Jane Austen adaptation is upon us as Pride
is being brought back to the big
screen after 65 years. In tradition of Emma
novel always brings an audience, and when audiences get
a taste of Pride and Prejudice
they will be pleasantly
surprised as it has not succumb to the Hollywood treatment.
While the UK and US will be getting different endings,
which I will detail at the end of this interview, I am
sure audiences will be happy across the board.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with director Joe
Wright and discuss the film, search his motivations
and talk shop. Wright's career has been short and primarily
limited to television where he was won a few BAFTA
Awards and several mentions of notoriety, but none
of that could have prepared him for a cast that included Judi
Sutherland and, of course, Keira
Knightley, but as he tells us – he managed it quite
Question: How's the day been treating you?
Joe: It's been
great, I like Seattle, it's been fun. I got in last night
and had a screening, had a Q&A last night.
Question: How'd that go?
Joe: It went really
well actually. It was a lovely audience, really gorgeous
audience. Nice questions. Then we went out to some bars
and hung out. It was great.
Question: So how many times have you been asked, "Why
do we need another Jane Austen adaptation?"
Joe: Um, probably
somewhere in the seventies.
Question: What do you think about that question?
think it's a story that deserves telling over and over.
I think it's like a fairy tale really, I think it's something
we enjoy hearing. There hasn't been a movie based on Pride
and Prejudice for 65 years now, the last version
was with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson and I think
it's about time we had another one.
Question: How familiar with the story were you?
Had you grown up reading it, had you seen the other versions?
Joe: Not at all,
I had never read it; I had never seen any of the adaptations.
So when I was sent the screenplay I was a bit reticent
about reading it really. I thought this was probably
something for girls and I was a bit cooler, more street
than that. But out of respect for the production company
I read the script and I was very moved by it and then
I thought I better read the book. So I read the book
and I was again incredibly moved by that, and also I
felt like I had a secret, like I knew how to make it.
I just felt that it was so fresh and so well observed
and beautifully told and has such an energy to it, a
youthful energy to it and that excited me.
Question: So how did you approach it, what was
Joe: The first
decision, which seemed very obvious to me, but had never
been done before was to cast the actors at the age Jane
Austen wrote the characters. It's a story about very
young people falling in love for the first time, Elizabeth
Bennet is like 20, Darcy is 28. This story can only be
told by people of that age because it's about falling
in love for the first time and it's about not quite recognizing
the feelings you are having for someone else. Therefore,
if you have a 40 year-old man as Laurence Olivier was
it's kind of like, a bit weird really, it's like The
40 Year-Old Virgin or something. So that was
my first choice to make it about the young people.
Question: Your parents founded a puppetry theatre
and I heard you looked at this like a puppet show. Can
you explain that?
Joe: I have two
traditions in my psyche. One is puppetry; the other is
British realism/filmmaking. The puppetry kind of shows
itself in some of the imagery. I like the idea, for instance,
five virgins living on an island in the way that the
Bennet house is surrounded by a moat. My mom was making
a witch puppet and she'd always dressed the witch in
red and green and so that's why Caroline Bingley wears
red and green. So there's little elements like that,
it's got a kind of energy that some of the puppet shows
used to have, but, at the same time, it's shot in a very
Question: You are a young guy, nothing major
out there, what was your initially feeling when you took
on this task?
Joe: My initial
thought was, "Oh God, this is too scary." It's very frightening,
I've only done television before and so in television
you have a crew of maybe 80 people and that's a lot,
and then suddenly to walk on set the first day of shooting Pride
and Prejudice and discover I have a crew of over
300 and Judi Dench at the head of the table. It's really
Then suddenly I realized Judi Dench was more scared
than I was
Question: Why was that?
Joe: Just because
she's a very nervous kind of person. So I took it upon
myself to make sure she was okay and look after her and
care for her and that made me feel a lot better and her
feel a lot better too.
Question: I read you initially did not want
to cast Keira Knightley?
wouldn't say that I didn't want to cast her, I didn't
go to anyone else before Keira but I felt perhaps that
she was too beautiful to play Elizabeth Bennet. So I
met her anyway, and she was the right age and I was very
keen to cast people that were the right age. So I met
Keira very late one night in a hotel bar in Montreal
and discovered this scruffy little kid who's a tomboy
really, sort of spiky knees and elbows, and suddenly
it occurred to me that was perfect for Elizabeth. Elizabeth
Bennet is a tomboy and she refuses to conform to the
feminine ideals of the period. Then I started talking
to Keira and discovered her to be incredibly bright,
incredibly funny, independently spirited, very strong
young woman who doesn't say what she thinks you want
to hear, but says exactly what she thinks. All of those
qualities made me think that Keira was perfect for Elizabeth
Question: I spoke with Keira at the Domino junket
and she mentioned there were times she was onset practicing
nun chucks in a Lizzy Bennet outfit. Did you ever see
her not being able to be focused on the role?
Joe: Never, she
was the most incredibly focused person of any age that
I have ever met and I think that is part of her strength.
She's extraordinary, she's almost Zen-like in that way,
she's really extraordinarily focused. She conserves her
energy; she puts it all into those moments when the camera
is turning. She's incredible.
I'm glad she didn't tell me that while she was shooting Pride
Question: You didn't see her practicing?
Question: How about casting Judi Dench and Donald
Joe: Judi Dench
I wrote a letter to saying, "I love it when you're a
bitch. Please come and be a bitch for me," and she must
have giggled or something and she did it.
took a little bit more persuasion. Donald I asked to
play the role because I had seen him for many years over
in many great roles and then lastly in Cold
Mountain, which I thought he was extraordinary
in and showed a great tenderness and I was interested
in that aspect of his nature. So I offered him the role
and we entered into a very long email correspondence
during which he talked to me about what I thought of
the history of agricultural farming in the late 18th
to early 19th century [laughing] and other such
questions, and tested me quite a lot. Then when he arrived
for the first day of rehearsals he walked into the rehearsal
studio and there were the five Bennet daughters and Mrs.
Bennet and they all stood and curtsied for him and he
practically melted on the spot.
Question: He plays a very powerful role without
being outwardly powerful.
Joe: He's a powerful
guy, he's the proper alpha male and I needed someone
with that strength to control those five daughters.
Question: Was he able to?
Joe: Yeah perfectly.
Question: And Matthew
MacFadyen for Darcy?
he's the right age. Second, he's a big strong manly man.
I didn't want a pretty boy, boy band kind of boy, I wanted
a man, and he's an incredible actor. I've loved his work
for many years and I think he is an astonishingly good
actor. I know also he is not vain; he's not coming to
the role trying to promote himself as a fucking sex symbol.
He's coming as an actor trying to understand who his
character is. He's interested in people and I think that's
probably why he acts and so for all of those reasons
he felt perfect. Also, he is just a big sexy man and
when I put him opposite Keira Knightley they were just
Question: Without getting too personal I understand
you have a relationship with Rosamund
Pike who plays Jane Bennet?
Joe: Yeah I do,
Question: Did that start before or after shooting?
Joe: After the
Question: And Simon Woods is cast as Mr. Bingley
and is Rosamund's ex-boyfriend?
was an interesting little dynamic. Simon and Rosa had
a relationship some years prior, they'd been split up
for like two years. They hadn't seen each other for two
years, since they had broken up and on the first day
of rehearsals they walked onto set and there they were
playing opposite each other.
Question: When did they find out they were both
in the film?
Joe: They'd only
found out the night before the first day. [laughing]
Question: Was that you that held that back?
Joe: Well actually
I tried hard not to cast Simon because I had cast Rosa
and I didn't want to hurt anyone. I didn't want to make
life difficult for anyone and I thought it might be awkward
for them so I tried very hard to find another Bingley,
but I had worked with Simon and I knew that he was brilliant
and I knew that he was perfect for Mr. Bingley.
Question: The casting across the board is perfect
for this film, another one is Jena
Joe: She was wonderful.
I tell you what, I think Lydia is an incredibly difficult
part to play, I think it is one of the hardest parts
and we met a huge amount of actresses for that role and
finally we were in LA doing some casting out there and
she had driven seven hours from Lake Tahoe to come and
meet us by herself and she turned up this funny little
thing. I thought, "Oh God, you're so obviously not going
to be Lydia," and then she started reading her and it
was extraordinary. She kind of reminded me a little bit
Kidman in To
Die For and I thought that was interesting.
Question: I have overheard people have mentioned
to me differences between the Austen novel and the movie.
Do differences concern you?
Joe: I think we're
fairly faithful to it. Obviously there are some cuts
that have to be made, but I think we're fairly faithful
to it although there was discussion at one point of cutting
one of the sisters, about cutting Mary Bennet because
it just felt like there were too many bloody people,
but we didn't and I am very glad for that.
Question: Was it difficult controlling all these
women on set?
Joe: Yeah, but
I took it in my stride you know.
Question: I read you had dyslexia as a child.
Does that play a role in your life now?
Joe: Yeah, I think
it means that I am constantly trying to catch up. I feel
like I missed out on a lot of learning when I was younger
so I am constantly trying to catch up and also I always
take projects on the basis of what I might be able to
learn from them and I think that's partly due to that
whole dyslexia thing.
Question: What's up next?
am hoping to do a film of a book adaptation called "Atonement" by
Ian McCuen. It's an amazing novel. It's for Working Title
and hopefully we'll shoot that next spring.
Question: What's that one about?
Joe: It's about
happy endings in a way; it's about the possibility of
atoning for the sins of your life by creating wishful
films of fiction.
Question: What would an Oscar nomination mean
to you? Either for the film, for you, for Keira…
Joe: It would mean
that I got more freedom on my next film and that's what's
important. It's the work that's important. The deep pleasure
is the making of the work. The superficial pleasure is
any praise you might get afterwards.
Pride and Prejudice is getting a limited release
on November 11 and will expand nationwide on November
here for more info including trailers, stills
and a complete cast listing.