As if navigating the rules of early 19th-century English society weren’t treacherous enough, Jane Austen’s beloved characters face the additional threat of the undead in the action-horror film “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestselling 2009 parody novel of the same name, the film sees Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and her sisters tasked not only with finding suitable husbands, but also battling a mysterious plague that’s overrunning Britain. Elizabeth must now unite with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) to rid the country of this zombie menace and discover their true love.
Bella Heathcote (“Dark Shadows”), who plays Elizabeth’s elder sister Jane, spoke with SPINOFF about reinterpreting the beloved novel, killing zombies, her favorite fight sequence, and matters of the heart.
Spinoff: When you heard about this project, did you think, “Pride and Prejudice and … Zombies?”
Bella Heathcote: Yes, I was like, “How is that going to work?” Then I read it and thought, “This is actually kind of great.” Because I love the original Jane Austen version of “Pride and Prejudice,” I was worried that somehow the zombies would mar it. There’s a war going on in the Austen version, so there was room for zombies. There’s room for a different war to take place without affecting the integrity of the characters or piece in general. Everything I loved about it is still there. There’s just an extra thrill.
Why does meshing zombies with a period piece work better than using another supernatural threat such as vampires?
In this, there are a few levels of zombies: There’s a neo-zombie, who’s just been bitten and they can still move around society unnoticed, then there’s a degeneration. I feel zombies work better because there’s a sense of paranoia; there’s something unknown about them. I feel like vampires have a different connotation. There’s something more sexual about vampires, which would have messed up Jane Austen’s story.
Jane and her sisters are no damsels in distress. How did you prepare to kick zombie butt?
I trained for about four months leading up to it. I did kung fu. I had done a bit of kickboxing, just for fitness, over the years. Then I did kung fu and got really into it because I get nervous before a job. It was great to be able to channel that into something physical. When I came to London, I trained with the girls for about a month doing more martial arts, more choreographed work and weapons stuff. I want to do that in every film. I’ve seen segments of the movie and the fights look fantastic. Actually doing it on the day, because you’ve got someone helping you sell it like a stunt person, you feel so tough. Playing Jane is great because I get to rescue Bingley. It’s fun being the woman saving the man. It flips things on its head, and I love that about it.
Those skills are put to good use. There are some intense battle sequences. Which one was the most elaborate?
There were some huge fight scenes with the sisters at some balls. There was one for me that wasn’t a pack of zombies. It was one man, then two other people appear and there’s something about the two other people that is so disturbing. I don’t think Jane takes taking life lightly. There are these two zombies, and it’s really distressing to her. At other moments, she sees people she was friendly with, or on good terms with, and she has to take their life. Those were more disturbing scenes for me than the big fight sequences.
How pleased were you with the way the film attacks the Jane/Bingley romance?
They handled it the way it should be. I still desperately want them to be together like I do in the original Jane Austen tale, but this time, their lives are at stake. I, as an audience member, want them to find love. That’s really the most important thing at the end of the day. She also gets to rescue him, which is another way of proving she does love him.
Next up for you is the horror/thriller “The Neon Demon.” What struck you about the script?
I loved the concept. Elle Fanning plays a model who comes out to Los Angeles to start her career. She gets taken under the wing of some other models and a makeup artist. Their relationship evolves from there. It’s dark and fantastic, and there’s clever dialogue.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and “The Neon Demon” boast impressive casts. How important is that to you?
It’s really important. They are the people you are working with or reacting off of. If you’re talking to a brick wall, it’s hard. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was perfectly cast. Once the sisters got together, we fell into those roles. There was also the fact that I really liked them. It’s not necessarily important to your performance, but I actually just loved the cast I was working with.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” opens Friday nationwide.