The film casts Russell as Jane, a contemporary American woman so obsessed with Jane Austen's classic romance novel "Pride & Prejudice" -- and its dashing hero Mr. Darcy -- she spends her life savings on a three-week trip to an English estate that recreates the book's 19th century setting, complete with servants and chaperones, as well as handsome suitors to woo guests.
Of course, once modern Jane is there, she feels ridiculous as she realizes the manufactured experience doesn't quite live up to the fantasy she has been entertaining most of her life.
Asked if she has ever had something fall so short of her expectations, Russell told United Press International in New York with a laugh: "That's called life; that's called existence."
"The thing I found as my way in [to this character] was more this idea of this person who was stuck emotionally because life is hard. For everyone," the actress said Monday. "It's emotional and it's hard. You sort of escape into this fantasy. No, maybe I'm not making out with Mr. Darcy dolls on my bed, but we all have our little dabblings into fantasy to help get us through the day. Like mine might be endless hours on home-interior [websites] online or vacation places, which I call hotel porn. I'm like: 'Oooh. That place looks so good. That I'll never go to.' And that idea of how much time are you spending in that fantasy world? And you need to harness and turn that around and be like: 'What's existing right now? What's my world right now?' Obviously, this [movie] is a funny, silly version of that."
"I'm terrible at projecting expectations on just about everything -- from a meal to a job to my son, everybody," confessed JJ Feild, the British actor who plays Henry, the Darcy-esque Austenland denizen who falls for Jane in the film.
"The thing I have to work on the most is actually not having any expectations, so I can just enjoy whatever it is. The destruction of expectation is always depressing," Feild observed. "The thing that was too big for me to have an expectation about was an acting career. I always wanted to [have one] and I never imagined it would be what it is. So every day is an absolute dream because I don't think I ever sat there and dreamed about it. I just knew that was what I was going to do. So that's been better than any expectation I could have put on it."
So how did the filmmakers walk the line of honoring and satirizing Austen's most ardent admirers?
"We had great source material, but I also feel like this wasn't just about Jane Austen fans. This is about any person who is so lost in fandom that they want to go live there," producer Stephenie Meyer, who also created the "Twilight" film and book franchise, told UPI.
"I think everybody has one thing in there life that they would do at a theme park, if they could, so it feels like we kind of make fun of all of ourselves. We all have that one thing we'll nerd out over."
"Absolutely," agreed writer-director Jerusha Hess. "We always knew going into it that it was for the fans -- for the crazy fans, for the gentle fans -- but also for those who think fans are funny. So, we just played both sides the whole time. But we had to be careful because we didn't want to offend our biggest group of followers at all. I think the fans are going to see it because they will see anything with those empire-waist [dresses.] They'll yell at us later."