Sam Riley has joined an elite group of actors in his latest film. Following in the footsteps of Sir Laurence Olivier, Peter Cushing, Patrick Macnee, and Colin Firth, he brought Jane Austen‘s Fitzwilliam Darcy to life on the big screen. His dramatic interpretation of Mr. Darcy has a major difference from theirs. Sam Riley is starring in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Riley’s Mr. Darcy is a zombie hunter.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, starring Sam Riley and Lily James, is based on the bestselling 2009 Seth Grahame-Smith adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. Grahame-Smith’s novel combined the classic tale of romance in Regency England and reset it in an alternate universe where the zombie apocalypse is a bigger threat than Napoleon Bonaparte. Riley was familiar with Pride and Prejudice, but he hadn’t heard of the mash-up novel until his agent brought the role to his attention. Riley called the concept of zombies in Regency England ridiculous, but said, “That’s why I really liked it.”
In an interview with Perri Nemiroff of entertainment news website Collider, Sam Riley explained his interpretation of the classic hero.
“I’ve taken it like a mix of things of Colin Firth, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Sean Connery in Dr. No and the voice of James Mason. That’s my intent.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the first time Riley has played a role like this.
“I’ve played other literary characters in my career… this way I get to play Darcy and at the same time fulfill my other ambitions of being an action hero.”
FanGirl Magazine’s Jessica Dwyer interviewed Sam Riley at San Diego ComicCon, asking, “What’s different about your Mr. Darcy?”
“Other than the samurai swords and the martial arts?” Riley replied.
Swords and Kung Fu aside, Riley said he tried to “stay quite true to the original text.” In his interviews with Dwyer and Nemiroff, Riley mentioned the difficulty of learning horsemanship and swordsmanship in a very limited amount of time.
When Olivier and Cushing played Mr. Darcy, zombies were mindless undead creatures limited to Haiti and New Orleans, as in White Zombie, King of the Zombies, and I Walked With a Zombie. Now, with movies like Night of the Living Dead, TV shows like The Walking Dead, and videogames like “Plants vs. Zombies,” audiences expect their zombies to be cannibalistic monsters. That’s exactly the sort of creature Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy fights in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Screenwriter/playwright Nikki Baker describes Riley as “dangerously sexy” in the role of the zombie-fighting Mr. Darcy.
Sam Riley shares the screen with some of England’s best actors. Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella) plays Lizzie Bennet, and Matt Smith (Dr. Who) plays Lizzie’s cousin and would-be suitor, the Rev. Mr. Collins. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) portrays Lady Catherine de Brough, and her take on the character is very different than Barbara Leigh-Hunt’s interpretation of the role! Douglas Booth (Jupiter Ascending, Romeo and Juliet) is Mr. Bingley.
British actor and singer Sam Riley is best known to American audiences as Diaval in Disney’s Maleficient. In Europe, Riley is far better known to both film audiences and music lovers. Sam Riley was the lead singer of the band 10,000 Things until 2005, and Riley won several awards for his portrayal of Ian Curtis in Control. Riley is also well respected for his roles as Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock, Greider in the Austrian-German film, The Dark Valley (Das finstere Tal), Sal Paradise in On the Road, and Benoit in Suite Française. A former model, Riley was named one of GQ‘s 50 best dressed British men in 2015.
Cassam Looch of HeyUGuys interviewed Sam Riley at the London premiere of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Warning: Mr. Riley uses some profanity in this interview.)
Some of England’s finest actors have portrayed Mr. Darcy. Will this be the role that makes Sam Riley as popular in the United States as he is in Europe?
[Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images]