Jennifer Coolidge: What the Modern Man Can Learn From Jane Austen

In 'Austenland,' Coolidge plays a boy-crazy Austen fan who gets to live out her own storybook romance.

Georgia King as Lady Amelia Heartwright, James Callis as Colonel Andrews, Jennifer Coolidge as Miss Elizabeth Charming, Bret McKenzie as Martin and Keri Russell as Jane Hayes in 'Austenland.'

Georgia King as Lady Amelia Heartwright, James Callis as Colonel Andrews, Jennifer Coolidge as Miss Elizabeth Charming, Bret McKenzie as Martin and Keri Russell as Jane Hayes in 'Austenland.'

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Attention, gentlemen: Jennifer Coolidge has some dating advice.

"When you first meet a man, and you're trying to think of things to do, he'll take you to dinner one night and then one night he calls you up and says, 'Would you like to go to a movie?' I always think it's funny they take you to the movie they want, like 'Iron Man' or something," she says. "If guys were smart they would take them to 'Austenland,'"— referring to her latest film, about a Jane Austen-themed park – "It would certainly instigate something."

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Fans of "Pride and Prejudice" or "Sense and Sensibility" cannot miss the film, in which Jane Austen superfans (also played by Keri Russell and Georgia King) travel to an English estate where guests dress up in Regency-era wear, take part in pre-industrial countryside recreations and even get a taste of their own romantic happy ending. But those wary of 19th century literature can rest assured, "Austenland" is a hoot – both a gentle satire of the fascination with Jane Austen and a heartfelt romantic comedy that celebrates her work.

Jennifer Coolidge as Miss Elizabeth Charming, Keri Russell as Jane Hayes, and Georgia King as Lady Amelia Heartwright in 'Austenland.' (Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures Classics)

As she did with the "Bend and Snap" in "Legally Blonde," Coolidge steals the show, playing a boy-crazy, pink-loving, overenthusiastic American Austenland visitor who takes on the pseudonym the "Miss Elizabeth Charming" as a guest of the park. (Her character pronounces her name with an elongated "chaaahhhming" and continues to butcher the rest of the English dialect).

"She's able to crawl inside a woman's head," Coolidge says of Austen's continued modern appeal. "I don't know anyone who is able to tap into a woman's fantasy better than her."

Coolidge has been a fan of Austen since she was a child, as her parents were strict with her television viewing but allowed her to watch PBS's "Masterpiece Theater," much of it taking on Austen's romances.

"Our secret desire as women is to have a guy who falls madly in love with us even though we're incredibly opinionated or we're not the sort of normal, polite, poised woman," she says. "Every girl secretly desires to snag Darcy – the nicest, most handsome mysterious man — and be all that you are and not have to edit yourself."

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In the role, Coolidge gets to exercise the rich comedic chops she has become known for, employing plenty of slapstick physical humor and her trademark over-the-top pomp."I was thrilled that [writer/director Jerusha Hess] called me and gave me this part," she says. "But if someone offered me the part of some incredibly dark, troubled women in the drug world or something, I would love that."

She says the only non-comedic role she has had in the last 15 years was in the "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans," a role she only got because the filmmaker had not seen her in her other films.When she is playing it up for laughs in "Austenland," Coolidge does it all in ornate, Austen-era costumes and says that the corsets the role required were the worst part of filming. "It's very tight under your dress and it makes your boobs come out the top, and you hit lunchtime and you're like, 'I'm not going to be able to finish the day,'" she says.

She does admit the gowns helped her get into the role, as did the "Austenland" shooting location, which stood it apart from her past movies, often filmed on Hollywood sets. It was filmed at the West Wycombe Park – an expansive English estate built in the 1700s and protected by the National Trust – which allowed the actors understand what their characters were going through in bringing Austen's world to life.

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"When you're on this major English estate, breathing in the English air and it's untouched, you can feel its presence. It's a whole different feel," she says. "It really felt like we were there living it. It didn't feel modern, ever. When we went to a port-a-potty back at base camp, then it was like, 'Oh, right.'"

 

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