Although Maggie Grace is still best known for the season and a half in which she played Shannon on the ABC hit drama “Lost,” she’s slowly been establishing herself in movies, mostly genre flicks like the 2005 remake of John Carpenter’s The Fog. Her new movie The Jane Austen Book Club is different in that it’s more of a film for the ladies, being Robin (Memoirs of a Geisha) Swicord’s adaptation of the best-selling novel by Karen Joy Fowler.
In the movie, Grace plays Allegra, the openly gay 20-year-old whose mother (Amy Brenneman) is trying to get over her cheating husband (Jimmy Smits), so her friends decide to form a book club to discuss and dissect the six novels written by Jane Austen. Allegra agrees to join the club out of support for her mother, but things get more interesting when the five women are joined by Hugh Dancy as a hunky sci-fi geek they’re trying to set-up with Allegra’s mother.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to sit down with the gorgeous actress with the “girl next door” looks during a brief stop through New York City, days before the movie opens nationwide.
ComingSoon.net: How did you find out about the movie? Had you read the book beforehand?
Maggie Grace: Yeah, actually I’m a Jane Austen fan myself. I bought and read the book as soon as it came out, so definitely the script jumped out at me. I couldn’t wait to read it. I met with Robin (Swicord) and we just geeked out basically.
CS: Do you feel that if you could have played any of the characters, Allegra was the one you would play?
Grace: Well she’s the only one even remotely close to my age, but in the book, she is 31.
CS: Did you go back and read all of Jane Austen’s novels?
Grace: Yeah, I did right before we started shooting. I reread some: “Persuasion,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “Pride and Prejudice” and I was actually vacationing in Spain at the time so it was perfect, so perfect. Really, a good vacation read.
CS: Was everyone else a Jane Austen fan and was that part of getting the role?
Grace: Hugh knows his stuff. He knows a lot, and I have an affection for Jane Austen. I just love that everyone brings their own viewpoint, which is really the case of her books especially. She doesn’t necessarily jump in and tell you what you must think. She’s kind of impersonal, like there’s a sense of propriety in her tone, but its still really warm and she doesn’t have that kind of force or authority that a lot of her contemporaries did. She kind of lets you bring your own thing to it.
CS: And Hugh knew the books inside and out already?
Grace: Hugh does. Most of them, yeah.
CS: In Karen’s novel, she put a lot of thoughts about Jane Austen’s books and characters into the different women in the story. Did you agree with any of those opinions?
Grace: Did I agree with their opinions? Oh, gosh. I’m trying to remember. I mean, bits and pieces, I wouldn’t say one uniformly, but yeah, it was really lovely that it brought up so many different ideas that I hadn’t thought of.
CS: What about your own character’s thoughts on Jane Austen?
Grace: She’s a little bit different than in the book. She’s a bit younger, but still, she’s in love with love and impetuous, and just a lot of fun.
CS: Were you at all intimidated by the other actors who had done so many movies?
Grace: I’m just really happy to be working with people who are more experienced than I am. At my age that’s sort of a lovely thing.
CS: Did Robin have the actors come together beforehand and chat about Jane Austen?
Grace: We had a rehearsal which most of the actors could come to, some were on other sets, but it was really lovely to have any kind of rehearsal process because normally it’s just not that common with film surprisingly. It was kind of like doing a play again, it was wonderful. And also we had a kind of impromptu book club for “Emma” and the boys didn’t want anything to do with “Emma” and decided that that was okay because their characters didn’t know anything about the books. So it was a method actor choice.
CS: Did you spend any extra time with Amy since she played your mother?
Grace: We have. We all spent a lot of time together. We had some dinner parties. It wasn’t so much just Amy and I, we were amongst everyone.
CS: Even though we only see each book club meeting for five or ten minutes, you probably had the five or six of you all on one set for days at a time.
Grace: Big book club scenes with that many people takes a long time. But it was kind of crazy that we shot that movie so quickly and sometimes we’d only do one or two takes and close-ups. What’s a great testament to how well this cast got along was that we would still have lunch together and dinner parties on the weekends sometimes. Which of course, most interviews, people aren’t going to air their dirty laundry and say I absolutely hated everyone, but we did get along very well. That kind of goes to show just that you spend that much time locked in a room all day together getting eight million close ups, that’s a lot of turnaround. But it was a fun group.
CS: How did Hugh deal with being around so many women all the time? Was it similar to the movie where everyone was trying to get his attention?
Grace: Quite well. He was the one blushing reading. He came to set equipped and armed with many, many books. It’s a group of pretty comfortable women. We talked about plenty of things that can make Hugh Dancy blush. So that was funny. It was a lot of estrogen.
CS: So basically him and the crew were the only guys there?
Grace: Yeah. John Calley, our producer. We were talking about a guy who is a legend and runs studios and was willing to be so hands on and come to set every day on a five million dollar movie. So, yay John Calley! A little shout out to John Calley.
CS: Did Robin change anything from the script on set while you were shooting?
Grace: She was really flexible in rehearsal. Whatever we needed or found in rehearsal which is really wonderful. The writers and directors sometimes are notorious for being so structured, having it one way and having to see it so many times. But she was pretty flexible and great that way with rehearsal.
CS: This is quite different than the other movies you’ve done so far, because even “Lost” was genre based. Was it a strange experience doing a more female-centric film?
Grace: Well, I still got my big pulley system and I had a plane fuselage when I do the skydiving, so I got to be hauled up in a pulley again and that was a comforting reminder. Getting in touch with my sci-fi background.
CS: Allegra is openly gay, but we never really see why that is. Does it deal with that part of her character more in the book?
Grace: In the book, I think it’s so much in the past when she grew so sure of her sexual orientation. In the book, she’s a little bit older like I said. I love in the book how it says she goes out of her way to make it clear to every cashier and sales person like, “Oh, by the way. I’m gay.” I love that. Without any provocation.
CS: Is that because she’s trying to find someone?
Grace: No, she’s just kind of very open in that way, much to the consternation of her mother in the book. I loved how it’s a non-issue in this movie. I think too often we see lesbian characters that fall into a cliché, and I liked that she was a just a really normal, vibrant woman who happened to be gay. It’s not the central issue and she’s pretty well adjusted and her family is pretty supportive. I wish it was always so easy, but I think a lot of it wasn’t easy in the past, but that’s another movie. I think by now she’s pretty assured and has definitely got a really great support system behind her by now.
CS: It’s interesting the fact that she is trying to hide her sports from her mother even though she’s open about her sexuality. Why do you think that is?
Grace: It’s like a new girlfriend every week, but I’m not going to tell you what else I did last weekend. I think at that age you need to have something that’s just yours that’s separate from your mother.
CS: Did you get to do any skydiving yourself?
Grace: It was simulated in the movie because of liability and insurance reasons. But I did try to go. I went back to “Lost” for like half a second. Right after we wrapped Jane Austen I went back to Hawaii to shoot “Lost” for like a week. And a couple of the cast members and I went up in a plane. I was strapped to someone’s back, I was ready to go. I thought it would be cathartic, kind of an homage to my character from “The Jane Austen Book Club.” But also coming back to “Lost” for a minute. It was over Oahu and the same beach the original plane crash set was.
CS: Did you jump?
Grace: That would be poetic because I jumped out of the plane and eventually died on the show so this time I jump out of the plane on the same beach and live. But the German tour group ahead of us took too long and a thunderstorm rolled in. We were literally ready to jump out of the plane. Our hearts are pounding. We are so ready to go. And they pulled the plug. It was the biggest buzz kill ever. But at least I went bungee jumping in New Zealand, so I’ve done something.
CS: How was filming “Taken”? Pierre Morel is an amazing cinematographer.
Grace: He is an amazing cinematographer, and I loved that he brought that to this movie as well. He really thinks in such an intricate way and he still does his own camera work which is incredible. He’s hanging out of a window on top of this apartment building to shoot my close-up, and I was like, “Oh my god.” He’s worked with Luc Besson a lot. So they already have kind of a short-hand.
CS: So this is more of an action thriller.
Grace: I’ve got my yin yang going on. “Jane Austen Book Club” followed by “Taken,” the action thriller.
CS: Does Liam Neeson do some action scenes as well?
Grace: Liam Neeson is the action hero. Pretty cool. He kicks some ass. He’s going to play Lincoln. He’s so perfect and good lord, Lincoln was six-four in real life, so Liam is probably taller. He seems taller. He seems like eight feet tall in person.
CS: Is “Taken” done yet and have you seen any of it?
Grace: I’ve seen little pieces for ADR. It’s cool. I’m really excited. I haven’t seen any of the big car chases. I’m stoked to see those.
CS: Do you ever think you’ll do something like this movie again? Maybe another romantic comedy?
Grace: I’d love to do a romantic comedy. It’s a bit of a dramedy, but it’s a bit of an ensemble as well. But that might be nice one of these days. The next movie is a departure to it. We haven’t closed the deal yet, but it’s a really cool adaptation, really dark. It’s kind of a character-driven small piece, so it’s definitely very different from the last few.
CS: So you’ve been enjoying the movies you’ve been doing and don’t have any desire to do television full-time again?
Grace: I’m definitely enjoying what I’ve been doing. I haven’t read or auditioned for TV… I think once. I haven’t met for other TV projects since “Lost.” Film has kind of been the focus, but you never know. Some times there’s more creative latitude in television, especially some of these cable channels like Showtime, HBO, FX. They’re doing some really interesting stuff. I’m not ruling it out, but I haven’t thought it out either.
CS: Do you miss doing “Lost” and living in Hawaii?
Grace: I miss the people, but I get to see them pretty often. It’s uncanny that no matter where I’m shooting that Josh Halloway and his wife, Jessica, who is a great friend of mine, manage to come. Vancouver, Paris, they were there to work when I was there. I live in the same neighborhood in L.A. as some of castmates. It’s really great that way how we’ve kept in touch. I’m going to visit them in Hawaii for the weekend. We keep in touch. I can’t complain. Sure I miss Hawaii, but I just shot a movie in Paris.
CS: Do you think “Lost” might call you up to get you to do more flashbacks?
Grace: If it works with my schedule. I adore a lot of people that happen to live on Oahu.
CS: Now they seem to be flashing forward for the upcoming season.
Grace: That’s what I hear. That’s an interesting choice. I like that. Somebody told me there was a big reveal and somebody was dropped off in a plane that said, “You guys died. That it was on the news. They filmed the bodies. You guys are all dead.”
CS: So would they just call you and say, “Hey we want to have you in an upcoming episode”?
Grace: They just call and check my availability I guess. I agreed to come back for a second season, I wasn’t obligated.
The Jane Austen Book Club is now playing in select cities and opens on Friday, October 5 everywhere.
Thanks to Victoria Negri for her help with this interview.