Lily James and Bella Heathcote: Zombie Killers!
By: Lynn Barker
Kidzworld got deets on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from two of the film’s leading ladies. Actress Lily James is on fire lately. You might have seen her recently in the Cinderella movie or as Lady Rose on TV’s “Downton Abbey” or TV’s mini-series “War and Peace”. Bella Heathcote was the lady love of Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows. Both gorgeous ladies get to kick zombie butt bigtime in the fun mashup of the classic Jane Austen novel “Pride and Prejudice” and the currently uber-popular zombie craze.
Check out what Bella and Lily had to say about doing major action scenes while wearing fancy gowns and the training it took to do that. Did all the young actresses playing the famed Bennet sisters bond and hang out off set? Was either actress wary of such a crazily-titled film (based on a classic then on a more recent mashup novel by the author of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”)?
Picture the ladies wearing outstanding outfits by designers Phillip Lim and Saloni.
Q: Did either of you have a favorite zombie movie before this and do you prefer the fast running zombies or the ones that are easy to kill that are slow?
- Bella: I mean I personally would prefer to kill a slow zombie. I mean I quite like “World War Z,” because I found those zombies terrifying. It was just something that felt really real about it.
- Lily: Yeah. I would rather fight a slow one, for sure. I really like Shaun of the Dead.
Q: Can you talk about the mishmash that this movie represents and why it’s thrilling or wonderful to be able to cut heads off while you’re doing Jane Austen?
- Lily: We loved it. I mean I just think Liz Bennet is already just the coolest, most independent and wonderful character and then give her a sword and she just gets even better. “Pride and Prejudice” has been done and done so well so it just felt fun to add zombies.
Q: Did you know you were this tough or what was the training like?
- Lily: We trained really hard, didn’t we?
- Bella: Yeah, I knew I was this tough. (laughter) I did about three months of Kung Fu in LA before I went over to London and then we did about a month with the girls and all the other more specific skills. Look, it was pretty good. It was great to feel tough and kind of going back to that last question there’s something about playing a strong, independent female character but then also being physically strong and tough and getting to rescue the boys and not being the damsel for once. That was just excellent.
Q: Totally agree. Lily, what did you do to train?
- Lily: I was really in a very sort of lazy phase. I wasn’t doing much exercise, so I had to do a lot just to get strong and fit so a lot of my training was just to get my fitness up and then I did boxing and some martial arts and some yoga and stuff because each of the girls, each of the Bennet sisters had a different fighting style but all of us had that sort of balletic almost graceful feel to the fighting. The sword wasn’t real. We were not that accurate.
Q: Any injuries in all this stuntwork?
- Lily: Kitty, played by Ellie Bamber, the redhead, spins those sort of needles and then puts them in her boots. We were practicing on crash mats. I mean she has got so much energy she’s incredible, like a firecracker. When we were rehearsing she was doing this move where she kind of spun and fell and went between our heads like that.
- She was obviously practicing on a dummy and I let her practice on me. I still, to this day, cannot believe it. She just (went for) my eyes. If you’ve met Ellie Bamber you would know not to let her practice on you. (She laughs.) So they were fake weapons but they were still pretty scary.
Q: Probably every actress who’s ever done the actual “Pride and Prejudice” or any Victorian thing has talked about how restrictive the clothing was; how you can’t move, how you can’t breathe.
- Bella: But give her a fight scene anyway! I feel like the corsets weren’t too bad.
- Lily: The bones were there.
- Bella: The corsets weren’t as bad as other periods. The thing about martial arts is they’re actually quite upright. It was more the length of the dress that was an issue, so there were strategic slits that were created so that we could have some freedom of movement with our legs.
Q: How did you both say yes to this? What was the progress? Was this after Cinderella, Lily?
- Lily: Yes. The same producer worked on Cinderella, Allie Shearmur, who’s amazing. So she brought the script to me after Cinderella and said ‘have a look at this’. It sounded insane and I couldn’t believe that these words were going together in a title. Then I read it and read Seth Graham’s book and I loved it. So then I Skyped with the director.
- Bella: I knew Burr (Steers, the writer/director) so it came through Burr. I was just lucky.
Q: You two play sisters so, for all of you girls that were in this did you kind of feel almost like siblings and hang out in your downtime or was there any downtime?
- Bella: It was funny how quickly we kind of slotted into those roles. I was like ‘come on girls’ like the older sister to the two troubled ones and Lily kind of in between bridging the gap between all of us.
- Lily: Suki Waterhouse and Ellie Bamber were like scheming and giggling and being naughty.
- Bella: But we did hang out and we did spend a lot of time together on and off set. I love these girls. I’m just like ‘make the sequel. I want to hang out with them for one more’.
- Lily: We really felt like this girl band. It was so fun to be the girls who are the action heroes. I mean full stop, it’s just brilliant and especially in a Jane Austen movie in a period drama it just doesn’t happen, so we loved it.
Q: Are you both signed on to do a sequel?
- Lily: No. I mean there isn’t any signed-on-ness about it. We didn’t sign up to more but I think there’s always been an open discussion about it. I think we genuinely all would love to do another one.
Q: Lily, you’ve got this and “War and Peace” is on right now so we’re having a double sort of whammy.
- Lily: (laughing) I know. It’s too much already.
Q: It’s kind of wild because it is a straight period piece and is it the love scenes that are getting people crazy?
- Lily: Hot under the collar.
Q: Yes. How do you respond to all of that?
- Lily: I just think it’s so good not to be too holy about anything, which is why I think doing “Pride and Prejudice” with zombies is much fun and why if you’re going to do a period drama…you know, people did (hook up) back then and why not show it?
- I’m really proud of “War and Peace.” I think not in such an extreme way as adding zombies in but they’ve been really bold with the adaptation and made it feel really fresh and modern and current. I just think Tolstoy is so timeless. I read the book and I thought there’s so much social context that makes the story what it is, but it could have been right now so it was very easy to translate it and make those scenes feel real.
Q: Do you see a through-line between your character Natasha and Liz Bennet and Rose in “Downton Abbey,” not to mention Cinderella?
- Lily: Yeah. They’re all such amazing characters and most are from books so there’s so much to go on but that also gives a lot of pressure and they’re all period pieces, yeah.
Q: Are you changing that in your next movie?
- Lily: Yeah. I’m doing a modern part.
Q: “Downton Abbey” is in its last season. Have you enjoyed playing that part?
- Lily: Oh, I loved everything. It was a great cast, a bit like this. There was a really good vibe between all the actors.
- Bella: I met one last night.
- Lily: Oh, Jo. Joanne Froggatt/Anna Bates came to the premiere last night.
Q: Over the years it’s been very debated who’s been the best Mr. Darcy. Colin Firth I think is still at No. 1.
- Lily: I think it’s Sam Riley (who plays him in this film). I’m not just saying that.
- Bella: He’s very dreamy. I just think he’s got that very wonderful, deep aura and when he’s saying something, there’s a whole other world going on underneath and he’s got that arrogant air but he’s quite vulnerable. He’s also sexy.
- Lily: So sexy.
- Bella: That speech when Lily is fighting, the slo-mo sister fight and he delivers this speech about her physical appearance, that moment is like acting genius. That speech could be really difficult but he just says it and makes it work.
Q: You actors all played these characters as straight Jane Austen characters just in this weird context. How did you land on that tone?
- Bella: It’s the same thing with Austen in the original novel. I find it to be quite funny but I think the funny is in the absurdity of it. It’s not like this is a funny performance I’m giving. I think if you take it seriously it’s easy to laugh at the character.
- Lily: Burr (the director) was so clear about that right from the start. I mentioned that we had this long Skype conversation and that’s why I think he’s done such a great job with this film because the tone is we’re not playing it for laughs. It’s not too campy. It’s about exactly what Bella said, the humor coming out of the situations.
Q: Lily, your star has risen quickly in the last few years. Is it, from your point of view, a little scary or is it just a great, fun ride?
- Lily: I think actors tend to be pretty anxious, worried people not speaking for anyone else here. I think there are ups and downs but I’ve been having the best couple of years. I’m just so happy and grateful. So all the anxiety that comes along with it is just doable.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in theaters on February 5th!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
** Rated PG-13**
Have Your Say
Are you a horror fan? Do you like to read Jane Austen novels? Are you a Lily or Bella fan? How do you feel about women being action heroes? Leave a comment!