Keira Knightley is simply timeless in her latest film, Anna Karenina.
In Anna Karenina she plays a flawed heroine who follows her heart when she falls hard for a dashing young man. She quickly learns that you can’t ask why about love, but pays a hefty price for her passion.
The exquisite, beautiful, sweeping, bold and highly-emotional film from Focus Features opens Nov. 16 for a limited run, and opens around the nation on Nov. 30.
The timeless story from Tolstoy powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart while illuminating the lavish society that was imperial Russia in the1870s. Knightley is young, vibrant and beautiful as Anna Karenina in the stunning costumes, and lives the romance and tragedy that her choices prompt.
Keira, the daughter of actor Will Knightley and playwright Sharman MacDonald, is best known for her tomboy football role in Bend It Like Beckham, and for her many period films, including Pride and Prejudice, the Duchess and Atonement.
Other roles for this fresh-faced actress include Love, Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean, Seeking a Friend for The End of the World, and the upcoming remake of My Fair Lady.
Knightley has also found a soul-mate for the beginning of her new life. She is happily engaged to British indie musician James Righton, happily working and in a word – just plain happy.
“I’ve watched Keira grow from a stunning ingénue to the great actress that I believe she reveals herself to be in this movie, Anna Karenina,” said director Joe Wright, who is also a close friend after making three films together.
“Keira is very, very, focused and very dedicated and I really appreciate that,” said Wright. She does a lot of prep as I do, and so we kind of have a good understanding of each other. We are kind of like siblings who argue, but there is never any question of breaking our relationship.”
Knightley’s manner during a recent chat on a chilly November day in Manhattan was upbeat, bubbly, funny and self-depreciating when she talked about period films, getting into character, music, costumes, love, romance, and more.
Q: Why do you think the story of Anna Karenina still resonates in modern times?
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: I think it resonates to this day because it’s about love and not just romance or just that happy bit, not love in the kind of the way it’s all sold to us, but love as the thing that we’ve been fascinated and obsessed by for centuries.
Q: Tell me more about your take on the love aspect of the story and how you relate to it?
KK: Love is that thing that we are all after and yet can destroy us and is painful and can be madness and can be joy and can be happiness. I think that’s why it’s so complex. It has more questions within it than it has answers because we never manage to answer the questions. Love is something that is so inexplicable, so complex and strange.
Q: Do you personally think you’re the kind of person who believes thinks love conquers all or do you think that reality kind of sets in after a while?
KK: I’m a 27-year-old woman. I think it would be a bit strange if I had those romantic notions about relationships that I think you should have when you’re in your teens. I think that it is absolutely inexplicable, and I think that there is a lot of pain involved with it, as there are absolutely great moments.
Q: Please tell me more.
KK: I mean it would be a bit sh*t of me to stand and go, ‘yeah, love conquers all. It’s romance all the time.’ You’d obviously go bullocks. So no, I mean, I think it’s a fascination. It’s the questions that we can never answer. Why do we feel the way we do? Why are we attracted to those people? Why, even when it’s going badly do we go back for more? What is that within us, you know?
KK: I think it’s a novel that looks at all of that. I think that’s why you keep going back to it. That’s why within preparing for this, when we were talking about it, every single person, whether they were a member of the crew or the cast could go, ‘Oh yes, I relate to that because everybody had a story within their lives that was applicable to the situations. It didn’t matter that we lived in 2012 or in 1873 because it’s about that emotion.
Q: How did you sustain yourself through that emotionally wrenching process to become Anna?
KK: This was an incredibly stylized technical piece of film making. So, maintaining a character, who is so highly emotional through a kind of 12 to 14 hour day, is quite exhausting.
Q: Can you please talk about playing such a complex character – I believe Anna is the most complex female characters you have played?
KK: Yes, she is. I think it was weird because I initially read the book when I was sort of in my late teens or early ‘20s and my memory of it was as Anna being somebody who was sort of a victim and in the right, and almost saintly, and everybody else being wrong. And then of a sudden I read it again last summer just before we did the film, and went all of this is not what I remember at all. And I thought this is not the same person I thought at all.
Q: Joe Wright [the director] was telling me that he played music for the actors. Were you taking a break and dancing?
KK: No. He was taking a break and dancing. I was putting my own music in, which was normally something incredibly depressing as he was listening to house music and dancing over in the corner.
Q: What were you listening to?
KK: Elgar, a lot of Elgar, and cello concertos, anything to make you cry, a bit of Rachmaninoff if she was going really mad always helps.
Q: You said before that everyone relates to Anna, different parts of her in their own lives. How do you relate to her?
KK: I’m not quite sure. I mean I find her terrifying. I find her terrifying because I am no better than she is. I find her terrifying because even in the moments when I judged her the harshest I thought would I do any differently? Have I behaved any better? Do I know that I would behave any better? Do I know that I wouldn’t be destroyed by this?
Q: And would you?
KK: No. I think that’s what’s so terrifying about her and that’s what’s so fascinating. I think that’s why people go back to her again and again and again. It’s because that’s what it is. That’s what she’s talking about. It’s enough to make chills go down your spine when you look at her and think I do hate her today but do I recognized that? Yes.
KK: What do I dislike? I dislike the fact that the working day is a hell of a lot longer if you’re dealing with big costume or big makeup movies. If you’re doing a film like Cloud Atlas, for example, I’m working with the same makeup team at the moment as did that. They were saying they were called in three or four hours before everybody else. So, you’re adding three or four hours to a 12-hour working day and that’s just to make it, not to take it off. So, in costume dramas you’re looking at two hours on top of a 12, 14 hour shooting day.
Q: What else can you say about your work in period movies?
KK: Really, it was the same for The Duchess, and the same for Pride and Prejudice. Any costume piece, the amount of work from those departments is massive. It does mean a much longer working day. So, that’s the downer. The brilliant part of it is the costume and hair and makeup become such a massive part of the character because you’re creating everything from scratch. So within this, the symbolism within those costumes was huge.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to keep from the costumes in this movie?
KK: No. Well, actually, the diamonds. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of those.
Q: No budget for that.
KK: No. Damn.
Q: What attracted you to your recent movies?
KK: I got to the end of Anna Karenina and realized that I’d done five years of films where either I died or something horrific had happened in all of them. I wanted to spend a year not dying and trying to do things that were very positive. So, the first one that I made is a film called Can a Song Save Your Life, which is an incredibly positive, hopeful piece about friendship and making an album and possibilities. The next one was a piece of absolute pure entertainment, which is an old Hollywood thriller.
Q: Well at least you didn’t die in that one.
KK: No, I didn’t die.
Photo credit: Laurie Sparham