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Austenland’s Keri Russell On the Importance of Escaping Life Through Fantasy

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“I am single because apparently the only good men are fictional,” is a line uttered by Jane Hayes in the film Austenland, which comes out today nationwide (watch the trailer below). Pretty strong words and a little depressing, but Hayes is a woman obsessed with fantasy. In this story, her fantasy is Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (specifically the BBC version played by Colin Firth) and his whole world of regal, old-fashioned society. In the film Hayes, whose Austen obsession has ruined her romantic life, spends all her savings to go to an Austen fantasy camp in the English countryside where you get to pretend to be one of the characters in an Austen novel complete with costumes, food and romance. All of us have fantasies that we can become obsessed with, but Austenland shows us that sometimes reality, though less picturesque, is much more fulfilling.

Keri Russell, who stars as the obsessive Jane Hayes in the film, talked about why she was drawn to the role at a roundtable earlier this week I attended:

“The thing that feels familiar to me or the thing that I sort of found as my way in was more this person who is stuck emotionally, because life is hard for everyone, you sort of escape into this fantasy. And, you know, maybe I’m not making out with Mr. Darcy dolls on my bed, but we all have our little dabblings to get us through the day. Mine might be endless hours on home interiors online or vacation places, (which I call hotel porn). For that idea of how much time are you spending in that fantasy world and do you need to harness that and go, “What’s existing right now”? “What’s my world right now”? Obviously, this is a funny, silly version of that.”

The line between fantasizing and obsession can be a tricky one for us all. But luckily this film takes that tricky topic and covers it in “pink feathers and codpieces and hot servants and dance scenes,” director Jerusha Hess told The Hollywood Reporter of the film.

And the film is indeed a fun, girl movie complete with a fun, surprising love story (J.J. Field will charm your bonnet off!) and humor. I will not lie and tell you this is different than most romantic comedies, but I will say it has some fun twists and the cast, led by Russell, is impeccable. Plus, for anyone who loves Jane Austen, this film is for you!

But, the main idea really does go back to this obsessive nature of devoted fans. Someone who knows a little bit about devoted fans is producer of Austenland, Stephanie Meyer. Yup, that Stephanie Meyer. The woman who pretty much launched the teen paranormal romance genre with her Twilight book series. Obsessive fans who would spend all of their money to become part of the fantasy made complete sense to her. She told

When I first read the novel [Austenland by Shannon Hale], if I’d read it three or four years earlier, I might’ve thought it was a lot less realistic than I’d later concluded that it was, because I wouldn’t have believed someone would really do that until Twilight, and I was like, “Oh yeah, people absolutely would do that.”

Though in many ways Hayes’ fantasy becomes even more wonderful than she imagined, she ends up realizing she wants reality. We all daydream and fantasize (often during work). We think some other life would be better than ours or easier for sure, but at the end of the day you are the only one who can make your fantasies come true whether that be nabbing your dream job or traveling across the world. Anything worthwhile takes time and patience. But while you’re waiting, go see a fun movie about escapism. “I think this is a really sweet, hopeful fable about hope. I think it’s poppy, and hopeful, and fun, and a fantasy, and it’s totally okay that she got the guy. I don’t think it’s anything to choose your life by. I think it’s like fun and no one dies and people are wearing fancy clothes and all the boys have fake tans and fake stuff in their pants. You know, it’s meant to be funny,” said Russell. I think even Jane Austen would laugh.

Do you ever feel like you fantasize too much? Tell us in the comments!

Ask Linda Simensky, VP of Children’s Programming at PBS, what it’s like to work in television and film!

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