Keira Knightley: Singing frightened me

EN Interview 1 - Keira Knightley is generally fearless when it comes to throwing herself into her film roles. She’s played mental patients (A Dangerous Method), scheming aristocrats (Anna Karenina), and even bounty hunters (Domino) over the course of her career, but her new film, BEGIN AGAIN, posed an entirely different challenge. She plays an aspiring singer/songwriter trying to find her way in New York with the help of an alcoholic music executive (Mark Ruffalo). It’s the first time Knightley has had to sing “outside the shower” and it proved to be a daunting task.

“When I signed up for the film it was really the script that drew me and I didn’t think too much about the singing aspect for some odd reason,” Knightley recalls. “Then when I was confronted with having to do the actual singing I started to become very anxious. Suddenly I found myself in a recording studio with professional music people and I realised I didn’t know what I was doing! (Laughs) It was terrifying!”

Directed by John Carney (Once), Begin Again is the kind of lighthearted fare that Knightley was desperately looking for after having played in “too many dark” films in recent years. The comedy/drama also stars Maroon 5 frontman and The Voice judge Adam Levine, making his feature film debut, as a rising rock star who breaks her heart.

The 29-year-old Knightley lives in London with her husband James Righton, vocalist and keyboard player for the London-based indie rock band The Klaxons, whom she married a year ago in a small private ceremony on a hilltop in southern France.

We caught up with Keira at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York recently where Begin Again was the closing film. For our chat, the lithe beauty was wearing a black Chanel dress and Christian Loubuotin heels.

Knightley is a campaign spokesmodel for Chanel and has recently been seen in a series of striking ads on behalf of the Coco Mademoiselle fragrance. Knightley, who has been the face of Chanel since 2007, is seen playing a variation of a Bond girl in the lavish $2 million campaign spot. Directed by Joe Wright (who previously worked with Knightley in Atonement), the advert is set to the song She’s Not there (performed by The Zombies) and sees Keira looking ultra-glamorous in a delicate gown of layered tulle.


Q: Keira, before we talk about your new film Begin Again, there’s a lot of buzz about your new Coco Mademoiselle commercial spot for Chanel?

KNIGHTLEY: It’s quite spectacular. I’ve always loved Chanel’s commercials. One of my favourites is the amazing ad Jean-Paul Goude did with Vanessa Paradis (for Coco Chanel) where she’s in a birdcage. My character is a little different, of course, and I love the kind of atmosphere they create. She’s a woman, very independent, very much in control, and she kind of toys with men. And in the end she gets on a speedboat which is rather cool and elusive, isn’t it?

Q: Joe Wright directed the advert. You’ve had a long history of working with him?

KNIGHTLEY: Joe is the first filmmaker who truly supported me and inspired me. He’s been one of the great forces in my career and I still remember how much confidence he gave me when I was 19 and told me that he thought I had talent and how much he believed in me. You never forget those words and Joe and I have gone on to be able to do some of my best work with him. So doing this (ad for Chanel) has been another great adventure for us. It’s so easy for us to work together because we know each other so well and I have absolute confidence in his judgement and taste.

Q: Begin Again is a lighthearted kind of film. It’s quite a contrast from some of the very serious projects you’ve done of late?

KNIGHTLEY: Yes. I felt that I had done enough very dramatic kinds of roles over the last five years and that I was tired of playing dark and tormented women. It begins to wear you down and I decided that I want to do more upbeat kinds of movies where I can play characters who are maybe a little closer in spirit to who I am and how I’m feeling at this point in my life.

This film was exactly what I was looking for and I loved playing a young woman who is determined to live the kind of life she always wanted and enjoy this New York fairy tale. The city is really an integral character in the film and I hope that people will love how we present New York.

Q: Was the singing the toughest aspect of the film for you?

KNIGHTLEY: I don’t usually have doubts when it comes to approaching the acting side of things although I do get stressed just before shooting starts, but the singing was something for some reason I didn’t really think about until we got very close to the start.

I didn’t anticipate being as frightened as I was. When I accepted to do the film, for some odd reason I didn’t really consider the singing aspect and suddenly when you’re confronted with that you begin to have some serious anxiety! It’s not at all the same as singing in the shower – surprise, surprise! (Laughs)

Q: Your husband is a musician. Did he try to help prepare you?

KNIGHTLEY: He tried to teach me how to play the guitar and I tried not to kill him - so that was about it. (Laughs) And then he stopped trying to teach me the guitar because I’m not very good at it.

I knew though that in terms of the character I was playing she was more of a songwriter and folk singer and John (director Carney) wasn’t looking for a voice that was going to carry a musical. I know I don’t have that, but I think you can kind of get away with a lot more in folk music. So we were kind of going for a talky-songy type vibe that we thought might be quite cool for the character. I’m definitely not a singer but I think I’m good enough to fake it! (Laughs)

Q: What about Adam Levine, who plays opposite you in the film. Did he give you any coaching?

KNIGHTLEY: No, although he was very encouraging, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting him through that! (Laughs) This film was a challenge for him, too, because film is not the world he’s used to. But he’s a natural entertainer and every fibre of his being is dedicated to performing. Acting is a part of that and he had nothing to worry about during this film.

Adam is the classic frontman. He is a ball of energy. You just kind of switch him on and he just goes, and he just bounces off the wall for hours. It’s amazing being in a room with that much enthusiasm and that much energy.

Q: You’ve spoken about wanting to cut back a bit on your acting schedule? Does part of that have to with your being married?

KNIGHTLEY: I had already wanted to take more time for myself because I tend to work very intensely and I wasn’t giving myself a chance to spend enough time with my friends. Even though I enjoy acting and love the atmosphere of being on a set, it can also be exhausting and you find yourself spending several months recovering from a project and then you have another film lined up. Now I want to have more of a personal life and enjoy my time with my husband and my friends.

Q You’ve been married for a year now. How have things been going?

KNIGHTLEY: It must be going pretty well because we’re still together! (Laughs) I love being married to James and being able to share my life with him. Even though we both travel a lot it’s always so romantic when we’re back home together and I get to cook and we can just relax and get to be very cosy. But we’re so used to travelling we also love being able to take little trips here and there together.

It’s also fun visiting different cities and getting to explore places together as opposed to just being alone when you’re working on a set or he’s on tour with his band and you’re dealing with being apart.

Q: You love Paris. Is that one reason you decided to get married in France?

KNIGHTLEY: I suppose it played a factor but it was more because of being able to have more privacy for our wedding. But I love Paris and I would love to be able to learn the language. I’m determined to be able to speak French fluently one day even though I’ve been saying that for ten years! (Laughs) I still have trouble ordering a meal at a restaurant or from room service while speaking French. I just start stumbling around for the words.

Q: You turn 30 next year. How do your reflect on your life in the limelight thus far?

KNIGHTLEY: That’s a big question. I’m more confident and at ease now than I was earlier in my career. I was stung by some of the criticism I received and I let it get to me more than I should have. I worked very hard to prove myself and as I’ve gotten older I’ve learnt that you just need to get on with it. You need to have the attitude that you should do the best work you can, make yourself happy, and not worry about the rest.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

KNIGHTLEY: I don’t have a lot of films planned at this moment. I like feeling a bit free for the time being and not looking too far down the road.

Cover Media/Viva Press


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