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The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch - Sleepy Eye, MN
  • Keira Knightley returns in another period costume drama

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  • Keira Knightley’s star has been steadily rising. The British actor was introduced to American audiences via her small role as handmaiden to Natalie Portman’s Padme in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” She got strong marks for playing Lara in the Masterpiece Theater version of “Doctor Zhivago,” showed her swashbuckling side in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, and moved smoothly into period pieces with her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride & Prejudice.” It was there that she first worked with director Joe Wright, who worked with her in “Atonement” and now in the title role in “Anna Karenina,” which opens Friday.
    Fans of previous versions of the film or of the Tolstoy novel know that Anna is a complicated character, for whom some cheer while others jeer, as she runs off with a younger man, leaving her older husband.
    Knightley admitted that she had mixed feelings about Anna, but that the book still amazes her.
    “I approached playing her just by using the novel,” she said. “It was weird because I’d read the book when I was in my late teens or early 20s, and I remembered it as being this amazing, sweeping romance. But I read it last summer, just before we started shooting, and I went, ‘Oh, this is completely other than I remembered it.’ I think that’s maybe why it’s so extraordinary. You can come at it from different points of your life and you’ll see it in a completely different way.
    “Tolstoy isn’t saying she is an innocent,” she added. “He’s actually at some points going, ‘She is the whore of Babylon, she is everything that is awful.’
    “I believe that when Tolstoy first started writing the novel, Anna’s husband, Karenin (Jude Law), was meant to be a hero,” she said. “It was about this upstanding, wonderful man who had a wife who committed a crime against him. But as he went on writing the novel, he fell in love with Anna, and started seeing things from her point of view. That was something that was very interesting for me and for Joe (Wright). That idea that she’s the heroine but the anti-heroine at the same time.”
    Knightley, 27, who recently became engaged to Klaxons singer-keyboardist James Righton, seems to have done a lot of thinking about love and marriage and society and errant behavior. She was an absolute chatterbox when discussing those topics and their relationship to the movie. A central plot turn has Anna falling from grace in the eyes of practically everyone around her.
    “One of the major parts of ‘Anna Karenina’ is the society aspect, and the society turning on the individual,” she said. “There are rules in society, and they’re very strict rules. And it’s in all walks of society. You can see it on the playground or in offices or in politics. It’s what we do as human beings. We are pack animals. We form the pack and to solidify the pack, we turn on the individual.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Given the choice, if Knightley had met Anna in real life, even she might have turned on her. And it was no picnic playing the character.
    “Empathy is something that makes me so interested in acting,” she said. “You don’t have to be particularly intelligent to be an actor, but you do have to empathize with the character. If you meet someone you don’t like, you don’t think, ‘Oh, why is this person behaving like this?’ You think, ‘I don’t like you.’
    “What’s interesting in acting is that, whether I like this person or agree with how this person behaves, I have to try and understand, because I’m playing them, and I can’t judge them from the inside, unless they are judging themselves.
    “Do we manage to do that in everyday life? No, of course not. Because we are the center of our own thing, and we enjoy judging other people, we enjoy morally putting somebody else down in order to make ourselves feel better. That’s what we do as humans, and that’s what you do to Anna. You judge her. You judge her deceitfulness, her manipulative nature, her vanity. But you equally think, ‘Is there anything within this that I don’t have within my own personality? Have I been deceitful or manipulative, have I hurt the people that I love most?’ Yes, because we’re humans and that’s what we do. Do we also judge that? Yes, we do.”
    What Anna is being judged about is her torrid affair with the young and dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), right under the nose of her stuffy husband. But any fan of the novel or the movies would admit that Anna and Vronsky are not a good match. Knightley tried to explain the attraction.
    “I think it’s lust at first sight. I think it’s romance,” she said. “And I don’t think she’s ever had either. Of course, when you’re looking at love as an entire emotion, there’s not just the romantic bit, not just the lust, not just the companionship, but equally there’s the loneliness, the jealousy. She can’t recognize anything other than that initial part because she’s never had it before. And that’s her tragedy. Once she’s tasted it, that’s the only thing that love becomes. She can’t recognize the love that actually is there between her and her husband, because it is less than that lust. If you’ve never experienced that kind of sexual thing or that romance, then of course you’d see it and you’d cling onto it.”
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