Exclusive Interview: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ Daniel Vincent Gordh Talks The Series Succcess, Playing Robot Darcy & More
A good story is a good story but a good story re-imagined can become a great story.
This is a lesson that the web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries“, a modern retelling of the classic novel “Pride and Prejudice“, definitely took to heart. Starring the wickedly talented and witty Ashley Clements as Lizzie Bennett, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a runaway digital hit with 25+ million views on YouTube and the distinction of winning of the 3rd Annual Streamy Awards in both the Best Writing: Comedy category and Best Interactive Program category.
Web Series Channel had a fabulous time chatting with the very cool Daniel Vincent Gordh who plays William Darcy in the series to ask him to reveal what the secret sauce was behind the series including the acting mechanics, production challenges and also the social media approach taken by the series.
Read more about what he had to say below and don’t forget to check him out in “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
How would you describe ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ to someone that’s never heard of it?
Daniel Vincent Gordh: ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ is a video-blog style of adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ adapted for the modern day. It’s a story told mostly through Lizzie’s video-blogs, and Lizzie is a grad student. She’s in her mid-twenties, and she’s kind of at that moment of living at home and having her quarter life crisis. It’s kind of following her life for a year, and you get to follow her life and everyone in her life and all the characters around her, not only through her video blog, but through Twitter and following the characters on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook. Really, it’s a trans-media experience. It’s an experience where the storytelling goes beyond traditional storytelling methods. So it’s kind of a little bit more of an immersive experience than most traditional media you watch.
Your character, William Darcy, appears later on in the series. How did you get involved in the series?
Daniel Vincent Gordh: I got involved in the series through an audition. I was one of eighty or a hundred guys who first came in for the role, and I kind of approached it like any audition, which is they give you material and you prepare it the best way that you know how and you see if you get a callback. So it was a traditional process. I didn’t know Bernie [Su]. I didn’t know anyone involved with the show when I started, but they clearly responded to what I did, and then I think I had two or three callbacks total. I read with Ashley [Clements] at every single audition, which was really a little bit intimidating to be, like, ‘Oh, you’re actually on the show and I’m reading with you.’ But it was a regular process; I just came in and did my work.
Darcy is an interesting character. I wouldn’t call it robotic, but it’s calm and measured. Did you decide on who he was, or has most of your approach been direction you were given?
Daniel Vincent Gordh: Right, yeah. It is robotic. It is a bit robotic, and those decisions about how to play him largely came from information that I had gotten from watching the show, because I didn’t know ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ When I got that first audition, I had a lot of work to do. I watched ‘Pride and Prejudice’ right away. I read a Wikipedia summary to, like, know the plot. Then I bought the book and started reading the book. I watched parts of other adaptations.
I just decided to immerse myself in it, but then one of the main things that I did was watch ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,’ because the show had been going on for a long time at that point. They had said so much about me. So I knew I had to be the Darcy that existed in that world, and a lot of my characterizations had already been determined before I came in. So, Lizzie called me a robot already. She was like, ‘He’s like a robot with buggy programming,’ or something like that. So I knew some of those poignant thing that people said about me were things that I was going to have to incorporate into my characterization.
So the robotic thing was something that I worked with. I didn’t want to just pretend to be robotic, but rather, I said, ‘Okay, who is someone who’s going to appear robotic to other people?’ He’s going to be someone who keeps his emotions closely held to him. He’s not going to reveal how he’s feeling very easily. He’s someone who’s driven by logic, such that when someone says something to him that he doesn’t understand, it may even appear like he’s a robot because he’s literally processing it. He’s like, ‘Okay, how does this make sense in my understand of the world?’ His understanding of the world is one that is so logic driven, and has been for so long, that it’s hard for him to understand how some other people work.
Can you talk about the the mechanics of doing an episode? Is there anything different from other jobs you’ve done in the past?
Daniel Vincent Gordh: On a regular show, say, a TV show or a film that’s done in a traditional way, you have a scene. There’s usually a certain number of pages that you’re doing in a day. Say, six pages of the script that you’re going to try to film, and then once you’re on set, you block the scene. You create the movement for the scene, and the director blocks the camera and you do individual takes where they get coverage, meaning that they’re going to get a super wide shot maybe or a two-shot or both people are onscreen. Then maybe over the shoulder coverage of each person. So you’re getting piece of the whole that’s going to later be edited, but in our process, we have one shot.
So that one shot, there’s none of that more complex moving parts. But what that ends up meaning is that we have to get it right each time. A lot of the show takes place in a single take. So we have to be super prepared coming in, because there’s not so much camera movement and things like that, it allows us to film a lot more material in a single day than you would ever do on a traditional TV show. So that’s a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing in that, and Bernie is brilliant about this, we can do a single day of shooting and create episodes for a month. That’s remarkable, but what that also means is that the actors have a tremendous amount of work to do per episode. We get the scripts maybe a week and a half, at most, beforehand. We also know that they’re going to change two or three times, at least, before we’re shooting them, and the scripts are fifty plus pages long. So definitely the challenge has been the amount of work. It’s not ideal to have that much work to do in a single day. So the actors kind of have it tough on this show a little bit, but I mean, I think we’re all game for it. We’re all in the same process, and we all love getting to go and shoot for a day. The days are long though.
What do you think is driving the success of the show, beyond just the quality of it?
Daniel Vincent Gordh: I think there’s a number of things driving the success of the show. I think the first thing, though, which you just mentioned, is the quality of the show. The quality of the writing and performances and the way the show is edited and shot and marketed. I think it’s a high quality product.
I also think the fact that the social media is just the lifeblood of the show, primarily because of the presence of the show in social media itself. The show has its own Facebook and it’s own Twitter and all the characters have their own Twitters and people can follow the story in all these new and interesting ways, in all these trans-media ways. But also, the social media aspect has allowed the fans, and what they call the fandom, to become incredibly active.
I think we owe a lot of the success to the fans. The fans have reacted in a remarkable way to our show, where they’re very engaged, very obsessed even with what’s going on in the show. I think a lot of it has come through word of mouth, and then people have become interested in the story of the show. I think that’s one other thing, is that there’s a story of the show, too, outside of what’s going on inside of the story. The story is of an independently produced web-series that didn’t know if it was going to shoot any more than nine episodes, getting enough traction right away to become something. Well, one, to finish itself. To get the money to finish itself, but also to grow this tremendous amount. So partially there’s this interest in the product just because it exists in the first place.
What’s your advice for anyone doing a web-series, and from an actor’s perspective, what’s your advice for newer actors wanting to get in on a web-series?
Daniel Vincent Gordh: I think what’s happening with new media now, now that we have these opportunities to distribute things on our own and create high quality work on our own, now that it’s become so much cheaper and more accessible to make things is amazing. I think it allows new opportunities that we haven’t had before, and really are new to the industry and are for new voices to explore their voices. I feel like ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,’ in a lot of ways, has felt more like working on a TV show just because of the amount of exposure and things like that, that we’ve gotten. A lot of web-series also are just a great place for people to train, for people who are interested in storytelling, interested in filmmaking, interested in acting to have the opportunity to show their chops, to grow, to commit to something and to tell a story.
So what I would tell to people who are interested in making web-series, or are making them and trying to get them out there, is focus on the story. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because mistakes are how you grow, and to keep learning. Just keep doing work. The more you do work, the more your takes are going to develop and the more you’re going to grow as an artist. We were talking about the success of ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,’ I think the most important thing about the success of ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ is not the social media stuff, is not the trans-media stuff, it’s just the storytelling. It’s the same thing that we’ve been doing for thousands of years. Storytelling hasn’t really changed that much. So I think that’s the most important thing.
Then there’s the question for people who want to be actors. Oh, man. Acting is a tough profession. So it’s tough in terms of its requirements of your life. It’s tough in terms of the work is really hard. It’s tough in that you often feel like there’s no way in. It’s kind of an over-staffed profession. There are so many actors out there, but I think for a lot of us, there’s nothing else that we can do that will make us as happy as it. So I think for people who want to be actors, I say keep training. Keep learning about it. See if you want to do it, and see if it grabs you. See if it’s the thing in your life that you really fall in love with, and if it is and you can’t do anything else and you want to be an actor, commit to having a happy life no matter what. Work on your mentality at every opportunity because it’s hard and it can wear you down. If you’re not committed to take everything that you could perceive as a failure, everything that you could perceive as rejection and take every experience like that and decide that it’s going to be a learning experience, decide that it’s going to be something that can help you. Otherwise it’s too hard to do. It weighs too much on you. So I think that would be my advice.
What message do you have for ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ fans?
Daniel Vincent Gordh: Thank you, guys. Thank you for caring about it. Just from a personal point of view, it means a lot to me that this thing, as I was saying, is so hard of a career for me to have chosen and sometimes feel so difficult, it has meant a tremendous amount to me, how much they’ve cared about the show, how much they’ve supported me, in particular, and how much interest they’ve shown in what I’m doing next. I feel blessed to have that support from people I don’t know personally. So that would be my message.