Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman’s playful adaptation of Jane Austen’s posthumously published novella, Lady Susan, marks the American director’s reteaming with the delectable Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny from his 1999 film The Last Days of Disco. Sevigny plays Alicia Johnson, an American who married into the British aristocracy (Stephen Fry) while Beckinsale is the scheming impoverished Lady Susan. The naïve young nobleman, Sir Reginald DeCourcy, who falls for Susan’s charms, is played by our own Xavier Samuel, sporting a proper British accent.
“Xavier’s really important for the film,” Stillman says. “There’s no one else I found who could have played that part. He came in and read two scenes and was really touching. He brought an emotional change to the scene. He’s really good looking, really period and well spoken. At one point there was a competing film that wanted him. We thought we were going to lose him and it hit me so hard. So I pleaded with him to stay with us and he did. And it turned out really well.”
Samuel, who had a huge career push in two Twilight Saga movies, is focusing on an eclectic range of Australian films at the moment. I caught up with the talented 32 year- old on the Sundance red carpet before the Love & Friendship premiere.
What is Sir Reginald like?
He thinks he knows a little more than he does. He has a kind of cynical perspective about Lady Susan’s arrival and is curious to see if her reputation is as grand as is it seems to be. Then he winds up falling madly in love with her, despite his previous perspective on the whole situation.
When did you meet Whit Stillman?
I met Whit a couple of years ago in Los Angeles. I’d read the screenplay and I’d seen Metropolitan of course and the characters in that film talk a lot about Jane Austen too. So I’ve been a big fan of his work and to get a chance to work with him is really terrific.
How was it working with the lovely women?
Everyone’s wonderful in the film. It’s an ensemble piece. Kate Beckinsale’s an amazing actress I remember her from Much Ado About Nothing and Chloë Sevigny too. It’s just such a classy group of people.
Where are you based now?
“I’ve been in Sydney and Melbourne the last little while.
You have a lot of Australian films coming out.
Yes. I just finished working with Cris Jones on a film called The Death and Life of Otto Bloom.
Is it a bit like Guy Pearce going backwards in time in Memento?
It’s a little like that, but it’s more a fictional documentary. I had a great time working on that as well.
You’ve also finished A Few Less Men, after 2011’s A Few Best Men.
I reunited with Kevin Bishop and Kris Marshall who are both extraordinary actors. We had a great time over in Perth shooting that.
Then there’s Tim Ferguson and Marc Gracie directing you in Spin Out.
They’re both comic legends. Tim Ferguson is just a remarkable man with such a great comic sensibility.
What's the role?
It’s set in a Bachelors and Spinsters ball. I play a kind of larrikin Australian who’s trying to get lucky basically. It’s a night that goes horribly wrong, as those nights tend to do. Though I’ve never been to a Bachelors and Spinsters ball myself.
(We don’t mention that Samuel’s also appeared in Bruce Beresford’s US film Mr Church and is set to play Banjo Pattinson in a long-gestating film about the creation of Waltzing Matilda.)
"There are so many amazing filmmakers working in Australia"
The Australian cinema industry is looking strong.
There are so many amazing filmmakers working in Australia. I always try to stay in touch with an industry that supported me in the first place. It’s not like I’m doing anyone any favours. There’s a lot of great talent down there and I’ve decided to be a part of it. So I’m not in a mad rush to be anywhere except where the good people are.
What’s been the best role of late?
I don't really think in those terms but I’m really excited about Cris Jones’ film.
Because you’re the lead?
No, it’s not just because of that. It’s because he’s got such a brilliant mind and I’ve never read or been in a film like that where its so sensitive and intimate but the themes are so large. It’s talking about time and living in the moment and love. Those kind of unchartered waters are usually the most exciting to be a part of.
Do see yourself as a romantic lead?
In that film he’s just a guy who experiences the world in a different way. Though I did work with Matilda Brown. She’s a wonderful Australian actress and we play love interests in that film.
Love & Friendship has been picked up by a local distributor but there is currently no Australian release date set.