EXCLUSIVE: KEIRA KNIGHTLEY speaks to us about complicated relationships and empowering roles
THE OSCAR-WINNING ACTRESS CONFESSES TO US ABOUT COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS, THE CHARISMA OF DOMINIC WEST AND THE UNDENIABLE ALLURE OF COLETTE
Like the character she so effortlessly embodies in her latest movie, the French writer Colette, Keira Knightley is known for not being afraid to break barriers and to speak her mind.
The movie that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this year to great acclaim, is a period piece tackling pertinent topics such as feminism, the voice of women and the power-plays that exist in all relationships.
That’s why 32-year-old Keira, back on the big screen after a hiatus taking care of her new daughter Edie – is perfect to play the feisty role.
What was it that first drew you to the script?
Everything. I just read it and thought I didn’t know any of this… I knew a bit of her work, like Gigi the musical, Chéri and the
Last of Chéri. But I didn’t know anything about her life. The story of a woman whose husband is taking credit for her work – literally taking her voice – and the fact that she stands up for herself and comes out from the shadow of a man and claims her identity. I found it incredibly empowering reading it. I hope that people will find it incredibly empowering watching it.
The producers said you dove into the research.
I think that’s what’s fun about doing a film like this. We all read the same biography which was called Secrets of the Flesh by Judith Therman. Basically in the time that I had, I read as much of her work as possible – it was a great privilege.
What did you think of her work?
Chéri is still my favourite. It’s interesting when you look at it culturally, she very much defined the modern teenager. The Vagabond
is the one that I like the best – that’s the first time she writes under her own name and really finds her voice.
What surprised you most about her story?
Probably just how current it felt. She talks about gender politics, about sexual politics and feminism and I thought how extraordinary that it is set between the1890s and the earlier 20th century and yet we are still talking about the same subjects today.
I love the fact that it has serious messages within it but is still a lot of fun. As much as Willy [Collette’s husband] is the sort of villain in the piece, you understood why she was with him. He was magnetic and he was charming, and when it worked the two of them had great fun together. I loved that. You didn’t get a sense that she was the victim. The moment she would’ve become a victim, she left. So I loved that dynamic. I loved everything about it really.
The team started work on this 17 years ago and you wrapped filming a while ago but in the past year there has been a huge sea change with Time’s Up and Me Too. Were you thinking about that when you were coming off this?
We filmed it before Me Too hit. But yes I was aware that it felt very current. It is speaking to a lot of what that movement is about – which is the silencing of women’s voices. This absolutely tackles that. But as I said it was made before of that so we didn’t realise just how on-point it would be.
You talked about Willy’s charisma. You also had a very charismatic leading man in Dominic West. What was it like to work with him?
I loved working with Dominic. He is possibly one of the most charismatic men you will meet. I think he is the only man that I ever met that I thought: “If you murdered somebody, you could probably get away with it.” That’s the sort of quality you need for Willy. Dominic is a phenomenal actor.
Did you have time to forge this chemistry before you started filming?
No, we didn’t but we did have dance lessons together. There was meant to be a polka that we danced together. So that’s how we first met, at a dance studio, and desperately tried to polka. We were so bad that it got cut out of the film! But it did break the ice.
You apparently spoke to your director Wash Westmoreland for the first time on a Skype call.
He was in China on a phone which had the battery dying and I was crouching in my flat in an odd corner as that seemed to be the only place that had internet at the time. So it was very quick! He is a very intelligent, interesting man who is passionate about the story so it was an easy decision.
What was Wash like to work with on set?
He knows exactly what he wants, which is exactly what you need from a director. The only thing he kept saying to me was: “Do that, but less”. I trusted him. I trusted his instinct, which is all you can ask for.
Colette strikes me as being very ahead of her time. What kind of woman do you think she is?
I think being English, I think of that period in a very Victorian, puritanical way. But that wasn’t what was happening in France as it was the belle époque happening there. It was an explosion of culture and art. So I don’t know if she was ahead of her time or of her time.
I think what is interesting in history in general is that there are peaks and troughs so we may have a very progressive moment in one country but it might completely reverse the next second. What I loved about her was that she was utterly natural to herself. If she found a part of the world that didn’t fit her, she ripped a hole in it and made it fit her. She lived her life without shame. I found that an incredibly empowering message.
She is honest and open about her feelings – was that part of the charm?
Yes, the honesty is probably one of the things you love about her but it is what makes her a great writer. She is honest about her experiences and the way she saw her world. She didn’t hide her thoughts and loves. She was also just really talented, which helped.
Is Colette different from the other period dramas you have done in the past?
I think they have all been pretty different from one another. I don’t think you can say Dangerous Method is the same as Pride and Prejudice and Pride and Prejudice isn’t the same as Atonement. I think this isn’t the same as those either. The thing they have in common is history and nice dresses.
Do you think this is a milestone in your career?
I have no idea. Time will tell. I think Colette
will always be one of the great characters I will play. I think Colette and Elizabeth Bennett are two wonderful characters to have on your CV and they don’t come around every day, so I feel very lucky to have played her.
How do you think Colette and Willy’s relationship progresses as the story unfolds?
I think that when they were very good, they were very, very good, and when they were bad they were horrid [laughs]. I think that is the story of the film. They had a moment when they loved each other, where they had tremendous fun, where the world must have been so exciting. They were the stars of the belle époque society and arguably that was the most exciting place in the world at that moment.
I think she loved the attention but the moment that it was clear that the only way she could survive and become the person she wanted to be was to leave him, she did. That’s what I love about it – she was not his victim.
Yes, she was manipulated by him and used by him but no relationship is perfect and there is always going to be a natural power struggle between men and women but what I loved is that the moment she recognises that it’s done, she leaves. That’s what you can draw amazing strength from. Colette is out in the UAE and GCC from December 6.
“Colette will always be one of the great characters I will play”
Keira Knightley (pictured here on The Late Late Show with James Corden) is back after a hiatus with her young daugther Edie
Dominic West (above) plays Colette’s husband Willy, but the actress is happily married to James Righton (right inset). The film had a joint celebration withstarring Hillary Swank (with Keira below)
Had, What They
Keira says one of the things she loved most about Colette was the fact she was always totally honest to herself