In the delightfully zany and hilarious new comedy, Austenland, Keri Russell plays a woman whose obsession with all things Austen has taken her out of reality and driven her to spend all her money on a fully-immersive Jane Austen experience. The film takes a delightful, yet critical, view of the joys and perils of obsessive fandom. We got a chance to sit down with Russell and her co-stars Jennifer Coolidge and JJ Feild to delve into what quirky things get their hearts a flutter and to ask why Jane Austen has such an enduring pull on people’s hearts.
“When you read Austen, it’s funny,” said Feild, who plays Mr. Henry Nobley, the “Darcy” figure at the theme park. “She was a very humorous writer and if you look at some of the other writers [like Bronte or Dickens], they’re a lot more dour and tragic. So, Austen manages to keep sort of the beautiful thrill of the time with a sort of charm. There’s a lot of charm to Austen.”
Coolidge spoke up, “Jane Austen is not just like the ‘pretty girl gets the guy.’ It’s the outspoken girl that…you know…”
“You know,” Russell sarcastically interjected, “it’s the non-pretty sister. The Keira Knightley.”
The cast chuckled about this, but Coolidge continued by saying that men usually want “the girls who were the beautiful ones who just kept their mouth shut. In those Jane Austen novels, it was the outspoken girl who said everything she wanted to say and who confronted the guy and who just didn’t agree with everything… She gets the really rich guy and she’s not even rich herself. It’s that fantasy. It’s incredibly unrealistic.”
Austenland is fully aware of the line between fantasy and reality, and even goes so far as to explore where those lines blur in both fandom and romantic relationships. In the film, Russell’s character, Jane Hayes, becomes entangled in two different romances, but can’t always decipher which one is real. Adding to the confusion is her own realization that her obsession with Austen might be a fun diversion, but it can also be personally destructive.
So does Russell have a quirky obsession of her own? “Jennifer keeps telling everybody that I collect Beanie Babies.” It’s not true, but Russell enjoyed the joke. “We just told the last person that I’m going to conventions for Beanie Babies.”
So, what is Russell really obsessed with? “Sleep, massages, food and relaxation. None of which I get.”
Coolidge is obsessed with terrible art. “I have the best…most amazing collection of bad paintings.”
“No one purposely paints a bad painting,” she explained with glee. “Someone was trying to do a good painting, but it’s terrible, and they don’t know it.”
Would anyone in the cast ever want to go to a fully immersive theme park like Austenland? Russell said, “My version of like a fantasy dream sequence place for a week would be like a…some kind of ‘cowboy’…like midnight, moonlight rides and such.”
“Aw man,” Feild lamented. “I should have worn my chaps!”
At one point in the conversation, Coolidge declared, ”I feel like movies are like drinking because I feel like they’ve ruined my life and they’ve improved my life. When you drink through a bad break up or something, you think, ‘God, if it hadn’t been for those 45 bottles of wine, I might have killed myself.’”
“It numbs you through a really rough period and you make it to the other side, but then again, at the same time, I feel like movies can ruin your life because you grow up with these ideas. You spend years thinking that something really cool can happen…like ‘love is forever,’ and you know, a lot of it is just a load of hootenanny.”
“What are the odds I’m going to meet Mr. Darcy and he would fall in love with me forever? That’s just so highly unlikely!”
At that, Feild blithely offered to run away with Coolidge as a joke…or was it?
Austenland is currently playing in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics]