1 of 5 | Benjamin Ayres and Alison Sweeney star in "Love & Jane," premiering Saturday. Photo courtesy of Hallmark
NEW YORK, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Alison Sweeney is not just the lead in the new romantic comedy Love & Jane, she is also a producer who helped develop the movie with writer-director David Weaver.
"I got to talking to the director on another project about how much I loved Jane Austen and we were debating all the different iterations of the different movies and what we like about each of them and he sort of pitched me this idea that he had," Sweeney told UPI in a recent phone interview.
"I just said: 'Oh, my gosh. This is a great idea. We have to take this to Hallmark.' And, of course, they loved it. ... So David wrote the script and we've just been working collaboratively on it since Day 1."
Premiering Saturday on the Hallmark Channel, Love & Jane stars Sweeney as Lilly, a Jane Austen-obsessed copy writer for an advertising firm hired by tech giant Trevor (Benjamin Ayres) to get more people to read books on an app instead of purchasing volumes at bookstores.
Bored in her career and confused about her love life, Lilly conjures up the long-dead Austen (Kendra Anderson) -- author of the classic 19th century romances Pride & Prejudice, Emma and Sense & Sensibility -- to advise her.
"I loved the idea of the comedy of it. I loved the idea of Jane Austen coming to life in that 'Mary Poppins' way. She is just there when Lilly needs her the most and then there is the modern take on falling in love the old-fashioned way," the Days of Our Lives and Chronicle Mysteries star said.
Lilly prefers real human connection to the Internet and algorithms, whether that is hosting her diverse and enthusiastic Jane Austen book club or meeting suitors in person under unexpected circumstances.
"The Internet has us all engaged and, yet, not with each other. It is so lonely," Sweeney said.
"I love that Lilly has this little book club. I love that David really developed this idea that everybody loves Jane Austen and the trucker with the hat" that says "I Love Jane", she said.
"If someone gives her a chance, those books are so delightful and charming. It was so fun to play that out and showcase that it is important to put your phone down and be in real life."
Even though Lilly is a strong, accomplished woman in her late 40s, she is an unabashed romantic.
"She's been holding onto those romantic feelings for so long -- not just in terms of finding a guy, but for herself. She just loves to dress that way. She loves to do her hair that way. She just is a throwback," Sweeney said.
"She wishes she was in [Regency] England and she wants to honor all those manners and that old-fashioned charm."
Members of Lilly's book club adore the romantic plots and family dynamics of Austen's books, but also seem to appreciate the courtesy characters extend each other, something that seems to be lost in the contemporary world.
The character of Jane also reminds Lilly about how important it is to be appropriate when dealing with others.
"You don't have to express everything you feel all the time," Sweeney said. "Sometimes it's OK to keep it up inside."
Better known for her dramatic work, Sweeney was excited to play a role that let her show off her funny side.
"The comedy is inherent when you are seeing someone that no one else can see. That's really fun and sometimes really, really hard to play," she said, laughing.
"Those scenes are tricky, but I really had a great time with it and I thought the story was super fun," she said, adding that a scene in which she and Jane are in bed watching a movie on Lilly's laptop was "surreal" to film.
The project also allowed Sweeney to share the screen once again with her frequent collaborator Ayres.
"It was really great to see him tackle such a different role than what he played in Chronicle Mysteries. ... He really relished the idea of tackling Trevor."
In true Austen fashion, Lilly's relationship evolves over the course of the movie.
Sweeney loves the "meet-cute" setup for Lilly and Trevor when they both grab the last copy of an Austen tome at a bookstore, argue over it, then Trevor appears not to remember her when they are formally introduced.
"She's like: 'Wait! I had a fight with this guy and he doesn't even remember me?' She's so outraged. It's such a perfect Jane Austen conceit and she has all these judgments about him," Sweeney said.
"He is so caught off-guard by her and the way she treats him and the way they talk. He can't help but be drawn in by that and then she can't help but be captivated by him, as well."
While there have been countless books and movies that reimagine Austen's stories and characters, Love & Jane takes the unique point of making the author a character who is aware of how her writing will be embraced in the future.
"I loved the idea of her getting to enjoy how much her work has impacted people, how she would want to meet Colin Firth. How could she not?" Sweeney said, referring to the star of the 1995 miniseries Pride & Prejudice and 2001's Bridget Jones's Diary, a modern retelling of the story.
The movie is part of Hallmark's Austen-themed "Loveuary" programming.
The lineup also includes An American in Austen, premiering Feb. 17, starring Eliza Bennett, Nicholas Bishop and Nell Barlow, as well as a new adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, starring Deborah Ayorinde, Bethany Antonia, Dan Jeannotte and Akil Largie, premiering Feb. 24.