I spoke with English actor JJ Field (Captain America) and director Jerusha Hess (screenwriter of Napoleon Dynamite) about their newest film Austenland.
Lauren: I’ve been a Jane Austen fan for a long time and I think you all did a great job at making this movie for the Austen fans, so congratulations on that.
Jerusha Hess: Thank you! You probably remember it more than we did!
Lauren: Jerusha, you and Shannon Hale were both involved in making this screenplay, but she originally wrote the novel “Austenland.” When you were reading it over, was there a particular scene that you thought might be a little difficult to film for a movie?
Jerusha: No, because the novel is very cinematic. I think I did my initial read and that was so fun and fast and the next time I read, I just started chopping away.
Lauren: I think this is definitely a film for girls and young women my age. I loved the scene where Jane (Keri Russell) is watching the Colin Firth scene in Pride & Prejudice because my girlfriends and I would do the same thing in high school. How important was it to you to pay homage to earlier films based on Jane Austen’s stories?
Jerusha: Yea, it definitely played a part. Unlike Bridget Jones or Clueless, we are trying to make it seem as realistic as possible. We wanted to make this modern day. I watched all of the adaptations. It’s almost less about Jane Austen’s original work and more about the adaptations.
Lauren: I love Jane’s line in the movie when she says; “I’m single because apparently the only good men are fictional.”
JJ Feild: (Laughs) Its terribly unfair!
Lauren: When you both were growing up and reading books and watching movies, was there a particular character that you had a crush on in the fictional world?
Jerusha: Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing!
Lauren: Oh yea, that’s a good one!
JJ: I was first introduced to the romantic comedies when I first saw Working Girl, I’d have to say that would be my first crush. I just wanted them to pull the chopsticks out of their hair and start shaking their head!
Lauren: JJ, your character is clearly based on Mr. Darcy, at first he doesn’t have an interest in Jane and then he falls in love with her. I think you did an excellent job of making Mr. Nobly his own character in this huge Jane Austen world we live in. Can you talk about how you developed this character?
JJ: I looked at the character and realized that Henry Nobly doesn’t want to be there and is embarrassed to be put in to that situation. That’s where his coldness and awkwardness comes from. And as Jerusha said, you look at the adaptations and I’ve actually done Jane Austen so I questioned how could I make fun of that?
Lauren: Everyone seemed to have so much fun making this movie, are there any particular funny scenes that fans might like to know about?
Jerusha: I just remembered this, there is a particular scene where Keri arrives in London wearing horrible Renaissance gown and we used an actual airport for that scene. So those are real people and they hated her! They were so upset would dare dress up in that costume and walk in to the airport.
Lauren: Did you shoot inside the actual estate or did you shoot on sound stages?
Jerusha: Yes! We got to shoot inside and outside the manor. We used the whole thing. It’s kind of a funny place, its been used many times in pieces by lots of different shows.
JJ: It’s a great and glorious estate, I’ve shot there a few times and I think Downton Abbey films there sometimes. For this film it was perfect, it had everything that was needed.
Lauren: I think there is a fine line between making fun of hardcore fans without offending them. Were either of you scared of that when you were going into production?
Jerusha: Yea, absolutely. Not scared, but aware that we were teasing fandom and that could be a bad thing when the Austenites are our target market as well. But there aren’t many people who are like Jane in the film, where they have a life-sized Colin Firth picture in their house.
Lauren: Can each of you talk about where you had your very first Jane Austen experience and what that was like?
Jerusha: I can’t remember if I had read Pride & Prejudice in high school or if I saw the film version first. I tried to sit through the older version with Laurence Olivier. I read her book and watched them all at a similar time and loved them. So romantic and chaste for my little 16-year-old self.
JJ: Sense and Sensibility was my first reading of Jane Austen. In school, Jane Austen is on the English curriculum, so you don’t grow up without having a Jane Austen story thrust upon you.
Lauren: Jennifer Coolidge’s character has no idea who Jane Austen is and she is just throws herself into this world. Some people who will be seeing this movie might not know much about Jane Austen either, what do you hope those people will take away from the film?
Jerusha: The comedy is universally right. Jennifer Coolidge’s antics are very universal. My brother saw it and he had no clue what he was watching and he laughed the whole time.
Lauren: JJ, hypothetically, if one of your previous characters that you’ve played was dropped into this Austenland world, which one do you think would fit right in and which one would have the most horrible time?
Jerusha: That’s the best question you’ve gotten, JJ. I can’t wait to hear this.
JJ: Well I think Henry Nobly from this film would have the most horrible time. And let’s see having the most fun…I did another thing for Masterpiece Theatre called The Shadow in the North, and I played a detective [Frederick Garland], whose sister owns this dress-up theatre club. I think he would fit right in!