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'Anna Karenina' Herself Keira Knightley On Playing the Literary Icon and Why She Wants to Return to 'Pure Entertainment'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire September 8, 2012 at 1:00PM

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.
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"Anna Karenina"
Focus "Anna Karenina"

Going back to the extremes of Anna -- how did you approach playing her? Do you see her as a villain?

The ambiguity I think is what we both found so exciting. She's an extraordinary creature because she's everything. She's an innocent and a victim. But she's also guilty and manipulative and needy, as well as being this wonderful, energetic person.

I read the book for the first time in my late teens, and I remember just being swept away and thinking it was so romantic and wonderful. Coming back to it last summer, I suddenly went, whoa, this is really different from what I remember. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I think Tolstoy hated her at some points while writing it. He is holding her up to be judged. It's almost like he's going, this is the whole of Babylon. This is the destructive female.

It's probably why it's been done so many times. You can't quite get to grips with her. As much as you hate her sometimes and judge her, the character equally makes you go, am I any better than you? Am I not also deceitful? The people that we often hurt the most, are the people we love the most. We are all as guilty, and as innocent, as she is. Hopefully to less extremes.

With this and "Pride & Prejudice," Joe Wright has had you embody two of the most beloved literary icons. Are you forever grateful to him?

Yeah, massively. And to Working Title I have to say. It was Working Title who were forcing his hand with me on "Pride & Prejudice." He didn't originally want me. We had this funny meeting in Montreal for the first time, and it didn't go well. It was partly because I was shooting something else and I had to get up at five the next morning, and his plane was three hours delayed. He came in and he was pissed off because he had had to fly in all the way to Montreal, and he already didn't want me. So he was like, what the fuck. We had a strange meeting.

Working Title made him meet me again, and it was that second meeting in London where were both like, oh…

"Pride & Prejudice"
Focus "Pride & Prejudice"

What cinched the deal?

He says it was because I looked so scruffy. I think we told each other to fuck off quite quickly.

Professionally, when did it hit you that you had a good thing going?

It was instant. He did "Nature Boy" for TV, which had also been a massive favorite of mine. It's always easier to work with someone when you love their work.

Now the three times you've collaborated with Joe, you've done period love stories, two of them tragic. The two times he's worked without you, he did films set in the present day -- one of them an action flick. Are you egging to do something completely different with him?

I don't know! I mean, yeah. We're really into the idea of this being some weird literary trilogy. We liked that. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the kind of creative relationship that I've had with him.

"Do you know, at the end of "Anna" I realized that for five years I have played people who have pretty much died. Even in the fucking comedy everyone dies."

At those points where people were like, nah she's shit, he's always been such a mascot telling me I could do it. He's been a support for my entire career, well for the last eight years (the proper professional bit). That's an extraordinary thing. Whether we do anything else after this, who knows. You never know.

I was surprised to learn you were cast in the CIA action picture "Jack Ryan," as Chris Pine's wife. It seems like a departure for you.

Yeah, I don't do that. I don't play wives!

Tell me why this role is not what I think it is.

[Laughs]. Do you know, at the end of "Anna" I realized that for five years I have played people who have pretty much died. Even in the fucking comedy everyone dies. I wanted to do something a bit more upbeat. So this year I've stuck to pure entertainment, which I haven't done since the last "Pirates" movie, which was nearly six years ago.

"Jack Ryan" is totally pure Hollywood entertainment. As far as having just the wife, I'm going to try to work really hard to make sure she's not 'just the wife.' It's a challenge. But I'm always up for a challenge. You have to kind of just go with it.
 

This article is related to: Interviews, Anna Karenina, Keira Knightley, Toronto International Film Festival