The cast and crew of Jane Austen thriller “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” gathered at West Hollywood’s Harmony Gold theater for the film’s U.S. premiere Thursday night, gleefully reuniting to sing the film’s praises.
Lily James, who stars as Lizzie Bennet with Shaolin combat chops, admitted that it took her some time to warm up to the concept. “At first I thought the title sounded god-awful — I thought, ‘What is this?! You can’t put zombies in Jane Austen,'” she said. “And then I read the script and it’s honestly one of the best scripts I’ve read. It was so absurdly wonderful and somehow the story stays true and rings true and it works. You feel these characters in these extreme circumstances. It’s just fun. I loved it.”
James is no stranger to portraying beloved characters like Bennet; she played the titular princess in Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” and stars as Natasha Rostova in the current “War and Peace” miniseries.
“It’s scary, taking on such iconic literary heroines,” James said. “I feel a lot of pressure. This was great because it was so different. There are zombies, so literally anything goes.”
She was also quick to celebrate the movie’s gender politics. “I think that Liz Bennet is a feminist,” James said. “Jane Austen was forward-thinking, brave, spirited and free-willed. This exaggerates that even more because [Elizabeth] can beat the sh-t out of zombies. The Bennet sisters are just this group of ninjas that are so wonderfully in control of their own destinies. Even though they are still looking to find a husband, they also can take care of themselves.”
James’ support for the film’s feminist tone was echoed by Douglas Booth, who plays Bingley.
“It was pure joy making this film,” said Booth, a public supporter of gender equality. “It’s refreshing to see it turned on its head, with me standing on the sidelines and me being rescued.”
Producer Allison Shearmur, who shepherded the film through its multiyear development limbo (Natalie Portman and David O. Russell had each been attached to the project previously), suggested that the addition of the undead to the existing plot sharpened “Pride and Prejudice’s” already-modern themes.
“The zombie plague allowed this conflict between Liz and Darcy to not only become further intensified but to have life and death stakes,” Shearmur said. “The romance that you love became even more enhanced because the obstacles became that much more exaggerated.”
She added, “In some ways, it allows us to see women from a period of time who you would think would be disempowered by the forces of society, and I think it’s a thrill to watch women from different circumstances and time periods overcome the forces that kept them in their place.”
Matt Smith, Lena Headey, Jack Houston and Charles Dance also star in the film directed by Burr Steers. based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Austen). The cast and filmmakers joined friends Karen Gillian and Joanne Froggatt (“Downton Abbey”) at the Sunset Tower for an after-party.