Love & Friendship is based on a novel by Jane Austen and is about to find its way into Australian cinemas. I spoke with one of the film’s stars, Australian Xavier Samuel, about the project…
Matt: I first remember seeing you in Peter Carstairs’ September which came out almost 10 years ago now. What thoughts do you have looking back on your career at this point? Did you think you’d have such an interesting resume under your belt after graduating from drama school?
Xavier: I’ve been very lucky so that many different opportunities have come my way. It’s been very cool.
Matt: We see shows like Entourage that offer a look into Hollywood and how actors can make it big with a big movie franchise. Is that something you’re looking for over the next few years or do you prefer lower-budget, independent movies like Love & Friendship?
Xavier: There’s no grand plan to be involved in massive films. I’d look at it on a case-by-case basis and hopefully the work is interesting and challenging as it was with Love & Friendship. It’s based on the Jane Austen novella and writer Whit Stillman has given it an Oscar Wilde-like feel in adapting it for the screen.
Matt: How did this script first come across your radar?
Xavier: I met Whit Stillman in Los Angeles and read a couple of scenes with him. That’s how it kicked off.
Matt: A friend was chatting to writer-director Whit Stillman recently and he mentioned you almost pulled out of this to work on another Aussie film but he really wanted you and was able to work things out. That’s a nice display of confidence from your director?
Xavier: It is, especially considering he is an auteur. I was very thankfully that he wanted to work with me. It was an amazing experience to be part of an ensemble that included Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Stephen Fry and James Fleet.
Matt: Most of Jane Austen’s works have been adapted for the screen countless times but before I’d heard about this project, I’ve never heard of Lady Susan. Was it a work you were familiar with?
Xavier: I wasn’t familiar with it either. It’s a weird novella in that it’s a series of letter. Whit has interpreted and reimagined it and created something very funny. Kate Beckinsale’s character is very manipulative but we end up cheering for her because he’s so charming.
Matt: Taking on a role like this, do you read the novel to try to get an insight into the character or is best to avoid the source material and stick with the guidance provided by Whit?
Xavier: You read anything you can get your hands on and be as informed of the world as you can be. There were still a lot of conversations with Whit though about the direction he wanted to take it in.
Matt: What was it like working with Whit? I remember loving The Last Days of Disco which also had Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny but I haven’t heard much at all from him in recent years?
Xavier: He’s a very collaborative director and he writes as he goes along. He incorporated more scenes with Tom Bennett as we were going along because he was so funny. He has a very particular sensibility that people will know from films like Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. His characters love discussing ideas and talking about society.
Matt: You’ve had the chance previously in Anonymous but you’re working here again as part of a period piece film. Does that genre throw up challenges that are different from other films you’ve worked on? Is it harder to get the dialogue and timing precise?
Xavier: It’s harder trying to find a frame of reference. No one knows exactly how people spoke in Elizabethan times for example. The helpful thing is that there is a lot of reading and research that is available.
Matt: Does a lot of work go into getting the dialogue precise? I guess there’s no room for improvisation in a film like this.
Xavier: Yeah (laughs). It’d he hard to improvise using Jane Austen dialect. There’s a musicality to the way Whit writes and it is fun to learn and work through. All the scenes in the film are battles of wit and it’s really enjoyable to be a part of it.
Matt: Are you a natural dancer or does that take a bit of work?
Xavier: I don’t know if anyone is a natural when it comes to dancing the way they did back then. It’s very formal and the whole courting process was hilarious to actually do.
Matt: I always love the costumes in period piece films. Does it take a long time to get fitted?
Xavier: They put a lot of effort into that for Love & Friendship. I had curlers in my hair and sideburns being applied every morning. It was quite amusing.
Matt: The key to any romantic film is about creating chemistry between the characters and here you a strong connection with both Kate Beckinsale and Morfydd Clark. How easy is it to illustrate that chemistry on screen?
Xavier: It’s a testament to Whit’s casting and the way that he’s brought people together. Kate and Chloe worked together on The Last Days of Disco and they have a great rapport. It’s not something that you have to necessarily work at if you trust the director. One of the funny things in Love & Friendship is that the characters are on very different pages. You may think two people are getting along well but one of them is actually being manipulated.
Matt: When are we going to see you on screen next? I believe The Death and Life of Otto Bloom is opening the Melbourne Film Festival.
Xavier: Yeah, I’m going to watch that for the first time on opening night. I also just finished a film in Adelaide called Bad Blood which is directed by David Pulbrook and is a psychological thriller. I also just finished a 6-part series for the ABC called Seven Types of Ambiguity with Hugo Weaving, Leeanna Walsman and some other amazing actors. It’s the first time I’ve properly done television which was a great thing to be a part of.