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'Austenland' features unlikely pair, unlikely film

In "Austenland," Jane Austen meets "Flight of the Conchords."

August 23, 2013|By Katherine Tulich
  • Actors Bret McKenzie and Keri Russell at the time of release of "Austenland."
Actors Bret McKenzie and Keri Russell at the time of release… (Photo by Steve Appleford )

It may not seem like your typical rom-com duo: Keri Russell, known as a clandestine Russian spy in FX's retro thriller “The Americans,” and Bret McKenzie of New Zealand's comic-music duo, “Flight of the Conchords.” Put them both in regency costumes in a faux British amusement park devoted to Jane Austen fanatics, and things are bound to get a little freaky.

That's the premise of the new film “Austenland,” directed by Jerusha Hess, the co-screenwriter of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Gentlemen Broncos.” Based on the book by Shannon Hale, Russell plays a plain Jane unable to sustain a relationship while absorbed in her time-warp fantasies of romance and ruffles in Jane Austen books.

Her home is a shrine to Colin Firth's portrayal of the dashing Mr. Darcy from the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice,” complete with life-size cut-outs of the actor in costume and pillows and throws emblazoned with “I (heart) Darcy” symbols. She blows her life savings on a full-emersion experience at a British resort devoted to role-playing Austen where male actors are hired to fulfill guests' romantic fantasies.

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“It started with a lot of giggling about British men in britches,” says Hess, who co-wrote the screenplay with Hale and makes her directing debut. “I wanted to do something different and this is unashamedly a girl's movie.”

“Twilight” author Stephanie Meyer produced the movie under her Fickle Fish Films banner. “It's not just about Austen fans; everyone has a fandom, some world that they would love to go role-play in,” Meyer says. “We would all like to go to a version of our favorite theme park.”

For Russell, it was a welcome break from the more intense roles — including in the horror thriller “Dark Skies” and the upcoming sci-fi sequel, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” — she has been playing lately. “I knew it would be fun and poppy, and knowing what Jerusha had done in the past, I knew she would make it weird and specific and funky and I think that's what she achieved,” says Russell.

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