Lily James knows a thing or two about British costume drama, having just wrapped up her run on "Downton Abbey." But her new project adds something a bit otherworldly to the mix. In "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” James top-lines as Jane Austen's classic heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, but with some deadly fighting skills she unleashes on an 19th century English zombie invasion. Just like a proper lady.
Did the zombie aspect take some of the edge off ofplaying Elizabeth Bennet, something of a literary icon?
No, it didn't take the edge off, but it was certainly my main … You always have things that you grapple with while you're filming, and for me it was trying to maintain all the qualities about Liz Bennet that I love and I think are vital, and keeping them alive within this new world. Sometimes it just was easy, and other times I felt like I was losing the essense of Liz Bennet. That's when I felt like I needed help from Burr [Steers, director].
Were you familiar with any other Austen novels? Do you have a favorite?
"Pride and Prejudice" is actually my favorite. I did "Emma" at school as well. I've not read "Sense and Sensibility," but I love her. I love how she writes women and the wit. She's so funny. I do believe that Liz and Darcy have one of the greatest love stories. We're trying to keep that love story really potent and alive in these much more extreme settings — settings that are life and death. Within the relationship of Liz and Darcy and all that unsaid frustration and longing, I find with my Liz Bennet she expressed it more because she would fight zombies. This frustration would manifest in her decapitating a zombie. And their relationship is much more fiery, because right from the start Darcy almost kills Jane. It's much more intensified, so there's a real potent hatred. [Laughs] Slash love.
You don't really have a shortage of handsomeness in this cast.
I know, it's a lot of handsomeness. Sometimes I would look around at the girls, the five Bennet sisters, and my jaw would drop. I was like, wow. There's two really unknown young girls in the Bennet sisters, Millie Brady and Ellie Bamber, who are just sensational. And then there's Suki Waterhouse as well. The five of us together, it was so wonderful and inspiring to be amongst such strong young women. We had such fun conquering and taking control of the entire set.