Never shy, Keira Knight­ley is on fire dur­ing pro­mo­tional du­ties for her lat­est film Co­lette, sound­ing off pas­sion­ately about moth­er­hood, fem­i­nism, her bust-up with John Car­ney, and the ‘so f***ing out there’ Har­vey We­in­stein sit­u­a­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - DONALD CLARKE - WORDS BY TARA BRADY

Keira Knight­ley talks fem­i­nism, fame, act­ing and equal­ity

There are not many ac­tors brave enough – or tal­ented enough – to do an im­per­son­ation of what hap­pened to their vagina dur­ing child­birth. But on­screen and off, one can al­ways de­pend on Keira Knight­ley to be an ab­so­lute star.

“See this?” she asks, show­ing a wonky lump on her wrist that could be the first scene in a David Cro­nen­berg film. “I’ve still got a com­pletely f***ed wrist be­cause of an ac­ci­dent I had when she was about five months old. When I went to see some­one about it, they told me I still had the bendy preg­nancy hor­mone so the car­ti­lage is de­stroyed and it’s com­pletely f***ed.”

She flexes her hand back and forth: “It’s amaz­ing isn’t it? Ter­ri­ble for bracelets. Ev­ery­thing goes a bit wig­gly and funny. I have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent head of hair. There’s now a su­per-weird, mas­sively curly bit at the back that has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent tex­ture than ev­ery­where else. It grows like a f***ing weed now. I don’t trust it.”

The Weaker Sex, her dis­arm­ing ac­count of giv­ing birth in 2015, as fea­tured in the col­lec­tion Fem­i­nists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies, opens with the words: “My vagina split. You came out with your eyes open. Arms up in the air. Scream­ing. They put you on to me, cov­ered in blood, vernix, your head mis­shapen from the birth canal. Pul­sat­ing, gasp­ing, scream­ing,” she writes to daugh­ter Edie. “I re­mem­ber the shit, the vomit, the blood, the stitches.”

To­day, ahead of the London pre­miere of Co­lette, and def­i­nitely not cov­ered in vernix, it’s a theme she’s keen to re­turn to. “No­body tells you about the shit,” she says. “The ac­tual, not metaphor­i­cal shit.”

“I un­der­stand why some women need to have a birth plan,” says Knight­ley. “It’s a way to get a sense of con­trol over a sit­u­a­tion where you have no con­trol. But don’t feel like you’ve failed when things don’t go to plan. If you need to take drugs to get the kid, take the drugs. That’s the end of it. Don’t lis­ten to the peo­ple who say if this doesn’t hap­pen or that doesn’t hap­pen then you won’t have the hor­mone that al­lows you to bond. Guess what? You’re go­ing to bond. You don’t have a choice. Re­mem­ber that phrase from a few years ago? Too posh to push? Like that’s an easy way of do­ing it. Are you f***ing kid­ding? You’ve had your stom­ach ripped open and a child torn out. And you can’t move for six weeks. That’s easy? The pol­i­tics around those words are mind-bog­gling.”

Sound­ing off

In the three years since Knight­ley and her hus­band and Klax­ons front­man James Righton wel­comed daugh­ter Edie into the world, the 33-year-old has not been shy about sound­ing off on a whole raft of is­sues per­tain­ing to moth­er­hood.

De­spite a re­cent turn in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Moana and Frozen get free passes, but most Dis­ney princess movies are on the banned list. And how about repa­ra­tions for house­work while we’re at it: “For the un­paid child-rear­ing and house­work and emo­tional sup­port that most women do; I’ve darned your socks, now where can I send a bill to the pa­tri­archy?” She’s par­tic­u­larly keen to high­light the lone­li­ness that many women ex­pe­ri­ence as new moth­ers.

“We need to have a con­ver­sa­tion about the bub­ble of love, which is the only nar­ra­tive we’re al­lowed to have,” she says. “I don’t think it is very help­ful for the vast ma­jor­ity who feel that love and ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ently. You get through the phys­i­cal and emo­tional marathon of birth and then, for our first three months, she woke up for a 45-minute feed ev­ery 45 min­utes. There is no amaz­ing hor­mone that makes sleep de­pri­va­tion fine. So there has to be a di­a­logue so the men who are our part­ners

or the women who are our part­ners but who haven’t given birth don’t think ‘oh. She’s gone f***ing men­tal’. So we know it’ll be okay. You’ll fig­ure it out. You just need a lot of cud­dles. Look at me. I’m welling up.” She re­ally is. It’s hard to imag­ine any­one bet­ter to play the dar­ing belle époque au­thor Co­lette, the first of three Knight­ley-led fea­tures com­ing our way in 2019: The Af­ter­math and Ber­lin, I

Love You are wend­ing their way to a cin­ema near you. The film is di­rected by Wash West­more­land, from a screen­play by West­more­land and his late hus­band Richard Glatzer, the duo be­hind Still Alice. Glatzer died of com­pli­ca­tions from amy­otrophic lateral scle­ro­sis in 2015.

“The film is part of the amaz­ing love story be­tween those two men,” says Knight­ley. “They wanted to make this to­gether for so long. We all felt that Richard was very present. Ob­vi­ously, Wash talks about him and talks about their process. He was an ex­tra­or­di­nary man and we made this in his mem­ory.”

Un­der duress and lock and key

As Co­lette opens, Si­donie-Gabrielle Co­lette (Knight­ley), is a coun­try girl who moves to turn-of-the-cen­tury Paris with her dom­i­neer­ing, phi­lan­der­ing writer hus­band, Willy (Do­minic West). At Willy’s sug­ges­tion, Co­lette be­gins to write nov­els which are pub­lished un­der his name and which are some­times writ­ten un­der duress and lock and key. Hap­pily, the bo­hemian cul­ture of Paris and a se­ries of lovers al­low Co­lette to out­grow and out­shine her bul­ly­ing spouse.

Many com­men­ta­tors have framed the film as a #MeToo or #TimesUp nar­ra­tive. While Knight­ley ac­knowl­edges that Co­lette’s plea­sure-seek­ing is still “rev­o­lu­tion­ary for women”, the film’s vogu­ish themes are more by ac­ci­dent than de­sign.

“Wash was try­ing to get this made for 17 years so this was in no way ‘oh there’s a fe­male move­ment so let’s make a movie to cap­i­talise on it’. Ob­vi­ously, it’s a film about a woman step­ping out from the shadow of a man and find­ing her own voice, and her own way to live. The fact that it was made when it was and fi­nally got fi­nanc­ing is be­cause fem­i­nist is­sues are sud­denly more cul­tur­ally ac­cept­able. There is at least some con­ver­sa­tion about the pay di­vide and ha­rass­ment on a near-global scale.”

On the trou­ble­some mat­ter of ha­rass­ment, I won­der what she thinks about Har­vey We­in­stein. Knight­ley made two films with The We­in­stein Com­pany stu­dio founder,

The Im­i­ta­tion Game and Be­gin Again. “I ab­so­lutely knew he was a bully, and I ab­so­lutely knew he was a wom­an­iser, but I to­tally thought that was con­sen­sual. But rape? And the whole bath towel busi­ness? It’s so f***ing out there. I think the rea­son I wasn’t tar­geted was be­cause I had a cer­tain amount of power by the time I met him. But if you’re at the be­gin­ning of your ca­reer and he’s the top of the in­dus­try then of course you don’t have the power to say f**k off. We talk about want­ing equal­ity. We need equal­ity just to be safe.”

In re­cent years, Knight­ley has spo­ken about her anx­i­eties around the sud­den global fame that came with the Pi­rates of the Caribbean movies. I was sur­prised to read it. Can this re­ally be the same Keira Knight­ley who, aged three, asked her ac­tor fa­ther and writer mother if she could get an agent? By my own rec­ol­lec­tion, around the re­lease of the sec­ond Pi­rates film, she seemed like the most self-pos­sessed 20-year-old on the planet. Ques­tions per­tain­ing to her weight were shut down with aplomb. And I do re­call one jour­nal­ist be­ing asked: “Why don’t you ask my male col­leagues that?” when he had the au­dac­ity to ask her if she planned on hav­ing chil­dren. Was she not as un­flap­pable as she ap­peared?

“Oh good,” she says. “That’s what I was go­ing for! For the first Pi­rates film, things were al­right. Af­ter that, I was not al­right. I’m glad you said un­flap­pable be­cause I was ab­so­lutely the op­po­site. I’m glad to hear it was so im­pen­e­tra­ble. But that’s the pub­lic face. That’s what all women are trained to do. Just for me, it was more ex­treme be­cause I was deal­ing with the press. All I re­mem­ber is that I was a very, very young girl try­ing des­per­ately to pre­tend.”

I can’t help but won­der what went down on the set on John Car­ney’s Be­gin Again. This is the third time I’ve met Knight­ley and she’s al­ways been an un­fail­ingly good sport and a straight-shooter. It’s hard to square with the Ir­ish di­rec­tor’s 2016 re­mark: “I’ll never make a film with su­per­mod­els again.” Car­ney has sub­se­quently apol­o­gised un­re­servedly.

“I was sort of thrilled,” she laughs. “I’ve been called many things in my life, many worse things – but I’ve never been called a su­per­model. Thanks! It was a very dif­fi­cult shoot. We didn’t get on. It’s just a thing that hap­pens some­times and I say that with no blame. It takes two to tango. I think we can both be very proud of our­selves for the film that we made, be­cause it’s dif­fi­cult when a lead ac­tor and di­rec­tor don’t get on. And I don’t think you could tell that from watch­ing the film. You would prob­a­bly never have known had John maybe not de­cided to tell ev­ery­body. But that is his right. And he apol­o­gised for that com­ment, which he didn’t have to do. He apol­o­gised both pri­vately and pub­licly. And I’ve ac­cepted that apol­ogy.”

He has a big per­son­al­ity, I sug­gest. It’s why Catherine Keener says she loves him but calls him “a f***er” in the same breath.

“He does have a big per­son­al­ity,” says Knight­ley. “And that’s part of what makes him a won­der­ful writer. Once is a great film. Be­gin

Again is a won­der­ful film. It didn’t do what we hoped. So there was a level of dis­ap­point­ment at­tached. Ex­cept in South Korea. It was huge in South Korea. Of­ten that’s part of what makes a great di­rec­tor. I ac­cept that some­times that is part and par­cel.”

She laughs: “But that doesn’t mean you have to work with them again.”

For the first ‘Pi­rates’ film, things were al­right. Af­ter that, I was not al­right. I’m glad you said un­flap­pable be­cause I was ab­so­lutely the op­po­site. I’m glad to hear it was so im­pen­e­tra­ble. But that’s the pub­lic face. That’s what all women are trained to do

Co­lette opens on Jan­uary 9th


Above Keira Knight­ley and Do­minic West in Co­lette, and (above right) with co-star Adam Levine in John Car­ney’s Be­gin Again. Right: as El­iz­a­beth Swann in 2003’s Pi­rates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. PHO­TO­GRAPHS: RYAN PFLUGER/THE NEW YORK TIMES; ROBERT VIGLASKY / BLEECKER STREET; THE WE­IN­STEIN COM­PANY; WALT DIS­NEY PIC­TURES

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