‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ – Lily James and Sam Riley Interview

Lily James and Sam Riley Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Interview
Lily James and Sam Riley at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con (Photo by Eric Charbonneau / Invision for Screen Gems / AP Images)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic tale with, obviously, zombies, and on February 5, 2016 the Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Entertainment horror film will be hitting theaters. The book, credited to Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, was adapted for the screen by Burr Steers who also directed the zombie period piece. Lily James (Cinderella) and Sam Riley (Maleficent) lead the cast as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, respectively, and together at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con they provided details on their characters and on how they attempted not to actually kill any ‘zombies’ while making the film.

This is such an unconventional movie. What attracted you to it?

Lily James: “Zombies.”

Sam Riley: “There it is. We had the same agent and when he rang to tell me, first of all he said Pride and Prejudice and then I was like, ‘Ugh.’ Then he said And Zombies and I had never heard of the book or anything. I thought he’d lost his mind. Then I read it from start to finish in one sitting which is very rare. Then I rang up and said I really desperately want to be in this.”

What kind of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett are you?

Sam Riley: “The best.”

Lily James: “The best kind. I have to say, when I knew that Sam was going to go, I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I think the cool thing is that the central characters are really truthful to the book, but heightened because everything’s life and death. My Liz Bennett’s pretty angry.”

Sam Riley: “I don’t really know. I watched the BBC one because my mother’s a huge fan and I asked her who is Mr. Darcy and she says Colin. She was very quick. Colin, Colin, Colin. So I watched that, having never seen it, just so that I could have an understanding of what the perception of this great character is in most people’s minds so that I could then take that and add samurai swords.”

Lily, had you ever wanted to play the straight version of Elizabeth Bennett?

Sam Riley: “We kind of did though at the same time, which sounds bizarre.”

Lily James: “I definitely feel like I’ve done that now, yeah. And our proposal scene, which is one of my favorite scenes in it, worked just as well without the fighting. And then suddenly you add in me cracking books at his head. All the inner rage inside Liz Bennett in that she’s sort of rebelling against society, about the way things are, about what women’s fate is within that world, all that inner conflict that exists in her growing up is channeled into killing zombies which is what I mean by that sort of rage is let out through the means of killing the undead.”

Did you enjoy wearing the wardrobe? An imperial A-frame as opposed to corsets?

Lily James: “We did wear corsets, but there’s different kinds of corsets. Corsets that pull you in the waist or push you up at the top. We had those. The upper deck is up and out.”

Lily James and Bella Heathcote Photo
Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems’ PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (Photo © 2015 CTMG, Inc)

How does the period piece put a twist on the popular zombie trope?

Sam Riley: “Well, I think the key to it was what Burr described as we’re playing Pride and Prejudice. I’m playing Mr. Darcy as Mr. Darcy, but at the same time instead of it being the black plague, there’s this plague of the undead and everybody’s trying to keep up appearances. This class system still exists. The snobbery is still rife, but then there’s this sub class of the undead. It always sounds ridiculous talking about it.”

What was the hardest challenge you faced?

Lily James: “I guess just for me it was trying to balance what I know and loved about the original Pride and Prejudice and keeping that still really alive in this new version. And so that sometimes felt really simple and sometimes it was quite a big conflict. Also the fighting was hard and you never have much time to learn it. The Bennett sisters trained together for months before and we got to become this sort of lethal version of the Spice Girls. Or the Powerpuff girls. I don’t really even know why. I just love them. So I’d be kicking one zombie as Bella was slicing its leg off. We worked in tandem and that was cool but that was hard.”

Sam Riley: “She’s lethal. I was black and blue after one of our scenes together.”

Lily James: “I sort of forget that you’re not supposed to actually hit people. He was like a samurai though. One time I threw this book at his head and he literally went, whoom. Like The Matrix.”

Why do love and war, even if it’s zombie war, go so nicely hand in hand.

Sam Riley: “Well, because we’re still animals, aren’t we really? And they’re basic desires, anger and love I suppose. It’s a very deep question.”

Lily James: “I always think with this, because so much is life and death, that sort of enhances love, makes you just go for it because why not?”

Have you discovered your inner fighter?

Sam Riley: “I woke him up again, but he’s asleep again now. Fighting, especially a real fight is always so messy and horrible if you ever see one outside of a bar or someplace. It’s not for me. Not the face!”

What was the craziest zombie herd scene?

Lily James: “I mean, I had a scene where I was riding on a horse up a hill in the middle of the night in some place in the country, and over the top of the hill, hundreds of zombies were running at me. Earlier on in the day, I had an incident where I’d stood on an extra’s head so I was really cautious. It was really bad so I was really cautious. As the horse is going, I was like, ‘Can you make sure that the zombies move out of the way?’ because they get really into character. I’m not joking, I was like, ‘Please, they have to give way to us.’ And they just didn’t. I was riding and I was screaming, ‘Jesus Christ, get out of the way!’ These extras were in a second of their life, were about to get trampled on by this horse.”

Sam Riley: “It’s so funny, if you tell them to walk in a straight direction, they will do it. And if cars are coming, they just keep walking in a straight line.”

Lily James: “It was one of the most frightening moments I’ve ever had on a set. I was horrible.”

What is it like being part of a film that’s this unique? What does it mean for the future of genre films?

Sam Riley: “Well, we’re really thrilled that we’ve been able to do this and I think zombie films already, like Shaun of the Dead, I think as long as people are interested in zombies they’ll find ways of sticking them in anything.”

Lily James: “And it’s also wonderful to have the women being so powerful and so strong. Girl power is very much present in this movie.”

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