Besides being one of the most-photographed and scrutinized women in the world not named Lindsay, Britney or Paris, Keira Knightley has something else on her side: actual, honest-to-goodness critical acclaim. Sure, she’s starred in three little pirate movies too, but at 22 years old, Knightley is already an Oscar nominee and a two-time Golden Globe lead actress contender, plus she’s got the plum role in the biggest weep-fest this side of “Titanic.”
In “Atonement,” Knightley trades stolen glances with co-star James McAvoy, as larger forces conspire to keep the would-be lovers apart. If it sounds like the kind of movie they don’t make anymore, you’re right. Knightley stopped by MTV to talk about the film, why sex scenes aren’t her favorite thing to do, and why you probably won’t see her starring opposite Will Ferrell anytime soon.
MTV: This is very much … an old-fashioned story. It’s a story that we don’t see done, the right way at least, anymore, it seems like, in Hollywood. Is that part of the appeal for you when you sign on for something like this?
Keira Knightley: Yeah, it was. I am a huge fan of films from the ’30s and ’40s … particularly British ones. … I think we make films that are incredibly sentimental now, and then they were kind of much more, I suppose, intelligent and sort of witty. So [director] Joe Wright first came to me with this project … about a year ago … and said, “I want to make a film the way they made them in the ’40s, and I want you to act in that ’40s British style.” And I thought that was really exciting.
MTV: A lot of people are going to walk out of the theater bawling. … Can you separate yourself, can you get emotional watching this film?
Knightley: I can totally, because I am only in about a third of it. So the two-thirds of it that I am not in, I can get very emotional. It was amazing — we took it to … the Venice Film Festival, and … it was received really well. … There were all these women in incredible dresses and made up to the nines, and they came out and all the makeup had smudged all over their faces and they just looked a mess. So I definitely say, if you’re a girl, don’t wear too much makeup when you’re going to see it.
MTV: Are you an easy crier when it comes to films?
Knightley: Yeah, I am. I like a good cry. I think those are the films I like the most. I like ones that make me cry.
MTV: What’s a sure [movie to make you cry]?
Knightley: There’s millions of them. Pretty much anything. I cry at anything.
MTV: You have a love scene with [James] McAvoy about halfway through this … you can’t say it’s gratuitous in any way, because … the plot hinges upon this very important scene. Do you ever get blasé about that kind of a scene? Can you get used to it?
Knightley: They’re always the ones that you are going to feel uncomfortable about. … They’re always very, very odd. But this one was actually much better than most of them, ’cause normally what you usually get from a director is, “Oh, you know what to do. Just go for it.” And you think, “Well, no. I’m in a room with a stranger, in front of a load full of strangers — no, weirdly I don’t know what to do.” … It really is an important scene. It’s kind of the peak of that first third of the film, and you’ve got to believe that these two people wait for each other for five years, based on this one moment. So it had to be passionate, and it had to be erotic. And Joe storyboarded the whole thing, so absolutely everything in it was planned, and it was all discussed beforehand as well. He was actually talking us through it as we went along, which was rather bizarre.
MTV: I heard that … you’re a big fan of “Blades of Glory”?
Knightley: Yeah! … I don’t normally watch films like that, and it was great!
MTV: Would that be something that would make you nervous to jump into, a Will Ferrell comedy?
Knightley: Yes, it would make me terrified, I think.
MTV: Just because you don’t think it’s in your wheelhouse?
Knightley: No, it’s not that. … I guess I’m into much darker things at the moment. … I think I am quite frightened of comedy. It’s never something that I’ve watched a lot of. I think people can always, like, quote comic films, and I’ve never been able to do that. I can quote you the tragic ones, but not the comic ones.
MTV: Are you self-conscious watching yourself onscreen, or has that gotten better over the years?
Knightley: No, I think if anything, it’s got worse. I can’t watch myself at all. … I’m not really interested in trying to look at myself in a film and go, “Yeah, good job.” … I’m incredibly critical. And I like being critical — I like watching it and picking it apart. But I think the thing about acting is that it’s true to that moment. You make a choice for that moment, and it’s caught on film, but you wouldn’t make the same choice even the next day. So … I watch and go, “Why did you do that? Why didn’t you do this?” So it’s never a particularly nice experience, watching myself.
MTV: You’ve shot “Edge of Love” with Sienna Miller. Tell me about your character and [her] relationship … to the other characters?
Knightley: It’s a story of a friendship group around the poet Dylan Thomas. It’s sort of an imploding friendship group, and an act of violence that happens, and it’s about the circumstances that lead up to that act of violence. I play Vera Phillips, who in real life was in fact Dylan Thomas’ childhood sweetheart, and he did live with her during the Second World War with his wife, Caitlin, who Sienna Miller plays.
MTV: I am just being a journalist here … [Sienna told me about] a bathtub scene?
Knightley: We did get in the bath together, yeah. Washing our knickers in the bathtub.
MTV: I don’t approve.
MTV: No, I approve.
Knightley: Oh, good. [She laughs.]
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