Is it unprofessional to say that I fell in love with Keira Knightley? Maybe it’s just creepy. At any rate, it’s almost completely true. A couple of weeks before I did the press day for Pride & Prejudice I had been in LA and had done the press day for Domino. Knightley looked pretty ragged – she was obviously exhausted, and the press day for that film was a complete zoo. She seems bright and quick and sharp, but not like some sort of goddess.
And then she came to New York for Pride. She was much more engaged at this press day, and much less tired. And she smiled. She smiled again and again. I believe that Keira Knightley has the most amazing smile in modern film, and she turned it on me no less than three times (I counted).
Pride & Prejudice is now playing in wide release. It’s a really wonderful movie, and it brings a lot of life to what could have been a stuffy and dull period piece. Go see it!
Q: Is it true that the minute Matthew Macfadyen walked in and started doing the audition with you that you knew he the one?
Knightley: It was amazing. He’s absolutely a sensational actor. I saw him on stage, and he was mind-blowing. Then he did this TV show called Spooks [MI-5 in the US], and I was such a fan of it, but I couldn’t imagine him as Mr. Darcy. I was a huge fan of the BBC version so I had Colin Firth imprinted in my head, but Joe [Wright] said, "No, I’m really sure about this and you’ve got to come in and meet him." So I met him and he was lovely and I still couldn’t imagine it, and we read the famous proposal scene in the rain and it just worked.
We did a lot of auditions with different Darcys, and they were all fantastic but there was that one thing or another that hadn’t quite clicked. With Matthew, the first time we read it, we really clicked. It wasn’t in the script or anything like that. It’s just what naturally happened when we were playing the scene in the room.
Q: Have you been waiting to show off classical chops on film?
Knightley: Only because I like Jane Austen and I love a good costume drama. There’s nothing I love more. They’re a way into complete fantasies and so romantic, so I love that kind of stuff. I do like classical things.
Q: Was it important to do a change up after Pirates of the Caribbean?
Knightley: It is important to change. It wasn’t specifically like, "oooh, I’ve got to change right now." It’s just the way I think I try and run my career. I’d get terribly bored if I was doing the same thing all the time. In life, I play everything very safe; I’m not a risk-taker at all, but in a professional sense I think you have to take risks and keep taking risks. Sometimes you’re going to make huge mistakes, but that’s fine because if you’re not taking risks then audiences will get bored. If I’m doing the same stuff all over again, I’m going to get so bored it’s unbelievable so there’s no point in doing that.
Q: Is there a role that you wish that you hadn’t taken?
Knightley: No, whether a film has worked or not, it’s out of my hands. The only experience that I have is the actual making of it. After that, it’s not mine. It’s the director’s, it’s the editor’s and then it’s whether it captures the audience’s imagination or not. I did a great film that came out earlier this year called The Jacket. For one reason or another it didn’t capture the audience’s imagination. One thing I think is cool about DVD is that you get a chance later on alone, people can realize, "that is really amazing." You’ve got to do the things that interest you.
Even when it wasn’t my decision what I did, I’ve always been so grateful that somebody was offering me a part that I was excited by it. If you don’t have a level of excitement about it, you can’t do it.
Q: Does the cautious part of you ever wish your career moved a bit slower?
Knightley: Yeah, in an ideal world I really would have like to have finished University and sort of quietly managed to make my mistakes and learn. That would have been nice. My dad always says, "I wish this had happened in five years time, because I wish you could have been 20 and got really pissed and slept with loads of people and made mistakes and nobody would have known about it."
I agree with that, but this is not a job that you can choose. You can’t say, ‘OK because it’s here, it’s going to be here tomorrow’ because it isn’t. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to say, ‘OK, Do I want to act? OK, it’s here now so either I do it or I don’t do it.’ And I went, "OK, well I’m going to do it." And it will be gone in a minute. It’s only a moment. That’s what’s beautiful about acting, is it’s a flash in the pan so you may as well enjoy it and see how far you can go.
Q: Was it scary to think that you would play one of literature’s most beloved heroines?
Knightley: I was terrified to the point where I begged my agents not to put me up for it because I’ve been so obsessed by the book. When I was seven, I had all of the Austen novels on book tape and I’d listen to them and weep. Then I saw the BBC version and I was obsessed with that. She [Elizabeth Bennet] is one of my favorite characters in English literature. I absolutely adore her.
When one of my agents went, "Alright, you’re going to read for Elizabeth Bennet." I said, " No don’t, I’m going to fuck it up. Please don’t do it. I couldn’t bear it if I ruined her.
I was so terrified that I learned the entire script – my character and everybody else’s by heart before I started.
Q: Did Joe [Wright] say anything to you that gave you confidence?
Knightley: He just kept saying that he believed in me, which is amazing because all actresses are, by nature, completely insecure beings. If they say that they’re not, they’re lying. It’s a profession made out of insecurities. You’ve got to use them all.
So, to have somebody say, "I believe in you, you can do this" is absolutely extraordinary. He [Joe Wright] was so sweet and he kept saying, "I’m going to keep you safe Darling, don’t worry about it."
Q: What’s something you learned about yourself by playing Elizabeth?
Knightley: I’m not as clever as she is. I think Elizabeth Bennet is one of those characters that is everything that you want to be and everything that you are at the same time. She’s so funny and witty and intelligent. She’s the kind of person who says all of those put-downs that you walk away from situations wishing that you had said. But she’s also really annoying and you want to kick her up the ass and shake her and say, ‘Oh come on." That’s what makes her really human. There are moments when, every single time I read the book I go, ‘Yeah, I get that!’ Embarrassing moments, where you think, ‘Oh mum, shut up!’ And it’s why I think the book has been so popular for so many years.
Q: You’re on break between the two Pirates films – how overwhelming is this whole process?
Knightley: I’m not on break! I’m working every week on Pirates and every weekend on press for Domino and Pride & Prejudice. It’s been quite a ride.
Yes, we were halfway through yesterday on Pirates, which was a hundred days. We have at least a hundred days to go because of the weather; it’s obviously hurricane season and it has put us behind. But it’s good, it’s nice to be a part of something kids are excited about. You get these 12 year olds running up to you going, ‘What’s going to happen, what’s going to happen?!’ and I won’t tell them. It’s really cool. It’s lovely working with a brilliant group of people. And I like moving and I like changing, so this is a real stamina test. It’s pretty nice, and I’m sure we’ve got some surprises up our sleeves for everybody.
Q: Is one of those surprises Keith Richards?
Knightley: He hasn’t done anything yet.
Q: Yet? Was that a yet?
Knightley: I’m not repeating it!
Q: Are you going to take a break after this or will you go right into something else?
Knightley: I don’t know. I mean to take a break, but knowing me I probably won’t. It comes down to if there’s a story that comes up that makes me go ‘Oooh yes, I want to do that!’ Hopefully nothing will.
Q: Is that fear too, that nothing else will come if you say no?
Knightley: That’s it. Somebody else will come in and they’ll suddenly go, ‘Oh she’s crap, this new one is much better.’
Q: Don’t you think that’s a little crazy at this point?
Knightley: Are you kidding? That’s what it is. You come and you go, and it’s so quick. It’s hilarious – Tallulah Riley, she plays Mary Bennet in this film and she’s a good friend of mine. She was in a magazine the other day as the new Keira Knightley. Which is like, she’s a year younger than I am, man! Come on! I’m 20 and it’s over the hill! It’s awful!
But you know what, if there is a new Keira Knightley, I hope she’s it.
Q: If it wasn’t for acting, what would you be?
Knightley: I don’t know. I always said as soon as I knew I would do it. I can’t imagine anything else, which is probably a lack of imagination on my part.
Q: But you’re also saying it probably can’t last.
Knightley: I’m not saying it probably won’t last, I’m saying it very definitely won’t last. But I can’t plan for it. I can step back from it and go, ‘It would be very, very wise for me to finish university so I have something to fall back on when it does end, I can be a lawyer.’ But it doesn’t work in practice. So I don’t think I’ll know what I’ll do until this ends and I have to do something about it.