Welcome to Keira Knightley Fan,
an up-to-date and in-depth fan resource for the talented actress. Serving fans since 2004, we are now the longest running fansite dedicated to Keira. Nominated for two Academy Awards, Keira is recogised worldwide for her memorable big screen roles that include 'Pride & Prejudice', 'Atonement', 'The Imitation Game' and Disney's 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise. Our aim is to bring you all the latest news, articles, and photos relating to Keira's career, and strive to remain 100% gossip-and-paparazzi-free. Thank you for visiting!.
Quoting Keira
"All through my life what I've loved doing is watching movies. I love the escapism of film, I love stories. So it is incredible to be able to be in them as much as I am, to see them from the first stitch in a costume to the end product."
Keira Knightley takes on Anna Karenina
Home » Press Archives » Articles from 2012

The moment she steps on to the screen in the title role of Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina – her face exuding absolute self-possession – Keira Knightley demands that we think of her in a new light. At 27 years old, already a decade into her career as a leading actress, she has shed the awkwardness of youth and embodies with elegant aplomb one of the most celebrated and complex female characters in world literature.

‘I do feel more comfortable in my skin,’ she tells me when we meet in the lounge of a hotel in New York, where she is midway through shooting her next film. ‘And, as a performer, I feel more comfortable in my ability to tap into a stock of emotions. I go back to when I was very young and doing big films, and I can see that of course I was never going to be able to understand everything I was playing on a level that I could now. As life goes on you pick up wounds, and for an actor it’s terribly important to have those wounds to draw on.’

In the flesh, dressed in a brown silk dress and sandals, with her hair tied back in a ponytail and wearing barely a scrap of make-up, Knightley looks every bit as beautiful and unblemished as she does on screen. When I ask what her wounds might be, she describes them, somewhat reticently, as ‘just normal ones: failed relationships or disappointments or anything that human beings can pick up as they go along.

‘I think once you have experienced an emotion,’ she continues, ‘particularly a… I was going to say traumatic one, but that sounds too dramatic. I think once you have been through any major disappointment in your life, whatever it is, that feeling, it changes you as a person. And whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, as an actor you draw on that. Which is why it’s very important to love and lose, and not be too perfect – otherwise you would have nothing to work with at all.’

She makes the process of investing a character with emotion sound perilous, I say, as if it involves a step away from complete sanity. Knightley leans forwards and, smiling, her voice a conspiratorial whisper, she says, ‘I don’t think you do stay sane.’ Then she adds, quite serious now, ‘I think that acting is, by its nature, a very, very strange thing to do. It’s like a scab that you have to keep picking open and prodding. There is a darkness to it. And you have to be very careful, because otherwise you can get lost.’

Anna Karenina, Knightley admits, took her to the brink. Wright’s film of Tolstoy’s novel, from a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, does not go easy on its heroine. As she plummets away from her tedious, unimpeachable husband (Jude Law) and from the first, intoxicating flush of desire for the young Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) towards madness, jealousy and a spectacularly violent suicide, Knightley’s Anna appears less the victim of a fateful romance, more the morally ambivalent architect of her own downfall.

While researching the character of Sabina Spielrein, Carl Jung’s psychologically unbalanced patient and lover, for David Cronenberg’s 2011 film A Dangerous Method, Knightley spoke to a psychoanalyst about suicide. ‘She described it as a shy person’s homicide, fuelled by a rage that isn’t put outward but inward,’ Knightley recalls. ‘That stuck with me. And I think building that rage was definitely a part of trying to figure out who Anna Karenina was. Her entire personality is a tragedy,’ she says, ‘but not always a sympathetic one. She is manipulative and needy and angry and she’s all of those things that make people go, “Ooh, I can’t handle you.” At certain times, I think you have to hate her.’

Stoppard had conceived what Knightley describes as ‘a straight telling of the story’, but it soon became apparent that it would be impossible to shoot the production as a traditional period piece on location in Russia, within the available budget of £30 million. So Wright came up with a radical plan B: he reworked Tolstoy’s novel as a piece of theatre in which the characters are manipulated according to the whims of some unseen director. Much of the action takes place on a stage (constructed and shot in Shepperton Studios near London), albeit one that allows a character to walk through the proscenium arch and, Narnia-like, into a vast exterior – a sun-kissed field at harvest time, or a snowbound farmstead.

‘ “This is insane! You’re going to do what with the set? And it’s stylised how, exactly?” ‘ Knightley says, recalling her reaction when Wright first phoned her up, only three months before filming was due to begin, to talk her through the change of plan. ‘And then I kind of went, “OK, well, it’s either going to be really great or absolutely terrible but I guess we might as well try it.” Probably we were all incredibly foolish, but you do think at a certain point, why not try it? It’s very rare now in film that you get to dare.’ The gamble pays off handsomely, brilliantly throwing into relief the artificial rigidity of the society from which Anna and Vronsky’s reckless passion cuts them adrift.

In the past, Knightley says, she has always been strict about maintaining a distance between herself and the characters she plays. Even the intensely disturbed Spielrein she ‘never took home afterwards’. But Anna was different. ‘This one was really freaky,’ she says. ‘The character was there with me all the time. Trying to get rid of her when I got home just didn’t work. It was exhausting, and I feel very sorry for the person I live with because he had to put up with a lot while I was filming it.’

She is referring to James Righton, the keyboard player with the British new rave band Klaxons and, since May this year, her fiancé. ‘I was having mood swings that had everything to do with Anna and nothing to do with me. But I don’t think that in playing her I could have done it any other way. You have to be able to step into her skin to understand her. So she did stick with me for a little bit. And,’ she adds with a smile, ‘I’m very glad that she’s dead now.’

Knightley grew up in Teddington, south-west London, the younger of two children to Will Knightley, an actor, and Sharman Macdonald, an actress-turned-playwright. She famously demanded at the age of three that her parents find her an agent. Her wish was granted at six, in exchange for a promise that she would knuckle down at school and try to overcome her dyslexia. ‘I don’t ever remember not wanting to be an actress,’ she says.

She went on to act throughout her childhood, fitting roles around her studies and cropping up periodically in television dramas such as The Bill or, very fleetingly, in larger cinema productions including Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, in which she played Natalie Portman’s doppelganger. ‘As far as my early memories of film sets go, I just remember feeling an incredible embarrassment that I wasn’t older,’ she says. ‘I had this awareness that kids who behave like kids on film sets don’t get a lot of work, so I was desperate to grow up. Of course now,’ she adds, ruefully, ‘I want to go in the opposite direction.’

Her roles became increasingly prominent. In 2001 she was a lead in the British teen thriller The Hole. The following year, having left school at 16 to work full-time as an actress, she played Lara in Andrew Davies’s television adaptation of Doctor Zhivago for ITV. ‘I got totally slated in most reviews of my teenage stuff,’ she says, in a bruised tone suggesting that those harsh early reviews never quite lost their sting. ‘That was quite a big shock, because until that point acting had been something that grown-ups had always told me I was good at.’

She caught the industry’s eye with her next role, as a mouthy teenage football nut in Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 comedy, Bend it Like Beckham. Then, in 2003, the unexpected international box office success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl made her a global star. ‘It was the third job that I’d done since I left school and it was absolutely beyond anything that I’d ever seen as far as experience of my own career, my parents’ careers, or their friends’ careers went. It was uncharted waters,’ she says. ‘It was also such a surprise because when we were making it everybody said, “It’s going to be s***.” It was based on a theme-park ride; Johnny Depp’s films at that point had never made any money. Virtually everyone was unsure that it was going to work, so when it did it was such a weird thing. It took me years, actually, to process it.’

The Pirates franchise brought her substantial wealth: in 2008 Forbes magazine identified her as the second highest paid actress in Hollywood (behind Cameron Diaz), with estimated annual earnings of $32 million. But they also exposed her to a level of fame that knocked her sideways. Even now, Knightley admits that she is ‘not very good when people recognise me in a day-to-day situation, if I am walking down the street. I have an ability to disconnect from it now that I don’t think I had before. I almost feel like that person on the billboard, or even the person speaking to you now, is a separate person from the person I am when I go home. It is two different entities. Which is probably insane, but that’s the way I have managed to deal with fame. I am terrible with people who come up to me, because I am not, at that point, the one; I am not the person they think I am.’

Having seen her parents struggle with the vicissitudes of the acting life, she vowed to make the most of what she imagined would be her brief moment in the sun and ‘just say yes to whatever comes in’. Over the next five years, from 2002 to 2007, she would make 11 films more or less back-to-back, including two further instalments of Pirates, The Jacket, Love Actually and, with Sienna Miller, The Edge of Love, a film about Dylan Thomas’s tempestuous relationships, based on a script by her mother.

The critical high points of those early years were the two films she made with the British director Joe Wright: Pride & Prejudice in 2005, shot when she was 19; and Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s bestselling novel, two years later. Indeed, for her performance in the former, as the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet, she became the third youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Oscar.

‘It was very strange,’ she says. ‘With all the Pirates stuff I would get a lot of negative attention, and then I would go back and do the films with Joe and it would all be very positive. I was stuck in the middle thinking, “Wait a minute, am I the dumb girl that screams and just looks pretty in movies, or am I more than that? What am I meant to be and how am I meant to behave?” I found that all quite difficult.’

Looking back on that period, she remembers very little of it in detail. ‘I wouldn’t know what happened in what year,’ she says. ‘I know I was up for an Oscar when I was 20. And I was on the Pirates set when I found out. But I don’t really remember anything around it.’

I had assumed the Oscar nomination would have registered more forcefully, bringing with it a real sense of validation, but no. ‘I wish it had,’ she says. ‘We had been on night shoots for Pirates for about a month when I heard I’d been nominated, and I just felt so tired and far away that it didn’t really seem real. I didn’t even know if I would finish filming in time to make it [to the awards ceremony]. So I sort of disconnected from it.’

In the end, Knightley did get to Los Angeles for Oscars night. She took her older brother, Caleb, a sound designer, and the two of them spent the evening at a table with Jack Nicholson (‘who was absolutely lovely and made us laugh all night long’), wondering what on earth they were doing there. ‘It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life,’ she says.

By 2008 the novelty of success was already wearing thin. ‘I hadn’t really surfaced for air,’ she says. ‘It was just before I turned 23 that it suddenly hit: the number of people outside my house, the weight of it all, and it was a very strange thing. As soon as I put my head up and realised I hadn’t processed anything, that was exactly the moment I went, “OK, I have got to take a year off and go away and,”‘ she smiles, ‘”get some memories.”‘

She embarked on a belated gap year of sorts. ‘I travelled around. I got on trains. I didn’t wash. I just did the studenty thing I hadn’t done when my mates had done it. And it was great. I read as many books as I could, went out, very rarely got recognised. It was an important thing to do from a personal point of view, but also from an acting point of view. If you are within the strange bubble of the film world, the only thing that you have to reflect on is that bubble; you lose sight of everyday life beyond the film set.’

After saying no to ‘a year’s worth of stuff’, Knightley returned to acting, but on her own terms, with a new sense that she would pursue only ‘very particular films with very particular people; to try to do it in a smaller way, closer to home. I had spent so much time in LA, I really wanted to do European stuff.’

She credits her friend the director Massy Tadjedin (who wrote her 2005 thriller The Jacket) with luring her back in front of the camera, for Last Night (2010), a slight but beautifully acted film about marital infidelity. Soon after came performances in the Kasuo Ishiguro adaptation Never Let Me Go, and then A Dangerous Method, each one taking her further away from classic romantic leads towards darker, more ambiguous territory. She has also performed twice on the West End stage, making her debut in The Misanthrope in 2009, then returning last year for Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour; both to critical acclaim.

‘I think what I have become really interested in is trying to understand the things that I don’t,’ she says of her choice of roles. ‘I don’t think I am a very forgiving person. I don’t think I meet people and instantly try to understand their point of view. But I’d like to do that. And that is what I try to do with my characters. So, often, when I am picking them it is because I don’t really like them, or understand them. And the leap of imagination needed to do that is what interests me.’

In 2010 a week-long shoot for a Chanel scent advertisement brought her back together with Joe Wright in Paris, and they hatched the idea of collaborating on a third feature, Anna Karenina. ‘I hadn’t seen Keira for some time and I was really excited by where she was at. She didn’t seem afraid of herself any more,’ Wright tells me later. ‘I think that after Atonement there was quite a dark phase for her, perhaps even a lonely phase, and a period of soul searching, but now she seemed to be rising like a phoenix. She’s incredibly strong, and that kind of powerful feminine strength, that fire in her, had really come to the fore. It was that that I wanted to put on screen.’

Of Wright, Knightley says, ‘I love working with him. He has been somebody right from the beginning, even when everybody said, “No, she can’t do it, she’s s***,” who always had belief and trust in me and I owe him an incredible amount for that.’

Knightley is in New York to shoot a film by the Irish director John Carney, called Can a Song Save Your Life? The story of a singer songwriter (Knightley) and a washed up A&R man (Mark Ruffalo) who are both down on their luck and end up trying to make an album by themselves, the film appealed to her, she says, ‘partly because I had been doing such dark pieces of work I was really looking for something that had hope within it’.

It also offered her another chance to confront her professional fears. ‘It’s half improvisation, half scripted, and I hate improvisation more than anything; it gives me nervous attacks. I thought, “OK, you’ve got to get over this,” but it has been completely terrifying.’ She also had to learn the basics of guitar playing and she sings her own songs in the film. Did it give her a window into Righton’s life as a musician? ‘No, no,’ she says, ‘because he is a professional and I am just pretending. I have always been more visual and more film-based. I have never been one of those people who are obsessed with music. There is no soundtrack to my life.’

In terms of the future, she says she is keeping her options open. ‘I don’t know what I am doing after this film. It makes me feel claustrophobic to know where I am going to be or what I am going to do. I don’t like any of that.’ A couple of weeks after we meet it is announced that she will play the female lead opposite Chris Pine in a prequel to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, directed by Kenneth Branagh. There is also the small matter of a wedding to arrange. When I congratulate her on her engagement she blushes: ‘It’s very lovely,’ she says.

Is it a sign that, after all these years of restless travel, she is ready to settle down in a fundamental way? ‘No, I don’t know that I am a settler-downer in that way – which is possibly why I am getting married to a musician,’ she says. ‘It is a different way of life, which suits me. I think I will always want to keep moving.’

And with that she stands to leave, plants a kiss on my cheek, and heads out into the rainy New York afternoon.