British actress Olivia Williams is no stranger to Jane Austen, having played Jane Fairfax in Emma 1996 and more recently reading a Persuasion audio book. She recently spoke to The Guardian about her role as Jane Austen in the upcoming Miss Austen Regrets:
"...Though she had 'written this summer off' due to the baby, it turned out to be a busy one, and after making two films, There for Me with her friend Paul Bettany and Flashbacks of a Fool with Daniel Craig, she was back doing more Jane Austen, this time a BBC film about the writer's later years. Miss Austen Regrets is a highly - maybe dangerously - speculative biopic, tracing a narrative out of the writer's possible romantic near-misses. It is a bleakly accomplished little film, quite unlike last spring's sprightly Becoming Jane, and Williams turns in a startling and muscular performance: spiky, self-assured and yet frequently stricken by the thought of what might have been.
'Mmm, it's very dangerous, isn't it?' Williams agrees, flinching a little. She hopes the Janeites who made such a fuss about Anne Hathaway's Austen in Becoming Jane are still lying down in their darkened rooms, recovering, so that this film will pass without comment. However, she is a bit of a Janeite herself, so her own reservations surface with very little encouragement. Having trained herself to be 'wily and flinty and mercenary' over the years, which is presumably one reason why she signed up to the project, she couldn't help being pained by it. She feels awkward about the intrusion into a modest and little-known life: 'My ideal script would be quotations from the letters, brilliantly knitted together into perfectly natural scenes. Anything that you put into her mouth has to be brilliant, written by somebody who was as brilliant as Jane Austen, and that's impossible, so to have her speaking in a way that is lazily colloquial to me was a mistake.'
So she has said lines that she feels uncomfortable with? 'Did I say lines I was uncomfortable with?' she muses, in a rather lawyerly fashion. 'There was so much debate that most of the time we shot scenes two ways, so I'm subject to the editors. I feel I've done what I can, I've fulfilled my contract, and I've quieted my own conscience.' She pauses. 'You know, I have this fear, because of my own academic background: I'm scared that my English teacher from school is going to ring me up and say, "She wouldn't have said that! How could you?" That keeps me awake at night,' she says gloomily. 'That and childcare.'"
I suggest you head over to The Guardian and read the rest of the interview - it's a fascinating and enlighting read. I love Olivia as an actor and I'm looking forward to her portrayal of Jane Austen!
Pic: Olivia Williams as Jane Austen from: BBC