Several years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Darcy, Pride and Prejudice) via e-mail while she was performing The Philadelphia Story on stage in London. The original article appeared here at Blogcritics. The following are her answers to the questions that I posed to her.
Given the popularity of Pride and Prejudice when it first appeared, it would have been natural to expect you to try to capitalize on its success with your subsequent roles. However, it seems that you went out of your way to try not to be typecast in the same type of roles as Elizabeth Bennet. Can you share how you selected the roles you accepted after Pride and Prejudice and whether a fear of typecasting played a part in those selections?
When Pride and Prejudice came out September of ‘95, I was already working at the RSC and under contract with them till February of ‘96 — so there was nothing I could have done to ‘capitalize’ on the show’s success then, even if I had wanted to. It suited me perfectly to be unavailable; and to sit tight and wait out the hoopla. Once I was released from the RSC, I just continued to do what I always had done, which was to take the most interesting (to me) jobs that I was offered. This has changed a little now that I have a family — and am open again to working — but it has not changed a great deal. Now it has to be the most interesting job that is also interesting enough to ask my family to commit to. I do not feel as though I have ever been type cast. The women I have been lucky enough to play have been complex enough to allow me to use a varied pallete. Although I have played a few women whom I think of as ‘warmth-exuders’ who stand by their men — they have been quite varied apart from having that quality in common.
One of the wonderful aspects of Pride and Prejudice is the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and her father (portrayed by Benjamin Whitrow). Can you tell us about the chemistry between the two of you and how it affected your portrayal of Elizabeth? Does the relationship between these two characters in any way reflect your relationship with your own father?
I really enjoyed filming the father/daughter scenes with Ben. It was one of my very favorite bits of the filming. They were shot right at the start of the five month shoot and so, I was not yet exhausted — and they were done all in a clump, with just the two of us there. The relationship between Mr. Bennet and Lizzie was always my favorite part of the book. It was, for me growing up, the love story in the book; and I would weep whenever I reread it and would get to the bit where Lizzie tells Mr. Bennet that Darcy is the best man she has ever known. It is such an important part of the whole female fantasy of the story — the favorite daughter who idolizes her father above all men and then, when he fails to protect Lydia from herself, is exposed as a mere human being. Then, and only then, is the young woman free to find her own mate and open her heart to him.
Of the following men from Pride and Prejudice – Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley or Mr. Bennet – which would you want your son to grow up to be like and why?
These are the options?! It’s amazing the species continues.
You mentioned in an interview that the only role that would take you away from your family would be Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story. How have your career choices changed as a result of getting married and having a son?
Well, when I met my husband, I knew that I wanted to pay full attention to this relationship. I had not enjoyed acting for a lot of my twenties and wanted to step away and see how that felt; to see if the desire to act would return in full. So as soon as my commitments exhausted themselves (Possession and Design For Living) I took that time. Three years later, I was curious to see how it would feel to act again and it was fine. I liked it, but still wasn’t sure. Now, four-and-some years on from ‘walking away,’ I am really enjoying it and have not felt this unambivalent about working for at least a decade. It’s fun being an actress. Who knew?
How much influence did your parents have on you in your choice of acting as a career? How much has your mother influenced you particularly in your career as a stage actress?
While most kids may be asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” — the question always put to me was, “Are you going to be an actress or a writer?” — and I really never did consider anything else as a possibility. Having grown up with parents in these quite bohemian, joyous, autonomous careers, I do not see why I would ever have looked much further.
How did you prepare for the role of Tracy Lord? She seems very over-the-top compared to your previous roles that are far more understated. Have you had a chance to see the film and if not do you plan to see it?
Still haven’t seen the Grant/Hepburn movie. I’m sure I will one day.
The most important question any North Carolina native should answer: which do you prefer – Eastern or Western North Carolina barbecue and why?
I don’t know! I don’t know! Oh, help. I would imagine I have never even had Eastern. Have not had a lot of BBQ, because my Mother is involved in reforming the way pigs are farmed so we avoid factory-farmed pork as a rule. But did I mention her cheese grits?