KING ARTHUR - Q&A with Keira Knightley
Just a year after her breakthrough performance opposite Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, Keira Knightley is once again front and center in the epic adventure KING ARTHUR, the latest offering from Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Knightley plays a Guinevere radically different from any put on screen before and stars alongside Clive Owen (CROUPIER) as King Arthur and Ioan Gruffudd (HORATIO HORNBLOWER TV series) as Lancelot. Right now it seems as if casting the stunningly beautiful 19 year-old Knightley, who was a recent cover girl for Vanity Fair, would be an obvious move for any director, but PIRATES hadn't come out when Antoine Fuqua was casting KING ARTHUR. "I didn't quite understand why there was so much hype about her," Fuqua recalls. "Then I met her and she's like Audrey Hepburn on the screen." Knightley, whose previous roles include the hit comedy BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, will next be seen in the thriller THE JACKET with Adrien Brody, a new version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and very likely a PIRATES sequel. Knightley talked to us about her blossoming career and how she had to put on the weight but shed the clothes for the role of Guinevere.
What were your initial thoughts regarding KING ARTHUR?
When I first heard they were doing a new version of King Arthur I said, "Oh, what's the point? We've seen it so many times before. We all know the legends, we all know the story so well." But then I read the script and I thought, "Oh, that's interesting." But I was a tiny bit terrified - and excited - to take a role as well known as Guinevere and completely change it. But it's about time we had a new version of Guinevere.
So what's different about this Guinevere?
What's amazing about this character is she's so strong. She's very manipulative, very calculating. She is very much a master of her own destiny and that's interesting to see from a character that has been traditionally so romantic and innocent. To take that out and have a character who has blood on her hands is a fascinating thing.
Did you and Antoine Fuqua discuss Guinevere's history much? When we meet her in the film she's in prison.
I talked to Antoine quite a lot about the back-story and we did decide that she was leading an attack and got captured and put in jail, where she got tortured as well - definitely tortured. And I thought she was high up in society, which gave me more to play. Suddenly this person who had been fighting against the knights since she was born finds herself amongst them and she has to think about what's the best action to take. Should she kill them all or does she use them to her advantage? So she chooses to use Arthur to her advantage. It's a cold way of looking at it, but there is a bit of love as well. She's a character who would not fall in love with somebody unless they were beneficial to her cause. What we're looking at is Guinevere as a guerilla leader - she's fighting for an occupied nation. The interesting thing to note is that there is not a single innocent character in this movie. They've all done things that are repulsive and disgusting, and each one is probably haunted by that. But it makes them more interesting individuals.
How difficult was the training for the movie?
We had to train pretty hard. Before filming started, I did three months of boxing, weightlifting, axe fighting, sword fighting and horse riding, even though I never got to ride a horse in the film. We all worked really hard. And once we started filming, we had trainers on the set all the time. And when we weren't filming, we were in the gym. So it was definitely physical.
Did you gain weight for the role?
I tried. I did actually put on more muscle for the role, and that was the main aim. When I accepted the part it was on the condition that I put on as much weight as possible. And I did try to put on as much muscle as I possibly could in the three months before filming started. I did go up a dress size, which I was very proud of. I would've liked to have kept it going, but it would've meant two hours in the gym four times a week and I just couldn't be bothered.
What did producer Jerry Bruckheimer have to do to get you on board?
Actually, he didn't need to convince me. As soon as I read that there was a swordfight in the movie I went, "Oh, OK!" I worked with Jerry Bruckheimer last year on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and I had a fantastic time. I'm such a fan of his - I think he's absolutely amazing. The opportunity to work with him again was one I couldn't miss.
Talk about the leather outfit you wear in the climactic battle sequence in the film. It's hard to tell whether that was fun to wear. Was it?
I was very happy with the battle dress, actually. It's a little skimpy, but actually we spent months trying to perfect it. Originally we had Guinevere in full armor, but then we wondered, where would she get all that armor? But it isn't as skimpy as it appears. I actually had much more on than most of the guys - they were only in loincloths. But we did have to make sure that I could move around in it without anything popping out. And it was all lined with fabric, so there wasn't any chafing. It's the perfect way to wear leather, actually. But I was fine because we did it at the height of summer in Ireland last year and it was really hot. So I was fine running around in it. I could do whatever I wanted to in it and all the boys were dying in their armor. When I think about it, I got off pretty easy, actually.
Do you pick your parts knowing that you're a role model for girls?
The characters I played in BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN are role models and positive beings, but I wouldn't say Guinevere is a role model, apart from being strong. As a moviegoer, I want to see women who are proactive and not just the girl in the movie - that's what I'm interested in. As far as Guinevere being a role model, I wouldn't say that she is one. She's pretty cold and she fights a lot, and I wouldn't recommend that. As far as me choosing roles, I only do what interests me. I'm playing an alcoholic waitress in my next film and she's not a role model, either.
What can you tell us about THE JACKET, which opens later this year?
It's with Adrien Brody, Kris Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and it's from a director named John Maybury. It's a thinking man's thriller. It should be really interesting. It's definitely different from KING ARTHUR.
And you'll be playing Elizabeth Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. How excited are you to take on that role?
It's a fantastic opportunity, just as it was to play Guinevere. They're both strong female roles that if they come your way, you don't turn them down. With PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, it's an adaptation of a book so if I have any questions, I have the book to run to. We haven't started filming yet, but it should be good. I'm very excited.
What can you tell us about the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequel?
Honestly, that's a question for Jerry Bruckheimer. We all had a fantastic time doing the first one and we're all definitely up to do the second one as well, so keep your fingers crossed.
It sounds like you're really enjoying what you're doing. How thrilling is it for you to be working in movies?
It is amazing because throughout my life what I've loved doing is watching movies. I love reading books about movies, I love the escapism of film, and I love the stories. So it's incredible for me to be involved with them as much as I am, from the very first stitch in a costume to the end product. That's what I find really incredible and that's what I always wanted to spend my time doing. Acting is a profession where you're hot one minute and not hot the next, and that's totally cool with me ... that's what I find most fascinating and exciting about it - that it can be gone in a puff of smoke.
That doesn't seem to be very likely to happen in your case. In fact, some might say you're becoming something of a British symbol to the rest of the world. What do you think about that?
I love where I'm from, you know, I'm very much a Londoner. And I think the more time I spend away from England, the more I love it. But I don't know if I'd say I was a British symbol. It is very strange seeing yourself in magazines. It means you can't buy them, which is really annoying. And I don't read any of the papers. I spend most of my time working, and when you're on a film set it's like being in a protective bubble, which is fantastic. So I haven't really been overly aware of it. Honestly, if I'm on a billboard, I usually have to walk past about five of them before I actually figure out that it's me staring back at myself. Or I say, "God, she looks familiar."
Do you have a big support system at home?
I've got a very kind of close-knit friend and family group, which is great. They're all fab and they tell me when I'm acting up, and laugh at me as much as possible which, I think, is very important and very British. So, yeah, they've all been great.
Now that your career has taken off, are you starting to enjoy some of the money you're making? Have you made any large purchases?
I bought myself a flat in London. I haven't moved into it yet, but I bought it so if the acting thing falls apart at least I'll have a flat. Of course, there's no furniture in it yet - absolutely nothing - just bricks and mortar. And I have no idea how I'm going to decorate it. I keep seeing things and getting ideas, but honestly, I can't make up my mind.
Would you ever consider moving to Hollywood?
If it's absolutely critical for my career then yes, but I can't imagine that it ever would be. I do like it in Los Angeles - the weather's good and the beaches are nice. When I first arrived, I couldn't get my head around it. I really didn't like it and I wasn't sure why. I think it's possibly because it's very spread out and I'm used to built-up cities. A lot of people say L.A. is a city without culture, but I think if you look for it you can find it. I like visiting, but I don't know if I could actually live there. I'm kind of happy where I am.
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