Anna Karenina: Interview with Keira Knightley and Jude Law
Arriving in US theaters on November 16, 2012, “Anna Karenina” is acclaimed director Joe Wright’s new vision of the epic story of love, stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard. The film marks the third collaboration of the director with Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley and Academy Award-nominated producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, following their award-winning box office successes “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement.” The film also stars Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson.
Keira Knightley, who stars in Wright’s boldly theatrical new movie as Anna, comments, “The story is one we understand today because people still want something they cannot have, still come up against social blocks and rules, and still have trouble communicating emotions to each other.”
Two-time Academy Award nominee Jude Law, who plays the crucial role of Anna’s husband, Alexei Karenin, read the script and found it “remarkable. I read it before I’d even tackled the book, and in its own right it is so rich. In this adaptation, you never feel that one character was being isolated as a device; each character seemed very precisely drawn.
“The piece looks at different angles of love and relationships, honestly and openly and without judgement. There is such an elegance to the way Tom writes dialogue. It’s masterful screenwriting; going from that to reading the novel itself, I realized just how hard that must have been to do.”
Knightley offers, “You had these people – a whole society – who were pretending to be something they weren’t, all the time.”
She reveals, “I’ve always loved history – reading about it, playing it out on-screen – because I feel it takes me out of the present; I fall into a fantasy, which I love doing.
“But this approach was such a very different concept for this piece, not doing a safe adaptation – and I was so excited. Joe called me into his office and had all these drawings up and explained it to me, and I thought, ‘Let’s go for it!’”
Knightley read the novel anew as preparation, and found that her own feelings towards the character had evolved. She says, “I remembered the book as being just incredibly romantic with this extraordinary character. But in re-reading the novel just before we started filming, I found it magnificent but also much, much darker – and realized that there is the huge question of whether Anna Karenina is a heroine or an anti-heroine. I believe that was so even for Tolstoy. My copy got heavily marked up, and Joe and I were constantly questioning ourselves about Anna; we felt we should show the good and the bad, the kindness and the cruelty. I also discussed this with Tom. I tried to understand Anna and capture her all, so Anna Karenina became the hardest project I’ve done; I knew I had to try to play her without making her ‘too nice.’
“Stories like this one are lasting because they are studies on the human condition as a whole, here within one character. Anna is a great and fallible character, one who speaks to what makes us human; in her, you see the flaws, the heroics, and the terrifying emotions. You care about her, and can’t help but recognize yourself.”
In playing the cuckolded older husband of Anna, Jude Law altered his own physical appearance and set out to convey the quiet dignity and fortitude of a much-respected member of society.
The actor explains, “Karenin holds an influential position within government and is completely focused on his work – which he is good at. He has a strict moral code of honor and loyalty, and is spontaneous with neither his behavior nor his affections, even in the privacy of his own home with his family. The significance of his wife’s indiscretion has the power to jeopardize not only their marriage but also the entire edifice of Russian high society.
“I’m sympathetic to all the characters in the story; you need to understand all sides, and that’s part of why Tolstoy’s novel is so beloved and still engenders discussion. To me, Karenin is ripe to have his heart broken. My feeling is that as far as Karenin sees it, he is offering everything that he should to the marriage. What he doesn’t necessarily bring is passion and romance, and that is not necessarily something that’s in him; it’s probably the way he was brought up, and probably the way he observed his parents behaving. He is carrying his heart as best he knows it.”
Law adds, “What’s wonderful about the part is that you see slowly and gradually how his vulnerability awakens; he takes his eyes off his work, which is so much a defining part of him, and the human being comes out to fight for his wife and family. By the end, he’s travelled quite an interesting journey.”
Knightley remarks, “Jude and I both wanted to get at how there is love between the couple; tragically, she doesn’t think there is, and he is unable to vocalize it.”
Law admits, “Those are not the easiest of scenes to play opposite another actor; Keira and I took a lot of time to prepare with Joe, talking about the happier times in their marriage, so that we could push the emotions further on-set.”
Law concludes, “These are people in a world where they are able to play strange social games without feeling hindered by a sense of reality. Joe created an environment where we could step into that world.”
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