You know going
into an interview with director Joe Wright youíre not going to be
speaking with a local Seattle boy. The north London native speaks with
an accent as thick as his wavy brownish-blonde hair, talking sometimes
so fast itís a bit hard to understand him. But, be that as it may,
itís apparent after the first few moments heís a driven filmmaker,
someone who knows exactly what he wants to see onscreen and will do
whatever it takes to get it there.
And so here we
were, this tall athletic Seattle girly-girl and a somewhat short,
slightly disheveled British director sitting in the middle of a suite
at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel discussing his new picture Pride &
Prejudice starring current media darling Keira Knightley and based
on the legendary novel by Jane Austen. Yet, the pressure of the
material, of working with the young star, of treading on ground
covered in the past by the likes of Laurence Olivier, Greer Garson and
Colin Firth, never showed on either Wrightís face or mannerisms. Only
his passion for the material, his eagerness to talk about it, his
excitement towards its prospects, were the only things to ever show
through making our talk truly one the interview highlights of my year.
Michelle: Talking with the publicist earlier, youíve really been all
over the place doing interviews on this movie. It has to be a little
exciting, but do you ever get a chance to go out and experience the
cities your in or do you keep getting stuck in hotels like this one?
Joe Wright: It
is exciting. Itís really exciting. I got to see a bit of Dallas and
last night I was able to get up to Capital Hill [an eclectic
alternative neighborhood just east of downtown Seattle], ran around
there and went to a few bars; itís great, itís really great. Had a
good time. Went to a place called Cha Chaís. Loved it. Was a bit
crowded, but loved it all the same.
SM: The Cha
Cha Lounge, yes, Iíve been there many times. Itís a great place. One
of Seattleís best kept bar secrets if you ask me.
JW: It was
SM: So, I
have to ask right upfront, why Austen? Why this book? Why again? Why
JW: Well, they
hadnít made a film out of Pride & Prejudice since 1940. I was
surprised by that, and I had never read the book before I was sent the
script. Then I was sent the script and I didnít know if I was really
all that interested; I thought I was a little bit more mainstream then
this, a bit more edgy. But then I read the script and I was surprised
I was very moved by it. And then I read the novel, and the novel was
an amazing piece of character observation and it really seamed like
the first piece of British Realism. It felt like it was a true story;
had a lot of truth in it about understanding how to love other people,
understanding how to overcome prejudices, understanding the things
that separate us from other peopleÖ things like that.
Keira Knightley and
director Joe Wright - Photo © Focus Features
It was a story
about love. About the physical side of love, the difficulty of love,
and itís a story of the emotional and spiritual and the elemental side
of love. Itís all of those things. I had already been interested in
doing a film about love and so I agreed to do [this]. And, I had never
seen any other version other than the 1940 version, not seeing the
[recent] miniseries or any of those beforehand.
SM: Did that help, not knowing or
having any connections with those other versions of the story?
JW: Yes, of
course. I mean, I purposely didnít watch them because I was worried I
would nick ideas and plagiarize them. I wanted to be as original as
SM: And that
was something you really didnít have to worry about in regards to the
1940 version, because everyone in that movie didnít really seem
connected to the novel at all. I mean, while the movie is, donít get
me wrong, very good, the stars are in their thirties. Not exactly the
age when a person usually goes through their first pangs of love.
JW: And that
was really the first decision I made. I wanted to make something that
is about young people, about young people experiencing these emotions
for the first time and not understanding the feelings they are having.
If you have a 40-year-old man as your star not understanding the
feeling heís having then it becomes a bit unbelievable and suspect,
rather like The 40-Year-Old Virgin or something instead of
Pride & Prejudice.
SM: So realism was your main goal?
JW: Well, I
wanted to be respectful to this 21-year-old girl who sat in a parlor
in the south of England and wrote this book. I wanted to be true to
her. I wasnít particularly interested in the temples that had been
built around her. I wasnít interested in the ĎJane Austen Franchise,í
if you will; not interested in the monolith that has been erected over
her and her books. I was interested in being true to her spirit and
the spirit in her stories. That was what was important to me.
SM: How hard is
it, though, to take a book like this and par it down to a manageable
length for a motion picture?
yeah, you are condensing it down to two hours and you have to be quite
careful about what you do. But, basically, what you do is work out
beforehand what the story is youíre telling Ė what the prime story is
Ė and that story is obviously about Elizabeth and Darcy, following
them, and anything that detracts or diverts you from that story is
what you have to cut.
Considering that is the prime story, do you think Pride & Prejudice
and the romance of Elizabeth and Darcy was the birth of the romantic
comedy as we know it today?
JW: Yes, it
was. But, also, I think [the novel] was the birth of social realism,
of observation. British Realism is one of the best things I think
thatís come out of our country, culturally speaking, and so I think
there is quite a sense of the birth of that in Pride & Prejudice
Keira Knightley and
Matthew MacFadyen - Photo © Focus Features
SM: But when you
take on something like this, how do you avoid the clichťs of the genre
and remain true to the prose? Remain true to the ideas and the
concepts that spoke to you in the first place? What struck me was how
real, how lived-in, your film felt; how as I was watching it I could
almost imagine that I was there. Thatís rare in most period
adaptations, especially Austen adaptations.
JW: Well, it
comes from the book. I mean, youíre not only trying to stay faithful
to the narrative events of the story but youíre also trying to stay
faithful to the tone and the writing of the story. You try to find the
cinematic equivalent of the prose and so, first instance I stated that
I thought the book was very acutely observed, thatís why there are so
many close-ups in the film and not as many wide shots. I also felt
there was a certain realist element to [the book] so I decided to
shoot the film in a realist style. I tried to put the audience right
in there within that environment so we shot the whole thing on
location. Youíre then able to go in and out of doors and in and out of
windows and really see and feel the environment for a full 360-degrees
rather than something very static and stage-bound.
SM: In that way, this must have been
very different than working on your telefilms or your short films?
JW: Well, each
thing you do is incredibly specific to the story that youíre telling.
The only period thing Iíd done before was [the BBC telefilm] The
Last King, and that was very much about a very claustrophobic
world and was quite theatrical. We ended building a set for that, a
rather huge set a lot like The West Wing set, and recreated the
1600ís. That was what the story demanded. This, on the other hand,
demanded something much more realistic.
So, your focus
than is really based on how you respond to the material. The
difference really isnít that massive. I mean, thereís the obvious.
When you walk onto the television set there are about 17 people there
and then when you walk onto a movie set there are sometimes about 500
people there. That was quite different; sometimes quite scary.
SM: What about walking onto the set
with a burgeoning superstar like Keira Knightley for the first time?
Keiraís a mate, really. Sheís one of those people that immediately
becomes a friend. Sheís a very warm, open person, and incredibly brave
and strong. Sheís one of the strongest young women Iíve ever met. We
both come from north London so thereís an atom there of understanding
between one another. Sheís great.
SM: Sheís never
been asked to carry a movie before. Sheís always been a supporting
player before this.
JW: There are
very few roles for women that are leading parts.
SM: True, but
were you even a little worried at all that she would have the
experience or the ability to carry this film?
JW: I kind of
knew that sheíd be fine. Sheís a very strong young woman and
incredibly dedicated, and I kind of had an idea that she would be able
to do this. I trusted her, and I had to trust her, because if I had
not than Iím not sure she would have been able to do it. You have to
give the actor your trust. You have to make them feel like they can do
it. And then they do; itís positive postulation, I guess.
SM: How important is casting?
massive. Iíd say 99-percent of directing is casting. Not only in terms
of the actors playing the roles but also in terms of creating a
company of actors and crew that can work together; to play with each
other and respond to each other and thatís an incredibly important
part of the directing process.
Matthew MacFadyen and
Simon Woods - Photo © Focus Features
SM: How hard was this movie to cast?
JW: Very hard.
Just because I was so specific about the types of people I wanted to
work with. Some roles were much easier than some but it was still
quite tricky. Youíre also having to balance the producerís investment
Ė in terms of names and not names Ė with your own ideas of who is best
for each particular role.
SM: Were there
ever times you really wanted a particular person and the producers
werenít quite comfortable with your choice?
JW: No, they
were incredibly supportive in that sense. I think Matthew [MacFadyen]
is obviously less of a star than Keira and so if she hadnít been
playing Elizabeth Iím not sure Iíd been allowed to cast Matthew [as
Darcy]. So, it kind of worked like that. You try to balance it out as
much as you can.
SM: Having not
seen any of the other versions, did it still ever enter your mind the
pressures you would be under taking on this story?
JW: No, and I
think that is one of the reasons I cast Matthew. I mean, I think heís
one of the best actors of his generation in England but, also, I knew
he would approach the role like any good actor should, and thatís from
the point-of-view of trying to understand the character. Heís the
least vain actor youíve ever met in your life and he wasnít coming
onto this trying to portray an icon, he was coming on to play a
character in the same way he would had he been approaching Hamlet
or any other great role.
SM: I canít
say Iíd ever seen too much of him before, not even his BBC television
show, MI-5 [original title Spooks], that everyone talks
JW: Heís a
properly manly man, as well, and I didnít want a pretty boy kind of
actor. His properties were the ones I felt I needed [for Darcy].
Matthewís a great big hunk of a guy.
SM: Thatís very
true. I canít disagree with that. Heís definitely not hard to look at.
JW: But heís also
very good in the role. At least, I think heís very good in the role. I
liked what he did with the character quite a bit.
SM: Do you
wonder, maybe just a little, though, if people will completely accept
the unabashedly romantic ending of this movie?
JW: Pride and
Prejudice is my first film with a happy ending. Before, I naively
thought they were a cop-out, but now I've come to believe happy
endings and wish fulfillment are an incredibly important part of our
SM: So, to that
end, what do you hope the response to this is?
JW: The book was
written, I think, with a lot of love. I hope that when people watch
the film, the part of them that is still filled with love will
recognize this in the film and be re-ignited by that. Do you know what
SM: Sure, I think
I do. You want people toÖ
JW: I hope it
makes people love. Thatís it. I hope it makes people love.
Thatís a really
cheesy thing to say, isnít it?
SM: No, not that
cheesy. Maybe a little bit, but it fits, I think, fits the movie. It
certainly made me happier and maybe even feeling like I should give
that whole dating thing a try again. Canít be single forever, after
all. Iím sure getting people to think like that after watching your
movie canít be bad.
JW: Guess not.
Guess I did my job.
SM: I guess you