Interview with Keira Knightley

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One of the most recognisable movie stars in the world, Keira Knightley broke through with 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham before going on to star in the first three instalments in the Pirates Of The Caribbean saga. She has also starred in a number of period pieces, including Pride & Prejudice (2005); Atonement and Silk (both 2007); The Duchess (2008); A Dangerous Method (2011) and Anna Karenina (2012). Other credits include Love Actually (2003); King Arthur (2004); The Jacket; Domino (both 2005); The Edge of Love (2008); London Boulevard; Never Let Me Go; Last Night (all 2010); and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2012).

Interview exclusive to Cream.


Did you like the character of Anna Karenina in the film?

Not every day. I found her really hard [to perform]. I think I did judge her and her neediness and the fact that she can never see what is in front of her. She cannot ever recognise the moment that she is in, which did not mean I did not understand her, but I do not know that I always liked her.


What do you think about the choices that Anna makes?

She makes the only decisions she can make at the point she is making them. I do not know whether they are right or wrong. If you read the book, she is definitely condemned and she is judged in the book. It is very easy to watch her and judge her and condemn her as we do to each other and to ourselves. But I do not think she necessarily has a choice in the moments that she does. That is quite true to life in a funny kind of way.


What do you recall of the first time you read the book?

The first time I read it I think I was about 18, late teens, early 20s. I do remember it as being a romance. I remember seeing the Helen McCrory version on TV. I remember that being very romantic. I think that was probably because I was about 15 when I saw that one. You just have a different view. It is also very different when you read a book as just a book. You see the whole thing, whereas when you read a book to play a character you are only looking at the character. That always changes the view of the whole thing. Also, when you read Anna Karenina (1873-1877) you cannot escape the fact that Tolstoy occasionally despises her. His judgement of her is written all over it. Most of the time he is standing outside, judging her. So it was a really interesting thing going: ‘Okay, part of this is that you have to judge her, because that is the point of the book.’ You cannot escape that, but from playing her I have to get inside that and understand why she has come to this point and not judge that from the inside, which is what makes it fun.


Have you ever had feelings like Anna? Can you sympathise with her based on your personal experiences?

Everybody has feelings like this. When we first started this project, Tom Stoppard, the writer, said that Anna Karenina is a thesis on love, on all forms of love. I thought: ‘I do not know what he means.’ Then looking at it, he is completely right, because it is taking love not just as romance. Normally when you do a love story, you focus on the romantic bits, and then great sex and companionship, and it is great. But that is only a bit of what the emotion of love is. Love is also jealousy and pain and loneliness. What is amazing about the book and hopefully about the film is that it is trying to capture the whole spectrum of what love and emotion are. Have I felt that? Yes, in the same way that any grown-up that has been in any kind of relationship would have felt it.


Do you think that Anna Karenina is another step in your career?

I do not know. I have had so many points in my career where people have gone: ‘Oh, this is a turning point. People are going to see you differently now.’ All you can really say is that you hope that people will find it interesting and enjoy the whole thing. Other than that, I do not think there is anything it will change. I have not got the power to do that.


Did Anna change you?

She was wonderful and hopefully everything changes you. If I had to say why exactly this one changed me, I would not know. Getting older and living day-to-day changes a person. If the next question is ‘What have you learned from her?’ – I have not got a clue.


How did you find the dancing on screen?

A nightmare. When we saw it for the first time, we went ‘Oh yeah, that is easy.’ Then suddenly all these hands are doing different things and the legs are doing different things. It was quite tricky.


Are there any similarities between the aristocratic society of Anna Karenina’s world and the film industry?

Yes, absolutely, but I think it is equally applicable to society in general. It is a playground, it is kids in the playground and the pack turning against one kid, because they have the wrong shoes, and everybody is looking. That is how we pack together as a group by turning on one person, because that is what cements this group. We do that everywhere. Yes, we do that in the film industry. I am sure you do that in an aristocratic society. We do it in offices — a girl flirts with the boss to get a promotion, the office turns against her. It is everywhere within human beings.


You can’t escape people looking at you.

You cannot escape society wanting to hold itself up and be morally superior to others. I have not met anybody who has the right to do that, though. Yet we all do it all the time and we enjoy it. I should imagine I am as guilty as anybody else, but actually when we look at ourselves, we do not have the right.


Do you look at yourself sometimes and think, ‘I work too hard, I do too much’?

The balance between life and work is tricky. I am doing much less now than I did five or six years ago where I had a five or six-year period of working absolutely non-stop. That is not really doable. I am doing two films this year. I did two films and a play last year. I get bored very quickly, so I keep working because of that. There will be a point where I do less and probably a point where I will do more.


Which of the characters you’ve played have been the biggest challenge?

Anna has definitely been the biggest challenge, because technically the film was so stylised. On a boring technical level, literally, the shots were so precise. They were trying to get you focused through a mirror through another mirror and onto your face. It takes 15 times to get the focus right and then you have got to remember to put the emotional thing into it. It was very gruelling and the whole process is tiring. It is often why when you see very stylised films the performances are very muted. We all knew at the beginning we did not want it muted; we wanted the emotional thing to be kept at a very intense level. That was quite difficult. On another level also simply because Anna is so judged in the book – Liz Bennet [in Pride & Prejudice] you are meant to love her. The writer loves her, whoever makes a film about her loves her and the audience loves her. She is a wonderful person to play. With Anna, that is not what she is. She is the heroine and the anti-heroine at the same time. Doing that balance and trying to encompass all these negative aspects of her without making her completely repellent for an audience is quite a weird juggling act.


The costumes in the film are wonderful. Did you take anything from the film for your private wardrobe?

No! What is wonderful about all these costumes is you get to give them back and never have to wear them again. I would have liked to keep the diamonds. Actually, they felt a bit heavy. They weighed down.


Do you enjoy parading your evening wardrobe for the red carpet?

I like putting a nice dress on every now and then. I am very glad I do not have to do it every day, though.


A few years ago you said that your career would be short-lived. Do you still think about that or are you surprised you are still in the race?

A little bit of both. There have been films that have done well and films that have not done well. Yes, I am surprised. I am incredibly lucky. There are a lot of people that have a couple of films and then they do not get any more. I have been really fortunate with the people I have worked with and the number of films that have done. I have been incredibly fortunate. I do not think you will meet an actor who goes, ‘That is it. It is going to be all over.’ That’s just part of being an actor.


Does it bother you that people sometimes focus on your looks and less on your acting qualities?

I am very lucky that they are not saying that I am the ugliest woman in the world. Look, it is an image-based industry and I know I certainly got Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2005, 2007) because of how I look. There were a lot of pretty girls up for that, so there must have been something else as well. Some people find it attractive and some people find it disgusting, and that is just the way it is.


Do you think there is pressure in this business on women to look good?

Yes, for women in general. Whatever it is about looks or the way our bodies should be or the dresses we should wear or our hair colour – there is a pressure on all of us. We all buy into it and are culpable of it, particularly actresses who objectify themselves have a huge culpability within that.


Anna Karenina is available on Blu-ray and DVD through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.