Read the full transcript from BAFTA A Life in Pictures: Keira Knightley
Jason Solomons: Ladies and gentlemen welcome to BAFTA and welcome to what I‘m sure will prove a fascinating edition of Life in Pictures. I’m Jason Solomons, it’s a great pleasure to be with you tonight to look at one of the most interesting careers in British cinema; one of the early careers in British cinema really—we’re talking about a life in pictures that’s been going nearly twenty years—hard to imagine—a career that’s covered blockbusters and indie films, epics and more intimate subjects. It’s going to be a fascinating evening. We’re going to be joined by of course Keira Knightley. Let’s take a look at her work to remind ourselves of the hugely varied roles she’s played over the years of her life in pictures.
Ladies and gentlemen, Keira Knightley.
You do look quite pretty.
Keira Knightley: Thank you, so do you.
JS: Thank you very much. Keira Knightley OBE, I should say, ladies and gentlemen.
KK: Thank you.
JS: I feel I should call you something very important.
KK: Like OBE.
KK: Officer, it’s Officer actually. Ha!
JS: How was that day? It was only last week.
KK: It was last week.
JS: Nice day out?
KK: A lovely day out at the palace. Very palace like.
JS: Is it?
KK: Yes, definitely a lot of gold. It was lovely, yes. I curtseyed; I didn’t fall over in high heels, which is always important.
JS: And it was Prince Charles?
KK: It was Prince Charles. He asked me what film I was working on now and I forgot.
JS: Tonight’s going to go great!
KK: It’s going to go brilliantly don’t worry. I’m in very safe hands it’s fine.
JS: We’ve got clips, ladies and gentlemen.
JS: To help Keira through to navigate this path, which has been—I don’t want to shock anyone here—nearly twenty years.
KK: Oh God. Yes it’s probably over that. But yes, yes it’s over twenty years.
JS: Well it’s over twenty years because you certainly asked for your first agent when you were three years old.
KK: Yep, and I got my first part when I was six.
KK: But I think film work started twenty years ago.
JS: Which is extraordinary really, because we say it’s a life in pictures and you tend to watch people’s career over a period, but in a way I’ve known you since you started and I think we’ve all known you since you started. I think you’ve kind of grown up in pictures on screen.
KK: Well looking at that, yeah. It was a bit like a life flashing before my eyes. Yes it’s so true.
JS: A life so far, there’s much more to come if you remember what you’re up to.
KK: Yes, exactly.
JS: It is a life in pictures, ladies and gentlemen and what we’re going to do is go back over several of those highlights, some of which you’ve seen there in that montage, and then we’ll ask Keira about them and then at the end of that we’ll throw the floor open to you to ask your questions. But I’m going to hog her for a bit if that’s OK? And it is a life in pictures so I think we should start with some pictures.
KK: Do it.
JS: How about that? Let’s go back to 2002, although for you it’s probably 2001 when you were making it.
JS: And I’m thinking the film that really was a breakthrough for you, even though you’d done Star Wars, which is kind of a massive thing—
KK: Yeah, quite big. I mean I didn’t know what I was playing in Star Wars and I’m still kind of—I was hired and they didn’t tell me what part it was and a lot of the times I was Natalie Portman’s stand-in and sometimes there was this character where I was dressed in the same clothes Natalie was dressed in so I didn’t quite know what it was. But it was still very exciting.
JS: Didn’t she do your voice in the end?
KK: I think she did my voice in the end, yeah. It was all quite confusing and I didn’t know if I was ever meant to be in the film or if they were just using me as the kind of—because she was sixteen so she couldn’t legally work in England all the hours so they’d suddenly bring me in to do the wide shots. So it was quite a surprise that there was actually a part there at the end at all.
JS: It’s such a massive undertaking. I don’t know if it passed you by how big it—
KK: I was twelve and it was really funny my mum and dad didn’t want me to do it at all. They said, ‘it’ll be really boring, we don’t know what it is, don’t do it.’ And I was doing a TV thing at the time called Coming Home where I was playing a young Emily Mortimer, and it was the first sort of character that I’d got and I was loving every single second of it, like absolutely adoring it and then I went on to Star Wars and I didn’t know what I was doing and it was very big and I didn’t know anyone, so weirdly what I remember from that time is coming home because it was the first time I’d felt like I’d acted and then Star Wars is the thing that’s followed me ever since because I do look like Natalie Portman and that’s fair enough, you know, but I don’t really remember—apart from falling off the back of a golf cart in front of Ewen McGregor and only being in a bathrobe and knickers and tights and it being the most embarrassing experience of my entire life, I still remember that.
JS: Well it’s a good takeaway from Star Wars. Then you were in Gillies MacKinnon’s Pure with little Harry Eden, which was—and then there was a film called The Hole that you were part of a young British ensemble.
But I think it was Bend it Like Beckham that sort of, well it made stars of Gurinder Chadha the director and of course Parminder who was playing Jess to your Jules, this women’s football team, girls’ football team which—in the clip we’re about to see it’s the one where Jess comes to your house to look for shoes and we see some clips of women’s football and you think gosh that was exotic back then and now it’s major, reported in the papers; it’s grown a lot.
KK: We’re pushing further but it’s still not completely professional by professional football standards. So yes it is both extraordinary that it’s come further and extraordinary that it hasn’t.
JS: There are places to go.
KK: Yes exactly.
JS: Shall we have a little look at you and Parminder Nagra, and Juliet Stevenson, of course?
Look at you!
KK: Look at me! Half my life ago.
JS: So young! But you were a star. You were a star there. It shines off the screen. But what strikes me in terms of the acting is there was a naturalism about you very early on.
KK: Yeah. [Laughs]
JS: I don’t know if that was your style…
KK: Yeah that was my style. That’s what I was thinking about.
It was based on my friend Bunny who was my best mate at school who was a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant footballer, and she’s actually—what’s funny is she’s in the background of one of the pictures is me and her at school cuddling, and she had to stop at a certain point because she wasn’t allowed to play with the boys anymore. And I mean I’d played football at school as well but I wasn’t that good, but she was really amazing and there was a little period of time where every character I played was sort of a version of Bun. But that was the main one because of the football. So she was very cool and sort of laidback and a bit like that, you know, ‘whatever.’ So I always tried to play her.
JS: But it’s not an easy thing to do a film like that because football films are not easy to make, the technical aspect of the training and the shooting of it, you had to work quite hard at getting all of that right.
KK: Yeah we did a lot of—we worked with a coach a lot. I mean I did play football at school and I was like, you know when I was nine I organised a protest where we did a sit-in across the football field because the boys wouldn’t let us play football so all of the girls protested along the side and then we were given a girl’s football team at primary school. And again I don’t think I was very good but I felt like the righteous anger of wanting it. And then when I was about twelve or thirteen I gave a speech about sexism in sport where I only came fourth at school and I was really pissed off because I thought it was a really good speech. But it was very much a topic that really, really interested me.
I was sixteen when I did the film and I felt very strongly about it. But I do remember going up for it and I told people about it and it was so embarrassing, it was like ‘Bend It Like Beckham? That sounds awful. What’s it about?’ ‘It’s about girls’ football.’ ‘Oh my god.’ You know, everyone thought it was going to be sh
- t and because of that when I went up for it I didn’t think I was going to get it because it was a film and I thought it was all a bit silly anyway, so I sort of didn’t care. And it’s always an amazing thing when you go up for something and you don’t care or you don’t think there’s any chance of getting it, because suddenly you’re very free and easy with it, and I suspect that’s what happened there.
JS: That’s the naturalism.
KK: The naturalism probably comes through, yeah.
JS: Parminder as well, she was older than you—
KK: Yeah she was older than me, she was in her twenties. I think our second or third audition was together because there were quite a few auditions, I think. And she’s just one of the loveliest women alive. And was very lovely to a sixteen year-old, you know, a twenty-something to a sixteen year-old, she was just instantly lovely and supportive and great. So the vibe on set—and it was also Archie Panjabi was in it as well, brilliantly playing the sister and she’s sort of one of—again, just hilarious and brilliant. So it was a great, great vibe. And a lot of the training we were playing with girls who played for very good football teams so again it just kind of really bonded everyone together.
Now of course at that point I just thought that’s what films were like, you know, all these women and all these people and we were all just kind of together in this big team and that was obviously just what it was.
JS: And because Gurinder, although she’d done Bhaji on the Beach she wasn’t kind of an established—
KK: No, I mean Bhaji on the Beach had been huge and I knew about that one and thought that one was wonderful, but no it wasn’t the success that Bend It Like Beckham was. So it was very much that no one thought it was going to do that well.
JS: Her films are quite sort of family orientated.
KK: They’re family orientated. Yes exactly, they are, I didn’t know about that and you’re quite right, they are very family orientated. And she gets her mum or people to come down and make food and so suddenly we’d be shooting in places and her family would come down and there would be this amazing Indian food and all the people from the community where we were shooting would come out and they’d bring more food, and again at sixteen you just go ‘oh that’s what it’s like making a film,’ and of course it’s not. That was a really special experience.
JS: And Beckham’s name as a brand grew because then they qualified for the World Cup with this free kick at the last minute.
KK: The free kick in the last minute and do you remember actually at that time he’d broken his foot, so we had something coming up and actually when it came out it was sort of like the best bit of—all the things lined up—
JS: That’s because everyone said ‘oh Bend It Like Beckham’s going to be rubbish,’ and then when he got injured everyone was like ‘Mend it like Beckham.’
KK: Mend it like Beckham, yes, that was a big headline.
JS: So sports pages were kind of using your film.
KK: Yes and I remember having to stand there with a picture of his foot having to hold my hand over it for a picture like ‘mend the foot.’ It was all—it was quite something.
JS: It became a huge hit here and in America. It seems to be a key text if you like for young women.
KK: I think again what’s kind of extraordinary about it is it was a huge success, a huge success here, there, North Korea it was the first Western film Kim Jong-Il allowed to be presented in North Korea, which is quite something. And what’s interesting is it didn’t spawn a million other films of such a diverse cast and about female friendship and all the rest of it. So it still sort of stands alone in a way as that kind of thing that a mother might show their teenage daughter and be like ‘this is a great thing.’
JS: And we often expect things to open up floodgates when there’s a ceiling-breaking film, and they somehow don’t. Although it has spawned a musical. Have you been to see the musical?
KK: I haven’t!
JS: You haven’t seen it yet?
KS: No I was away when it was on! I didn’t see it. Was it good?
JS: It was very good. It was really good. If you want to go and see it, tickets are available, I don’t know if they are.
KK: I don’t think it’s on anymore.
JS: The music was very good. It made you a star as I said quite quickly, I think.
KK: Yeah. I mean definitely like led to Pirates of the Caribbean and it also led to Love Actually because Richard Curtis had seen my stomach and went ‘Gosh that’s quite a stomach.’ So the whole of the costume for Love Actually, which was the wedding dress, was about my stomach. It doesn’t look like that anymore unfortunately! I was looking at it going ‘bloody hell. They’re impressive.’ They’re not there anymore, oh well.
JS: But it got you Love Actually, which is—
KK: It got me Love Actually and I remember going up for Pirates of the Caribbean and again I was auditioning so it wasn’t a dead cert but obviously it very much put me on that radar.
JS: Even though you’d done Star Wars and fallen in front of Ewen McGregor off a golf—
KK: I don’t think anyone noticed me in Star Wars but yes I had done it. [Laughs]
JS: They did notice you in Pirates of the Caribbean.
KK: They definitely did, yes.
JS: Which was huge. And there were four, five?
KK: I think there might have been five now. I think I was in three with a tiny bit in another one, but yes—it was very much sort of I was seventeen when I did Pirates of the Caribbean. I think Bend It Like Beckham had only just come out and I auditioned and again, going back to that thing of it’s really interesting when you don’t care or you don’t think you have a chance in auditions in general; I think auditions are very strange things. I just remember being very angry at the idea that I had to go for the audition for Pirates of the Caribbean because I was never going to get a Hollywood film. It was so absurd. And I remember the day I went up for the audition I was late, there was a problem with the tubes and I was late and I’m one of those people that’s perennially early, I’ve got to be early, I can’t handle being late. So I was in a bad mood because I was late and I just thought ‘well this is stupid, I’m now feeling bad and I’m never going to get it and this is really stupid,’ and I think I was just angry in the audition and weirdly it worked.
JS: Well Elizabeth Swann is quite angry.
KK: She’s quite angry, isn’t she? Yes.
JS: Being tied up a lot.
KK: Well exactly, and in corsets. You would be angry wouldn’t you?
JS: Yes. Although nice shooting location.
KK: Lovely, yes, don’t be angry in the Caribbean.
JS: The interesting thing about it is that stardom. Suddenly we had a very young British star doing Hollywood things. Does that change your life? Does that change—not your responsibilities but you were doing a British indie film and then suddenly you’re in Hollywood.
KK: Well it was interesting Bend It Like Beckham because it was a British indie film and here it was seen as a mainstream film. And of course in America it was seen as a small British indie film, so I think instantly people here were like ‘uh you’re in that mainstream thing,’ and ‘of course that was going to do well,’ and it was quite strange because it really wasn’t that. I think the major stardom didn’t hit—weirdly it wasn’t until after Pirates of the Caribbean came out, I can remember exactly it was the day after the King Arthur premiere, which was not a film that did brilliantly well, and suddenly there were ten men with cameras outside my house and they didn’t leave, in fact they multiplied by about three or four times for about five years. So it was actually the day after the premiere for King Arthur. So weirdly these two I was quite kind of free and easy.
JS: So even in Love Actually when you’re part of an ensemble?
KK: Yeah but Love Actually didn’t do well when it came out. I mean it did quite well here but it really didn’t do very well in America. So Love Actually’s a super interesting one because it grew and grew and grew and grew and grew.
JS: And now it’s a Christmas classic.
KK: Now it’s a Christmas classic and it’s weird that it really didn’t do very well in America and America was the place where the Christmas classic thing really grew, so it was this thing that hadn’t done as well as everyone imagined and sort of five years later—I mean now it’s the number one thing in America that I’m asked about.
JS: Every Christmas everyone watches it. It’s a Wonderful Life, you and Elf.
KK: Well there you go, yeah.
JS: In great company.
KK: Great company. Yeah.
JS: The one that for me made you not just a star but showed you as a terrific actress was Pride and Prejudice, and that’s where I want to go next, which you did for Joe Wright in 2005. It was, you know, it was muddy, it was wet, it was raining. It was a brilliant Lizzie Bennett. Let’s have a look at you with Matthew McFadyen as your Mr Darcy.
It’s a very good scene.
KK: It’s the first of many times on film I tell people off. I think I do it quite well and that’s why I get cast a lot.
JS: I wasn’t going to bring it up—
KK: I know I’m quite good at telling people off.
JS: You were twenty years old
KK: I was nineteen when we shot it.
JS: But it seems an extraordinarily mature performance. Was it the fact that Lizzie Bennett was just right for you, then?
KK: I had been obsessed by Pride and Prejudice since I was about eleven. I had a dolls house that was Pemberley and a cottage that was Longbourne—Longbourne? It is Longbourne, isn’t it? —And I used to write letters from the sisters to each other and they were tiny like that and my mum still has them, they’re still in the dolls house. I think it was a character that I had—like many people you get completely obsessed by her, I was completely obsessed by her I think to the point where when my agent said ‘they want to offer it to you,’ I said ‘please turn it down because I can’t do that. That’s too frightening.’ And luckily she didn’t listen to me.
But so yeah, I just loved her so much.
JS: It comes across the respect you have for her and for the text, but everyone had as well. Although Joe Wright I don’t think had actually read Jane Austen.
KK: No I’m sure Joe hadn’t, no, of course he hadn’t. I mean no he’d obviously read it before we did it but I don’t think he’d read it. You know we had a really—he wanted somebody else for Elizabeth Bennett and at that point for me Pirates of the Caribbean had come out and it had done really well so I think the producers basically said ‘look if you take Keira then you get X amount of money and if you have the unknown it’s going to be a lot less.’ So he went ‘oh f
- *k alright.’
So he flew over to Montreal where I was doing a film and was sort of forced to meet me and his plane was delayed and I was getting up very early the next morning to go filming. And I didn’t want to do it, this was still at the point where I was like ‘no, no, no I’m not doing it.’ And he was just f
- king angry. And we had this disastrous meeting at about ten o’clock at night where we hated each other, and I sort of said to my agent Lindy ‘oh my God that was awful,’ and he clearly said it was awful and somehow once again the producer said ‘no really, you’ll get more money if you have this girl, so maybe when you’re back in London you should just meet each other again,’ and we met each other at the Covent Garden Hotel and I suddenly realised he’s a little sht and I’m a little sht and the end of the meeting he was looking at me and I thought it was really cool to have very low trousers, really baggy, really low, and he was like, ‘Keira pull your trousers up,’ and I turned around and went ‘f*k off,’ and he went ‘brilliant.’
And that’s been our relationship ever since.
JS: Ever since! It’s done you alright hasn’t it? How the muse was born. But it wasn’t just—that collection in that film, there’s you, there’s Carey Mulligan, there’s Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland. And Judi Dench in there!
KK: The cast—there were some amazing, I mean—I think it was Talulah Riley who’d been so obsessed by the book and she’d never acted before, she played Mary Bennett and she just sat outside the casting director’s office until the casting director saw her. I feel like all of us in one way or another had been completely obsessed by it. And for me at nineteen it was sort of the first time I’d worked with people or been around people who were my own age who were all completely obsessed with the same thing, which was acting. So I became very good friends with Carey Mulligan on that and very good friends with Rosamund Pike on that and we all just became this—and got a boyfriend out of it, which is always nice. You know we became unbelievably close.
JS: They’re not contractual, though?
KK: They’re not contractual but they should be because sometimes it’s a good thing. And Simon Woods who played Mr Bingley is still one of my closest friends. It was a very special—a little bit like Bend It Like Beckham one of those times you think is normal but actually is really quite magical. Joe put on lots of parties, he’s very into that idea of everybody bonding together and we had this two week rehearsal period before which is very rare in films, where we just hung out and stuck together and were stupid together. I think his whole idea of just making it a bit scruffy and a bit kind of lived in.
JS: It had that. It had the muddy hems and geese everywhere.
KK: And he didn’t want the hair to be—the hair was all a bit funny and a bit f
- *ked up, it was all—it felt real. And I think he really got that energy of these five girls in all their mess, which he celebrated.
JS: And Donald Sutherland just calmly looking over it all.
KK: Donald Sutherland just being extraordinary the whole time, yeah.
JS: The scene we saw with the rain, was it raining—how much extra?
KK: No, it was a lot of extra rain. It was freezing cold. All I remember about that was—that scene was Matthew’s audition piece and so I’d done it with quite a few different people and Joe—I think this is a reason I love working with him is he loves dialogue and speed, you earn your pauses. It’s got to be—people think quickly, they speak quickly, that pace is really, really important to him and it’s something that actually over my career I’ve loved. And it’s intrinsically why I love 1940s films; you just hear these spitfire people that just whip off this dialogue. So Joe with that scene it was—in all the audition pieces he was just like ‘faster, faster, faster, faster, faster.’ And it was Joe’s idea it was this argument that comes towards this kiss. And then the kiss and the realisation of the kiss is the pause. You earned that pause. It’s a very special pause.
Throughout the three films I’ve done with Joe what I’ve loved is you find those earned pauses and they can be kind of magic each time.
JS: Well let’s have a look at another one of those pauses from Joe working with you. This is from Atonement, 2007, a couple of years later, but you were sort of on a roll now as the Joe Wright muse and troupe kept going.
JS: The first third of which is in a country house and you got to wear that amazing swimsuit with the hat on.
JS: But then the film changes into a different register and a different shift. And the clip we’ve got here is from a much more bruised and wounded result of that first third and the Dunkirk scene, the beach scene. So here you are meeting James McAvoy in a teahouse.
KK: It’s still one of the favourite scenes I’ve ever played, that one.
JS: I don’t blame you. You look beautiful in it, I have to say.
KK: Thanks. It’s the ‘sorry.’ It was always, when I read it, it was almost my favourite part of the whole thing and it still is. It’s—oh God it was so well—just as a piece of writing but also that idea that two people after all that time and so much history try and communicate and there are no words that you could possibly find that could communicate it. It actually makes me cry thinking about it. But you know—yeah I loved playing that.
JS: I love the spoon.
KK: The spoon and the hand and the not knowing. Everything. I remember doing it and I can’t remember whether it was the grip or one of the sparks, but you know one of those very manly jobs, and he had tears running down his face, and it was like ‘oh ok,’ you know, yeah.
JS: There’s a bit of Brief Encounter.
KK: Totally Brief Encounter. Yes, totally, of course.
JS: ‘Flat in Balham.’
KK: ‘A tiny flat in Balham.’ Yes. ‘Terribly, terribly,’ and all of that. You know when I originally talked to Joe about it he said, you know, ‘I don’t want to do it naturalistic. I want to do it in this very 1940s clipped English style.’ He’s always had a problem with naturalism, or he’s always felt its confines. So I think that was the first time he was going ‘I want to do something that isn’t trying to be naturalistic.’ So we were all given homework of 1940s English films, so Celia Johnson, obviously Brief Encounter, just that idea of culturally we’re very interesting in what we don’t say and how we deal with ‘that’s terrible isn’t it. Somebody’s died that’s terrible. Oh well.’ That kind of quality.
JS: But there’s been a war!
KK: ‘There’s been a war so everyone’s dying! We won’t talk about it, we’re just going to carry on!’ It was great fun letting go of the shackles of naturalism in a funny kind of way and going for this very clipped, very English sort of thing.
JS: But it is a film—we saw in the bit before you came in you coming out of the fountain.
JS: Which is a very sexy scene. This film is very sexy.
KK: Yes, sex up against a bookshelf.
JS: In a green dress.
KK: In a green dress that broke every single time. But I think that’s why it works because it’s repression; you allow everything to kind of bubble underneath the surface and with that particular character she was sort of atrophied; she couldn’t move forward, she couldn’t move back, she couldn’t express herself. It was a sort of bubbling emotion, bubbling sexuality that she didn’t know what to do with and it just sort of burst out. Performing it, it was really interesting because it was all about keeping the lid on it but something like the touch of a hand can be so electric.
JS: There are massive gestures within that tiny thing. And of course there’s that amazing scene that Joe did you weren’t involved in—
KK: I wasn’t involved in but the amazing in Redcar, which, again that period what he did so brilliantly is we all lived together in a farmhouse in Shropshire, you know, we were all absolutely connected in this team thing where we were you know, we were as close as could be. And the brilliant James McAvoy, you know, I loved working with him he was just extraordinary. But going back to the fountain scene that’s another one with pace. He was just like you know ‘keep it up, keep it up. You think fast, you speak fast, keep it up.’ It’s sort of almost bullets flying. So that idea of that pace is again something I still love.
JS: But it’s sort of more innocent in that time because it’s before the war so everyone’s kind of a bit more thirties and then there’s that kind of change.
KK: The volume of things not to say.
JS: It’s a beautiful, beautiful film Atonement.
KK: Thank you.
JS: And it did very well, I remember it opened at the Venice Film Festival and came on to do very well here at BAFTA, but it was a film that had a sort of youthfulness to it, even though it was about a very serious thing, because these are young people.
KK: It’s youth dying.
JS: Very sad. So you become emblematic even with Pride and Prejudice as well we see it had a young people’s vibe to it, an energy to it—
KK: Well I think with Pride and Prejudice it was the first time they’d cast—the book is based around characters who are nineteen or about that, late teens, early twenties. And it was the first time on film that it had been shown being as young as it was, which actually when you go back and you read the book it makes sense of a lot of how they behave because of course they’re so young and it’s the first time. So I think that’s why it made a lot of sense.
And you’re right, the tragedy of Atonement being that they died. The waste of that youth.
JS: And the power of storytelling as well, because your little sister in it.
KK: The lie.
JS: The amazing Saoirse Ronan, I think it was her first role.
KK: I don’t think it was her first one, it might have been her second one, but f
- *king hell.
I think she was like twelve, you know, and you just think ‘oh God.’
JS: But you’d done that
KK: No, no, but there are some talents that are just born whole. And I can’t claim to be a talent that was born whole. She came out that way and she’s still as brilliant.
JS: Were you getting better as an actress? What were you doing to get better as an actress? Were you training, were you having lessons, were you doing coaching? The roles were coming thick and fast, it seemed you were working all the time.
KK: I was just working all the time. I was watching people, I wasn’t doing classes, I didn’t have the time. I was literally going back to back to back film. I was desperately trying to pick up anything I could pick up from anyone. And not particularly picking it up, I mean somewhere before then I did a film called—oh God I’ve forgotten—The Jacket.
JS: With Adrian Brody.
KK: With Adrian Brody, yes, and I remember watching him and just not—I couldn’t figure out how the camera would get closer and he’d get more relaxed and I just couldn’t figure out how that happened. And everyone says, ‘acting is relaxation, acting is relaxation…’ You f
- *king try it! And the more you try and relax, the more you go, ‘oh God I’m feeling really tense.’ And then again, Judi Dench in that… Actually, you know what she gave me in that? She forgot her lines. And she couldn’t remember them, it was just a couple of lines, and there’s a big scene in Pride and Prejudice, I think, where we have a big fight and she just couldn’t remember it and she was getting really frustrated. And it was sort of as a nineteen year-old one of the most amazing things to see, because it was the understanding that you can’t be perfect all the time and still it cuts together and it’s absolutely brilliant. And she would go back on a particular part that she couldn’t quite remember and she’d just do it again and again and again but seeing somebody of that, you know, that might, make mistakes, I think that was one of the most important lessons of that point. Not necessarily that I picked it up at that point but that you go ‘oh actually mistakes are fine.’
JS: You can learn from them and pick yourself up from them.
KK: Yeah and if you’re trying to be perfect the whole time then you just plateau and you’re not alive in the moment.
JS: Do you think there was pressure to be perfect because you were such a big star and so important for the British film industry, for the people in this room, for BAFTA. You get built up quite quickly to be perfect on- and off-screen.
KK: Yes. Which is always—it’s never going to work. It doesn’t exist, perfection, so it was never going to work. But yes I think I was absolutely stuck in that young girl thing of I’d been a straight A student, I’d been top of the class, I’d never had a detention, I was absolutely on set every day on time, I’d done my research, I knew my words—desperately, that desperation for the A the entire time. And you know, life comes crumbling down and you find out that’s not how it works and it’s kind of impossible, but that takes a while. This was my period, this little bit, of going ‘oh f
- k it’s crumbling, I don’t know what to do.’
JS: People were weirdly nasty about you.
KK: There was a lot of very nasty stuff. I think at the same time I had this out, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was coming out and that was not—I didn’t see it, but I hear the reviews for me weren’t great, and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 the reviews for me definitely weren’t great, so you know it was a really funny time that I had these films that were Oscar-nominated and were seen as being brilliant and it was all seen as being great, and on the other side I had these films that were commercially just doing brilliantly and yet I was also seen as being sh
- t and my body was—I was getting I don’t know, modelling contracts where you’re being told you’re beautiful, but at the same time I’ve got major papers saying actually her body should come with a health warning because she’s sick and she’s anorexic and she’s making other people sick and she’s disgusting and you have ‘her face is beautiful,’ then you have ‘her face is disgusting and her mouth looks like a bangle,’ and everything was really extreme. Atonement I was twenty-one and you’re suddenly in the middle of all this stuff and the world went definitely crazy.
JS: And you did pay attention to it in a way. It seeped through to you.
KK: You can’t not, at twenty-one. I mean you’re becoming at twenty-one and all you really want to do is fit in. So it’s impossible I think for anyone not to take it on. And of course if you are the A
- or the A student and you’re the girl and you’ve been taught that you’ve got to be perfect, all you want to do is please absolutely everybody, but when you’re working with such—you can’t, you know, you can’t be thinner and fatter at the same time.
JS: And then you get a big role and you’ve got to take a massive role on. And even before you’ve done it they’re like ‘well she’s never going to cope with that, she’s never going to handle that.’
KK: Yeah and I think I’ve always had a ‘f
- k you,’ attitude and that’s helpful sometimes. So I think with Pride and Prejudice when I got that everyone was like ‘that’s terrible she can’t act and that’s going to be dreadful,’ publicly. And so I thought ‘well fk you,’ but it was also the first time I worked with dialogue coach Gill McCulloch, who I’ve worked with since Pride and Prejudice and in a way over my career she’s been the sort of stable and if you want to know about acting lessons she’s been my acting coach. She’d f*king hate me saying that, she’d be like ‘I don’t do that, piss off,’ but actually she’s been the person—
JS: You take your lessons where you can. What about the one where—that was your hatrick with Joe Wright, Anna Karenina, which is a massive role. And he was then, as you said he was eschewing naturalism, he went full non-naturalistic with Anna Karenina set it on a kind of soundstage, circus stage—
KK: His original plan was to do it in a naturalistic way and then they found out the budget was twice what the budget he had was so suddenly he had to be very creative.
JS: Well it was very creative, I remember I came down to the set and I remember seeing you there and do you know what always struck me? The scene we’re about to see here is actually the scene I think you were shooting when I was there, with a young man called Aaron Johnson at the time, and he’s Vronsky and you’re Anna, and I remember you walking around with a big folder of notes. So you’d had all your hair and makeup done and you had this massive folder of notes, like a ledger.
KK: It was to terrify everybody.
JS: I thought you were going to hit me with it. I mean it had tabs and you were really immersed in it, and I thought ‘oh God you’re really researching here, you’re really making sure… And Joe said ‘yeah, she knows absolutely everything.’’
KK: I terrified him. I almost knew the book off by heart. F
- king Tolstoy, I f*king knew a Tolstoy book off by heart.
It was a bit much. Bit A
- student there again.
JS: I didn’t know that was your method.
KK: Well it wasn’t. Anna Karenina came at some point, and it all gets a bit hazy, I did my first theatre job which was a version of The Misanthrope and that was the first time that I’d seen actors prepare and I’d been in a rehearsal room for five weeks; I worked with the amazing director who is still a great friend Thea Sharrick and also her assistant director at that point was Rob Ike, so Rob was put on to me, he was still a friend, and he was my acting coach. So I’d learned a lot from that experience and after that I’d done A Dangerous Method which was a film about Jung and Freud and their first patient who suffered from hysteria and I’d done so much research about that—
JS: She was a real person wasn’t she?
KK: She was a real person but what an interesting—the chance to—
JS: With Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender and David Cronenberg.
KK: And David Cronenberg and the chance to explore Jung and Freud and I didn’t know anything about them. That was extraordinary and I suddenly realised a lot of the problems I’d been having on set when I was in the theatre, I realised it was stage fright and that actually major preparation helps stage fright because suddenly with stage fright what happens is you clam up, so any ideas you think you might have in the moment it’s impossible to find them because you’re just sort of going ‘I don’t know what to do and people are looking at me,’ so I found that if I have a big binder and I have lots of—a lot of it is because I’m dyslexic so everything has to be colour coded or I can’t see it, if I have it all there then I know that if I’m feeling that thing and I know I’ve had ideas that I want to kind of play with but suddenly I’m terrified and I can’t remember them, I can go into my big binder and find all my ideas that I’ve gone through.
JS: Well I think you found a lot of them in the idea we’re about to see. I think it demonstrates exactly that fluidity that was on that set and Anna’s character that we see. Very difficult to control what she’s going to be doing in this scene, as Aaron finds out as Vronsky. Here’s Anna Karenina.
Told him off as well.
KK: She’s a bit tense, isn’t she?
JS: But you grew that performance, do you know what I mean? That was—there was intensity in that performance but it grew to full tragic heroine.
KK: Yes, I mean I got really interested—in researching A Dangerous Method there was a line that I got really interested in from a book, I don’t know which one, but that really struck me and wasn’t useful for Dangerous Method, and obviously this is not for every, but in this particular instance, ‘suicide is the shy person’s homicide.’ And I thought that was a really interesting, terrifying notion. So that was kind of what I hung Anna Karenina on and the chance to explore female rage, which you don’t often get the chance to explore.
Anna Karenina is a super tricky one because in the book I don’t think that Tolstoy starting writing it as Anna being the heroine; I think she’s the anti-heroine. He started writing Anna Karenina about a man, a very moral man, whose wife commits a crime against him. And the problem doing Anna Karenina now for a modern audience is you go, ‘of course she’d leave him, she doesn’t love him, of course she should leave.’ But the construct of the book is that Anna is the baddie, that’s not what you’re meant to do. You’re meant to stay with your husband, he is a moral, good man. And of course the good side of it is the pure love which is Kitty and I can’t remember the name of the other character—
JS: Domhnall Gleeson
KK: Domhnall Gleeson’s character, yeah. It’s a very tricky one to balance as a story for a modern audience. And normally what people do is they get rid of the other side of the story and make Anna into just a heroine and she can be good and then that’s fine. And I was less interested in that version.
JS: There’s a mischief in it as well. And the sets that were constructed were constricting and everyone was on show all the time.
KK: Technically it was very tricky. It was those slabs of mirror; it was a very, very, very tricky shoot. It was maintain this unbelievable tension in this person but kind of roll into shot and it would be in a sliver of mirror and the light would have to hit it and hit you in a particular way and then the other person would have to take over and the focus would have to hit them perfectly. So it was take after take after take after take and very, very, very, very technical, so it was exhausting. It was the only time I’ve ever not intentionally but totally taken the character home. And my then boyfriend, now husband, f
- *king miracle that we stayed together after that, was like, ‘I really don’t want to live with Anna Karenina ever again.
JS: The hair, as well.
KK: The hair, actually, this was the second time with Ivana Primorac who did Atonement and then The Imitation Game and Collette, who’s a great friend. She did the wigs and everything for Anna Karenina.
JS: We’ll talk about her I think in a bit. You’ve mentioned it now so I’m going to move on back to period again but a different period, in The Imitation Game, which got you a Supporting Actress Oscar nod opposite Benedict Cumberbatch. It finds you in that forties vein again, in that twinset. You seem to find a modernity—I know at the time people said ‘oh she’s doing more period,’ but you always find a modernity in them, they seem like nowadays.
KK: I always think they are. I don’t think we’re that different. What happens when we’re put into extreme situations—Brexit’s happening, what’s going to happen then? You know, what happens to us, how do we behave? With the Second World War I suppose that’s the last time war has come to our shores. Being a Londoner you see the scars of it all around London; what was it like when death was raining from the sky? I find the reality when you actually read the rate of STDs went skyrocketing during the Second World War, the rate of pregnancies out of wedlock went skyrocketing; people were living life in a very extreme way because they might die the next day. I think I’ve always found that period of time fascinating.
JS: You did Edge of Love as well.
KK: Edge of Love. Got another one coming out called The Aftermath. It’s the period of time that I’ve done the most and it is the one I’m most interested in I suppose.
JS: Well the tailoring suits you.
KK: And the clothes look great.
JS: They do, they look really good on you. In this clip I think you look fantastic in this clip. This is Morten Tyldum directing you and Benedict in The Imitation Game and this is the scene where he tells you he’s gay.
You’ve gone from telling them off to actually given them a slap now.
KK: Yeah, violence, yeah.
JS: It was a good slap. He deserved it.
KK: A great slap.
JS: I love the bit where you sort of go for another one.
KK: Yes. Yes, maybe, who knows.
JS: I love that angle on you as well, that’s a beautiful close up there where you're trembling and just the rage is there.
KK: All bubbling underneath the surface, you know, it’s always quite good that isn’t it? Drama-wise. It’s always kind of when does it explode out and how much do you keep it down? It was—Benedict was in Atonement as well playing a really creepy character and we’d become great friends on that, so it’s a nice thing when you get to go back and work with people you’ve worked with before because there’s just a nice easy rapport.
JS: That film did well internationally, as I said there were Oscar nominations, and then you’ve talked about Carey Mulligan and BAFTA nominations, of course, and you have Benedict and Carey Mulligan we talked about earlier, and Joe Wright… Do you feel that there’s a sort of British kind of group that we do pretty well around the world.
KK: Yeah we do.
JS: Coming out of here, this room, we kind of spread the word and people love what we do. Do you all get together and think we’re a close-knit crew as we go around the place, you work together a lot.
KK: I think you go back to that Pride and Prejudice cast and just the girls, me, Carey and Ros and obviously the brilliant Jena Malone and Talulah Riley as well, they’ve done extraordinarily well. Joe really knows when he casts, he knows what he’s doing, you know. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, he’s done alright as well.
JS: No American’s ever said to you ‘we want you Brits because you’re so good at—‘ no one’s ever said that to you?
KK: I think we’re cheaper, which always helps. No they haven’t. Actually I don’t know what the answer to that is. I think each of us—I can only talk from having worked with Ros and having worked with Carey twice and Benedict twice—they’re obsessed by what they do, they’re obsessed by getting better. Nobody is sitting there going ‘f
- *k it, this is how I do it, this is what I’m doing.’ It’s an absolute obsession with craft. And I’m sure there are many Americans and I can’t speak for them, you know, Emily Blunt who will probably be in the biggest film of this year I should imagine, is another one—
JS: With Emily Mortimer as well, another one.
KK: With Emily Mortimer, exactly. Yeah I mean I don’t know. I like working in England.
JS: You’ve always come back.
KK: Yeah I know where my home is and I know which culture I’m really interested in. And I like working here. I think we have amazing crews, and that’s not to say there aren’t in different places in the world, but the work ethic I think is really great and I think there’s a real sense, it’s never ‘oh I’ve made it so that’s enough,’ it’s always, ‘how can I achieve more? How can I get better?’ It’s not like I want to sit here and we’ll all just earn the money and f
- *k it. It really matters. All those people and it’s ridiculous to say but when you’re making something it feels like the most important thing in the world. And of course it isn’t, but for that moment I don’t know really how you create anything without thinking in the moment that it is.
JS: Well yeah you’re believing in it. I remember saying to you years ago that I’d love to see you doing some sort of French art-house thing for a French auteur, that you’d be great at that. And now you sort of are. Even though it’s not French.
KK: Not in French.
JS: Not French, but you’re playing a French.
KK: Yes I’m playing French.
JS: You’re Colette. Colette is your new film which is out in the UK the first week of January, which is produced by Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen who will be honoured by BAFTA, this very august institution, come the awards and let’s hope Colette is too because it’s a beautiful piece of work, looks absolutely gorgeous and yeah, I think it’s another hugely complicated role. Just tell us about her character because she’s very famous in France as a novelist but wasn’t at the time, wasn’t given her dues.
KK: Well I didn’t know anything about her before, I’d read one of her novels Chéri, and I’d read The Last of Chéri which I totally loved but I really didn’t know anything about her life. This film is just dealing with her first marriage where her husband Willy, who was the most famous man of the day pretty much. If you think of Belle Epoch Paris, that being the height of, the centre of the cultural world, and Willy was the most famous person there. So she married this unbelievably famous man who had a factory of writers and she joined his factory and just happened to be a genius, is that fair to say? And he took credit for her first four novels. The film is the story of that relationship and how she eventually understands that she needs her own voice and she needs her name on her work.
JS: I want to stop you there because the clip that we’ve got is the moment where—
KK: Where she’s deciding that?
JS: Before she goes on to change.
KK: So you mean don’t give anything away?
JS: Don’t spoil it! It’s not out yet, people haven’t seen it. Or maybe they have to vote. But the clip we’re going to see is with Fiona Shaw, who is fantastic every time she turns up on screen, it’s exciting.
JS: It’s a short clip, but very poignant.
I guess she kind of does redefine marriage in a way, opening it up.
KK: Yep. Well—yeah, they opened it up, yeah. And there were other people. Yeah.
JS: It’s a sexy film, as well.
KK: Sure yeah. Yep, there’s sex. It was sort of I think the main challenge I suppose is it starts when she’s nineteen and finishes when she’s thirty-four. So that’s quite a growth and with me and Wash it was just trying to chart that and knowing exactly where we were. He got me to watch a Sissy Spacek film called The Coal Miner’s Daughter, which is a wonderful film, and he sort of said, ‘do that but way less.’ I thought ‘oh OK, cool.’ It’s just about a person growing into their own skin.
JS: I do think it’s—a because it’s the one you’ve done most recently so technically it is probably your most mature role, you are at your oldest doing it—
KK: I am at my oldest, yeah.
JS: But in the context there is a growth in that film and I feel that this film is a step forward for you in terms of what roles you might get in the future. You’ve sort of become someone else.
KK: I think yeah, you know, I’m in a nice place where because I’m known for period films I’m in a position where I can kind of break that as well. So the style of acting is actually very much more into that American naturalism style that you wouldn’t normally traditionally put into that English period film. So if you take The Imitation Game it’s much more of that traditional kind of English period film acting, which I love, by the way, that’s not to do it down. But with Colette I think we were all quite interested in breaking that down and actually you know to go against where Joe was going with that stylisation thing, going back to a more American naturalism sort of vibe but within this French period context.
JS: It’s a great French period as well.
KK: It’s a great French period.
JS: If you were going to live in a period in France you’d kind of go for that one.
KK: You’d go for that one, not the one where they were chopping people’s heads off, no.
JS: They’d recovered nicely. A lot of sex.
KK: A lot of sex, yes.
JS: And dancing.
KK: Yes, I come out of a sarcophagus dressed as some sort of Cleopatra-esque vibe, which was interesting. It was shot for a lot less than the other period films we’ve seen so that meant that we had less time to do it which meant a lot less rehearsal time, so I think I got three rehearsals for my dance sequence in it, which again maybe you haven’t seen it, maybe you have, but that was quite hairy. But you know it happened.
JS: Well whatever the budget was it looks a million dollars.
KK: Yeah, which is the most important thing.
JS: A lot more than a million dollars.
JS: In a good way. And so do you, you’re fantastic in Colette. I want to wish you the best of luck with that when it comes out and a big success here. Ladies and gentlemen, I have hogged Keira for a very long time, so it is my turn to throw her open to the masses, to the people. There are millions of questions, so I’m going to start with the gentleman in the red t-shirt if that’s allowed first.
Q: Keira, thank you so much for an entertaining evening so far. My question to you is actually: How has motherhood changed your creative choices? Because obviously Michael Douglas said in 1984 he did Romancing the Stone because he felt there were movies out there he couldn’t take his child to, so I’m just curious to know how has motherhood shaped your—how will it shape your creative choices in the future?
KK: Oh God I’ve been really selfish about that one. Well you know, The Nutcracker, she can maybe see that. It’s more literally where it’s filmed is going to have a big impact. So I’ve had to let something go next year that I really wanted to do but it was in a place that I couldn’t take her to that didn’t have the facilities that I would have needed. So that’s going to be majorly, you know, suddenly decisions where it’s never been about where something’s shot is suddenly going to be ‘no, I can’t take her to the middle of nowhere.’ And also the timeframes I can do it in; she goes to school in September, which means I’m going to be very much trying to find work around her summer holidays or around her holidays so that we’re not separated for too long. So that’s going to have implications on what sort of projects I can do and stuff like that. But as far as the creative side, there’s enough kids films out, she doesn’t need to watch me in kid’s films.
JS: Does it change the style of acting, you as a person? There’s facets now of human beings that—
KK: I’m assuming there’s quite a lot of parents in this room? I mean it explodes everything doesn’t it? So everything’s been exploded and you build it back up and yes of course that’s going to completely change the way I see the world and therefore the way that I portray characters, definitely.
JS: Thank you for your question. There was, I think there was one in the same row if we could get a microphone. Yes, there she is. You’ve got fans pointing at you. The blonde woman.
Q: Hi Keira. You’re such an inspiration with what you stand for and I was just wondering for young women, I’m eighteen going on nineteen, what advice would you give someone pursuing a professional career not necessarily in film but just in the world we live in today?
KK: Ooh. Keep fighting. Never stop fighting. They’ll tell you it’s impossible, don’t f
- *king listen to them. That’s what I’d go for.
JS: Is that across the board, not just acting?
KK: No, not just acting, of course not just acting. You know, I think we’ve all seen all of the statistics. We’ve all seen the pay differences for the same jobs. It’s all out there. There’s a fight to be had. I think what’s been really inspiring in your generation is you’re taking it on. You’ve all stood up and gone ‘this is not good enough,’ and you’re right, it’s not good enough. And so therefore you must fight and be loud and not sit down and not be told that it’s OK because it isn’t, and not be told that it’s normal because it’s not. Yes.
Q: Thank you very much for such amazing and beautiful work. You’re obviously drawn to classical literature, what would be your dream roles in that type of literature in the future that you’d love to play?
KK: Oh God, I don’t know. In literature I’m not sure. It’s always been Josephine Bonaparte or Joan of Arc, obviously.
Actually I go for the Frenchies. Josephine Bonaparte has been an obsession, or Josephine de Beauharnais, which is really, really interesting when she’s locked up in the Carmes. F
- *king fascinating. So that part of history I love. The Terror actually, it doesn’t have many laughs, but really interesting.
JS: There you go, so if you’ve got a script… Two people on the end there, the lady with her hand up there.
Q: Hiya. Thank you so much. What’s been your most challenging character to prepare and how did you overcome those challenges?
KK: I mean I think it was Anna Karenina and again it goes back to that technical thing, partly because when we first started talking about it, it was meant to be a naturalistic version which was a whole different way of thinking about it. And then when it suddenly became what it became I think I’d prepared the idea of a character which probably would have been a hell of a lot easier shooting in the way that David Cronenberg shoots, which is he does two or three shots maximum, you do one or two takes maximum and then you can kind of play these parts that are really sort of fraught and tense because as far as energy levels go they’re kind of there and gone. By preparing Anna Karenina in the way that I had, I hadn’t anticipated thirty-five takes of turning into a mirror and getting that tear to drop exactly at that point when you turn into that slither of mirror reflecting you and that light hitting exactly that. I hadn’t. So I think for those two reasons that one was most difficult.
JS: The gentleman in front of you with the scarf.
Q: Thank you for a very informative and inspirational talk. I just wanted to ask: you’ve worked in classical literature, independent film, feature film and big Disney productions. We now have the emergence of virtual reality and new immersive mediums. I just wanted to gauge if you had any experience with that or any interest in it, because it’s particularly interesting to find out whether actors are looking towards that new medium for their careers or are aware of it, even.
KK: I’m a technophobe, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask that question to. No, I mean I’ve done a lot of green screen and that’s really tricky. Yeah I think probably it will go towards virtual reality. I was actually weirdly talking to a friend today who’d just bought these virtual reality goggles and we were trying to figure out that you can watch films with them now, can’t you, and how does that work? Are you in the film, are you part of the film, do you look all around? And how do you shoot that if that’s going to be a thing? Yes, I should imagine it’ll go that way, but I don’t know how that’s going to be done.
JS: Just wait for Josephine Bonaparte.
KK: The Terror. You’re going to have your head chopped off and be in the centre of it.
JS: We do have time for one more question. There’s two down here, a double act. Are you together? You are together, that’s nice.
Wait for a microphone.
Q: Thank you Keira for a lovely, lovely evening. My question is would you ever consider directing a film?
KK: Would I consider? Right now, no. Because my kid is really small and it’s really tiring. No you know I think what directors have to be brilliant at as well as the creative side is the management of people and as an actor you can simply be in your own bubble and you don’t have to really participate in the management of different egos and getting different things from people. It’s almost like being a diplomat really, isn’t it. I was watching this thing about the Foreign Office, I don’t know if anyone else has seen it, and I thought, ‘f
- k I couldn’t be a diplomat I’d just be going in there like ‘f*k off!’,’ which obviously you cannot do if you’re a director or a diplomat.
So at the point I realise how to put that back in my mouth I might think more about being a director. But never a diplomat.
JS: You could probably sort out Brexit like that though.
KK: Maybe, who knows!
JS: God knows she must think that every day, poor woman. The gentleman next to you.
Q: That was it.
JS: Enough glory for you. There was one more question I think we’ve just got time. Right at the back, I’m going to make you do one last sprint all the way to the back for our final question. This is one of those pauses. He’s right at the back, right in the corner.
Q: Hi. I noticed that you have a producing involvement in a film in development, at least if IMDb Pro is correct, and I’m curious what sort of producing involvement you’re hoping to have, what sort of projects?
KK: I think there’s two actually. Yeah, yeah there is. There’s two—I don’t know what to say about one of them. One of them was an idea I wanted to have and it actually transpired that two friends of mine who are producers already owned the rights to it, so we’ve coupled up and gotten the first draft of a script which is great, and the other one is with Fox Searchlight, which again is based on a book and my agents went ‘look are you interested in this?’ and I went ‘yes I’m interested in this so let’s try and put it together and have lots of discussions about which writers we want and how we see it going and what format we want it in.’ You know I think there’s a reality which is, I think possibly I might have to create my own work, so I’ve got to look at it in a realistic way and try and create that work.
JS: Why do you say that? Because of your situation, because of Edie and you not wanting to travel and you get more agency when you do it?
KK: You do get more agency when you do it but no I think the field is pretty crowded, realistically. And I think in order to survive possibly I’ll have to take control of that, possibly.
JS: Well I can’t wait for you to do that. You’re doing alright anyway as we’ve seen today.
JS: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s say nearly twenty years of an extraordinary life in pictures. Please thank Keira Knightley.
KK: Thank you very much. Thank you.