ANNA KARENINA Press Day With KEIRA KNIGHTLEY
With the release of the imfamous tale ANNA KARENINA sweeping across the country, I recently got the chance to speak with Keira Knightley, who plays Anna Karenina, in a round table discussion about the film. Check out the interview below.
The timeless story powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart while illuminating the lavish society that was imperial Russia. The time is 1874. Vibrant and beautiful, Anna Karenina (Ms. Knightley) has what any of her contemporaries would aspire to; she is the wife of Karenin (Jude Law), a high-ranking government official to whom she has borne a son, and her social standing in St. Petersburg could scarcely be higher. She journeys to Moscow after a letter from her philandering brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) arrives, asking for Anna to come and help save his marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). En route, Anna makes the acquaintance of Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams), who is then met at the train station by her son, the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
When Anna is introduced to Vronsky, there is a mutual spark of instant attraction that cannot and will not be ignored. The Moscow household is also visited by Oblonsky’s best friend Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), an overly sensitive and compassionate landowner. Levin is in love with Dolly’s younger sister Kitty (Alicia Vikander). Inopportunely, he proposes to Kitty but she is infatuated with Vronsky. Devastated, Levin returns to his Pokrovskoe estate and throws himself into farm work. Kitty herself is heartbroken when, at a grand ball, Vronsky only has eyes for Anna and the married woman reciprocates the younger man’s interest. Anna struggles to regain her equilibrium by rushing home to St. Petersburg, where Vronsky follows her. She attempts to resume her familial routine, but is consumed by thoughts of Vronsky. A passionate affair ensues, which scandalizes St. Petersburg society. Karenin is placed in an untenable position and is forced to give his wife an ultimatum. In attempting to attain happiness, the decisions Anna makes pierce the veneer of an image- obsessed society, reverberating with romantic and tragic consequences that dramatically change her and the lives of all around her.
What is it that attracted you? ANNA KARENINA has been done so many times on stage and on-screen. What attracted you to this, and what about Joe’s vision made it stand out for you?
KK: Well, I first read the book when I was about 19, and I don’t think I thought, well, I think anyone would go “Gosh, that’s an amazing character”. (Laughs) And when Joe phoned me up… I think we’d had a conversation when we were doing ATONEMENT about great female roles and how few there are, and we were trying to name them. ANNA KARENINA definitely came up within that conversation. So, he phoned me about two years ago, when I was working on DANGEROUS METHOD, and he just went “ANNA KARENINA?” and I went “Yep.” (Laughs), and he went “Ok. We’ll only do it if Tom Stoppard does the adaptation. I said “Ok?” and he said “Ok. I’ll phone you back.” Two months later he was like “Ok. Tom’s doing it.” and I was like “Great!”. So, that was it. I don’t know whether, well the script wasn’t there yet, so it was purely on the potential of what that story, and that character, and that collaboration could be. When the script was first written, and when we first started talking about it, it was going to be a completely naturalistic telling. It didn’t turn into this stylized thing until ten weeks before we started shooting. He phoned me up and said “I’ve got something to tell you.” and I went into his office, which was kind of this madman’s lair of these weird drawings and storyboards everywhere. He said “Right. We’re going to set it in a theater.” I think if I had been working with someone who I didn’t know that would have been totally terrifying, and the alarm bells would have been ringing. I think because I do know him, and we’ve worked together so many times, and there’s an implicit trust there. I think the reason that I wanted to work with him at all (on this) was that he was never going to do something that was just straight. Even when you look at PRIDE & PREJUDICE he sent you off in a… it was deeply naturalistic in that kind of… everyone was a bit scruffy and the hem lines were a bit off and there was mud over everything. It was a very different telling. ATONEMENT, the same thing. It was the infamously unfilmable, and he tackled that, so I always knew there would be something else that he’d bring out of it. I just didn’t quite expect it would be… that. (Laughs)
Was there something that you wanted to do with the character that wasn’t necessarily in the pages of the book? Were there notions that you developed, like “This is going to be my stamp on her.” ?
KK: No. I think within the pages of the book. It’s so massively open to different interpretations anyway, partly because he does write from inside her head, but often, he doesn’t. Often, he writes from the outside judging her and describing her. And I think, because of that judgement and that description, it means that there are lots of different interpretations. When I first read it when I was 19, I only remember her being innocent. I don’t remember judging her at all. I don’t remember seeing her as, in any way, guilty. I suddenly read it again last year, before we started shooting, and when I see this at 26, as I was, I suddenly see this differently. I see her as being much darker. I think her moral culpability is constantly in question. I think she is held up to be condemned at certain points. I think she is also held up to be loved and understood and to be sympathized with. I think the relationship with her is quite a complex one for the reader. Because of that, it’s open to a lot of different interpretations. So, I didn’t necessarily go out of the book in trying to go “How am I going to play this role?”. I think I tried to understand, as far as I thought, what her function within the book was, and therefore her function would be in the film version. I thought that moral ambiguity was a really interesting one to play around with.
What parts of Anna do you relate to? Do you see any of her in yourself?
KK: I think she’s a terrifying character… and she’s terrifying because you do judge her, and you try to throw stones at her, and then you go “Am I any better than her?”… and I think the answer for everybody is “No.”. I think it’s because… are we all occasionally deceitful? Yes. Are we all occasionally manipulative? Yes. Do we all hurt the people who we love the most? They’re the people that we hurt the most. None of us are better than her. None of us have the right to judge her, and yet we do… and that’s terrifying. When I talk about the kind of complex relationship that you have with that character, I think it’s because of that. I think it really makes you go “I am no better than this person that I am judging.” And it’s quite a terrifying mirror that it holds up to, I think, human beings in general. So, I think as far as the love goes, I think it’s completely understandable. You have a woman who’s been married since she was 18. She get’s to 28 and she’s never had an orgasm, she’s never experienced romance… of course she finally feels lust for the first time. She finally has a taste of romance for the first time, and she equates that with love, and only that with love. She doesn’t see that there are many different forms of love, and that is a honeymoon period that will change into something else… and that is her great tragedy. As soon as that bit, that little honeymoon bit starts to change, she thinks the love has disappeared, and therefore she thinks that he is cheating on her, and she thinks the whole relationship is doomed and she’s been left to burn. Actually, it’s different. It’s that she just doesn’t understand what’s going on. I think that’s understandable. We al know serial romantics. We’ve probably been them at certain points. (Laughs). As grown-ups we all know that bit is not what a whole relationship is. And, I think that is completely understandable that you’d feel that it was. So, I guess all of me and none of me is the same as her. (Laughs.)
As strong as the male dynamics are with Anna in the film it’s the female relations, Dolly, Kitty, and Betsy, because each looks like one slice of Anna. We get to see each part going against the whole. How did you work with the girls in establishing your on-screen chemistry, because that is part of the unsung beauty of the film?
KK: Nobody else has picked up on that! Well, I think the one with Kitty, I think she (Anna) ends up despising her because of the purity and because of the possibility and because she was “that” and she could have been ‘that’ and she wasn’t given the opportunities. I think there’s a part in the book, I’m sure you’ll remember, which isn’t in the film but I thought was a massive part of the character. It’s the first and only time she actually meets Levin in the film, she thinks “This is Kitty’s husband and I hate Kitty because Kitty detests me and I’m going to make that man fall in love with me.” And she does. That’s a fucking terrifying thing, that’s a fucked up thing for somebody to do. So you have to look at that as being part of the character. Within how we work together, they’re wonderful girls. I mean, Kelly MacDonald is one of my favorite actresses of all time and I think her performances are just divine. So working with her was just a total dream come true. I’d watch anything that she does. I think she’s sensational. Ruth Wilson is a phenomenal actress and that was fun because it’s that bitchy relationship everybody I think has had, men and women. Those strange friendships that are kind of competitive and odd. That was fun kind of doing that. But yeah, the Kitty one, I think, we softened a lot because it was very difficult. If you put that scene in, you never get sympathy for Anna back… I think in film. I think it would be really difficult. So we did play…there was an original scene version between her (Anna) and Kitty at the beginning where you see her look at Kitty and see the younger woman and detest her for being the younger woman. (Laughs). We did actually all go, “I think we can’t quite take it that far.” (Laughs.) But that was definitely underneath everything.
Now, Anna Karenina has been done before many times. Did you feel the need to gravitate away from those performances? Were you ever thoughtfully distancing yourself?
KK: I actively decided not to watch anymore of them. I had seen two of them, the Greta Garbo version, and Helen McCrory, who is a wonderful English actress, who’d done a version, I believe in 2001, on the BBC. They are not pieces that I’d gone back to again. I’d only seen them once when I was a teenager, and I don’t have a huge memory of what those performances were. I decided not to go back and watch anymore because I thought if you make a decision that another actress has made, or it’s based on the book, then that’s fine, but it’s an accident. It’s not that you’re kind of going “Oh yeah, I’m going to nick that from her performance, because that’s not fun.
What is it about working with Joe, because you’ve worked together before…
KK: He’s totally obsessed by what he does. It’s an obsession. He gives 150 percent of himself. It’s 24/7. He makes it feel like it’s the most important thing in the world. And, obviously it isn’t. I think to work with someone who requires 150 percent from everybody, that requires total immersion into the work, it’s an incredibly intoxicating thing to be around. Also, you always know that even if we get it wrong, we would have given it a bloody good try. We would have given it everything, and I think people within creative worlds… that’s all they kind of want. You want it to be that important, and he does that. I think, equally, it’s not just me working with him again on this, it’s his costume designer, his set designer, his lighting designer, his composer… I’m sure I’ve left somebody out, but there’s a whole group of us, that’s a team, that have come back together and I think there’s a massive amount of respect. Everybody respects everybody else’s talent and space… and (there is) a massive amount of trust. So, I guess it’s that.
Acclaimed director Joe Wright’s bold, theatrical new vision of the epic story of love is stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”). The film marks the third collaboration of the director with Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley and Academy Award-nominated producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, following their award-winning box office successes “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement”. The creative team also includes cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“The Avengers”), three-time Academy Award-nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood (Sherlock Holmes), film editor Melanie Ann Oliver (“Jane Eyre”), hair and make-up designer Ivana Primorac (“Hanna”), Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli (“Atonement”), and two-time Academy Award-nominated costume designer Jacqueline Durran (“Pride & Prejudice”).
Director: Joe Wright (“Atonement”, “Pride & Prejudice”, “Hanna”) Writer: Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in LoveÂ”); Based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Cast: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson
MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 130 minutes
www.YouTube.com/AnnaKareninaTheMovie Twitter Hashtag: #AnnaKarenina
ANNA KARENINA comes to select cities on November 16th and November 21st
NOVEMBER 16 :Los Angeles, CA, New York, NY, Chicago, IL. San Francisco, CA, Washington, DC, Boston, MA
NOVEMBER 21: Seattle, WA, Dallas, TX, Philadelphia, PA, Denver, CO, Minneapolis, MN, Atlanta, GA, Portland, OR, Phoenix, AZ, San Diego, CA, St. Louis, MO, Houston, TX