The M Interview: Lily James has no prejudice against zombies
British actress Lily James talks about combining classic literature with classic monsters in her latest flick
It is believed that a mash-up of a beloved classic with zombies would have Jane Austen turning in her grave.
With the release of period comedy-horror Pride And Prejudice And Zombies tomorrow, Hollywood is probably thinking that if you do something twice, it may have a different result the second time (2012's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tanked at the box office and was also based on Seth Grahame-Smith's bestseller).
In this film, based on Austen's seminal novel Pride And Prejudice, which explores the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes, British actress Lily James, 26, plays feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet. She is transformed into a martial arts expert, carrying swords in her corsets to defeat the zombie plague in 19th-century England.
She forms an alliance with the hated, status-conscious zombie killer, Mr Darcy (Sam Riley), whose pride and arrogance are intact.
James, who credits TV series Downtown Abbey for being "completely, totally responsible for how my career's gone", is more like Cinderella (the role she is best known for in last year's fairy tale flick of the same name) in person - sweet, high-energy and happy to talk.
Are you a fan of the book?
I love Pride And Prejudice. I think it just happens by birth when you're English.
So I was very intrigued and somewhat bemused when I saw the title come up in my inbox. I thought it sounded terrible.
And then I found out about the book that Seth Grahame-Smith wrote, which was a bestseller.
I wasn't a huge zombie fan before, but I thought it was an interesting idea to mix those two genres.
What attracted you to the part?
I definitely completely found myself in Miss Bennet. She's such a forward-thinking, strong character.
To have the chance to be physical and fight, it felt like this sort of external expression of how she is, her conflict inside and her frustration.
And it just came out in actually beating up Darcy.
Very different from Cinderella.
Cinderella was strong from within, a peaceful strength. Whereas Liz Bennet is a real fighter.
I love both.
Why do you think people are obsessed with zombies?
It's strange, isn't it?
I think it's that fear of the unknown and that no one's safe from diseases and being infected.
When we were filming, there was a lot in the news about Ebola, and that it's very hard to control and to escape from. I think maybe zombies have that kind of connection.
What kind of training did you have for the fight scenes?
I wanted to get really fit and strong so I did a lot of boxing... A lot of work on coordination so it could look like I had that kind of grace.
How challenging was it to fight in corsets?
It was difficult, but I love a challenge.
The costume designer was amazing. In the corset, he made the bones much shorter so that it wouldn't dig in when we kicked. He was very clever with doing little adaptations to make it possible that we could fight in those outfits. And the slits in the skirt.
But it was really tough. We didn't have endless time for choreography and stunt rehearsal.
What do you do when you have time off?
I went on holiday over Christmas to India, which was amazing. I went for a week to Goa and had a really lovely time.
Actually, with (English actor) Douglas Booth, who's in the movie (as the rich, charming eligible bachelor Charles Bingley). We're all really good friends, the cast of (Pride And Prejudice And Zombies).
What was it like, working with your real-life boyfriend, English actor Matt Smith, on Pride And Prejudice And Zombies?
It's really great. He's very, very funny in the film. And we have a lot of funny scenes.
He came in and just gave a brilliant turn as Parson Collins (Elizabeth's obsequious clergyman cousin and suitor). He had us all in fits of laughter.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies' Elizabeth Bennet joins Hollywood's elite killers of the walking dead
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The Resident Evil movies (2002-2017)
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Selena (Naomie Harris)
28 Days Later (2002)
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Planet Terror (2007)
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Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
‘Elizabeth’ James (above) V ‘Cinderella’ James (below)
Downton Abbey alum Lily James is becoming the go-to girl for big-screen period pieces, whether it's a classic fairy tale or a literary classic. Put her in an old-timey frock and she's gold. She played the title character in last year's Cinderella, and now she's bringing Elizabeth Bennet to life in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. Question is: Who's fancier?
Smart, virtuous, headstrong and a tad judgmental, Elizabeth is one of the best-loved characters in literature. Throw in some undead baddies and she becomes a tough-as-nails zombie-killing machine. Hard to beat.
Sweet and lovely, Cinderella falls victim to a slave-driving stepmum, but proves plucky enough to marry up and transcend her lot in life. Though not without spirit, she's ultimately a damsel in distress. Did someone say gold digger?
ROUND ONE: "ELIZABETH" JAMES
In both her love life and zombie-killing life, she's got it going on.
Elizabeth is every inch the Victorian woman in her regency-style dresses. Dancing or fighting, she is graceful and alluring. When she wants to get murderous, she switches to a black frock coat and leather cummerbund. Step aside, Milla Jovovich.
Well, clothes are her thing, aren't they? Even when she's dressed as a serving wench, she looks fetching. Hello, cleavage! But after her fairy godmother makeover, she's simply a vision in her iconic blue princess ball gown. Not forgetting the glass slippers, of course.
ROUND TWO: "CINDERELLA" JAMES
It's not even close. Cinderella gets dressed for success.
Every woman dreams of the difficult Mr Darcy and here, Sam Riley gives him a rock 'n' roll snarl that makes him even sexier. This expert zombie killer in black leather is one dangerous and delicious dandy. And his teeth are cool.
We're talking about THE Prince Charming after all. Richard Madden, best known as the late, great King of the North in TV series Game Of Thrones, is one pretty fella. With his blue eyes, jewel-toned coats and tight white pants, he's candy for the ladies.
ROUND THREE: IT'S A DRAW
How to choose between the darkness and the light?
THE VERDICT: IT'S A DRAW
Both these old-timey babes are equally kick-ass. Lily James is the new Keira Knightley. - Jason Johnson