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by Nigel M Smith
September 8, 2012 1:00 PM
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'Anna Karenina' Herself Keira Knightley On Playing the Literary Icon and Why She Wants to Return to 'Pure Entertainment'

Focus "Anna Karenina"

Back when Keira Knightley became a household name thanks to her feisty turn in the summer smash "Pirates of the Caribbean," few probably predicted she'd end up where she is today as one of the most acclaimed and risk taking actresses of her generation.

Save for reuniting with that film's producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, for "King Arthur" and the two "Pirates" sequels, Knightley has for the most part stuck to challenging and unpredictable choices, her latest being Leo Tolstoy's titular doomed romantic heroine in "Anna Karenina."

The period epic marks her third collaboration with director Joe Wright, following "Atonement" and "Pride & Prejudice," for which she was nominated for her first Oscar. While their two previous films together were straight up film adaptations of their source novels, "Anna Karenina" finds Wright performing a highwire act by setting much of the Russian epic (adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard) on an actual stage.

[Editor's Note: This interview originally ran during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. "Anna Karenina" opens in select theaters this Friday via Focus Features.

Indiewire sat down with Knightley in Toronto, prior to the film premiering on Friday night, to discuss her take on the character, and her return to blockbuster fare with her upcoming role in "Jack Ryan," opposite Chris Pine.

Focus "Anna Karenina"

Congratulations on a beautiful work.

It's an extraordinary thing.

To be expected from Joe Wright.

To be expected from Joe Wright in a very unexpected way.

So I'd like to start out with a weird admission. "Bend It Like Beckham" is always treated as your breakout film, but I first remember seeing you in the teen horror film "The Hole," opposite Thora Birch.

Wow, there you go. That has never ever come up before. I actually got "Bend It" because of "The Hole." It never got an American release.

What's it like to look back on that and see where you are today?

Um, I don't know that I have looked back on that [laughs]. No, it's extraordinary. To realize I've been doing this pretty solidly for ten years -- it's an amazing thing. I have this big body of work; some that I'm proud of, some that I'm less proud of. There's been lot of experiences.

I haven't see "The Hole" since it came out. A lot of people talk about "Bend It Like Beckham." I haven't seen it since I was 17, but it's still sort of relevant. Teenage girls still come up to me, and go, "I love that film." So yeah, I feel very lucky that I've worked on a number of films that have been kept alive.

Do you revisit your own work?

I haven't revisited anything yet. No, I've pretty much only seen things when they first come out. I will maybe at some point. It's funny.

Have you seen "Anna Karenina" yet?

I did. I only saw it two days ago for the first time.

"Before two days ago, I didn't know whether it worked or not [laughs]."

Were you able to step back and appreciate it for what it is?

I think particularily with something like this, because the concept is such an extraordinary thing. To tell you the truth, there were so many different ways it could have been cut together. Within the performance, there were a lot of options as to how harsh…she could have really been the villain. We took it to that extreme while we were shooting it. We were walking a tight rope right down the middle. It was interesting to see where he took it.

Just seeing it the other day, what was in and what wasn't, was really interesting. Before two days ago, I didn't know whether it worked or not [laughs]. I'm really proud of it. It's always difficult from a performance point of view, because you never play the character the same way twice. Coming at it from a year -- I did it a year ago -- you can't remember what the choices were about. It's always going to be something that some people don't get. It's especially risky.

Technically, the shoot must have been so challenging for you. You don't just hit your mark and deliver your lines. The film's plays like an extended dance sequence, the way that Wright staged it.

Yes. We had about three weeks of rehearsal before we started. A lot of that was movement based. Joe got absolutely fascinated with how to bring movement more into film performances. I think it will be something that he keeps working on. The reason that you don't have movement in film, is because the closeup is so in vogue at the moment. So most of the time actors don't use their entire body, they just use their face. It was an interesting process to do these workshops. The rehearsal between me and Aaron, we didn't really work on the script much at all. We did a ton of movement based improvisations to chart out the characters' journey.

It was a tough one, because a lot of times when you do stylistic work, the performances have to remain quite minimal because you're doing it 14, 15 times with different set ups. But we knew we wanted to keep that emotional intensity to her, because if she was entirely rational all the time, she wouldn't do the things that she did. She works from her emotions.

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