Keira Knightley has always been known in Britain for taking on some of the most interesting female roles available in the industry. Her most recent film, Colette (to be released early next year) sees Knightley take on the French writer as a young woman during her first marriage to celebrity personality Henry Gautier-Villars, aka Willy.
Speaking about her run playing amazing and dimensional characters, Knightley states that her choice of roles have “always been completely conscious. As soon as I could start choosing my own roles, I was always led towards powerful creatures. Women I wanted to be or explore, and even in their frailty… there’s amazing power within that.
“A lot of times it could have been more money to play second fiddle, or the wife, or the girlfriend, but I’ve never wanted to do that. I’m the wife and the girlfriend at home, and when I’m playing I want to pretend to be the boss!”
She also explains that she “never felt like I fitted into that very narrow image of femininity that mass culture allows, and I was always interested in playing characters who in one way or another are struggling against that cultural norm,” something which is particularly evident in her most recent film.
Working hard to succeed in her craft was always a part of life, as she knew “ever since the age of three… what I wanted to do, and that’s been my one goal.”
However she realised that “the industry [doesn’t] support women at all. Not even a little. You’re completely left to do your thing, and to survive or not survive.” Understandably then, “there are very few female directors. We need more female directors, particularly at the top of the industry,” she stated.
Always asked about her decision to star in many period films, which Knightley reveals is a pet hate after so many years, she explained that “doing period films is an opportunity to educate myself about periods in history… I like to do as much research as I have time to do! If you’re doing a period film, you need to know the rules of that period. Then you can choose to break them,” something particularly relevant to her portrayal of Colette.
The actress had only praise for her Colette co-star Dominic West’s portrayal of Willy: “The thing about Willy is, and it was very important for all of us to show, that you understood why she was with him. Because he does silence her, and he does literally take her words from her, and he is a shit! But he’s a very charming shit.”
And speaking of her titular character, “I think she was afraid, but she just powered through it. She was brave. And she had a voice that demanded to be heard. And in terms of her sexuality, she explored it without shame, and that’s still very rare today. I find her inspiring. She was a survivor, and in many ways I find survivors fascinating, because there’s a moral ambiguity there that allows them to survive.
“…We’re given a very narrow view of what it is to be a woman, and I think culturally you have to explore women in all their complicated whole. I feel like with Colette there’s a whole complicated person there.”
Colette releases on January 11th, distributed by Lionsgate.
First published on The National Student