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Paging Mr. Darcy: An Interview with Screenwriter Reina Hardy

If you’ve read about or already watched Paging Mr. Darcy, which premiered February 3, 2024, as part of the Hallmark Channel’s “Loveuary with Jane Austen” celebration, you know that the story is set at a fictional Jane Austen conference. But you may be wondering how the movie’s screenwriter, Reina Hardy, hit on the idea of a Jane Austen conference in the first place and how she did her research. 

Hardy 1In 2022, once she had a contract with Hallmark, Reina reached out to then-President Liz Philosophos Cooper shortly before the start of the Victoria AGM and asked if she could attend in order to experience a Jane Austen conference first-hand. Liz and Marketing Chair Iris Lutz had a call with Reina and, after hearing the storyline, agreed it would be a good fit.

If you’ve ever attended a JASNA AGM, you’ll find that the movie version of an annual gathering is very similar to our own in terms of the mingling of Austen fans and academics, the range of scholarly and fun activities, the mix of members in costume and street clothes, the overall buzz and excitement, and the joy of being together for the long weekend. Reina told us she loved being part of all these things in Victoria.

Shortly before Paging Mr. Darcy aired, we asked Reina to tell us a little about her experience at the 2022 AGM, her process for developing the script, her thoughts about Jane Austen, and what inspired her to set her story at an Austen conference.

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Liz: You are a Kennedy Center prize-winning playwright, Reina. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Reina: I started as a playwright, and that’s shaped everything about how I write and think. Even though I’m suddenly finding success in both screenwriting and prose, I still identify as a playwright and always will. I love scrapping together a story out of whatever I can find. I tend to play with genre (especially sci-fi and fantasy, I’m a huge geek), and a lot of my plays contain both science and magic. (If any JASNA members require scripts for theatricals, check out my website for a complete list!)

Liz: Are you a Jane Austen fan? Do you have a favorite novel? A favorite character?

Reina:  Absolutely! I first read Pride and Prejudice as a teen, and then kept returning to her, always amazed at how deliciously engrossing her work is on re-reads. (It helps that I’m really good at forgetting plots!) Character? Hmmm. Probably Emma or Lizzy Bennet. But novel-wise, I have a special place in my heart for Persuasion, as someone who has been known to hold on to her feelings for far too long.

Liz: Why do you think Jane Austen is still relevant and speaks to us more than 200 years after her novels were published?

Reina: She creates indelible characters that move people’s hearts, but there’s a rigor and technical brilliance to the way she writes that makes you want to dissect every line. No one has ever been this sharp and this warm. Plus, she’s funny.

Liz: What inspired you to write a screenplay with a Jane Austen theme and set it at a Jane Austen conference?

Reina: I had just sold a non-fiction book called Shitty Boyfriends of Western Literature. For the proposal, I had to write a sample chapter—the Mr. Darcy chapter—so I was just surrounding myself with Jane Austen books. I happened to read a memoir by a young man who, at the behest of his mother, dressed up as Mr. Darcy for a Jane Austen conference. It was not useful for the book proposal, but it was charming, so when I had the opportunity to pitch a production company that made romcoms (not Hallmark—let’s call it "Production Company 1"), one of the ten or so ideas I submitted was about an academic getting involved with a man who was taking on this costumed Mr. Darcy role. “Production Company 1” was asking for ideas that were very low budget—less than a third of a typical Hallmark budget—so on one level it was an excuse to get a leading man into a gorgeous Regency costume without having to pay for a full period movie, while also keeping locations to a minimum.

Liz: How did you go about submitting it to Hallmark?

Reina: I didn’t! First, my relationship with “Production Company 1” exploded. Basically, they were treating me in an exploitative manner, and they reacted badly when I asked for fairer compensation . . . or rather, any compensation. My reps backed me up, and my manager got me a meeting with Hallmark. I came in as a complete unknown with a fully developed original pitch that “Production Company 1” (because they refused to pay me) had no rights to.  I wowed them in the room, and they bought it.

Hardy 2

Sampling wine at the Saturday evening session, "What Would Jane Austen Have Drunk?"

Liz: What came next? How did you hear about JASNA and end up at the Victoria AGM?

Reina: As soon as I thought I might write the movie, I knew I wanted to go to a JASNA event. I actually signed up for a smaller Chicago event to prep for pitching Hallmark but ended up getting a migraine and not being able to go. When I knew I was actually writing the movie—when I had DocuSigned a contract, which is when I believe things are real—I realized that I absolutely had to attend a full conference if I possibly could. (It’s always helpful when you can deduct an event from your taxes). I am very grateful to you all for helping me register!

Liz: Did the AGM provide inspiration for the conference setting and activities, or did you already have all those elements in mind before attending the conference?

Reina: My outline was pretty complete before I left. I had all the plot elements in place from my research—all the activities that you can do at and surrounding a Jane Austen conference—so it was more about giving authenticity and life to the full draft. I was most inspired by the academic talks—I particularly had my mind blown by one that focused on Cowper. (Why was there no pandemic-era Cowper revival?) I think I did get the idea of going and looking at an exhibition of Jane Austen’s letters from my conversation with JASNA officials before going to the conference.

Liz: What were your perceptions of the AGM attendees?

Reina: Extremely fun, interesting people. They really capture the dichotomy that inspired me to set a romcom at a Jane Austen Society meeting in the first place. (See next question)

Liz: What was the theme you wanted to get across in your script?

Reina: I think romcoms function best when they contain dichotomies—sense vs. sensibility, as it were. I love that the AGM has both academic and fannish qualities—that you can learn thrilling, unexpected facts about dueling culture and colonialism one hour and drink tea in a costume the next. I wanted to play with that and have a main character with a bit of a chip on her shoulder about the way Austen can be devalued and dismissed because she writes about women and marriage . . . perhaps enough of a chip that she can’t quite let herself have fun as an Austen fan.

Liz: Tell us about your writing and editing process. How long did it take? How much input did Hallmark have?

Reina: Everything happens in chunks of a few weeks. I get a deadline, I deliver, they read, we meet for notes, and I go back to execute. So, I had three weeks for the outline (which was in good shape already for the pitch). Then I took notes on the outline and had four weeks for a first draft. Then I got notes on my draft, etc. etc.

My producers had a lot of input, but they weren’t dictatorial. Sometimes it was really practical stuff, like needing to vary locations, or do simple things to make production easier. Sometimes it was more story based, and then it became a conversation. Often, when you get a note, it’s not exactly your job to execute the note . . . it’s your job to understand the problem and find an even better solution. (However, sometimes it is your job to execute the note!)

Liz: What was the name of the Jane Austen society in the movie?

Reina: My original name for it was the North American Jane Austen Society (NAJAS), but legal thought that was too close to certain existing entities, so it was changed to the Jane Austen League of America (JALA).

Liz: When and where was it filmed?

Reina: Ottawa, Canada, in October and November 2023.

Liz: Are you happy with the casting and how it turned out?

Reina: Extremely. My leads are charismatic, and funny, and have so much chemistry. They’re sort of enrapturing to watch—I feel like I’m getting high on my own supply. And the supporting cast is also a treat. I love when I write a throwaway joke and an actor elevates it so much that I pound the table laughing.

Liz: What’s next for you? Other projects? Would you like to write another Hallmark screenplay?

Reina: Biggest thing on my plate is the book, and it’s a very big slice of cake indeed. I also have a play premiering in August in Texas called “Sunny Days”—it’s about Sesame Street. I would LOVE to write another Hallmark screenplay. Nothing to announce just yet, but fingers crossed!

Liz: Where will you be watching Paging Mr. Darcy?

Reina: I’ll be attending a sci-fi convention called CapriCon with my fiance (told you I was a huge geek), so we’re throwing a small hotel room watch party. It has been way more technologically complicated than I had hoped. Light a candle for our success.

Liz: Anything special JASNA members should watch for?

Reina: There are lots of references—no particularly deep cuts—but definitely things a more casual Austen reader might not catch. I also had a lot of fun coming up with Austen merch, which, to my astonishment, Hallmark props masters faithfully constructed per my descriptions. I am particularly proud of the ice cream flavors.




“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”

Northanger Abbey