Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Making of Pride and Prejudice

From the book "The Making of Pride and Prejudice" by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin. These are the Jennifer Ehle related bits that aren't available on the internet.

Jennifer Ehle on learning the dialogue:

"It's the hardest dialogue I've ever had to learn. Shakespeare is a doddle compared to Jane Austen. I think this is essentially because the sense of the line comes at the end of it and also the lines are much longer. When I get to the end of a sentence I usually say, "Oh, I see!" and then I have to go back and read it again. Sometimes the thoughts are quite convoluted - you do all these hairpin bends - so it takes some getting used to. But it's like anything - by the end I found it much easier to learn. It's like learning another language."

Jennifer Ehle on why she wanted to play Elizabeth:

"Elizabeth is such an incredible part. I first read the book when I was about 12, and it was the first grown-up romance or classic that I read. I had tried to read Wuthering Heights but couldn't understand it - the passion in that is very grown-up. With Pride and Prejudice, I was able to fall in love with both Darcy and with Lizzy. I didn't have any concept of being an actress at that time, so I didn't want to play Lizzy, I wanted to be her very much. In fact, I probably pretended I was for a couple of days.

She's a wonderful role model. She's independent. She manages to be a free spirit in a society that doesn't encourage free-spiritedness, which is something that I think appeals to young women today because they can sympathize with her. So she's quite easy to identify with. I love her wit and her intelligence. There aren't that many female role models in literature or film who are as bright as she is. She is certainly no victim.

It's so lovely to read a book by a woman that one is able to understand at the age of 12 and to know that it was written in 1813. You realize that you're not the first person to feel all those things. And it's wonderful to go through the fantasy of falling in love - it's so flirtatious and yet so safe; nothing really sexually threatening happens in it. It's a lovely fantasy to have.

When I was called in for a screen test I had no idea how many other potential Elizabeths were being tested. I was so nervous, of course, but I really enjoyed it. I'm afraid the costume didn't help me much because it was far too small so the back wouldn't fasten and I had to have the microphone wire tied up round the middle! But the wig and make-up were a great help. I've never confessed this before, but I cheated a bit. I knew that everyone was worried about the fact that I am a blonde because they felt that Lizzy should be dark. So the night before the screen test, I dyed my eyebrows darker and deliberately didn't wash my hair that morning so it wouldn't look as fair. Everyone kept saying, "We didn't realize how dark your eyebrows were. It's great! You'll look fine in a darker wig!"

I could tell things had gone well, but waiting to hear was an anxious couple of days. It was so exciting when my agent called to say that I'd been offered the part. My parents took me out to dinner to celebrate. I was the luckiest person in the world to be able to spend an entire summer being Elizabeth Bennet."

About Jennifer Ehle's makeup and hair:

"Because her hair is fair and was the wrong length we knew right away that we would have to wig her. We thought we'd have at least two wigs, so one could be prepared while the other was being used, but in fact we ended up with three. As she was going to be wearing a wig for five months, she decided that she wanted her own hair cut really short to make it more comfortable. But it made our job a lot more difficult because we didn't have any of her own hair to use to cover the nape of her neck where the wigs fitted. The front of the wigs would be relatively easy because they were knotted on to very fine lace, rather like the lace a ballet tutu is made of, but because of the shape of the head wigs don't fit in quite the same way at the back. I felt sorry for Philippa, who was in Jennifer's make-up artist, because there were a lot of nape shots in which the camera was shooting right up behind her ear. Philippa and I drew some sharp intakes of breath at various stages, but Rob Southam, the focus puller, who is married to a make-up artist, would always call us when he knew we needed to adjust things before a shot."

Jennifer Ehle on the read-through:

"The read-through was terrifying. I think I was the second person to arrive. Lucy Davis [Maria Lucas] was already there. I was paralyzed with fear for most of it. You are aware that everybody is going to be judging to a certain extent, and that's scary. And the way it was set up made me feel I was giving a performance. If I can, I will always sit in the very back corner, hidden away, but we had name cards, so it was impossible to do that. I would have read from the loo, I think, if I'd been allowed!"

Jennifer Ehle and Elizabeth Bennet:

"I was so excited when we first began filming. I knew I would only have five days off during the entire five months of shooting, as Elizabeth is in nearly every scene, but I didn't feel daunted by that at all. I learned the first month's worth of dialogue before we began. This made me feel secure and meant that I had time to get to know everyone rather than having to rush back to my hotel room every night to learn new lines.

It took nearly two hours every day to get costumed and made-up, so my call times were always very early, between 5.30 and 6 a.m. Because time away from location became so precious, I got quicker and quicker at getting out of costume and make-up at the end of each day. I would often take the pins out of my hair as I sat in the bath.

I thought I was the luckiest person in the world to spend an entire summer being Elizabeth Bennet. What a fantastic thing to do! But after ten weeks of filming, I felt exhausted. People would say encouragingly, "It's alright; we're halfway there," but suddenly I found it all terrifying. Elizabeth is a wonderful character, but it can make you go a bit loopy being someone else every day for a long period, especially if you are physically so different. Fortunately, at that point, we had a five-day rehearsal period in London, so the days were shorter and I could live at home. I just slept and slept whenever I could, and I built up the strength to face then next ten weeks. I learned to pace myself and rest when possible. I would sometimes fall asleep between set-ups, while the lighting was being changed. Unbelievably, I once even managed to nod off, sitting up, between the first and second takes of a shot!
The last scene I had to shoot was the one with Lady Catherine de Bourgh. When it ended and Simon called, "cut!" I was in a state of shock. I couldn't believe it was all over. It had not been like acting in a play in the theatre for five months, because there you have a life of your own during the day. This had been five months away from everything normal - rather like being on a ship. It was good to get back to my own life, but I was sad too that it was finished. My summer as Elizabeth Bennet had been wonderful."

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