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July 2004
King Arthur: An Interview with Keira Knightley

By Todd Gilchrist

King Arthur: An Interview with Keira Knightley

In the span of just two short years, Keira Knightley went from one of the many Hollywood hopefuls to a veritable household name. Co-starring in last spring's "Bend it Like Beckham", Knightley made tomboys sexy again playing a lovelorn footballer, and then became "Pirates of the Carribbean"'s damsel in distress, who as it turned out had more than the resolve to rescue herself. This summer she returns in yet another "tough chick" role, this time as Guinevere to Clive Owen's Arthur in the historical blockbuster "King Arthur". Knightley sat down with Blackfilm to talk about her latest role, and described fighting her male counterparts for the position of summer's toughest star.

We hear you trained pretty hard.

KN: Yeah, you scared? I just really enjoyed it. It's not every day you get the opportunity to learn all those ridiculous skills like sword fighting and axe fighting and that kind of thing, so I just made the most of it and had a great time.

Are you naturally athletic?

KN: I played sports at school, but not overly. I don't train any more. I always love training for films, because you've got such a specific goal. As far as training in my own life, I just can't motivate myself at all.

After "King Arthur" and "Pirates", do you have any plans to work with other actresses ever again?

KN: [Laughs] No, never again. It's in my contract actually. No, I'm just about to do "Pride and Prejudice", so there's a lot of girls in that. Most films are [mostly guys], which is interesting, but I think, actually, trends as far as characters for women, are changing. We're suddenly getting a lot stronger on screen. I think there certainly are a lot more men's parts then there are women's parts, but I do think that there is a change happening soon, and hopefully there will be more actresses getting work, that would be nice.

After the success of "Pirates", did you feel added pressure making this film as your official "follow-up?"

KN: No, not at all. "Pirates of the Caribbean" didn't come out until we were well into filming this, and it was very much a protective bubble. When it came out, I was halfway up a mountain just outside Dublin, so I wasn't really aware of it.

You didn't demand a bigger trailer?

KN: I should've then, shouldn't I? Dammit, I missed an opportunity. So, I really was very protected during the whole thing. It wasn't until I stopped working about a month ago that I said, 'Well, that was a bit strange.' But no, I didn't feel any added pressure.

How did the training compare to what you went through on "Bend it Like Beckham"?

KN: The thing about "Bend it Like Beckham", which we did do about 20 weeks training, soccer training for that. I was still at school when I did it, so I was always playing sport anyway. I played a bit of soccer at school, so it was pretty easy to do. For this, we really had to start from scratch, because I had never trained with my upper body at all, and suddenly, when I accepted the role, they said, 'You really have to bulk up,' because otherwise you simply wouldn't believe that I could fight on equal standing with a man and come out all right. So, I did weight training, they got me a personal trainer straight off, and I did weight training and boxing with him. The weight training was pretty much three to four times a week about two hours a session. And then, on top of that I did archery and then knife fighting, axe fighting, and everything. Nearer the time shooting it, we were doing about seven hours a day of just training. And then on set, we had personal trainers and gyms and all the rest of it, so when we weren't filming, we were in the gym, so it was very physical.

Was there a subliminal pleasure in beating up all those guys?

KN: Yeah, probably. I loved it. It was like being 11 and rolling around in the mud at the playground. It was fantastic, so yeah, I did really enjoy it.

Screenwriter David Franzoni told us to ask about your theory on what's going on between you and Lancelot.

KN: He keeps on doing this! For me, what we were trying to do, was find the reality behind everything. So we're grounding the story in a reality. Now, that goes for the characters as well. For Arthur, we're saying, all right, he's a Roman general. So, the whole Roman culture goes into his character. For Guinevere, we're saying she's a Pict or a Kelt. Now, they were both matriarchal societies, so she would have fought on equal standing with a man, if not been leading the men into battle. She's living in an occupied nation, so she is, to all intents and purposes, a gorilla fighter. Between me and Antoine, we decided that probably she was somebody of pretty high standing within the community and, therefore, a leader in her own right. So, when she gets put into the middle of this situation, they find her in a dungeon, and suddenly, she's chucked into a group of people who, from probably the beginning of her life, she has been taught to hate and to try to kill. So I think, as a leader, she was trying to manipulate the situation to the best advantage for her. And, if that meant killing them all from the inside, then that's what she was going to do. If that meant, using her feminine wiles to manipulate the boys, then that's what she's going to do too. I think what she decides to do is go for Arthur and try and get him. Now, as far as Lancelot goes... The Lancelot theory is, I kind of thought that A: she absolutely knows that Arthur is the one to go for if she wants to gain as much as she can, so she's making a beeline for Arthur. As far as Lancelot goes, they're very, very similar. They're got a very similar temperament. They're both very hot-headed. It's almost like the traditional triangle, with Guinevere in the middle and Lancelot and Arthur on the outside. It's slightly mixed up, and it's Arthur in the middle and Guinevere and Lancelot trying to pull him in two different directions. So, I think, naturally, there is a sexual attraction between Guinevere and Lancelot, but this is not a lady that will allow herself to go in that direction, because the other one is better for her. There you go!

Are you plotting any kind of progression or course for your career?

KN: No, I don't think so. Me, I just think I've been very lucky. As far as planning a career, you can't, not in this industry. Nobody knows whether a film is going to be successful of not when you're making it. You never know, so yeah, I would say that, if I can, I fight for what I want. You can do a good audition, but as far as getting part, it's up to somebody else. So you can go in and you can do your best pitch for it, but that's kind of where the fight has to end, there's nothing else you can do.

What was the audition process like on this film?

KN: Well, for this one, the audition process was pretty long. I was working on "Pirates of the Caribbean" anyway, and I think it's actually Jerry who said to Antoine, 'Meet Keira. She'd probably be quite good for the role.' So I met him, we went out to lunch, and I thought it went really well, I thought we'd really clicked. We had the same ideas about the character and we were just talking about the script. I just thought he was amazing. I phoned up my agent afterwards and went, 'All right, anything this guy wants me to do, I'll do it. He's incredible.' And then I didn't hear anything for four months. And I was thinking, 'Okay, that's really weird, maybe it didn't go so well.' And then, they came back and said, 'There's four of you left in the race. Will you come and audition with Clive Owen?' I said yes and I went and auditioned with Clive and again it went really well and again I didn't hear anything and then a month later they offered me the part. So it was a really kind of long, drawn out process. I'll have to ask them why, actually, why I didn't know, but it was good.

Talk about working with Clive Owen.

KN: I think he's amazing. I mean, he's been a TV star in England for quite a while, so I've known a lot of his work. He's just incredible. He is very much the star of this film, there's no doubt about it and I think people in the central role always kind of set the mood for the piece, and he just set such a great atmosphere. It was very much his game right from the start and he set that example and I think it was because of him that we had such a great time making it.

Was there anything fearsome about being in these battle scenes scantily clad?

KN: Well, all the boys, I mean the knights, the Saxons and all the rest of it, were in armor, but anyone playing a Wode wasn't, and, actually, historically, Picts and Kelts would have been naked when they fought, just painted with blue Wodes, so there was no way I was going to do that. I was pretty covered, but some of the guys who were Wodes were totally naked, top half and really just a loin cloth. I thought I came out all right, because we shot it in the heart of summer and I was fine, and always good and perspiring and everything, but, you know, I could still move. And all the boys were dying of heat exhaustion because they were in all this leather.

Was there ever any concern about safety?

KN: No. Maybe that was stupid of me. You only do what you feel comfortable with, and I felt pretty comfortable. We'd worked with all the stunt guys for about three months before and I got on with all of them and I kind of figured that they'd feel really bad if anything happened to me so they'd make sure that it didn't and that was fine. We all got scratches and bruises, a couple of torn muscles, but nothing serious.

Most difficult?

KN: It was just training. Training was really difficult and it was exhausting. To learn all the fight scenes was pretty full on and especially, you're working with amazing stunt guys and they were very patient with me, which was very nice. But, it did take a long time to get it all down and to make sure everyone felt comfortable and that it was done in a way that's possible. So I think that was the most difficult thing about the film. We put a hell of a lot of work into those fights, because we did all train so hard. But equally, it was the most rewording, because you could see those results pretty instantly on set and we new that Antoine was pretty happy with all of it, so it's all good.

How has your life changed in the past few years?

KN: To tell you the truth, I how it's changed is I've been working as an actress and I've been working a lot, so it's certainly more than I ever thought I would work. And I do spend most of my time away from home on films in foreign countries, which is great and it's very nomadic, and it's sort of the way I like it, really. So, you know, that is definitely weird. Over the last couple of months, there have been more people recognizing me in the streets and things, which takes getting used to. But mostly, it's just people coming up to you and saying they enjoy the films, and that's why you make the films, so that's cool.

Do they ask you to play football?

KN: [Laughs] Actually, a couple people have.

Good creepy fan encounter story?

KN: I don't have a scary one. Someone came up to me in the airport in Scotland when I went to film something and he went, 'I'm really sorry. Can I kiss your cheek? I just might not get the opportunity so can I kiss your cheek?

Did you let him?

KN: Yeah, he was being nice. Nobody else has to do it.

You don't want that to get out.

KN: Yeah, right. I know. That was really stupid. You know, that was pretty interesting.

How good a football player are you?

KN: Oh, I'm bad. I'm really bad. I mean, I can safely say, I'm good at archery. I really like it and I did beat most of the boys but, I'm bad. And that is part of the reason, if I was good at it and somebody came up and said, 'Hey, do you want to kick a ball around,' I'd go, 'Yeah, all right,' but I'm just an embarrassment.

What do you have coming out after this?

KN: I have a film coming out later this year, early next year, call Jacket, which is with Adrien Brody, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kris Kristofferson, which is really exciting, and then I'm just about to go back and start filming Pride and Prejudice.

What is "The Jacket"?

KN: "The Jacket" is a psychological thriller. They said it's a thinking man's thriller, but it's about a Gulf War veteran who gets put into a mental institute and tortured. He wears a straight jacket, there you go.

So it's a romantic comedy.

KN: Yeah, exactly. A bundle of laughs.

Are you looking forward to doing "Pirates 2"?

KN: Yeah, I mean, we all had a fantastic time on the first one, so it would be wicked to do another one. I think we'd all definitely be up for it.

Has there been any discussion of the sequels? Have you met Keith Richards yet?

KN: No, I'd like to meet Keith Richards though. Met Mick Jagger, along the Rolling Stones vibe. That was cool. But nothing, I haven't heard anything. Has Jerry been here yet, have you met him yet? Oh, they're working on the script. Well, there you go, they're working on the script.

Are you thinking about what type of career you'd like to have at this point?

KN: I don't think you can. I think that it is a profession that is blown up and blown down in a second and all you can do is play your own game and see what happens. As far as planning anything, it's just impossible.

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