‘COLETTE’ IS THE STORY OF A WOMAN WHO FINDS HER VOICE, HER TRUE SELF AND LIVES COURAGEOUSLY,
At irst, Keira Knightley thought everything was going to be ine. Her pregnancy had been delightful, so she’d give birth to her irst child and then continue working at her normal pace. A Broadway show and two ilms in a year? Try her. But after Knightley had her daughter, Edie, things didn’t go according to plan. She was hormonal, for one. And tired. Because Edie never seemed to sleep. Still, she intended to keep her obligations. She performed eight times a week in a stage production of “Therese Raquin” and then ilmed a supporting role in the drama “Collateral Beauty.” But in the summer of 2016, staring down the lead role in the period drama “Colette,” Knightley decided she needed a break. “I can’t deal with this big character right now. So they very sweetly said, ‘We’ll put it off for a year.’”
Director Wash Westmoreland wasn’t exactly thrilled to push the start date on “Colette” — “no one welcomes that news,” he said _ but that delay ended up being “the best thing that ever happened.” The ilmmaker was able to spend the year inessing the script about the renowned French novelist, who initially wrote under her husband’s name until her work became so successful in the early 1900s that she fought for recognition. Alas, Edie — then age 2 — still wasn’t sleeping regularly when production began in Budapest in 2017.
On her way from London to the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Colette” screened last week after premiering earlier this year at Sundance, she was seated next to the actress Rosamund Pike on the plane. “And my irst question was, ‘So, what the (hell) do you do when they go to school? How are you dealing with this?” Knightley said, peppering her speech with her favourite four-letter f-word. (Pike has two children.) “I don’t think anybody’s got an answer to it. The answer to it is that it’s messy and really dificult, and somehow, you do it.”
Her husband, the musician James Righton, is constantly working in the studio — but he can do that “as and when he wants,” the 33-year-old said, “whereas I need a film set and have to go where the work is.” “(For men) we go, ‘Oh, gosh, yes, absolutely, of course you don’t see your children when you work, because you’ve got to concentrate,’” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Can you imagine a woman saying that? Can you imagine if I went, ‘Oh, no, I just never see her’?”
Colette, she felt, was a hero. Knightley wanted a bit of her courage and felt like she was “standing tall” when she embodied her. “Women feel shame or that we should hide in so many ways — parts of our personality that aren’t feminine enough or what we’re meant to be,” she said. “And with Colette, she just went, ‘Boom, this is what I am.’ I love that. I don’t think I’m that strong. I think I’ve still got a bit of, ‘Oh, (hell). I want to say the right thing.’” In the past year, in particular, Knightley said she’s been grappling with how much to use her voice.
Knightley was a teenager when she irst garnered public acclaim in the 2002 soccer ilm “Bend It Like Beckham,” and a year later became a household name after she was cast in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Meanwhile, Knightley has earned a reputation for playing the leading lady in period dramas such as “Pride & Prejudice,” which brought her an Oscar nomination in 2006, and “Atonement” — something she returns to with “Colette.”
Westmoreland and his ilmmaking partner, Richard Glatzer, had talked about Knightley playing “Colette” at various points over the 17 years they spent trying to get the movie produced. After making the ilm “Still Alice” together, the two men watched Julianne Moore accept her lead actress Oscar while Glatzer was in the ICU at Cedars Sinai. There, as his body deteriorated from ighting ALS, he used his toe on a speaking device to spell out what he wanted Westmoreland to make next: “Colette.”
Asked if she’s felt an increasing sense of power in the industry as she’s aged, the actress said she’s noticed in the last ive years that “people think I’m good at what I do.” “Whereas before, it was like, ‘She’s just a pretty face and she can’t do that,’ “said Knightley, who was nominated for a second Oscar in 2014 for her supporting turn in “The Imitation Game.” “There’s been a switch, and I feel quite good about that. There was a moment where it didn’t feel like that was gonna happen.”
Denise Gough Keira Knightley, (centre), in a scene from ‘Colette.’ Eleanor Tomlinson Dominic West in a scene