“Emma Approved” is the newest web series sensation to hit our screens. The series, from the Emmy award-winning team behind “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and spin-off “Welcome to Sanditon,” is a modernization of Jane Austen’s “Emma.”
Brent Bailey stars in Emma Approved as Alex Knightley, whose job it is to take care of the “important, boring stuff,” for our heroine, Emma Woodhouse (Joanna Sotomura). Both actors have been received positively by fans. But Emma Approved was not Bailey’s first encounter with this creative team. He auditioned twice for “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” for the roles of George Wickham and William Darcy. In this exclusive interview, he confesses to being a “hopeless romantic,” explains how he took inspiration from Paul Rudd in “Clueless” – and yes, tells us all about those first auditions.
Tell us about your audition process?
I actually met with Bernie [Su, showrunner] in July of 2012 to read for the role of George Wickham in the “Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” I had a callback the following month but they ended up deciding I wasn’t quite right for the role, but they really wanted to see if I would be a good fit for Darcy.
So I auditioned at the beginning of August for Darcy and then had a callback near the end of August, but they still weren’t sure that I was the right fit for him either. Thankfully Bernie and Jenni [Powell, casting director and producer] saw that I would be a great addition to the show, they just weren’t sure where to put me yet.
So I came in again for “Emma Approved” in July of 2013 and felt like this was the character that I really fit the best with! I actually didn’t have my callback until the end of August so I assumed that I didn’t get the role. Finally the callback came, and I met Joanna (Emma) and instantly felt like I had great chemistry with her and that we could play off each other with this wonderfully written script that Bernie had come up with.
Finally, Bernie asked me to call him so we could discuss a few things. After about a forty-five minute phone conversation, Bernie said he was officially offering me the role of Alex Knightley, and I quickly said “YES!”. So it actually took me over a year to finally land a role with this amazing team, but I couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out!
What was your experience with Austen, and with ‘Emma’, prior to beginning “Emma Approved”?
I am a bit of a hopeless romantic, so I had already seen a lot of the film adaptations of Austen’s books. I have seen multiple versions of Pride and Prejudice, and I even went to the one with Keira Knightley by myself. I saw “Emma” with Gwyneth Paltrow and I also saw “Clueless.”
I have to admit that Paul Rudd is one of my favorite Knightley’s and I think he is such an incredible actor. When I was first starting out in this business I always said that I’d love to work on romantic comedies, so finding a home with “Emma Approved” has been a bit of a dream come true.
“The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” is now Emmy approved. Does the success of the previous two series from this creative team add any pressure to you?
I love what you did there with the “Emmy approved”. I am so incredibly proud of the team behind LBD for the Emmy. There are so many projects on the web and to be able to stand out amongst all of them and win and Emmy is no easy challenge.
To be honest, if LBD did or didn’t have an Emmy, I would still walk onto set being as prepared as I possibly can and doing the best work that I am capable of. I try to not let myself worry about things that aren’t in my control. My job as an actor is to give a performance that is true to the text, but also entertaining to the audience.
It is definitely a relief to see how well Emma Approved is doing, and how the fans have told me that they really like my version of Knightley. I think the best thing that you can do is to go all out, take risks, do the best job you can do and then let it go and hope that the viewers enjoy what you’ve created.
The fan base built around “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Welcome to Sanditon” is nothing if not enthusiastic. How have you found the experience so far? Were you warned in advance of what to expect?
Part of my phone conversation with Bernie before being offered the role was about this exact thing. He said that the fans are so incredible and that they will definitely take time to make you feel welcomed with awesome things like comments, questions, gifs, fan art, etc.
I told him I couldn’t wait! The fans have been AMAZING! I love getting the twitter comments and questions and make a point to try to write back or at least acknowledge each one. I love to see the debates about the episodes after they have aired and to see the fans breaking down the characters and talking about what they think will happen next.
Our fans are so incredibly talented and smart and it is a honor to be someone that they want to share their thoughts and questions with. I think it was the day the first episode aired when I saw my face on a seahorse! That was the moment I knew I was going to love the fans of this show!
What do you think is the most important difference between Austen’s Knightley, and your portrayal?
First of all, I am SO ecstatic that the fans have given me such a positive response! Thank you!
I think that Austen’s Knightley was maybe too perfect, and I’m trying to bring a more humanized version to the text in a way I thought Paul Rudd did as well.
I think that the best part of my version of Knightley comes from my actual personality. I love witty banter and being snarky from time to time, but I am also referred to as “dad” with my friends because I have always been the really responsible friend and I’m always trying to take care of everyone.
I had my Masters in Business by the time I was twenty-one years old. At my core I am also a huge dork! In high school I was at home building myself a computer and taking things apart to see how they worked. My favorite parts about Knightley are him being a role model to Emma, his intelligence, his business sense and that he’s a caring person toward everyone he meets.
I don’t know how closely Bernie will stay in line with the book, but I hope that eventually I’ll get to show the vulnerable side of Knightley because I can’t wait to explore that side of his personality.