EXCLUSIVE: The adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride And Prejudice And Zombies has been seeking big-screen life ever since the smash mash-up novel was published in 2009 — but through a series of director changes, it sometimes looked like it had one foot in the grave. No more. The movie version now is a reality with principal photography slated to start in September and Cross Creek Pictures acquiring domestic rights with a commitment for a wide U.S. release. Hot British actors Lily James and Sam Riley and Australia’s Bella Heathcote have been set to lead the film that mixes the 1813 Jane Austen classic Pride And Prejudice with a legion of bloodthirsty undead.
Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, Charlie St Cloud) is directing from a screenplay by David O. Russell and Steers. Brian Oliver, Allison Shearmur, Sean McKittrick, Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch, Tyler Thompson and Marc Butan will produce on behalf of Sierra/Affinity, which also is handling foreign sales. (The project formerly was at Panorama but moved over with Butan when he joined Sierra/Affinity in January.) CAA packaged the Cross Creek deal.
Published by Quirk Books, the international bestseller has taken its time to get to the starting line. Russell, whose strong script has been one of the constants throughout the process, at one point was going to direct for Lionsgate, but he dropped out in 2010. The studio then chose Mike White, who subsequently left over a scheduling conflict, and Craig Gillespie moved into position in April 2011, only to exit six months later. That split was amicable, but as Deadline reported at the time, had to do with things like who to cast. Emma Stone passed on the lead role in June 2011.
Portman, who along with much of the team has been aboard as producer from the outset, at one point was going to star and later dropped out. Lily Collins was floated for the lead last year at around the time Steers came on. The package is now firmed up with James playing Elizabeth Bennett, Riley as Mr Darcy and Heathcote as Elizabeth’s sister. Jack Huston is also in talks. The novel plays with the relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England who are faced with the challenge of an army of the “sorry stricken” aka zombies.
James, best known for her role as Lady Rose on Downton Abbey, next will be seen in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella (which Shearmur is also producing), and also is circling the Weinstein Co/BBC miniseries War And Peace. She’s repped by UTA and the UK’s Tavistock Wood Management. Riley was in the Disney smash Maleficent and is in The Weinstein Co’s upcoming Suite Française; he’s repped by WME and Tavistock Wood. Heathcote’s credits include Dark Shadows and In Time; she’s repped by WME, More Medavoy Management, Oz’s JM Agency and Sloane Offer.