Keira Knightley, the star of David Croneberg’s new film A Dangerous Method, had only encountered him once before they began shooting. They’d met for all of 20 minutes, six years ago – then last year, her agent called to say that the director wanted her for his new movie. Knightley, 26, has played her share of beauties in period dress ( Pride and Prejudice, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and Atonement). By contrast, A Dangerous Method handed her a role in which she starts off as a self-loathing teenaged mental patient and becomesa kind of intellectual colleague to Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.
Knightley said she was 95 per cent sold, especially since Christopher Hampton, whom she knew from Atonement, had written the script. The daughter of actor Will Knightley and playwright Sharman Macdonald, Knightley sees herself as a child of the theatre, and she looked forward to wrapping her tongue around the script’s complex dialogue. (She’s currently working on her next project, Anna Karenina, written by another playwright, Tom Stoppard).
“But there were these two scenes, the sex scenes, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that, because in the age of the Internet, do I want to be associated with those kinds of images?
And I actually called David up and said, ‘Look, I love you and I love your work but I don’t really don’t know if I can say yes to this because of these two scenes.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t play the part because of that, it would be a tragedy, so we’ll take those two scenes out.’ And I said ‘Whoa! Whoa!’ because I knew they were incredibly important to the story.”
In the end, she says, she’s not sure who was trying to persuade whom, but they agreed she would play the part and the scenes would stay in: “You go into a David Cronenberg film – and part of the reason that I love his work – is its explicit, shocking nature. As an actor you have to be very clear with yourself. You either do it or you don’t.”
There were just two brief discussions about her preparations for the role: “About the tics, I said, ‘Do you want just the body, because they might be distracting in a close-up if they’re on the face.’ He said, no, he wanted the face. For the accent, he asked for a mid-Atlantic accent with a blush of Russian.”
“He’s a magician,” says Knightley. “He manages to make somebody like me who loves rehearsal and loves talking about it, feel like I didn’t need it. He’s got this ability to make everybody feel like they’re the perfect person for the job, and then you say to yourself, ‘Well, then – I must be able to do it.’”