Keri Russell and Producer Stephenie Meyer Talk AUSTENLAND and the Lasting Appeal of Jane Austen Stories

     August 13, 2013


Based on the novel by Shannon Hale (who also co-wrote the script with director Jerusha Hess), Austenland is a quirky romantic comedy about the 30-something and single Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), whose obsession with all things Jane Austen takes her on a trip to an English resort that caters to just that very thing.  But once there, Jane quickly realizes that finding the perfect Regency-era gentleman may be much more of a challenge than she ever could have imagined.

During a conference at the film’s press day, actress Keri Russell talked about what she’s been obsessed with, why Jane Austen stories still appeal to people, her favorite Mr. Darcy, preparing for the role and how difficult corsets are to wear when you’re pregnant, while producer Stephenie Meyer (who wrote the Twilight books) talked about her responsibilities as the film’s producer, what she likes about producing movies, what she’s been obsessed with, who inspires her as a writer, and how easy it was to work with Keri Russell.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

Question:  Stephenie, obviously each film is different, but I’m wondering if you can comment on this film, in particular.  What were your producing responsibilities?

austenland_posterSTEPHENIE MEYER:  It was a lot easier and harder, in some ways.  It was easier because this wasn’t my story.  For the first time, it was someone else’s story.  There was no pressure on me.  With Twilight, there was so much of, “If it’s not exactly like this, everyone is going to explode.”  It felt very freeing to not have that.  This was a little film, and I felt that there was a lot to be done to make it happen.  There is a lot of willpower and, “This has to happen.  We’re going to make it happen to get through it.”  There was a lot of pushing.  As a producer, that’s what you do.

You’re an author and writer, but now you’re also a Hollywood producer.  What’s the job transition been like?  When you were a kid, did you want to be a write, or did you want to make movies?

MEYER:  As a child, I actually wanted to be a lawyer.  That was the goal.  I didn’t plan to be an author, and then even less, did I plan to produce movies.  It all just happened.  You get to use a lot of creativity, and I need that.  Before I started writing, I made very elaborate Halloween costumes and birthday cakes.  I just needed some kind of creative outlet, and movies is a really interesting and collaborative one because, when you’re writing books, it’s just you alone in a room that’s quiet and dark and sad.  On Austenland, it was a little bit different.  I got to hang out with ladies, all day.  That’s not generally how it is in the movies.  It was very social and like a community.  I liked it a lot.  It’s a different thing from being alone and writing.

As a producer, were you tempted to use any of your Twilight cast for this film?

MEYER:  There were times when I would see a role and be like, “Oh, man, Saoirse Ronan would kill this!”  But, you don’t want to be too incestuous with your movies.  Sure, I would love to work with Kristen Stewart again.  She’s super-talented.  But, if she plays a character, people are going to see Bella.  And then, you get to meet new people when you do movies.  With Austenland, it was all grown-ups.  It was like completely different cast.  It was super-mature and everyone was really mellow.  It was nice to get to meet all kinds of new people.

austenland-jennifer-coolidge-keri-russell-bret-mckenzieKeri, Jane Hayes is obsessed about everything Jane Austen.  Is there anything in your life that you have an obsession with?

KERI RUSSELL:  When I was younger, my obsession was more Nancy Drew, which I feel like I’m still obsessed with.  I read every single one of those books.  But now, these days, what am I obsessed with?  I don’t know.  Maybe Michael Ondaatje, or good music, like Bonnie Raitt.  I have this old 1971 recording of hers that I play, over and over and over.  My kids are like, “Oh, not that again!”

Stephenie, is there anything that you are obsessed with?

MEYER:  If there was a Jane Austen camp, I would go, no question.  As a kid, I wanted to step into Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon books.  I would have left my whole family behind and walked away because I loved it so much.

Are you a bit of an Anglophile, yourself?  Who are your inspirations, as a writer?

MEYER:  I hesitate to name Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, and all of the greats, because then people might think I’m denigrating their names a bit.  But, I did love them and I do think they influenced me just because I loved reading because of them.  Getting to make Austenland, was the closest any of us will ever have to being there and getting to live in the English countryside and walk up to the manor house, every day, to film.  It was a pretty amazing fantasy trip, in and of itself.  I love those stories.  They resonate with me.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I’m a nerd.

Was it hard to be on set and see people in these costumes and hair and not want to jump in?

austenland-keri-russell-jj-feildMEYER:  For Halloween that year, I went in full Regency.  I made my husband do it, too.  My gown was red.  He wore a top hat.  It was awesome!

Why do you think Jane Austen still appeals to people, 150 to 200 years later?

RUSSELL:  I don’t know.  I just think it has something to do with the whole idea of someone liking you more for the meeting of the minds and this acerbic banter, back and forth.  People still like that, and they want that.  They just want to know what makes your brain tick.  I think that’s always appealing, especially to women

Who is your favorite Mr. Darcy, of all time?

RUSSELL:  My favorite Mr. Darcy?  There are so many.  Actually, I’m doing this cable show (The Americans) right now and, funnily enough, the guy who’s on the show with me (Matthew Rhys) is playing Mr. Darcy, right now, on some BBC thing (Death Comes to Pemberley), so I’ll say him.

Keri, how did you prepare for this role?  Did you go back and read any Jane Austen books?

RUSSELL:  I did go back and revisit some of the ones I had at home, and refresh my memory.  And I  did re-watch parts of the BBC Pride and Prejudice, just to remember.

Do you personally see yourself as a hopeless romantic, like Jane, or are you more of a practical sort?

austenland-castRUSSELL:  Like Jane, in this film, we all have some version of a fantasy that’s easy to escape to, and we all want a real relationship where there’s a common give-and-take and you’re seen for who you are, and appreciated for that.

What did you think of these costumes?

RUSSELL:  Corsets while pregnant was interesting, especially with petticoats and lace-up boots and tights, and then hairdos that have braids and buns.  No wonder you had maid servants.  You couldn’t do it on your own.  It takes three hours.  In wearing all those clothes, there’s such a straight-back dignity that immediately happens, that definitely carries into the way you behave.  It was nice, although time consuming.

Keri, you seem to be very grounded.  How have you managed to maintain that, having started working as such a young actress?

RUSSELL:  I don’t know.  I’m just boring, I guess.  I don’t have that exciting of a life.

MEYER: When we first started chatting, Keri told me, “I’m the girl you want to make your first movie with.  You don’t want to work with those other girls.  Maybe not for your second movie, but I’m the girl for this one.”

RUSSELL:  I was like, “I’m the easy girl.”

MEYER:  Keri was there, every single day.  She’s in pretty much every scene, even the one that she’s not in because she got cut.  To have someone that’s so easygoing was a gift.  It was really nice.  Channing Tatum said, in an interview awhile ago, that the age that you get famous is the age you stay.  I got famous in my 30s.  I already had a real life and kids and responsibilities, like laundry and cleaning bathrooms.  It’s hard not be grounded when you have that.  I think, if you get super-famous and everyone tells you you’re wonderful when you’re 12, it’s probably a lot harder.

Austenland opens in theaters on August 16th.

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