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Joe Wright On Casting P&P '05 Actors

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet
I read you initially did not want to cast Keira Knightley?
Joe: I wouldn't say that I didn't want to cast her, I didn't go to anyone else before Keira but I felt perhaps that she was too beautiful to play Elizabeth Bennet. So I met her anyway, and she was the right age and I was very keen to cast people that were the right age. So I met Keira very late one night in a hotel bar in Montreal and discovered this scruffy little kid who's a tomboy really, sort of spiky knees and elbows, and suddenly it occurred to me that was perfect for Elizabeth. Elizabeth Bennet is a tomboy and she refuses to conform to the feminine ideals of the period. Then I started talking to Keira and discovered her to be incredibly bright, incredibly funny, independently spirited, very strong young woman who doesn't say what she thinks you want to hear, but says exactly what she thinks. All of those qualities made me think that Keira was perfect for Elizabeth Bennet.
Question: I spoke with Keira at the Domino junket and she mentioned there were times she was onset practicing nun chucks in a Lizzy Bennet outfit. Did you ever see her not being able to be focused on the role?
Joe: Never, she was the most incredibly focused person of any age that I have ever met and I think that is part of her strength. She's extraordinary, she's almost Zen-like in that way, she's really extraordinarily focused. She conserves her energy; she puts it all into those moments when the camera is turning. She's incredible.
I'm glad she didn't tell me that while she was shooting Pride and Prejudice.
Question: You didn't see her practicing?
Joe: Nope.

Elizabeth Bennet
Elizabeth is a character who has been strongly identified with, and cherished, by several generations. I originally hadn't considered someone as beautiful as Keira Knightely. I was looking for someone who didn't fit the normal feminine conventions, and was bright and slightly difficult. I figured Lizzie Bennet would be quite difficult to live with; she's tough-minded and questions everything all the time.

Keira Knightley
When I met Keira, I realized that she asks questions of herself and other people, and is really a tomboy. She has a lively mind and a great sense of humor. During shooting, she kept on surprising me. What does one look for in an actor? Originality of thought; somebody who is able and willing to give their heart to what they are doing, and is able to really listen to the other actors. Keira did all of that, and was a hard worker"

Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy 
Question: And Matthew Macfadyen for Darcy?
Joe: First, he's the right age. Second, he's a big strong manly man. I didn't want a pretty boy, boy band kind of boy, I wanted a man, and he's an incredible actor. I've loved his work for many years and I think he is an astonishingly good actor. I know also he is not vain; he's not coming to the role trying to promote himself as a fucking sex symbol. He's coming as an actor trying to understand who his character is. He's interested in people and I think that's probably why he acts and so for all of those reasons he felt perfect. Also, he is just a big sexy man and when I put him opposite Keira Knightley they were just astonishing together.

Matthew Macfadyen was the only one for me. Darcy is 28, and Matthew was 29 when we were shooting. I had no interest in casting just a pretty boy; Darcy is more interesting and complicated than that. He's a young man who has less than ideal social skills and a huge responsibility. His parents have died and left him with a massive estate and a younger sister to take care of, and my sense is that he has had to grow up too fast. Matthew has incarnated Darcy as that complicated layered person who isn't easy in his skin and who isn't easy to love, yet who is a good person with a sense of honor and integrity. Matthew, unlike many actors, is not vain, and so was not afraid to be disliked by an audience at the beginning of the story; we have to dislike him because we are seeing him through Lizzie's eyes. And we grow to love him as Lizzie does.

Rosamund Pike as Jane Bennet 
Question: Without getting too personal I understand you have a relationship with Rosamund Pike who plays Jane Bennet?
Joe: Yeah I do, yeah.
Question: Did that start before or after shooting?
Joe: After the filming.

Rosamund Pike
To play the Bennet sister who is most affected by her mother's efforts, I was looking for the opposite of Keira; an actress who could portray the period ideal of what a woman should be, since Jane is hailed as the beauty of the family. Rosamund Pike was simply perfect and is wonderful in the role. The sisters all had to have similar characteristics so you can see that they come from the same stock and they all find each other funny.

Simon Woods as Mr. Bingley 
Question: And Simon Woods is cast as Mr. Bingley and is Rosamund's ex-boyfriend?
Joe: That was an interesting little dynamic. Simon and Rosa had a relationship some years prior, they'd been split up for like two years. They hadn't seen each other for two years, since they had broken up and on the first day of rehearsals they walked onto set and there they were playing opposite each other.
Question: When did they find out they were both in the film?
Joe: They'd only found out the night before the first day. [laughing]
Question: Was that you that held that back?
Joe: Well actually I tried hard not to cast Simon because I had cast Rosa and I didn't want to hurt anyone. I didn't want to make life difficult for anyone and I thought it might be awkward for them so I tried very hard to find another Bingley, but I had worked with Simon and I knew that he was brilliant and I knew that he was perfect for Mr. Bingley.

Judi Dench as Lady Catherine
Question: How about casting Judi Dench [and Donald Sutherland]?
Joe: Judi Dench I wrote a letter to saying, "I love it when you're a bitch. Please come and be a bitch for me," and she must have giggled or something and she did it.

Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet
Donald took a little bit more persuasion. Donald I asked to play the role because I had seen him for many years over in many great roles and then lastly in Cold Mountain, which I thought he was extraordinary in and showed a great tenderness and I was interested in that aspect of his nature. So I offered him the role and we entered into a very long email correspondence during which he talked to me about what I thought of the history of agricultural farming in the late 18th to early 19th century [laughing] and other such questions, and tested me quite a lot. Then when he arrived for the first day of rehearsals he walked into the rehearsal studio and there were the five Bennet daughters and Mrs. Bennet and they all stood and curtsied for him and he practically melted on the spot.
Question: He plays a very powerful role without being outwardly powerful.
Joe: He's a powerful guy, he's the proper alpha male and I needed someone with that strength to control those five daughters.
Question: Was he able to?
Joe: Yeah perfectly.

Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet

It's a tricky part, as she can be very annoying; you want to stop her chattering and shrieking. But Brenda has the humor and the heart to show the amount of love and care Mrs. Bennet has for her daughters. Mrs. Bennet has a very serious problem, which nobody except she is taking seriously; she has five daughters, for whom she has to find husbands, and eligible men are not so common around Longbourn. When the militia are billeted in the village of Meryton, she's delighted.

Jenna Malone as Lydia Bennet
Question: The casting across the board is perfect for this film, another one is Jena Malone.
She was wonderful. I tell you what, I think Lydia is an incredibly difficult part to play, I think it is one of the hardest parts and we met a huge amount of actresses for that role and finally we were in LA doing some casting out there and she had driven seven hours from Lake Tahoe to come and meet us by herself and she turned up this funny little thing. I thought, "Oh God, you're so obviously not going to be Lydia," and then she started reading her and it was extraordinary. She kind of reminded me a little bit of Nicole Kidman in To Die For and I thought that was interesting.

Carey Mulligan as Kitty Bennet
and Talulah Riley as Mary Bennet
The Other Bennet Sisters
Rounding out the Bennet sisterhood, screen newcomers Carey Mulligan and Talulah Riley play the roles of Kitty and Mary Bennet, respectively. This was the first film job for both, and they were both huge Jane Austen fans, so they were so excited about the whole process that it created a heightened atmosphere for the family sequences.

Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins 
Q. How did you come to cast [Donald Sutherland and] Tom Hollander? And did you ever have to rein them in, particularly Tom Hollander?
A:I prefer actors who go over the top to those that don’t go far enough, because you can always rein actors in – it’s more difficult to bring it out of actors. It was quite easy to tell Tom he was going too far, and to pull it back a bit. We met a number of actors for Mr Collins and each played it in a different way. One actor came in and played him as Tony Blair! Tom came in and you always want someone to surprise you, to not play it as you specifically imagined.

He came in and played him as this weird little guy who couldn’t quite manage to communicate in the way that he wanted to, and couldn’t understand why not everyone respected him as much as he respected himself. They didn’t take him seriously and he’d tried all his life to be taken seriously, and I thought that was exciting and something I hadn’t seen. It surprised me, and I liked to be surprised.

Sources: Rope of Silicon | Emanuel Levy



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