Kate Beckinsale Talks Film Adaptation Of Jane Austen's 'Edgy' Novella 'Love & Friendship'

Originally published on May 16, 2016 2:35 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

What will filmmakers do next with Jane Austen - turn her old all shopping lists into new movies? "Lady Susan," a novella that the English novelist left unfinished, has been turned to a new film - and by the way, also a finished novel, by Whit Stillman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP")

XAVIER SAMUEL: (As Reginald DeCourcy) Congratulations on being about to receive the most accomplished flirt in all England.

KATE BECKINSALE: (As Lady Susan Vernon) Excuse me for arriving this way.

SIMON: "Love & Friendship" stars Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan, a beautiful young widow who's running low on funds just as her oldest daughter becomes of marital age. So she brings her daughter and herself to her brother-in-law's estate called Churchill, in the days before that name would be so familiar, in hopes of hatching a scheme to make more than one match to secure their futures. Lady Susan, as we say, is portrayed by Kate Beckinsale who joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

BECKINSALE: Thank you for having me. My pleasure.

SIMON: Did you know about this unfinished novella when they brought the screenplay to you?

BECKINSALE: I actually didn't. And when I was sent this screenplay, I sort of assumed that Whit Stillman had written a screenplay in the style of Jane Austen because the material's not really what you expect from Jane Austen. It's extremely edgy and sort of envelope-pushing and very, very funny.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP")

BECKINSALE: (As Lady Susan Vernon) If she were going to be jealous, she should not have married such a charming man.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) How's this woman always get her way?

EMMA GREENWELL: (As Catherine DeCourcy Vernon) She has an uncanny understanding of men's natures.

SIMON: Is Lady Susan, in your mind and eye, conniving and duplicitous or just practical?

BECKINSALE: (Laughter) Well, I mean - obviously, she is a bit conniving and duplicitous. I'm very fond of her, but I'm also - do kind of see her very much in the context of the time period that she was in and, you know, as a woman with the constraints imposed on her ability to get an amazing education or a really fulfilling career or, you know, have independent means that weren't just reliant on having a husband who had money. You know, within those confines, she's being as creative as she possibly can in terms of having freedom. And I suppose on the surface, you kind of think she's this kind of terrible manipulative nightmare. But actually, within the context socially, I think she's a bit of a pioneer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LOVE & FRIENDSHIP")

BECKINSALE: (As Lady Susan Vernon) If you realized the full extent of ridiculous manhood a young girl without fortune must endure, you'd be more generous to Sir James.

SIMON: Your official bios volunteered the fact that you went through a few years of Freudian psychoanalysis. Do you...

BECKINSALE: Yeah.

SIMON: Do you mind if we talk about that?

BECKINSALE: Very welcome to. I mean, I'm not sure, ultimately, how helpful it was in terms of probably why I was going at the time because I did start doing that when I was 9.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, I'm moved to ask you only insofar as if that contributes anything to being an actor.

BECKINSALE: I found it very helpful in terms of understanding literature and symbols and things like that. But I - it - I'm not sure necessarily insomuch as an actor. I mean, possibly a bit. It's quite hard to imagine what it would have been like not having had all that Freudian analysis, you know. It probably makes you a little bit introverted and introspective. But yeah, in terms of kind of character studying and things, I'm sure it's been a bit helpful.

SIMON: Everything I've read about you makes it - sounds like you had a great stepfather.

BECKINSALE: Yes, I did.

SIMON: Roy Battersby, the TV director. We're coming up on Father's Day. I'm among those who think that there should also be a kind of separate Stepfather's Day because that can be a tricky relationship for a lot of people to get right. Can I get you to talk about him?

BECKINSALE: Yes. I mean, my stepfather came into my life when I was 9. And he had already four sons and a daughter, so they were quite a package. I was an only child with my mom. My dad died very suddenly when he was 31 and I was 5. So I wasn't really kind of shopping around for a stepfather as such and was a bit sort of on the fence about whether that was a great idea.

But he has been - I mean, I do think that, you know, fathers or father figures on the whole to have - very much kind of hold their daughters' in particular, I think, self-esteem. And so it's quite a big job, I think, being a father or a stepfather in terms of how a woman ends up, you know, feeling about herself and finding her place in the world.

And my stepfather was, you know, an incredibly - and is incredibly intellectually rigorous, bright, educated, Ph.D., political, really kind of imposing intellect. And it could be quite scary. If I lost my, you know, subway card for the 19th time, it was definitely him I didn't want to tell. You know, he'd be the one that would get, you know, mad. My mom's not like that so much. But he - I've always felt, you know, really properly loved. And actually, from a very young age, really respected by him. And I think that's something that for girls in particular is really important in terms of kind of how they relate, you know, to the rest of the world.

SIMON: That's wonderful. People have such particular feelings about Jane Austen at this point. Does that make it a little intimidating to take on yet another Jane Austen project?

BECKINSALE: Maybe it should. I don't know. I was - it was such a wonderful script and such a wonderful character. And also, there was something really special about knowing that we as a cast were the first people to inhabit these characters onscreen, which I think, you know, for being in a Jane Austen adaptation, I don't know if there's anybody under the age of about 200 who can say that (laughter), you know. But this one is a sort of lurking, secret gem that nobody had really touched yet.

SIMON: Kate Beckinsale - she stars in Whit Stillman's film, "Love & Friendship." Thanks so much for being with us.

BECKINSALE: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.