Love & Friendship, the latest film from beloved director Whit Stillman, takes its inspiration from Lady Susan, a Jane Austen novella that follows the misadventures of a down-on-her-luck 19th-century socialite as she attempts to find fortuitous matches for both herself and her daughter. In this stylish, sophisticated and very funny film, the devious Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) finds her machinations backfiring, and antics ensue as she attempts to out-maneuver rivals and plot her own chance at happiness.
Fury alum Xavier Samuel plays Reginald De Courcy, an eligible bachelor who finds himself in Susan’s crosshairs, and who provides some of the film’s most enjoyable bon mots and hijinks. Here, Samuel tells DuJour about the enduring appeal of Austen and how the cast killed time—in a classic Dubliner’s fashion—off camera.
This film is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novella, Lady Susan, but the director also wrote a novel based on the story. Have you had a chance to read it yet?
I haven’t, no, but I read the book of Lady Susan. It’s cool, though, writing a screenplay and then turning it into a book. It’s kind of like doing things in reverse.
If something’s that interesting to you, it’s probably hard to give it up.
Right! There should be more novel adaptations of movies. Whit’s so passionate about Austen and about that world, and he puts his own flavor to it. In his film Metropolitan, the characters talk about Austen and there’s a kind of strange similarity between high class New York and the world of England in that time.
How did you become part of the film?
I was in Los Angeles when I met Whit at an audition, it would’ve been almost three years ago. The casting happened quite early and the timing wasn’t quite right, so [the film had] been lurking around and I always had it on my shelf, thinking, Oh, I can’t wait until this gets made—and then I found out it was going ahead. It’s not often you read something that has Oscar Wilde-style wit, you know. It’s also an English story told from an American perspective, which is unique as well.
Jane Austen seems to always be a subject of fascination. There are new versions of her works, there are zombies. What do you think keeps her interesting to us after all these days?
The themes are pretty universal, aren’t they? It’s sort of amazing that they were written almost 200 years ago. I think there are a couple of things: It’s a total fantasy nowadays to be on a country estate and having your relationships mapped out for you, all the things that are so foreign to us. There’s a great entertainment in that aspect of it. And what really stood out in the Lady Susan stories, was that Kate Beckinsale’s character is using love as a tool for survival, it’s magnificent and wonderful and kind of exciting, you’re watching a character wrap people around her little finger.
What was your favorite part of making the film?
Well we shot in Dublin, and Dublin is such a beautiful city. Because it was never bombed, there are all of these beautiful Victorian and Georgian houses still in tact, great castles. Being witness to those places and working inside them was totally surreal and really beautiful. Like, Oh were are we going today? Well, let’s go to another castle! Aside from seeing all those places, I think working with Kate and Chloe Sevigny was a highlight for me; the dialogue was so terrific, and it was great to have that kind of material to work with.
What did you do off camera, when you were firmly back in the 21st century?
In Dublin, you hang out and drink Guinness and all that. Also, Dublin is where Beckett and Joyce and Wilde and all these great writers lived and worked, and we sort of took up that history.