming in the same way that she did. It was lovely."

Why did you cast Donald Sutherland and Tom Hollander?

Wright: "I prefer actors who go over the top to those that don't go far enough, because you can always rein actors in - it's more difficult to bring it out of actors.

"It was quite easy to tell Tom he was going too far, and to pull it back a bit."

Blethyn: "Not just Tom!"

Wright: "We met a number of actors for Mr Collins and each played it in a different way.

"One actor came in and played him as Tony Blair! Tom came in and you always want someone to surprise you, to not play it as you specifically imagined.

"He came in and played him as this weird little guy who couldn't quite manage to communicate in the way that he wanted to, and couldn't understand why not everyone respected him as much as he respected himself.

"They didn't take him seriously and he'd tried all his life to be taken seriously, and I thought that was exciting and something I hadn't seen. It surprised me, and I liked to be surprised.

"And Donald, I cast him because I'd always been a huge fan of Donald's work in the 70s. I used to act, and I appeared in a film he was in called Revolution.

"We used to joke that between us we had brought down the British film industry. And then I liked the idea of Mr Bennet being slightly older.

"He would have inherited the house in his 40s and then been able to marry, and met this younger wife, rather fancied her - I imagined her to be a little bit like Lydia - and he thought that maybe she might grow up to be a more sensible woman. Unfortunately he was wrong.

"Then I saw him in Cold Mountain. In that he reminded me a bit of my own dad, and he made me cry. He's got a really big heart, he's a proper man, a proper patriarchal figure and yet he's got a very open heart.

"I wanted an actor to be able to deliver that last scene in the way that Donald does. That was why I cast him. But he took some persuading."

What put Donald off?

Wright: "He wanted to know that it was going to be done (properly). He's done 120 films in his career, he doesn't want to waste time.

"So we had long e-mail discussions about the history of agriculture and farming in the late 18th century, and we discussed facial hair and what kind of beard he might have.

"Also the fact that he doesn't like smoking within 200 yards of him. We long e-mail discussions, but in the end he agreed, he got on a plane and was greeted by five Bennet girls and his wife. He was a very happy man, to be fussed over."

How about horse riding in the film?

Macfadyen: "There wasn't that much horse riding."

Wright: "It's another period convention, just because it's a period film everyone has to be seen on a horse.

"But at the time walking was very popular, it was seen as an outdoor pursuit."

Macfadyen: "Obviously I'm brilliant at riding horses, I was born in the saddle."

Where is the bust of Darcy now?

Macfadyen: "I'm waiting to be offered it. I don't know where it is.

Wright: "Actually the Duchess of Devonshire got it. it's on display at Chatsworth.

Keira, were you worried about being typecast in costume dramas?

Knightley: "I think the thing is not to be typecast if you can possibly manage it, and what excites me about acting is the idea of changing as much as possible from character to character, and piece to piece.

"You're not going to read a script that has a fantastic story, a fantastic character and a fantastic director and decide not to do it because it was set 200 years ago.

"That would be a bit foolish. You can only go with what interests you, and Pride & Prejudice has been a book that I've been obsessed with since I was about seven, so the opportunity to play a part like Elizabeth Bennet was one that I couldn't miss out on."

Were the costumes in Pirates of the Carribean very different from Pride & Prejudice.

Knightley: "Yeah, they are. Partly because we were looking for a kind of freedom with these costumes, we wanted to be able to really move, to really live in them and be able to run around in these things.

"The whole point of the period costume in Pirates is that you can?t breathe, you can?t move and all the rest of it. So yeah, they are very different experiences."

Joe Wright becomes interviewer, and turning to Keira asks if Pirates of the Caribbean is actually a period film.

Knightley: "That's the problem. Of course it's a period film. It's not accurate to that period obviously, but it's hardly modern day."

How was the interaction with Donald Sutherland and the rest of the Bennet's?

Knightley: "We adored him."

Pike: "We all hated him, it was bloody good acting. No he was wonderful."

Knightley: "He was amazing, completely amazing. Partly because he did love having six women around him all the time.

"We were really lucky, as Brenda said it was an amazing company to work with and be amongst.

"Everybody got on, and I think you can see that when you see the film."

Blethyn: "We ate with him nearly every night. When we weren't working we'd spend time together, he's a wonderful man."

Is it rare to connect like that?

Blethyn: "To that extent, yeah. We were working away from home, so we weren't changing out of our costumes and going home at the end of the day, we were on location and that is more conducive to that. But it was a pleasure."

Pike: "We took him to a party one night."

Blethyn: "Yes we did."

Knightley: "We did but he was wearing a mask, because he can't be around cigarettes but felt anyone who wanted to smoke could, so he came with a little mask that he wore."

Bennet sisters?

Blethyn: "I forgot she was American actually.

Knightley: "She stayed with the accent all the way through, and suddenly at the end when she started speaking with an American accent we were all slightly freaked out. It was like 'what are you doing?'."

Blethyn: "Her Mum turned up for a while, and we all thought 'oh, her Mum's American ? of course she's American too'. She worked really hard on it prior to starting and kept it up all the time."

Will you do another Jane Austen film and how did you choose the locations for this one?

Wright: "Never say never, but I don't foresee myself doing another Austen adaptation. Basildon Park was a house we just came across, we spent about four or five months looking for locations as we were developing the script.

"Basildon Park is such an accurate piece of modern architecture for that time, we were surprised to find it in such good condition.

"It was also one that didn't feel particularly homely. We were looking for somewhere that felt like it could be rented accommodation, it was rented by the Bingleys. So it was less of a homely environment, and more of a clean, cool environment."

Pike: "We kept getting kicked out of it doing that ball scene, because the carbon dioxide levels were rising where there were so many people breathing in there. We kept getting banished, sent out and having to wait outside."

Blethyn: "It was candle lit as well."

Did it seem like Joe's first feature to the cast?

Macfadyen: "Not at all."

Blethyn: "From the early frames we knew we were in very good hands, we could see the way he'd set up the shot, inhabited the shot, so right from the very earliest scenes we knew were in very, very inspired hands."

Macfadyen: "Joe is an actor's director. There are plenty of directors who aren't that interested, but Joe likes actors I think, he's interested in the process of it. So it was a treat, it really was."

Pike: "You can get quite self conscious at times, there's this business of your close up coming up, but in that big ball scene he put three cameras on it.

"And in lots of the dinner scenes too, so you wouldn't actually know when your moment was coming.

"That's why it's got that lovely unaware quality to it, you really did feel it's being observed. I think it's because people didn't know they were being watched really, that's what you get, this window on life."

Wright: "We had two weeks rehearsal, so we kind of got to know each other quite well. We'd all kind of spent a lot of time together before we started."

What is relevant about the characters and stories for today's modern audience?

Knightley: "I think reason that Pride & Prejudice as a story has been so popular for so long is that fundamentally it doesn't matter when you set it.

"You can see that for Bridget Jones, or Bride & Prejudice. For me it's about growing up, about making mistakes, it's about love and it's about thing that are as relevant today as then.
"And it's one of the most beautiful romantic stories ever told. I think it has completely universal appeal, and it doesn't matter when you set it or when you're watching or read it. You can't not love it."

Was Elizabeth a modern woman for her time?

Knightley: "I think so. The reason I was so terrified about taking her on was that when I first got the part I had women coming over to me saying 'you're not Elizabeth Bennet, I am'.

"I think that's why the character is so loved, because everybody who loves the book is Elizabeth Bennet. Or she's what you aspire to be, she's funny, she's witty and intelligent. She's a fully rounded and very much loved character.

"So it's terrifying to actually take her on. But equally because I'd been obsessed I also believed that I was Elizabeth Bennet so I was the right person for it."

Was the ultimate ambition of the film having a modern audience to take something from it?

Wright: "I think so, I took something from it when I read the book. I tried to remember that, to hold on to that feeling I had when I first read it.

"And if it's true to me I don't see why it shouldn't be true to others as it was to Jane Austen. It's a true story.

"It's also a bit of a how-to guide, I think that Jane was writing it for her contemporaries and for her friends, her small community.

"So I think there is an element of the how-to guide there as well. It's a cautionary tale as well."