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INTERVIEW: Modern Gothic Master Seth Grahame-Smith Talks 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,' 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,' 'Dark Shadows'

Thompson on Hollywood By Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood June 12, 2012 at 1:40PM

Novelist and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith is a gothic mash-up master. He broke the mold with a title that caught everyone's sensibilities hilariously off-guard: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." On June 22nd, his adaptation of his own bestseller hits screens: producer Burton and director Timur Bekmambetov's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."
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TOH: The first notable thing about "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is the disturbance of the marriage plot and its replacement with something else.

SGS:

The first motivation was to preserve as much of the Austen as possible.  That was job number one -- I didn't want to get into the business of redrawing the character, I was just amplifying to different extremes, trying to make every character the same as they were in the original novels, but that much bigger and amplify what Austen did in the original novel.  She was trying to skewer and make fun of the aristocracy for being so singularly focused on the importance of good marriages, when there is so much more to life, as well as the antiquated idea that a woman is nothing without a good husband.  Mrs. Bennet is ridiculously focused on marrying her daughters when she should be focused on keeping them alive. Society is so polite, they can't say zombies -- they say 'dreadfuls,' or 'unmentionables.' They pretend things aren't as bad as they are -- true to time and birth and sensibility.

TOH: You also play with the awareness of modesty at the time. Was this for comic effect or social critique? 

SGS:

Yes, Lizzie shows an ankle while doing a round kick; it's that sort of ridiculousness that's in Austen's book. I left it in for tact and I did it for comic effect.  My goal was to entertain.

TOH: "Pride and Prejudice" is one of just a handful of books that's both universally respected and individually adored. Were you trying to stir things up by picking this?

SGS:

Not, not at all.  I had no expectation that the book would be particularly successful.  My nonfiction books had various degrees of failure, we saw this as an experimental, little lark, no harm no foul if it didn't work. The publisher only printed 10,000 copies and then the second week the book was out, no one could get it.  If we had any inkling... This book sort of presented itself as the perfect book for this treatment, not just because it was beloved but because the themes work with mashing it up and when you talk about zombies with this proper aristocratic treatment, it's just funny.  The book is in the public domain so we didn't have to pay anyone to license it - it belongs to the world.

TOH: And what's next for you -- more screenplays and books?

SGS:

A mix of both. The next thing now is the opening of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" on June 22, getting the work out for the next few weeks.  I'm writing an animated movie for Tim Burton, that he's reading now.  And there's a new book, "Unholy Night," that Warner Brothers bought and I'm working on screenplay.  And then beyond that, thinking about what my next book will be.  I don't know yet, I may write something that is not as mash-upy or as ridiculous, but maybe something more traditionally scary.


 

This article is related to: Dark Shadows, Stuck In Love, Tim Burton, Books


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.