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Monday, August 07, 2006

Producer Diederick Santer on the BBC's New Jane Eyre

When Mr. Santer wrote in last, I took the opportunity to ask if I might interview him and ask some of the questions you have sent in about his new production of Jane Eyre starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. Not wishing to give too much away, a lot of these questions will have to wait to be answered when the production is transmitted. I did slip in one 'out of bounds' question but it was evaded very skillfully! Well done. Many thanks to Mr. Santer for taking the time to let me interview him!

What factors guided the casting of the leads (Jane and Rochester)?

ANSWER: We just wanted the best actors, actors that would take the audience right into the heads of the characters. We knew we wanted a Jane who played as near as possible to late teens, and for that reason getting a 'name' for the part was something we felt was unneccesary. 'Jane Eyre' is name enough. Conversely, any actor in his late 30s who is any good will be a 'name' to some degree, so we knew that we'd be casting a familiar face as Rochester. Apart from the ages (which dictate the nature of their relationship) the physical descriptions of the characters in the novel were irrelevant to us. It's about getting the best actors.

Which other actors were seriously considered for the leading roles?

ANSWER: We met about 40 young actresses for Jane. We met Ruth twice, and it was clear by the end of the second meeting that she was the one for us. Toby was the only actor we met for Rochester.

What are the weaknesses and strengths of the novel?

ANSWER: It's a great great novel. My problems with it aren't really to do with the novel as such, but in the difficultly of translating it to the screen. A big problem is that it's all written in the first person; the whole thing exists in Jane's head. Without resorting to stacks of voiceover, how do you take the audience into her inner thoughts? It's a problem that Sandy Welch has dealt with brilliantly in our version, I think. Also, it takes ages for Jane to grow up and for Rochester to appear. The writing of this early section is very engaging, and young Jane's story is beautiful and heart-breaking, but the main story in any screen version is going to be the Rochester-Jane romance. Finally, the fact that she is revealed to have, at a very convenient point in the story, three cousins in the shape of the Rivers family is difficult. It's wonderful, and very moving, but difficult.

In a previous interview you made remarks on the poor quality of the earlier 1996 film which also makes use of Haddon Hall. What were the mistakes of earlier adaptations?

ANSWER: Oh dear. That was an off the cuff remark which I rather regret.. I don't want to slag off other movies and TV shows. I''ll leave it to the audience to answer this question and assess whether ours avoids the mistakes!

Aside from the novel itself, from where does your new adaptation draw inspiration?

ANSWER: That's more a question for Sandy Welch, who did the adaptation. Certainly, as far as the production goes, we just tried to make it as engaging as possible. What is Jane thinking and feeling at each point? Why does she make the choices she makes? The casting, design, photography, costume, make-up is all geared towards asking those questions, towards making her world as specific and as interesting as possible.

Was it a challenge to adapt Jane Eyre for a modern audience?

ANSWER: The big challenge I think is to make it work for the broad audience who don't know the book, or just have some received ideas about it, while at the same time giving something satisfying to those who know the book very well. In common with much literature from the period, certain ideas in the book to do with duty, religious faith and sexual morality don't play so clearly now as they did then. That's no reason not to include those ideas, though.

Did adapting Jane Eyre present any peculiar challenges?

ANSWER: Although Jane Eyre is best known as a romance, it's also a gothic horror, a mystery, a psychological thriller, a rites of passage story... Balancing those various elements, and getting the best from each, is a real challenge. You don't want the mystery to undermine the love story, you don't want the horror to overwhelm everything else. When the book (and I hope our adaptation) is working at its best, the elements are all working together to tell one huge passionate, engaging story.

Do you have any reflections on your experience as producer of Jane Eyre?

ANSWER: It's been a privelege to work on bringing to the screen one of the greatest books in literature, a book that means so much to so many people. Everyone (well, every woman) has a view on the book, has an interesting (and often very revealing) casting suggestion for Rochester, has strong views on St John... I've really enjoyed working on something that people feel so passionate about before the show's even reached the screen! Also, Derbyshire is very cold in February. And March. And April.

And, lastly, the question I almost did not ask: The only other question floating around is when the DVD will come out, but since you cannot say when the program will air it is probably not worth asking at this point! If there is anything you would like to add, of course I would be glad to hear it.

ANSWER: There will be a DVD, release date tba, dependent on transmission date. I'm working closely with the company who will be producing it and hope to include as special features deleted scenes, commentaries and interviews.


pennyforyourdreams said...

Great interview!

I like the comment about Jane Eyre being a psychological thriller as well a gothic romance. It's an aspect I hadn't thought about before, but describing Jane Eyre like that, is both modern and also very correct.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work, thank you so much for this! Very interesting and full answers, too, that mostly make me very optimistic about this one. I like that Mr Santer highlighted the importance of Jane and Mr R's story - and that it isn't just romantic, it is scary and exciting and melodramatic too. I wonder how Sandy Welch has dramatised Jane's 'inner thoughts'? Is she going to zoom off to the desert whenever some inner pondering is required? ;-) How costume and makeup will show it will be interesting as well. The necktie as semantic tool!

Proof that Toby Stephens was the only Rochester backs up my idea that they (kind of) went for the obvious choice. Still, look at Rhett Butler.

However can we wait until autumn?!?

Brontëana said...

to pennyforyourdreams:

I hadn't either. It sounds very intriguing. I usually think of Villette in that light.

Brontëana said...

to liz:

I find that hard to imagine. That would make Jane very like Charlotte at Roe Head, and then everyone would be having to snap her our of her daydreams ;)

Don't complain- I have to wait until Winter (or even later, if they don't have PBS in Halifax. I hadn't thought of that...)!

I really do hope that the plans for the DVD extras get the green light! I imagine they must have great confidence in the production if they plan to include such things- not even the 1983 version had extras to speak of! Only the 1996 version had a 'making of' mini-documentary... Interviews, deleted scenes and commentary! Very exciting!

Anonymous said...

In common with much literature from the period, certain ideas in the book to do with duty, religious faith and sexual morality don't play so clearly now as they did then. That's no reason not to include those ideas, though.

Bravo, sir!

Anonymous said...

Aaah, this brings great joy to my overstressed heart. This is just so cool. Super great interview! =D

pennyforyourdreams said...

Interview with Ruth Wilson here! She sounds really sweet and nice.

Brontëana said...

to Mags,

A pity he isn't working on some Austen films too, hm? ;)

Brontëana said...

to le_saa:

Some of the skills I learned in publishing has come in handy after all! :)

Brontëana said...

to pennyforyourdreams:

Thank you! I wasn't able to act on your comment, though. My computer was down for a good three or four days.