Where I jaw with Keira…
Knightley is every bit as intelligent, gorgeous and passionate in person as she is on screen. Many people will be disappointed to discover this. It’s just too damn unfair.
I caught up with her at the intimate Sony Classics dinner at Crème Brasserie, 162 Cumberland Street, in Toronto. Years of experience have taught me that the most interesting intimate conversations take place at the cocktail party before hand, and there was the female star of A Dangerous Method (out November 23rd), talking to associates, waiting for the night to begin. Her hair was in a Julie Christie bob, she wore an Elie Saab sparkly blush frock and she had a positive energy that I instantly connected to when I introduced myself .
Knightley was lovely, the kind of person that looked you in the eye and not over your shoulder. We talked first about the most arresting physical action in the introduction of her Russian Jewish character, Sabina Spielrein, who arrives literally hysterical at the elite Swiss clinic of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Knightley does this thing where her chin, already prominent, juts out in a hideous way that resembles the alien from the Sigourney Weaver movies. It takes someone very secure in her looks to make herself so ugly, like a child pulling faces in a mirror.
It turns out that’s actually what the actress did. She told me that she read in Spielrein’s papers that the faces she made were demonic, or dog-like, and so she set about making faces in her mirror that reflected that demon/dog. In the end, she came up with two alternatives. She then Skyped director David Cronenberg with the options and he selected his preferred grotesque expression. He definitely got what he wanted!
Knightley and I, with interruptions from Vogue’s John Powers asking about her dress (that’s where I got that tidbit, although I had to spell the designer’s name for John), turned to the subject of the vibrant, troubled, masochistic character she plays. Spankings aside – Fassbender’s Jung pleasures Sabina in an unconventional way — we discussed how welcome it was to play a woman with her own narrative arc — and how rare that is in contemporary cinema. Her Sabina begins in jaw-jutting,limb-twitching hysteria, carried bodily into a forbidding clinic; she exits the movie self-possessed, pregnant, a psychoanalyst in her own right, having risen from patient to colleague in the Freud-Jung set.
We were discussing Keira’s historical research for the part, and her consultations with two psychoanalysts, when we were interrupted again. Viggo Mortensen steps up! Dressed formally, he is slenderer than he appears on screen, more boyish, devastatingly attractive. Despite his tux, he’s carrying a wrinkled plastic shopping bag. Like a kid on Christmas morning, he pulls out a present that he has for their director, eager to show it to Knightley. It’s a silly, bulbous knit hat with sparkles and, possibly, a rat nose. It doesn’t take much to urge Mortensen to try it on — preposterous and still handsome.
Then it’s Keira’s turn: the sparkles add nothing to the sparkles on her dress. But the obvious happiness of friends seeing friends in a sea of work bounces between them. The silly hat is just an external sign of sincere friendship, and a reminder not to take the tux & tiara thing too seriously, because ultimately it’s the work that matters.
And the work? Up next for Knightley, she’ll play Anna Karenina. She’s currently shooting with her Atonement director Joe Wright and co-stars Jude Law, Kelly Macdonald and Aaron Johnson. Ah, Karenina: Now there’s a female character with her own rich character arc and one created by a man: Leo Tolstoy.