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Decider
24 Feb 2024


NextImg:'Sense and Sensibility' star Deborah Ayorinde reveals her "Hallmark Hunk" Dan Jeannotte was "such a gentleman"

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Sense and Sensibility (2024)

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For the first time, Hallmark has journeyed far from the realm of small town sweethearts and Christmas romance, to make a film based on the work of Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility, premiering tonight at 8/7 c, is set in the Regency period, but comes with a welcome, modern twist courtesy of Mahogany. Not only are Dashwood sisters Elinor (Deborah Ayorinde) and Marianne (Bethany Antonia) portrayed as Black, but so, too, are suitors like Colonel Brandon (Akil Largie) and Willoughby (Victor Hugo) and acquaintances like Lucy Steele (Victoria Ekanoye).

“Why have we not been putting people of color in these positions, in these roles all the time? I mean, it is true to history. So why not?” Sense and Sensibility star Deborah Ayorinde mused to Decider over an Austen-themed lunch at this month’s Winter TCA tour.

Decider learned during Hallmark’s TCA panels that Sense and Sensibility was something of a passion project for Mahogany head and Hallmark Media’s SVP of Programming and Development, Toni Judkins. The reason why Hallmark hasn’t dabbled into period programming until recently is partly due to the network’s penchant for keeping film productions on a tight schedule. The team behind Sense and Sensibility only had fifteen days to shoot the film.

The Dashwoods in Hallmark's 'Sense and Sensibility'
Photo: Hallmark

Sense and Sensibility, of course, is about the Dashwood sisters. After their wealthy father dies, his estate passes to the firstborn son from his first marriage, leaving his widow and their three daughters close to penniless. Older sister Elinor is the poised, responsible one, while Marianne is an impulsive romantic. Elinor falls instantly in love with the kind and handsome Edward Ferrars (Dan Jeannotte), but their happily ever after is stymied because of Elinor’s recently reduced status and Edward’s own history. Marianne, meanwhile, throws herself into a heated flirtation with the charming Willoughby, leaving the smitten, stoic Colonel Brandon in the cold.

**Spoilers for Hallmark’s Sense and Sensibility ahead!**

Hallmark’s new version of Sense and Sensibility hews fairly close to Austen’s source material, except that Elinor takes center stage. The film opens with her father (Julian Firth) tasking her with looking out for her family and it ends with her happily ever after prioritized over Marianne’s. Decider asked Deborah Ayorinde how these changes affected her performance, what surprised her the most about the period, and what it was like falling in love with “Hallmark Hunk” Dan Jeannotte’s Edward Ferrars…

DECIDER: My first question is about your Mr. Edward Ferrars. He is dreamy. What was it like working with him? What do you think audiences will think of him?

DEBORAH AYORINDE: Oh my God! So he is a “Hallmark hunk.” They call him a Hallmark hunk. He is such a gentleman and such a sweet guy. I feel like me and all of the cast, we got along really well because we were away from home, you know? Most of us came from London or the UK and he came from Canada. We were in Bulgaria and Ireland, and so we had to support each other. We had to be there for each other and it was just so beautiful. Yeah, he was a great person to work with. He really respected me.

Edward (Dan Jeannotte) and Elinor (Deborah Ayorinde) in Hallmark's 'Sense and Sensibility'
Photo: Hallmark

I love the chemistry so much in the scene where he’s guiding Elinor to the carriage. I was getting Pride and Prejudice vibes and waiting for him to flex his hand. What was it like shooting an iconic Austen-esque scene?

Oh, my God. As an actress, I feel like it is important to have a co-star, who’s a male, who respects you and makes you feel safe. You know what I mean? Even if you’re not doing intimate scenes on set, if you’re kissing and doing anything, you need to feel safe with the person to kind of portray that love. Because that’s kind of what love is: it’s feeling safe. So I just felt like he was, just like I said, he was such a gentleman. He really just felt like a good friend immediately when I met him. And so it was easy and it was kind of hard to say goodbye in real life. Yeah, it was just easy.

I was really struck how this version of Sense and Sensibility opens with Elinor in the forefront and her father asks her to look after the family. There’s really a lot of pressure put on her to be the leader. How do you think that intro scene affected how you portray her throughout the whole film?

Oh, wow. So that’s actually not very far off from my real life culture. I’m Nigerian, and, you know, the oldest child usually takes on a lot. I’m the middle [sister]. My older sister, she just had to be the responsible one, had to pave the way for all of us. And so I really kind of channeled a lot of that to play Elinor. It just felt very, very natural in that way. But it was beautiful.

But there was a scene where Marianne tells Elinor —I’m not sure if made the final cut — but basically she wants her to be happy. You know what I mean? Like it’s her time to be happy because she’s taking care of everyone. She’s kept her promise to her father. It’s her time. And that scene just touched my heart so much because I feel that way about my older sister. She’s now like living her life and all of that, but it’s like, “Thank you. We see you. We see you all you’ve done. But hey, have this for you.” Even now I still have to remind her: “Do you!”

Elinor nursing Marianne in Hallmark's 'Sense and Sensibility'
Photo: Hallmark

Speaking of sisterhood, Marianne and Elinor are two of the most iconic sisters in Austen. What was it like working with Bethany and what was your favorite part of that relationship?

First of all, she’s an amazing actress. She’s so good and she’s the sweetest person. I’ll give you an example. I would say the middle, kind of end of filming, I was kind of coming down with a bit of a cold. The environment, it was just really hard on my sinuses. Some of the cast got to go back to London because they weren’t filming and I had to stay and she was one of them who got to go back for just a few days. And I called her. I was like, “Hey, do you mind just bringing me back like Lemsip or something?” This girl came back with like a whole care package. I literally am kind of tearing up thinking about it. She came back with a care package of cough drops, Lemsip, all these other medicines. Like she literally went all out and it’s the little things like that. First of all, acts of service are like my thing but it’s that heart. It reminds you that this thing that we do called acting, it’s so special because you get to meet some beautiful people. You know, there’s some crazies, but there’s some beautiful, beautiful people if you’re open to it. So yeah, that’s my girl.

Coming back to Elinor’s love story. The moment Edward reveals he’s not married is one of the most romantic moments in Austen. You play it so emotionally present. You can see the emotion in Elinor’s eyes. Tell me what you wanted to capture in that moment of Elinor finally getting her happily ever after.

What I wanted to capture and what I wanted to put out there is just a message of it’s okay to surrender to love. Because so many of us are so scared, you know? And that’s not only just romantic love. Think about how many people, myself included, that have a hard time accepting gifts from people or accepting help or compliments even. So that moment, I just really wanted to portray Eleanor finally exhaling and just giving in to being loved just for who she is. 

Elinor and Edward sitting in a garden in Hallmark's 'Sense and Sensibility'
Photo: Hallmark

You also get a wedding scene. You don’t always get to see that in adaptations. What was it like shooting a happily ever after wedding scene with you and Mr. Ferrars?

It was actually hilarious because everyone in the audience kept on making me laugh. It was so funny. It was just like everyone’s like, “Yeah!!” It was towards the end of filming. I think it was one of the last days actually. It was just a nice close out to this thing that we had done in 15 days.

I can’t believe that.

I can’t believe it. But I’m like, “Wow.” Whenever I do something that I don’t think I could have done, I’m just like, “Oh.” But it was the end of a beautiful journey and it just felt like that. It felt like a celebration, you know. It was beautiful.

My friends and I, we’re big Austenites, and one of them has been saying for years it makes so much sense to make the Dashwoods Black. It actually correlates really well to the storyline. What do you think it brings to the storyline?

I feel like it just says why not? Why have we not been putting people of color in these positions, in these roles all the time? I mean, it is true to history. So why not? You know what I mean? I really look forward to the day where it’s not so foreign to have Black people at the center of these types of stories. Even for me as an actor, like I’ve never done something like this and now I’ve caught the bug. I wanna do more, you know? It’s about time.

Was there anything you learned from [Sense and Sensibility‘s historical consultant] Dr. Vanessa Riley or anyone else about the historical period that you really found so fascinating? 

Oh my God, I could go on. She is literally an encyclopedia and her passion for the period is so contagious. So for me, random facts… I guess the life expectancy of women at that time was very short. So it was like literally if you were unmarried and didn’t have children at a certain age, it was like really a thing. Because you probably had a few more years in life. You know what I mean? Things like that I learned.

I was shocked by certain customs and manners and things. The fact that a woman couldn’t be without a hat when you’re outside. Things I wouldn’t think about. There was a scene where Roger Bobb, the amazing director, he wanted Edward to not have his jacket or his vest on. And literally like Vanessa was like, “No! That’s second base!” Things like that, that you don’t even think about. But you can appreciate it was very formal [time], but I do appreciate now being able to kind of breathe a little.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.