If Hollywood were a high school cafeteria, actress Keira Knightley would no doubt have a reserved seat at the Period Piece Players table. The 27-year-old has starred in about a dozen tales of days gone by, including “Pride and Prejudice,” “King Arthur” and the recently released “Anna Karenina.”
But Knightley is trading in corsets for covert operations to star alongside Chris Pine and Kenneth Branagh in “Jack Ryan,” based on the CIA character in Tom Clancy’s best-selling novels. The actioner, slated for a Christmas 2013 release, is a change of pace for the actress, who spoke with MTV News’ Josh Horowitz about her philosophy toward big-budget blockbusters, her desire to follow in Judi Dench’s footsteps and whether she’d ever consider getting tied up for “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
MTV: Generally speaking of the very eclectic career that you’ve carved out in the last 10 years, blockbusters don’t get any bigger than [“Pirates of the Caribbean”], right? Was there an urge to take a break from that? Because I know you’re about to complete “Jack Ryan,” which is a big movie.
Keira Knightley: It is. It’s half the size. I mean, literally, the budget is half the size of a “Pirates” movie, so it is a big movie. It’s not … quite in that way.
MTV: But not many things are.
Knightley: No. I think, not necessarily, because I don’t like doing films like that, but just because I always got into the business to do things that are different. And what I really love is looking at characters that I don’t understand and trying to understand, and generally that’s not the kind of characters that you’re going to find in a massive kind of blockbuster. And so I definitely went for the characters that I found the most challenging and the strangest and often people that if I met them I wouldn’t necessarily like them and to try and understand what makes the other person tick is what I really, really enjoy about my job. Saying that, I did get to the end of “Anna Karenina” and go, “I just need to do something a bit fun.” So the “Jack Ryan” of it and “Can a Song Save Your Life?,” which I did before, are more in the realms of entertainment. “Jack Ryan” is a thriller, but it’s a good old-fashioned Hollywood thriller, where people run around and things explode. I don’t really run around and nothing explodes around me, but …
MTV: You don’t explode?
Knightley: I don’t explode either — wow — although that could be interesting.
MTV: Well you never know.
Knightley: Well, exactly, exactly. Who knows? I haven’t finished yet.
MTV: How’s it been working with Chris and Ken Branagh?
Knightley: Lovely men. Ken is the major reason I wanted to do it, because of Ken Branagh directing it, and he’s playing the baddie it in as well, and it’s fascinating watching when you’re acting with somebody and they’re also directing. It’s a fascinating, weird thing, ’cause he literally just switches from one to the other, and he’s just amazing. I think I’ve learned a lot from him, which has been great.
MTV: Is Branagh like a snarly lipped, mustache-twirling kind of villain or does he play a little bit more …
Knightley: No he is, it’s like that — it’s more like that. He’s got a very shiny shirt on, though, a lot of the time. It’s the mark of a bad guy: a shiny shirt.
MTV: Generally speaking, I think most people would agree there’s sometimes less rewarding material in [big-budget blockbusters]. One exception that I think we would all agree is Chris Nolan films.
Knightley: Oh yeah, absolutely.
MTV: Was that something that you talked to him about? There was some talk that you were talking to him.
Knightley: I’ve met Chris. He’s a fascinating man and makes wonderful films, and I loved what he did with all of those films. And the last, you know, “Skyfall,” what Sam Mendes did with … “Skyfall,” I think it’s taking … those massive films and actually going, “Look, you can really have some interesting characters within them.” And not that, you know, I think “Pirates” has some interesting characters within it, you know, not to do that down. It’s very exciting when you see that people are making very different things with those massive-budget films now, and now you’ve got the technology to tell these extraordinary stories. That last “Dark Knight” was extraordinary and “Skyfall.” And the fact that Judi Dench is basically the main Bond girl is the most genius thing I’ve ever seen. I thought it was wonderful.
MTV: Would you rather be a Bond girl or in “Star Wars Episode 7”?
Knightley: Can I be a Judi Dench Bond girl?
Knightley: OK, I’d like to be a Judi Dench Bond girl; that would be fun.
MTV: Briefly, on “Can a Song Save Your Life?,” tell me a little bit about that experience. Are we gonna see you sing in that one, or what’s the deal in that one?
Knightley: I do sing in that one.
MTV: You seem hesitant.
Knightley: No, I’m not hesitant. I do sing in that one. I know that I do sing in that one. … I’m definitely not a singer. I’m good enough to fake it, so maybe that will be good enough. But otherwise, they’ll probably dub me, which is fair enough. It’s about friendship and making an album and it’s with wonderful Mark Ruffalo, and Catherine Keener is in it, and the cast was just amazing. It was very, very low-budget, shooting around the street of New York over the summer. It was wonderful and hopefully it will come together.
MTV: Do you know what the next thing is after “Jack Ryan”?
Knightley: I don’t know. I don’t have any plans after “Jack Ryan” yet. I don’t like to plan ahead too much, so I just sort of like to see what comes, and I don’t know what I’m looking for yet.
MTV: Well, you’ve done some great literary adaptations obviously from the works of Tolstoy, I feel like the next one obviously would have to be “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Knightley: No, it’s not. It’s not going to be “Fifty Shades of Grey.” You know, I normally don’t like to give a definite about anything [but] I can definitely say it will not be “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
MTV: Really? Why?
Knightley: I can’t imagine why! Um, I haven’t even read it yet, actually.
Knightley: But that’s a stupid judgment, isn’t it? I mean, just from [what I’ve heard], friends who’ve gotten into it, and I’ve gone, “No.” I did “A Dangerous Method.” That had a bit of all that in it. I don’t think I need to do it again.