Keira Knightley Plays Cecelia Tallis in Atonement Interview

Keira Knightley Plays Cecelia Tallis in Atonement Interview


Keira Knightley is reunited with director Joe Wright for the acclaimed big screen version of Atonement.

The actress first worked with Wright on Pride and Prejudice and was delighted to team up with him again. "We really got on when we made Pride and Prejudice, he is a mate and creatively, I think we work together really well and we really have creative chemistry," she says.

"And this time, it was lovely to feel like you are working with somebody who believed in you, believed that you could bring what was needed to the character and we knew each other's rhythms, too.

"The thing is he manages to create the most extraordinary atmosphere on set, he managed to get absolutely everybody excited, everybody emotionally involved in the project. He's very cleverly figured out that actors are a little bit like children and they need to be lavished with attention and he absolutely lavishes everyone with attention and so everybody wants to give their best. I love working with him."

Atonement, set in three time periods, 1935 and 1940 and modern day, is an epic love story and a tale of the tragic consequences of a lie, told by a young girl, Briony Tallis, a compulsive story teller with a vivid imagination, and the havoc it can visit upon so many lives - not least her own - as they are caught up in momentous events.

Keira Knightley stars as Cecilia Tallis and James McVoy as Robbie Turner with talented newcomer Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave all playing the same character, Briony, at different ages.

For Keira Knightley, the role represented a different direction in her already rocketing career.

"I totally fell in love with Cecilia the first time I read the script," she says. "I was fascinated by her. Apart from anything else, I was looking for something different, I was looking for a mature character as opposed to a girl coming into womanhood character.

"I wanted a woman and somebody who is dealing with all the problems that brings. And with Cecilia I think, she's not particularly nice when you first meet her, she is edgy, she is bored and I'm always fascinated with characters that on the surface can be one thing and yet underneath can be something totally different."

At just 22, Keira Knightley is now established as one of the biggest stars working today. She broke through in 2002 with her role in Gurinder Chadu's delightful comedy Bend It Like Beckham and followed that success with roles in Love Actually, King Arthur and The Jacket. Keira has starred, alongside Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, in all three of the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Q: You've worked with Joe before, what was it like second time around on Atonement?

Keira Knightley: It was wonderful. We really got on when we made Pride and Prejudice, he is a mate and creatively, I think we work together really well and we really have creative chemistry. And this time, it was lovely to feel like you are working with somebody who believed in you, believed that you could bring what was needed to the character and we knew each other's rhythms, too. The thing is he manages to create the most extraordinary atmosphere on set, he managed to get absolutely everybody excited, everybody emotionally involved in the project. He's very cleverly figured out that actors are a little bit like children and they need to be lavished with attention and he absolutely lavishes everyone with attention and so everybody wants to give their best. I love working with him.


Q: She's quite a complex character, especially when we first meet her.

Keira Knightley: Yes, definitely. I totally fell in love with Cecilia the first time I read the script. I was fascinated by her. Apart from anything else, I was looking for something different, I was looking for a mature character as opposed to a girl coming into womanhood character. I wanted a woman and somebody who is dealing with all the problems that brings. And with Cecilia I think, she's not particularly nice when you first meet her, she is edgy, she is bored and I'm always fascinated with characters that on the surface can be one thing and yet underneath can be something totally different. From my point of view, it didn't have to be easy. You know, you have this incredibly well written novel and literally as soon as you assume something it changes. And the one thing about Ian McEwan is that he manages to explore every character in depth so there is a whole back-story, a whole arc and emotionally an exact path to follow.


Q: Did you read the book before the script?

Keira Knightley: No, I hadn't read it. it was one of those that was lying around in my house and I'd never got round to reading. So I read the script without knowing at all what it was about and I thought it was quite interesting actually because I'd made certain decisions on the character based on the script but I think possibly are different than in the book. And I think if I'd done it the other way round the decisions I made about the character may have been slightly different. It would have been interesting to see, I don't know. But it was a wonderfully adapted screenplay, I think, Christopher Hampton did a really good job and it's a very difficult book to adapt.


Q: Did you like the period?

Keira Knightley: I loved it. I got absolutely obsessed by the period, actually. I think certainly in the 1940s, during the Second World War, there is the sense that death is raining from the sky and trying to grab on to life with absolutely everything and what that does to your character really interests me. The whole style, which is one of the reasons I was so excited about doing the project, was that Joe really wanted to really hark back to that 1930s, 1940s British cinema, you know the David Lean films, Celia Johnson, incredibly clipped. It was sort of the peak of the stiff upper lip and that very 1940s accent which has more or less been lost I think. So that was a huge incentive to do it and really interesting to look into. Because in modern day film we do actually use a very 1960s style of acting, it's quite slow, it's naturalistic but measured, and this one was a heightened reality. And was interesting that all of us had to find different patterns to work in. So that was a challenge.


Q: And working with James?

Keira Knightley: Do you know I think talents like that come around once in a generation, I think he's an extraordinary actor. I can't wait to see what he does next. I was there for his screen test and I've never seen anything like it, the whole room was silent for about ten minutes after he finished. He has the ability to seem like a giant in front of you. He is absolutely amazing and a lovely man. I love it when nice things happen to nice people.


Q: Did you meet Ian McEwan, because I know he visited the set?

Keira Knightley: He did visit the set and I did meet him and you know, it was quite frightening because I'm certainly not the description of Cecilia in the book, so there's always that element of going 'oh God, sorry! I know I'm not exactly what you saw in your head!' But having said that he was great. I always get very nervous when I meet writers, particularly novelists, because you have this intelligence sitting in front of you, but he was incredibly kind and very nice.





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