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She made her name and her fortune with the "Twilight" books and movies, but now Stephenie Meyer is ready for new experiences. She steps out as a producer of "Austenland," which opens in limited release this weekend. It's her fourth producer credit (she produced both "Breaking Dawn" installments and "The Host"), but the first movie she's worked on that's not based on her own writings.
The story focuses on a young woman (Keri Russell) who is obsessed with the work of Jane Austen and thus heads to an Austen-themed English estate to live out her Regency era dreams. Once there, she finds out that maybe living within a fantasy isn't all it's cracked up to be.
We chatted with Meyer ahead of the movie's release and got her to dish on her secret to youth (she's not a vampire), what she's obsessed with and her favorite "Twilight" fanfiction of all time.
You shot the movie the summer before last, but it's coming out now. What's it like revisiting this stuff from a while ago?
It seems like a long time for her, because she shot the movie and walked away. (Laughing) We spent the next year in an editing suite, and then we did Sundance, so there's been a lot going on for us with "Austenland" throughout the time since we filmed it.
When did you decide this movie was done?
Oh, I guess right before Sundance. We were kind of tweaking with it for a while up until then.
Who gets the final say in whether it's done? Or is it more like you're so exhausted that it has to be done?
I think there is definitely an element of exhaustion when the director and the editor and the producers are all kind of like, "Okay, that's as much as we can bear. It's good, let's go."
This is your first work that you produced that you didn't write, right?
It's based on the novel by Shannon Hale. Yes, this is the first time I've adapted something that isn't my own book.
So what's that like? How different is your relationship with the director when it's not your own work?
It was super fun. It was a lot less pressure than doing something of my own, because with my books, there was – particularly with "Twilight" – a lot of involvement by the fans. They had things they wanted, things had to be a certain way, and I think they overestimated my input on all of it. And so everything had to look exactly the same, and Bella's eyes had to be brown, even though it wouldn't have changed the story if Kristen [Stewart] had just gotten to keep her own green eyes and had less trouble in the morning.
And in "Austenland", we didn't have that. It was easy. We could do what we wanted. Jerusha [Hess], the director, and Shannon [Hale], the writer of the novel, did the script together, and then I would read a draft, and we would talk about what we liked, what we wanted to change, and it was just really easygoing. We were all pretty good friends, and at the time it was just like hanging out with girlfriends. So it was really low pressure fun.
But at the same time, Jane Austen's stories are just as beloved. Was there any pressure to uphold any sort of legacy or include any details?
It just really didn't factor in because of the structure of the novel. I mean, the stories… It could be about any fandom. It didn't have to be about Jane Austen. It's about someone who's obsessed with something that is fictional, and then the journey that she takes from there. And Jane Austen was what the story happened to be about, but you could do it about almost anything that people dress up for, for Comic-Con. You know, it really is that kind of mindset. So it wasn't so much about Jane Austen's stories as it is about the journey of an obsessed fan to anything. And so while there are definite nods to "Pride and Prejudice" in the novel – and many of those carry over into the film – we weren't filming a Jane Austen movie. We were filming a movie about obsessed people. (Laughs)
Which you may know a thing or two about…
I have seen some of that, and in fact, that kind of influenced me. When I first read the novel, if I'd read it three or four years earlier, I might've thought it was a lot less realistic than I'd later concluded that it was, because I wouldn’t have believed someone would really do that until "Twilight", and I was like, "Oh yeah, people absolutely would do that."
Oh yeah. What's the most intense fan interaction you've ever had?
Once, in early days, I received a very long letter from a fan who was quite obsessed with "New Moon," I think, and was upset about it and angry with me because things had gone differently than she would've liked. And I wrote back to her, which I don't do anymore. One of the problems with having a really natural inborn sense of guilt is that you want to write really long letters to every letter that you get, and you can't, or else you don't have time for anything else, including breathing and sleeping. But back when I used to do that, I sent her a letter back. It was quite long, just explaining what this had been about, and I felt bad that she had not enjoyed it. And then I ran into her, so randomly, I was in Port Angeles, which is in the novel, and I was there for like… I was in Forks for the first "Twilight" day I did there, and she recognized me in a restaurant and came up, and was the sweetest thing ever, very intense, and just how much it had meant to her, that I had answered that dialogue with her. And it meant so much to her, just seeing it in her eyes, how big a deal it was and her intensity. It's amazing to think how you can affect someone who you don't know, who you've never met. It's an odd, scary sort of power.
It must be a lot of pressure.
It can be.
You said you can't respond anymore?
I can't even read fan mail anymore, because then I feel compelled to respond. And it was taking over my life, like, I couldn't write, I couldn't do anything because I was writing letters. But if I read them, then I have to answer them, so I just don't allow myself to read them.
Have you ever looked at "Twilight" fan fiction?
Yeah, I didn't know what fan fiction was or that it existed. I didn't know that it was a thing before "Twilight", then people told me that it was there. I read, like, one story, and then my agent told me to cut it out. It was really cute, though. It was about someone trying out for a movie. It was not about the actual characters; it was about someone's interaction with it.
That's cute. And of course there's a story being made into a movie right now that's based on fan fic, or one step removed, like "50 Shades of Gray."
I really can't, because I haven't read it, so I don't know. But I've heard that it's based somewhat on "Twilight", but it doesn't sound like it's very closely related at all, so I don't really have anything to say about it.
She's not the only one who's gotten a book deal based off of fanfiction. The author of the "Mortal Instruments" series started off writing fanfic.
Yes, I did know about that. And I mean, from what I've heard, there is some really, really good writing out there floating around, and it's kind of a nice little practice arena for people who are writers, to get feedback and to get people who enjoy their writing and start a following, it's sort of a nice medium, if you can, like ["Mortal Instruments" author] Cassandra Clare, break away and do your completely own original series. And I think most of those writers have their own stories in them.
Do you not read it just because you think it's weird? Or are you worried that you'll accidentally absorb an idea?
No, I don't read because my agent counsels me not to. It's just not wise because there's a billion stories out there, and if you read it at all, then someone might think you've taken their idea, so it's just safer to stay away from it.
You started your production company to help other authors adapt their books to screen. What do you look for in scripts or novels?
Well, we're mostly just focused on novels right now. We don't do any solicited reads, we only find things that we have already loved. "Down a Dark Hall" is one that I loved as a very young person, so when it became available, it was kind of like getting to revisit my childhood. It was a lot of fun. And then our other novel, "Anna Dressed in Blood", is a newer work that just kind of caught our attention. It was just a fun, different spin on things. So we're somehow now in a situation where we have two young-adult ghost stories in the works, which we did not intend to have. At least we did "Austenland" first, so we can't be pigeonholed in that way. And definitely, we're gonna have to think about it before the next work we acquire to not have a ghost in it, in any form. (Laughs) No dead people in the next one.
You're only accepting applications for breathing characters.
Yes. Well, I mean, it doesn't mean they can't be zombies. They just can't be ghosts anymore.
Does it make you mad or annoyed when people characterize things that you work on as "'Twilight' with blank"? Like "The Host," they called "'Twilight' with aliens."
I wouldn't say it annoys me… It's just sort of like, inevitable. And it is what it is. "Twilight" is why I'm in the position to be able to do these things and work on movies, so I can't really resent that fact at all.
What do you geek out over?
I am an Austen geek, so I did identify with the character [in "Austenland"]. I am also a geek for anything "Bourne"-related. I love assassin books. And as a child, I was a geek over a lot of fantasy. I loved the "Dragons" series by Anne McCaffrey, and David Eddings' "Belgariad." I loved all that.
Speaking of geekery, have you ever been to Comic-Con?
I've been to Comic-Con twice. I've ever been out on the floor because I'd been working both times. I really wanted to get a cool costume and walk around and just see the madness, but I just didn't have the time. But I don't know if I would go if I didn't have work there anyway, because it's just an awkward time in the middle of the summer, and I'm doing stuff with my family, so I don't know. We'll see.
What would you dress up as?
Last time, my sister and her husband were going as Leia and a Jedi. So I was thinking of going as a Jawa, because I thought they were kind of cool, and I would have little lights in front of my eyes. So that was an idea at one time.
OK, so Jennifer Coolidge wanted me to ask you your secret to youth. She said you wouldn't tell her, but that you might tell a stranger.
Oh my gosh! She has been hassling me so much! She thinks I have, like, some secret doctor that I'm going to, and honestly, I've had a facial maybe twice in my life. I don't like them. So I'll have to tell her… Like, have you seen that "Simpsons" where Ned Flanders really annoyingly tells everyone that he's so young-skinned because of clean living? Like, I don't drink any caffeine, I don't think any alcohol. I just tell her, I give up on all the things that are enjoyable, so that is why I… And you know what? My mom has less wrinkles than me, so it's not like my skin is even that great. I have some good genetics from the German side of my family, but my mom got the best of it.
Oh my gosh. Well, I've told you the truth. And I wish there was some magic secret, I would've loved to do that. But I am terrified. If you look at people who have beautiful, interesting faces, who then went and Botoxed and nipped and tucked and now are, like, barely recognizable, I don't know how anyone… Like, I understand it's a really scary thing to be an actress in Hollywood and as you get older, it's just such a… Men don't have that problem! And so they run out and get fillers put in, but it just doesn't work. I don't know how anyone does it anymore, after seeing the bad version of it. I am terrified. I haven't even had one of those – what do they call those? – those abrasion things. Microdermabrasion. Never done it. Terrifies me.
I have an overactive imagination. Getting Lasik was the hardest thing I ever did. In my head, I could see myself like completely and totally blind, and how I was going to take care of my children, and all of it. I couldn't do anything, it's too scary.
If there was a movie made of your life, who would you want to play you?
I'd want Sandra Bullock to play me, because she's gorgeous and she's really funny and everyone loves her. And if she played my life, then everyone would have to love me too. I want her to do it. She seems really nice. Like, maybe we could hang out and be friends. She's super cool.
Using the formula of your first pet and the street you grew up on, what's your porn name?
Okay, my first pet… I had a dog named Eagle, so that's not gonna work very well. And then the house I grew up in was on Desert Cove, which also does not… Eagle Desert Cove sounds like a military operation! I have a military operation for a porn name.