"Basically, a bunch of Mormon ladies got together and made a movie together, which is awesome," said Stephenie Meyer, the author of the "Twilight'" series, a friend of Hale's and a producer on the film.
Shot primarily in England (with some reshoots in Utah), the movie has some of the goofball charms of "Napoleon Dynamite," which Jerusha Hess wrote with her director husband, Jared.
When "Napoleon Dynamite" debuted at Sundance in 2004, Jerusha Hess told the Eccles audience, "people thought I was Jared's brother." "Austenland" offered her a chance to step out on her own, putting a female spin on the Hess brand of humor.
"I loved all the smooches we got to shoot," Jerusha Hess said. "My husband doesn't make rom-coms, so he couldn't help me out."
There were many challenges to filming, not the least of which was that her star, Russell, was pregnant during the shoot. "You can tell by her bustling, because it changed daily," Hess said.
Field has appeared in some Austen adaptations "being an English actor who can ride a horse, it's required that I've done a couple of Austens," he joked and said he got the part in "Austenland" because "Jerusha wanted me to take the piss out of myself."
Actress Jane Seymour, who plays the proprietor of the Austenland theme park, admitted to her own Austen obsession, so much so that she once bought an estate near Bath, England. "It's very expensive you do not want to do that," she said.
The strangest audition may have for Ricky Whittle, who plays another Regency-era suitor a sea captain with washboard abs. Whittle said he auditioned over Skype, and later learned that the camera didn't show Hess his face but his torso. "My chest and my groin got me the job," Whittle said.
When an audience member asked Hale if there might be a sequel, based on her follow-up book "Midnight in Austenland," the author was quick to reply: "If you would like to fund it, I think we're greenlit let's go."
Sundancing with The Tribune
News and reviews at sltrib.com/blogs/sundance, sltrib.com/entertainment and on Twitter @sundancelive. Finding the girl power in 'Austenland'
Director Jerusha Hess's film is screening in the U.S. Dramatic competition.
Saturday, Jan. 19, 8:30 a.m. • Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Monday, Jan. 21, 6:30 p.m. • Peery's Egyptian Theater, Ogden
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 8:30 a.m. • The MARC, Park City
Thursday, Jan. 24, noon • Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Saturday, Jan. 26, 3:30 p.m. • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City