Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A chat with Tony Award-winner Jennifer Ehle

Before settling into the Sarasota Film Festival's Luncheon Under the Bayans today, I had a chance to chat with two-time Tony Award-winning actress Jennifer Ehle who stars in "Before the Rains," which was screened during the festival.

She won a Tony award in 2000 for lead actress in a play for her role in "The Real Thing" and another Tony in 2007 for featured actress in a play for "Coast of Utopia." Among her many stage, film and TV projects, she played Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 TV mini-series "Pride and Prejudice."

Ehle, from upstate New York, was dressed for spring time in Sarasota, donning a floral dress with her hair pulled back and a smile.

"Sarasota's just so beautiful," she said.

She and husband love it so much that they called her parents to come in and join them during their time here at the festival, she said. Her parents will see her in "Before the Rains" for the first time tonight during the screening.

Upon meeting me and noting the fact I had an interesting name (January) — she told me about the small flock of chicks her and husband are raising on their land in New York. She plans on raising a small colony of bees soon, too.

I was "stunned" by that. I've never met an actress that's into bees, or chickens for that matter. Interesting.

Besides the thrill of having little chicks and the prospects of bee raising, Ehle discussed the Merchant-Ivory film "Before the Rains." The film takes place in India and is set during the 1930s. Englishman Henry Moore (Linus Roache) plans to establish a spice plantation in Kerala but needs to build a road through the terrain of India to get to it first. While making plans, he becomes friends with his manservant and develops a deep relationship with his maid, Sajani (Nandita Das). He struggles with his ambitious plans for the region when villagers find out about his relationship with one of their own.

Ehle plays Henry's wife, Laura, who is back home in England unaware of his affair.

"She's just mystified by his behavior," said Ehle, who fell in love with the script that highlights India's struggle with British colonialism.

She said there are subtle little shifts in Laura's character and before long, the events taking place come to a head.

I'm hoping to see the film this week to let you know my thoughts on it.

In parting, I told Ehle to be careful with those bees. She assured me she'd be fine. — January Holmes

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