Interview Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley turns her hand to singing in her latest movie. “Don’t worry

There’s every chance that Keira Knightley brings her own period costumes to movie sets these days.

Having made quite an impression in the likes of Pride & Prejudice (2005) and the Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy, dressed up in her finest satin and lace, Knightey went positively modern – well, mid-20th century – for Atonement before running back to ye olden corsets and petticoats for Silk and The Duchess.

And it’s back to the World War 2 years for this week’s The Edge Of Love.

Add to all that rumours of an adaptation of King Lear, and a remake of My Fair Lady, and you might just start to think that Keira Knightley has come to the conclusion that modern life is rubbish.

“It’s just the best scripts of late have all been period pieces,” she smiles. “If a great script came along that happened to be set in the future, or set in the world of modern car racing, or whatever, I’d jump on it. But how could I turn down Atonement? Or playing Georgiana in an adaptation of Amanda Foreman’s book? I can see that there’s a pattern there for some people, but it’s just coincidence. I’m just following the best scripts…”

Funny, given the way the media has begun to accuse Knightley of repeating herself with all these period outings, I thought she might just have a bee in her bonnet about this whole pigeonholing thing. Only, she’s not wearing a bonnet today.

“Oh, very funny,” she says. “I think the media will always look for an angle, and it doesn’t bother me one bit. If I’d never done Love Actually, or Domino, or The Jacket, or Pure, well, then I might be worried. As it is, I’m happy not to think about such things as a career plan, and to just get on with making work that excites me.”

Hey, it worked for Helena Bonham Carter. In The Edge Of Love, Knightley plays Vera Phillips, childhood sweetheart of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, and there for him again when they meet up ten years later in London during the Second World War, she now a singer, he writing scripts for government propaganda films. Dylan also happens to be married, to Caitlin, and Vera’s about to get married to her fervent admirer, William Killick. Not that that’s about to stop them…

Welsh actor Matthew Rhys (The Abduction Club) takes on the role Dylan Thomas, Sienna Miller (Factory Girl) is Caitlin, and our own Cillian Murphy plays the lovestruck William Killick. The man behind the camera is John Maybury, who worked with Knightley before, on The Jacket, having made his breakthrough with the 1998 Francis Bacon biopic Love Is The Devil.

“John is a wonderful director,” says Knightley. “Very single-minded, caring only about what goes up there on the screen really. He’s not one of those filmmakers then who tends to get on well with the big studios, but they’re always the most interesting people to work with. There’s always a spark, a sense of mischief and discovery, with someone like that.

“And let’s not forget I get to marry Cillian Murphy in this film. That’s not something any sensible young actress could turn down…”

Of course, there’s one other reason why Keira Knightley may have felt a strong desire – maybe even a need – to make The Edge Of Love. Her mum, Sharman Macdonald, wrote the script.

“Which sounds like a big dose of nepotism, right?” she sighs, “but, when it comes to family and friends, they’re always the most difficult to work with. I think it’s because you know there’s something more than just your ego or your reputation at stake. Your relationship with that person is going to be pushed in different directions, and you can’t just walk away from it. And neither of you wants to be the one who backs down…”

Perhaps that’s why Knightley refused to play the role that her mother had written specifically for her, that of Caitlin Thomas, insisting instead that Vera was a much more interesting character.

Only, Keira wanted some changes done to the part. Including her turning into a singer.

“I just became fascinated by Vera, and her relationship with Dylan, and with her husband,” says Knightley. “I thought I could do more with that role. Sometimes you’re just drawn to a character, and it doesn’t always have to be the lead. Besides, I had my fun playing Vera, and Sienna did a great job playing Caitlin.”

And how was the singing, my dear?

“That was petrifying,” she answers. “I had to sing Blue Tahitian Moon, live, in front of 100 extras. I had been to singing lessons, as I can’t sing, basically, and I just remember thinking, well, it was you who suggested Vera should be a singer, so, just pull yourself together, woman, and sing.

“Don’t worry – there’s no album coming out soon.”

Looking over Keira Knightley’s fairly long and often illustrious list of films, it’s hard to believe that she’s still only 23. From first being noticed in 1999 as the decoy, Sabe, to Natalie Portman’s Queen Padme Amidala in The Phantom Menace through the surprise 2002 indie hit Bend It Like Beckham and the monster that was Pirates Of The Caribbean, Knightley has come a long way, baby, in a very short time. It seems like only yesterday that I bumped into her strolling up Grafton Street with a holdall over her shoulder, visiting some cousins in Dublin as the shoot for King Arthur came to a close up in the Wicklow hills.

“There are times when everything seems like it happened in another lifetime, to another person, many, many moons ago,” says Knightley, “and then there are other times where I catch myself realising just how much work I’ve done in just a few short years.

“It’s the job of the actor to never stop long enough to look back, so, you know, I’ve kept myself busy through the last decade. And the great thing is, it doesn’t feel all that much different. You just keep hoping that you’re getting better at this acting lark…”

And what of that wild and wonderful beast, fame? Cillian Murphy spoke out last week against the paparazzi for stalking Knightley and Miller on the set of The Edge Of Love. “I totally admire them for putting up with it,” said Murphy. “If I walked out of my house every morning and there were 15 men waiting to photograph me, I couldn’t do it.”

“That is just part of the job,” says Knightley. “You accept it not because, oh, they’re just ordinary people trying to make a living by taking photographs of you every single second of your day – that’s a pretty crappy way to make a living – but just because there’s really little you can do about it. Other than ignore them. And try and limit their chances.

“Grinning and bearing the cameras has, of course, always been part of the job of anyone who steps into the limelight, but I do think it’s gotten way out of hand now. You only have to step into a newsagents, or pick up any paper, to see that. Aren’t there more important things to be reporting to the world other than what Amy Winehouse had for lunch?”

Having reportedly moved to Paris recently to be closer to boyfriend Rupert Friend (who played Mr. Wickham in Pride & Prejudice), Knightley is taking it easy after a very busy few years.

“I went through a patch there where the Pirates movies meant I had just about enough time to make one or two others in what would have normally been my time off, so, I’m allowing myself a genuine break right now.

“My plan is to switch everything off, and just hide away for a while. I want to get to the point where I’m actually starting to miss the paparazzi…”

Words : Paul Byrne

The Edge Of Love hits Irish cinemas this Friday