Jane Austen purists, eat your heart out. It’s going to happen to some of your favorite characters anyway.
Lars and the Real Girl director Craig Gillespie finalized his deal yesterday to helm the big-screen version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling fusion of Austen’s 19th century comedy of manners and romance with a nightmarish horde of flesh-eating undead. Gillespie recently wrapped a remake of the ’80s cult classic Fright Night, with Colin Farrell as the unfriendly neighborhood vampire, and plans to begin shooting P+P+Z at the end of summer.
Gillespie spoke exclusively to EW about how he plans to make zombies seem natural in the early-1800’s British countryside, and whether Austen film alums Colin Firth and Keira Knightley could make cameos…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m trying to think of a common thread between your three recent films — Lars and the Real Girl, the Fright Night remake, and now Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — and all I can figure is that you’re fascinated by things that aren’t really alive.
CRAIG GILLESPIE: [Laughs] Yeah, there’s a certain undead quality.
What’s the state of the project? David O. Russell was attached to direct. Then he dropped out in a budget dispute, and Mike White took over directing duties, but then left to focus on an HBO series. Do you start from scratch?
No, we have a really great script that we’re just going to do a polish on and then get going, really…. David Russell wrote the script off the book, and it has such a great mix of humor and horror. I just love being able to juggle those two aspects. The humor is inherent in the Pride and Prejudice side, but taking that and accenting it with zombies is just a brilliant and fun idea. And there are such strong female characters, which is nice to have. It’s a great clash.
What sold you on this mash-up between pre-Victorian British literature and flesh-eating horror?
I was aware the project was around, but at the time it wasn’t available. Then it became available. I was still finishing up Fright Night, but in the meantime I called my agent and said, “I want to see that script.” He said, “I’m not sure we’d be able to figure out the timing.” But I read the first 30 pages and said, “I want to do this.” It’s just such a great combination between classic literature — Jane Austen, and meshing it with zombies. The challenge of meshing those two genres is really exciting to me.
How would you describe the final combination — is it a horror film, a comedy, a supernatural drama?
There’s a lot of action in this. There are a lot of big set pieces in this film, which is exciting. Basically, as I said to the studio, at the core it’s a love story between Elizabeth and Darcy. If that’s not working, and we’re not rooting for those two get together through all this craziness, the movie is not going to work. That’s key to me, to have this great emotional story going on, and all this craziness.
So what you’re saying is this needs real drama. It can’t be a spoof.
Exactly. But there can be comic relief.
What do you have to protect from Austen’s original work to keep the balance?
I love the propriety of the Jane Austen novels, which you want to keep. The language, what’s appropriate and not appropriate. The customs, and the hierarchy. They had very witty dialogue with a lot of undertones to it. You need the juxtoposition. There’s going to be a strong gothic undertone, which ties the two genres together. It’s more in the world of [Tim Burton’s 1999] Sleepy Hollow, where it’s somewhat stylized. We have that creative license because of the zombies. I’ll certainly do my homework and explore genres to see what might work, but it’s going to have that strong gothic sense, I think.
Though the two sides of the story share a gothic, heightened tone, is it possible to add zombies to a British pastoral romance and still make it believable?
They’re incorporated in a great way. It’s literally just a burden they have to deal with. And back in those days, people would die from plagues. It’s just a hardship they have to work through. They still try to keep the social norms working. It’s not proper for a lady to be carrying a shotgun, for example, but here she’s got to have a weapon.
Who do you have in mind for the roles of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?
Casting is trying to find the people who can walk that line. It’s too early now. [Laughs] Nice try though.
Any chance you can recruit actors who have appeared in previous versions of Pride and Prejudice to, say, do a couple cameos as flesh-eaters? Like, could we see a zombie Colin Firth or a zombie Keira Knightley?
I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re definitely giving me food for thought.
For more movie news, or to discuss the pros and cons of messing with the classics, follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter @Breznican.