It’s the End of the World and She Feels Fine
by Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 21, 2012.
We’ve seen Keira Knightley playing so many dour, serious roles in so many period pieces that it can sometimes be easy to forget that she is just a normal, young, friendly actress. However, if you sit with her, like I did recently in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, her clothes casual and modern and an impish smile playing around her face and dancing eyes, any preconceptions you may have taken from her movie roles quickly disappear.
We’ve watched Keira Knightley growing up, so sometimes it feels like we know her. A child actress who first caught our attention in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Bend it Like Beckham, Knightley became a star when taking on the role of Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Since then she has been able to juggle art-house hits (getting an Oscar nomination for Pride and Prejudice as well as acclaim for Atonement), big budget, commercial films (The Pirates movies, Domino, King Arthur, Love Actually) and quirky independent features (A Dangerous Method, London Boulevard).
Knightley’s latest role is in the bittersweet romantic comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, in which two lost souls find each other in the final weeks of life on Earth. The film was directed by first-timer Lorene Scafaria (screenwriter of Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist). It co-stars Knightley with Steve Carell as Penny and Dodge, two neighbors who never really met until it is announced that the world will be ending in three weeks. While trying to get their lives in some kind of order for the end, they end up growing closer as their time quickly ticks away.
Later this year, Knightley will be reteaming with director Joe Wright, who directed her in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, for a new version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic book Anna Karenina.
A couple of weeks before Seeking a Friend opens across the country, we sat down with Knightley to discuss her career and the films.
Would you consider this a comedy about the end of the world?
No, I’d say it has comic moments. I wouldn’t call it a comedy, but I can’t find one of those nice phrases that it fits into. People have said dramedy. I don’t know. Romantic… it’s not really a romantic comedy. I can’t really find the correct one.
What did you think about Penny?
I just really liked her. I loved the script. I’d never read anything like it. I love the idea of taking this subject matter that is sort of as death, doom and destruction as you could possibly get, and then putting this other twist on it. It’s kind of, I suppose, comic, but also just making it incredibly personal and very small. You see a film about the end of the world and you think it’s going to be an action blockbuster and there are going to be heroes. I love the idea that you take people from a suburban place who can’t quite figure out what to do with themselves. They’re still having the same problems as they’ve been having for their entire life. Just trying to deal with that. I loved all of that.
So you didn’t expect Michael Bay to be the director…?
No, I definitely didn’t. (laughs)
Do you ever think about the end of the world and what you would do if you were in their position?
No. I hope that I wouldn’t know about it. I wouldn’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss. If anyone said, “You’ve got 20 days to go,” I’d just be in the corner, crying. I’d be terrified. So, no, I haven’t…
I thought it was interesting that Penny carried around all of her old vinyl LPs everywhere. That was the one item she wanted to save.
Yeah. I know.
If you were in that position, what do you think you’d be sure to save and keep close?
The thing about those albums was, she was dragging around the albums, but she wasn’t dragging around anything to play them on. I personally would find that really annoying. I would probably just get as many bottles of alcohol as possible. I wouldn’t want to be sober if it was the end of the world. That would be horrendous. So, wine, and a lot of it.
Do you think the albums were like a teddy bear or something, just something for her to clutch?
I think they were how she could make sense of the world. They were the things that she… I think, like so many music lovers, they become such a personal [thing]. Memories are completely tied up with music, so people and times of her life would have been completely tied up to those things. She was almost carrying around her life with her, in a way.
Would you have any records you’d want?
You know, I don’t really have the same thing. I like music. I’m not a music lover. It’s weird, because a lot of my close friends and family mates and members are totally obsessed by music. I’ve always, for some reason, been attracted by people who are. I suppose in the way you are attracted by any enthusiast of anything. I don’t have that. It’s always been a quiet mystery. I really like it. I can listen to it. But I could equally sit there and it be silent and I wouldn’t miss it.
You don’t have any songs that make you nostalgic?
No, I don’t. I literally… it’s really weird, I remember it so clearly, I didn’t like music [as a child]. I actively didn’t listen to it throughout my teenaged years. I remember being like 11 and my best friends at that time were suddenly getting into music, and me still wanting to play. Suddenly, I was meant to be listening to boy bands, and I found it really offensive. I thought it was the boy bands’ fault. So I didn’t listen to it, literally, until I got into my early, mid-20s. Then I suddenly went, “Oh, hey, this is great. I get it.”
You’re marrying a musician. (It had just been announced that she was engaged to keyboard player James Righton of the Klaxons a week earlier).
I know. (laughs) I think that’s why.
Congratulations, by the way.
That’s a gorgeous engagement ring.
It is lovely. (Shows it.) He did very well.
Was that a big step to take the plunge?
(laughs) When have you ever known me to talk about personal facts? I’m wearing the ring. That’s as close as I can get to talking about personal facts. I can’t actually talk about it. (laughs again)
Steve is known more for his comic work, and you are known more for your dramatic roles. I thought it was an interesting pairing. How was he to work with?
Lovely. He’s just a wonderful man. You meet people in every walk of life. He is just one of the world’s brilliant people. He’s so giving and generous – giving and generous are the same thing, but you know – he’s supportive and funny. He’s very quiet. You meet a lot of comics and they are very in-your-face, it’s one joke after another. It’s almost like a defense mechanism. He’s completely the opposite of that. He makes everybody around him feel like they are funny, which is a gift, I think. I don’t have enough good things to say about him.
Did his performance affect yours, draw out the comic side of you?
Yeah, his performance affected mine, because they always should. It’s sort of about bouncing off of each other. He is absolutely extraordinary, because I don’t think he plays Dodge for comedy. I think there was a way he could have played it where it would have been much more comedic. He chose not to do that. But, you’d find him finding the weirdest, most amazing comic beats within it. I’d watch him going: I’d never even think of [that]… Something physical. He’d always just be able to sprinkle in whatever he wanted. It was amazing to watch.
You just reteamed with [director] Joe Wright for the third time, to play Anna Karenina. You’ve had two extraordinary films with him already [Pride and Prejudice and Atonement]. How much pressure does that put on you to keep up?
It’s really weird. The first time we worked together, everybody was like, “He’s a TV director and she’s shit, so it’ll probably be shit” They really did. It was quite nice, because there wasn’t any pressure, though equally we were going, “God, people are really down on it.” The second time, it was the unfilmable novel, so again everybody was going “It’s going to be crap. They were just lucky on the first one. Nobody is going to make that.” Then it worked out. This time everyone is like, “Oh, no, it’s going to be good” and we’re like (slams her hand on table) “Shit!” So, I think I like the other two more than I like this one. I don’t know. He’s gone for a really, really ambitious, very theatrical take on it. I love what he’s chosen to do. It’s not in any way a classic telling of the story. It’s right out there. I think we both are like: if you’re going to go down, go down in flames. I really hope it works. I think it will. I’ve seen stuff and I think it looks amazing.
Do you mean like operatic tragedy, going to the heights…?
Not necessarily the performance that is the theatrical side of it. I think actually that’s not. I think it’s more the way the whole thing is done. The trailer will be out this week, so you’ll see kind of what I mean. I can’t actually quite describe it yet. You’re going to have to see some of it. It’s more the setting. It’s not a naturalistic setting. It’s a theatrical one.
Back to this film, one of its many strengths is its sense of humanity. How do you feel the advancement of modern technology is affecting the quality of human relationships, whether they are love or friends?
I don’t know. I don’t really do any of that. I suppose I don’t do it because I don’t feel that comfortable with it. I like the idea that if you are going to say something shitty about somebody, say it to their face or don’t say it at all. I think it allows a disconnect with humanity, which I find quite frightening. I think it also means that people can get very confused between the difference between information and knowledge. It gives a lot of information. I don’ t think you can get that much knowledge. Saying that, the connection and the ability for people to put work out there and for young filmmakers, young musicians, young writers to be able to have a forum where they don’t have to go through the traditional methods, is completely amazing. Getting out there and being able to tell a whole world of people about that is completely amazing. I think the other side of it is so vicious, but I don’t know that isn’t actually what we are like. I think it’s quite honest to what human beings are. There is an interesting part where the social norms are suddenly taken away and you really see humanity. It’s a quite frightening picture. But I don’t know if that frightening picture is a bad thing.
Why didn’t your play The Children’s Hour, this huge hit in London, come to Broadway?
We couldn’t get the schedules to work. It might do at some point, but we couldn’t get everybody together at the same time.
So New York is never going to see you on stage?
I think it will see me on stage, just maybe not in that one. (laughs) But, maybe. Who knows?
What do you get from theater that you don’t get from film?
It’s more of an active medium. Film is a director’s medium. You put together a performance and it’s kind of out of your hands. You can prepare it, you can go “this is what it is,” but ultimately, you’re going to have done it normally at least seven or eight different ways, from four or five different angles. Once it gets into the editing room, it is somebody else fitting it together. Either you’ve got them that he is really on the same line as you were, in which case it comes together and it’s really great, or you’ve got somebody who doesn’t quite get what you were doing or thinks they should have done it some other way. In which case, it’s [not so good]. Film, when it works, is such a fucking miracle. It takes so many people being on the same page to get out of that. Theater, if something is not working in a night, you can kind of fix it. You can feel when the audience is going with you. You’re telling the story every single night. You’re getting the arc of it every single night. You can feel when people are with you. You can feel when they are losing interest. You can move. It’s very exciting in that way. Film is always a guessing game. You don’t have the audience there, so you’re always trying to see (whispers) did that really work?
You have worked with so many well-respected directors. This is Lorene [Scafaria]’s first directing job. What was she like?
She’s great. She was amazingly decisive. I think that’s what’s incredible about Lorene. How confident (she was). You wouldn’t have thought she that was a first-time director. The first day, we were all kind of going, “Okay, she’s never been on set. How’s it going to go?” She was completely straight and telling you what she wanted. People were like, “Do you want it a bit different?” “Do you want it like this?” “Nope! That’s it. Exactly like that.” Okay.
She knew the tone she wanted?
Yeah, yeah, completely. Which was amazing.
Do you think that was because she wrote it?
I think that… yes, that had a lot to do with it. She was obviously very active in the casting. She knew who she wanted. She hadn’t written it with people in mind and had a very strong view of who those people should be. I think she got pretty much everyone she wanted. So I have to say that was probably steering it. But, yeah, I have to say, she wrote it, so she heard it, saw it and then filmed it. It was her complete vision.
Other than Steve, there are a lot of great talents in the supporting cast. Anyone you were particularly excited to work with?
I mean, Martin Sheen. (laughs) That was pretty amazing. Yeah, I’d say Martin Sheen was well up there.
Who came up with Penny’s wardrobe?
Again, it was Lorene. [She] had a really [strong] vision. Like, that dress. That lavender. She was completely, it’s got to be lavender. My thing was the military jacket. And it had to have a hood. And she was definitely the lavender dress. It was a combination. It’s lovely when you have a character who is slightly off the wall and kind of slightly on a different planet. It wouldn’t work if the clothes were too done. It had to be something that was thrown together and a bit mismatching.
Given the emotional intensity of your role and the situation, how did you shake off from that? How did you cleanse yourself from it?
I didn’t find you needed to cleanse yourself of her, because she was so positive. (laughs) As much as she could kind of does think, “God. the world is ending,” understandably, I think the essence of what is in the character is incredibly positive. It was somebody who, as much as she is going to go through the trials and tribulations of life, she is always going to be able to pick herself up and go, “My God, this sandwich tastes amazing.” She’s one of those people. It was just really nice playing her. You go through the emotional scenes, and well it’s what I do for a living, but actually you would always come back to somebody who was lovely. Whereas, you can play other characters where you don’t have that. Anna [Karenina], you take her home at the end of the day and that’s quite a grueling thing. (chuckles)
Does any of that come from you? Does Penny reflect your priorities?
She’s more positive than I am. I’d love to be as positive as Penny. I’m striving to be as positive as Penny.
Do people ever have to convince you to play a role that you feel is wrong for you?
No. Generally, if I think I’m not right for it, then I won’t meet them. I don’t want to waste people’s time. I think everything I do, it’s pretty much as soon as I’ve read it, I go, “Yes, that’s the one.”
At what point reading this script do you know if it is a character you have to play?
I normally wait until I get to the end. (laughs) I don’t think I ever read a script and go through it and it’ll be like the second scene and I go, “Oh, no, this is definitely it.” It’s always how the whole thing just washes over me. This one, as soon as I got to the end of it, I signed up immediately and said, “Yes, get me on the phone with her. I think this is just great.” So, I said yes on the phone to Lorene I think that afternoon or something.
So you don’t count your lines?
No, I don’t. (laughs) I don’t do any of that.
Your bio mentions your charity work. I was interested in how you got involved with children with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
Oh, my great friend Thea [Sharrock], who directed me in The Misanthrope (Knightley’s West End stage debut in 2009), her nephew has it, so she asked me to be a patron of the charity that her brother started. I said of course. I’ve done very little for them, unfortunately. They haven’t asked me to do very much yet. (laughs) But yes, that is that one.
But your name helps them.
My name hopefully helps. I went to a dinner with her and they got a lot of money from that, so that’s very good, you know? So far that’s all they’ve asked me to do.
Do you think that is the best trade off with your celebrity? We often hear loss of privacy, you’re chased around the street. Is this a way to use it for something with an upside?
Yeah. I think you have to be very careful that you don’t use it too much. People get very… they see too much of people and they actually stop going, “I should give to that.” But I think it’s that with any charity. Everybody would give. Everybody would try to do something that would help somebody else, you know? If somebody turns to me and says, “Can you please come to this dinner?” Yes, of course. If that will help. I don’t know if it always will. But, yes.
The role in this film is unusual for what we’ve seen of you. Did it feel unusual to you, getting into the character?
Yes and no. Yes, it did, I’ve been doing a lot of tragic stuff. I’d just finished Children’s Hour, which was onstage, every single night, my best friend is blowing her brains out. For four months, that was pretty testing. I really did want to play something that was not like that. There is a sense of it being like a palette cleanser, which I have to say I’m doing with the next one, as well. Playing Anna Karenina, I just got to the end and was like, I can’t. Actually, I got offered a film with somebody really great, but it was so dark. I said, “Normally I’d say yes to this, but actually I can’t face doing another one.” So, I’m going to go off and do something nice and positive, which is something called Can a Song Save Your Life? with Mark Ruffalo. It’s something very different for me, again, but it’s something that is rather joyous.
Is it about a radio program?
No. It’s about a washed-up A&R man and a singer-songwriter trying to make an album together. It’s just very joyous and I would like that, yes, please, right now. (laughs) Let’s put something positive out there, not all this doom and gloom.
Do you ever think you’d want to direct a movie, yourself?
I don’t know. Yes and no. The directors I’ve worked with who I’ve really, really loved and really respect have given absolutely everything for those films. I’m not quite sure that I’m willing to do that. And I wouldn’t want to direct unless I would be willing to do that. So if there is a point in my life where I went, “This is a story meant to be. I could give up a good year and a half [for it].” Then, yes. But, unless I was willing to give that, I wouldn’t.
Is being engaged changing your enthusiasm to work?
I think that would change naturally anyway. When you first become successful, you obviously want to take every single opportunity and you want to do as much as you can. Then later you realize that whole life/work balance was really… there was very little life and a hell of a lot of work. I think there is always a point in your life where you go, “Oh, I want to redress that and want to make sure I do spend the time with the people I love.” That definitely means that you don’t have your foot all the way down on the accelerator of the career, but I really love movies and I really want to make really excellent movies. I think my work improves when I have life experience and when I don’t go job to job to job. When I actually take a step back and then come back to it. Then I’m the person I want to be on the set, which is a positive person, and not a person that is too tired. That’s very important to me.
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 21, 2012.
Photos ©2012. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.